The new IR rule and what might have been

As you might have heard, the San Francisco 49ers ran into some troubles at the wide receiver position last season.

Those troubles affected their offense and special teams, notably during an overtime defeat to the New York Giants in the NFC Championship Game (Kyle Williams was forced into the starting lineup, with Brett Swain and Joe Hastings as backups).

You might have also heard, more recently, about changes to rules governing injured reserve.

Those rules, if enacted before last season, might have given the 49ers a welcome boost at the receiver position with a Super Bowl berth on the line. Josh Morgan, placed on injured reserve in October, could have been a candidate, at least in theory, to return in time for that game against the Giants.

I'm going to qualify this by saying it's not immediately clear whether Morgan would have recovered from his broken leg in time to face the Giants. Reports immediately after the season suggested Morgan was "ahead of schedule" in his rehab. This does not necessarily mean he would have been cleared by mid-January, but the thought did come to mind in assessing how the rule might have affected NFC West teams.

The St. Louis Rams' Danny Amendola also came to mind. He required surgery in October to repair a torn triceps suffered in Week 1. It is possible, in theory (that phrase again), that the Rams would have approached that injury differently had the new IR rule been available to them. Amendola could have undergone the procedure earlier instead of trying to return right away. That could have accelerated the timeline for rehab, although he still could have missed the full season (he was rounding into form by early April).

Again, it's tough to know which players would have been ready to return, and precisely when, but this new rule does give teams another option in the future, at least. The rule also adds another layer of strategy to roster management.

To qualify for return from IR, a player must suffer an injury after the start of training camp. He must be placed on injured reserve following the initial reduction to 53 players. His team must designate him as a player to return. He must miss at least 42 calendar days from the time of injury. And he cannot play in a game until eight weeks following his placement on IR.

This disqualifies Terrell Suggs and other players injured before training camp from consideration under the new rule. Those players could still play this season if placed on the physically unable to perform list heading into the season.

I'll update if I learn anything new about Morgan's injury in particular. I used it mostly to illustrate how the new rule could come into play. Key word: could.