So, to clear up exactly what his status is, let's revisit the new IR rule, specifically the "designated for return" clause that's been added this year.
Back in March, the idea was proposed at the NFL Annual Meeting in Palm Beach, Fla. The idea was shelved till the May assembly, when it was overwhelmingly approved by league owners. All that was left was for the NFLPA to approve the change.
Slam dunk, right?
Well, it should have been. Problem is, some in the league wanted to add some unrelated language to the rule as a shortcut to passing other rules changes (kind of like when members of Congress infuriatingly add unrelated earmarks to other lawmakers' bills). The players' union balked, understandably. As a result, much discussion ensued and the rule change wasn't passed until this week.
Because of the late approval, the NFL rightly decided to give clubs a break. Let's say you placed a player on IR during training camp. He wasn't seriously hurt, but he wouldn't be back early enough to warrant keeping him on your 53-man roster for several weeks into the regular season.
At the time, the "designated for return" IR rule hadn't been implemented, so, you had no choice. Once the rule passed, the league decided to allow teams to take a player who'd been placed on IR before the change and move him back to the active, 53-man roster, so that he could then be placed on DRF-IR at the end of the business day this coming Tuesday, Sept. 4.
That player wouldn't count against your 53, and he could begin practicing after the first six weeks of the regular season, although he wouldn't be eligible to play until after eight weeks.
Which brings us back to Demps.
The much-ballyhooed rookie and erstwhile Olympic sprinter injured his lower right leg (ankle or knee, it was difficult to tell exactly) at the end of the Giants game. He didn't appear seriously hurt when seen afterward in the visitors locker room at MetLife Stadium, but on Friday, when final cuts were announced, Demps was assigned to injured reserve – after the rule change went into effect this week.
By doing so, the Patriots took Demps off their 53-man roster. That means he cannot now be moved to "designated for return" IR this coming Tuesday.
The team had other options, of course. They could have kept him on the active roster and assigned him to DFR-IR on Tuesday. They also could have waived him in order to try to put him on the practice squad. But that latter tactic would never have worked. So many other teams were interested in signing Demps a few weeks ago that he undoubtedly would have been claimed by one of them today (presumably the Indianapolis Colts, who have the first waiver claim and were said to covet him before he signed with New England).
We knew Demps was fast. He proved that in London at the Olympics and in his brief stint with the Patriots this summer. He's proved it again. Because just as quickly as he came to New England and began contributing, he has now disappeared from the 2012 picture.
Unfortunately, we'll have to wait until 2013 to see Demps again in a Patriots uniform.
So, just who on the Patriots might qualify for DFR-IR? Someone like tight end Visanthe Shiancoe, running back Shane Vereen, or o-lineman Nick McDonald. All those players were injured during the preseason, yet remain on the 53-man roster as of today. If one of them needs more time to heal, but could still play this year, the team could decide to designate them for return on Tuesday. We'll just have to wait and see.