What it is and how it works

The fantasy football IR spot has become a topic of conversation lately. Most notable is the far-too-public row between Tommy Pham and Joc Pederson over Commissioner Mike Trout’s implementation of the IR spot in their ESPN fantasy football league. Professional baseball players – just like us when it comes to fantasy football! However, let’s help these guys out and explain the fantasy football IR spot.

It’s not surprising that baseball players are a bit confused because of the fantasy football IR spot. Those who have played fantasy baseball for a long time know how the IL commercial works. If an MLB team puts a player on the injured list, you can put them on the IL in your fantasy league.

The NFL treats injured players differently than the MLB

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple in the NFL. The NFL does not have a weekly injury list. Teams must submit weekly training reports, an injury report on Friday (Saturday for Monday night football) and then report inactive players an hour and a half before kick-off.

The MLB injury list allows teams to replace players on the active roster. In the NFL, when a player is out, the team doesn’t suddenly find itself missing a player — it simply activates someone else for the 53-man roster.

Where does injured reserve come into play?

In the past, injured reserve was “reserved” for players who were out for the season. In 2012, the NFL changed its injured reserve rules to allow a player to be designated for return, allowing that player to play again after missing at least eight games in the same season. That number rose to two players in 2017 and three in 2020.

The NFL and NFLPA again established new rules for injured reserves in 2022. Players on IR must miss at least four games and have increased the number of players who can be designated to return to eight.

The biggest problem I’ve encountered in fantasy football when it comes to IR spots is the reluctance of commissioners to use the IR spot for anything other than a player on injured reserve. When it comes to what the fantasy platforms actually allow, it’s a little different.

Any fantasy football platform allows you to place a player in your IR spot if that player is on injured reserve for their NFL team. This is the easy part to solve. It gets a bit trickier when a player isn’t playing but is playing Not on injured reserve.

In Yahoo and ESPN leagues, the commissioners have no discretion in this matter. If a player drops out, fantasy managers can place them in their IR spot. On Sleeper, clients have a variety of options for using the IR spot. In addition to the above, Commissioners can choose to allow suspended players, N/A players, players on hold, and dodgy players on IR.

ESPN’s lack of flexibility when it comes to its IR spot contributed to the dispute between Pederson and Pham. Because ESPN allows players listed as out to be placed on IR, managers have the freedom to do so once a player is officially ruled out. However, some commissioners prefer to restrict the IR spot to only players on injured reserve. In leagues with this restriction, there is no way to automatically monitor them. Commissioners must manually review each team to ensure compliance. For what it’s worth, I’m adamant that any players listed as “out” are eligible for the IR spot.

What does it mean when a player is in your fantasy team’s IR spot?

I think it’s fair to say that the most frustrating aspect of fantasy football is injuries. We know that injuries are inevitable. They’ll happen to pretty much everyone in your league every season. Every fantasy manager has to navigate injuries.

The IR spot was designed to soften the impact of injuries just a little bit. If your team loses a starter, you must replace that starter by picking up another player. If you can place your injured player on an IR spot, that player will no longer count towards your total number of players on the list. It frees up a roster slot to add a replacement without dropping another player.

I find IR spots very beneficial. You can help make a frustrating game a little less frustrating. Losing a starter on your fantasy team is bad enough. Without the benefit of an IR spot, fantasy managers not only lose the injured player, but often lose another bench player because they have to drop him to replace the injured player. It’s a real double whammy.

If your commissioner has liberal IR rules, at least lose the injured player only if he gets injured.

To that I say an unequivocal YES! Fantasy Football is a game designed to be fun at its core. Injuries aren’t fun, and even less fun dropping other, healthy players to replace them.

Commissioners should do everything they can to make their leagues as broad and fun as possible. IR spots promote fairness and offer managers a little help in dealing with the inevitable injuries that the game of soccer brings.

Jason Katz is a fantasy analyst at Pro Football Network. you can follow him Twitter: @jasonkatz13 and find more of his work here.

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