An unexpected use of the short-term Injured Reserve rule has emerged…

Ravens LB Ray Lewis, in happier times (Associated Press)

Earlier this year, the NFL passed a new rule that allowed teams to place a player on Injured Reserve but not necessarily lose him for the season. Officially, they “designate him for return,” though it’s come to be called “Short-term IR.”

It’s a good rule. I like it. If a player gets hurt in Week 1 and can come back by Week 10, why would a team be forced to lose him for the season just to have his roster spot? For the Patriots in the Super Bowl last year, for instance, they could’ve used Dan Koppen, but he’d already been declared out. Yet, he was healthy. So, anyway, it’s worked out.

Coaches and teams often find unexpected loopholes or uses to new regulations (more so in the NCAA than in the NFL) and this is no different. In fact, a new use has emerged for short-term IR. It’s one I wasn’t expecting, though I can certainly understand it.

When a key player gets seriously injured, coaches can place them on short-term IR as an emotional boost. They use it to buoy the spirits of players, to keep them engaged, to help them deal with the emotional pain of a severe ailment.

The Jets sort of used this technique with CB Darrelle Revis, who tore his ACL, leaving him on the active roster — which has a much greater downside. But the Ravens did exactly this with the new rule with LB Ray Lewis, putting him on short-term IR. Why does this matter?

It really doesn’t. Lewis, almost certainly, won’t be back this year. He has a torn triceps, he’s in a lot of pain, and we’re already in Week 7. Lewis won’t be back six weeks later. Downside? By doing this, the Ravens won’t be allowed to use this designation on anyone else. But that’s a risk they are willing to take. It’s a small one.

Why take it?

Because losing an emotional leader is hard for a team. For a player, losing your season is brutal. Players talk about the loneliness of being on Injured Reserve, how you are on the outside looking in, how depressing it is, how you feel out of it. If there is no hope for the season, it’s miserable. That’s what Lewis is facing, and for him, it might be his career.

What the Ravens are doing is allowing Lewis to have some hope. They are allowing him to have a reason to be around the team, to rehab like crazy (which he’d do anyway) and to keep his thoughts zeroed in on returning. Will it happen? Probably not. But unlike leaving Revis on the 53-man roster, the downside is little for Baltimore.

It’s just a nice thing for a veteran leader and for a team that can play for his return. By using the short-term IR for Lewis, the Ravens are doing their guy a solid. Kind of a cool thing. When speaking to reporters, Ravens coach John Harbaugh left it completely open.

Obviously, it’s a very serious injury,” Harbaugh said. “But there’s an opportunity and we’re going to keep the door open, and we’ll just see where that goes, going forward. We really don’t know any more than that. He will have surgery today.

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