Defensive tackle Jordan Hill could return to the Seahawks later this season but not in the way that has been generally reported.
The National Football League’s Injured Reserve rules can seem a little complicated. And yours truly may not have helped some of the understanding of what the future of Jordan Hill could be with the Seahawks by overlooking one provision of the rule.
To recap, Hill was waived as injured on Saturday after suffering a hamstring injury in the preseason finale against the Raiders.
Being waived means Hill could then be claimed by any of the other 31 teams and placed on their 53-man roster. But carrying the injured designation alerts teams that Hill has, well, an injury, and players with that designation usually go unclaimed since teams do not want to put an injured player from another team straight to their 53-man roster (though sometimes it does happen — that’s how the Seahawks lost Michael Bowie to the Browns in 2014).
Hill indeed went unclaimed which meant he then reverted to Seattle’s Injured Reserve list. Players on IR are out for the season except for one player who can be given a “short-term’’ designation, which means he can come back to practice after six weeks and play after eight.
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In a twist from past years, though, that designation does not have to be given on the player at the time he is placed on IR. The Seahawks, for instance, used the short-term IR designation on Russell Okung in 2013 when he was hurt in the second game, so he could then come back in week 10. In 2014 it was placed on Jeremy Lane when he was injured in the opener.
But having to give that designation the minute a player is put on IR carries some risk that the player is slower to recover or has a setback along the way. So this year the rule was changed so teams can give the designation to a player somewhere along in the process to assure it’s not wasted on a player who can’t return.
When Hill was placed on IR there was a thought that the short-term designation could be used on him, and I wrote as such in one post and Tweet.
But here’s a kicker — the short-term designation can only be used on a player who is a part of his team’s 53-man roster at some point during the season. Hill was never on a 53-man roster since he was waived in the cutdown to 53 (which also means no other Seahawk on IR can be given that designation since all were put on IR before the cutdown to 53).
There is another way players on IR can return during the season, however.
At any point, teams can make a settlement with a player on IR so he then becomes a free agent. The player can’t return for the length of the settlement (which is typically not made public). Let’s say a player gets a settlement of four weeks’ salary to be taken off IR and become a free agent (players can stay on IR if they want, which assures they get their salary for the year but then they can’t play, and players often opt to try to play if they think they will be healthy enough to do so). That means that player cannot sign with a team for four weeks.
But here’s another kicker to that rule that has been changed — the player cannot sign with the team that gave him the settlement for an additional three weeks beyond the length of the settlement. In past years, that length of time was six weeks, which did a lot more to prevent a player returning to the team that gave him the settlement (though if you recall, Lemuel Jeanpierre returned to the Seahawks last year in this manner, having taken an injury settlement from Seattle but then returning later).
But with just three weeks, there’s a greater chance a player will return to the team that gave him the settlement — he doesn’t have to move, fit in with a new team, etc. Often, those kind of things are talked about when the settlement is made (though there would be nothing precluding a player from changing his mind and signing with another team).
Of the players Seattle has placed on IR or made a settlement with, Hill is the only one whose injury doesn’t seem overly serious who appeared to also have a significant role on the team this season.
So if the Seahawks were to make a settlement with Hill, it wouldn’t be out of the question that he could return at some point. But if he remains on IR then he cannot return this season.
Either way, the long-term future of Hill and the Seahawks is uncertain, at best.
He was a third round pick in 2013 envisioned as a tackle who could help on all three downs, but could be particularly effective as an inside pass rusher in the nickel.
Hill did all of those things when healthy — he had 5.5 sacks in the final six games of the 2014 season when the Seattle defense went on one of the best stretches in NFL history.
But he has been saddled with injuries throughout his Seahawks career, and has played in just 27 of a possible 48 regular season games and just two of a possible eight playoff games.
He also can be a free agent at the end of the 2016 season, so unlike past seasons when the Seahawks wanted to hang onto him for the future, there isn’t as much incentive now.
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll on Monday said the injuries played a factor in the decision to waive Hill but noted that rookie Quinton Jefferson also showed he could fulfill the same role.
“He couldn’t stay healthy and unfortunately he wasn’t really able to put his best foot forward and other guys were able to do that well,’’ Carroll said. “Really this is a bigger statement about Quinton Jefferson, he really has come to us and he can play five technique for us, three technique, and be a contributor to the rush team as well as the inside guy. It was just a guy beating another guy out because of availability and hard work, so I really think it’s about Q [Quinton] more than it is about anything else.”