Earlier Monday, the Miami Dolphins announced they had waived/injured cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu. Shortly thereafter, it was reported that Ekpre-Olomu tore his ACL - the opposite ACL from the one he tore at the end of his college career - during the team’s scrimmage on Saturday. Ridicule began as to why the Dolphins would have a player get injured in a practice, then immediately waive him off the roster - basically cutting a guy for getting hurt.
But the answer is, because they have to. It’s the NFL rule.
What? That doesn’t make sense. The team could have put him on the Injured Reserve list, rather than simply waiving him, right?
Nope. They had to waive him.
Which is why it is a “waived/injured” designation, not a “waived” categorization. Waived/injured is different than waived. Waived is just letting the player go, but because he does not have enough time in the league, he cannot be outright cut, but instead goes through a process where teams have a chance to “claim” his contract.
When it comes to the “waived/injured” version of the waiver wire, the same “claiming” can happen, but rarely does because the player is injured. If, 24 hours after the roster move was made, the player is not claimed, instead of becoming a free agent like would happen with the normal waiver, the waived/injured player reverts to his original team on the Reserve/Injured (aka Injured reserve) list.
So, the Dolphins did not cut Ekpre-Olomu for being injured. They took the first step needed to place him on injured reserve for the year.
But, some players are immediately put on injured reserve, and some are waived/injured first. What’s the difference?
According to the NFL waiver wire rules, which are listed on several articles around the web, including this one from Broncos247.com from 2012:
Prior to the first cutdown date, injured players with less than 4 years of service cannot go onto IR until they pass through waivers. Those players are released with the “waived/injured” designation. Known as “injury waivers”, this process exposes the player to waivers, but warns other teams that the player is injured. If the player clears injury waivers, the team can then either place the player on IR or agree to an injury settlement (paying the player for the weeks that he is expected to be recovering from his injury) and then release the player.
The injury settlement portion of that rule comes into play if a player is expected to recover from his injury at some point during the season, which will allow the team to only pay him for the weeks he would be injured, then allows the player to sign with another team. If he is expected to be out for the entire year - as Ekpre-Olomu would be in this case - it is more likely he will stay on injured reserve, though a injury settlement is not out of the realm of possibilities.
So, according to the NFL rules, a player who has less than four years of servoce cannot be placed on injured reserve prior to the first cut down date without being waived/injured. Ekpre-Olomu, who has not appeared in any games and sat out all of his rookie season last year dealing with the first ACL tear, clearly has less than four years of service. For Miami to put him on injured reserve, the first step is to make the waived/injured roster move.
And, since the NFL rules require them to do it, they are not doing anything wrong or “cruel” - as I have seen it described on Twitter - to Ekpre-Olomu. They are simply clearing a roster spot and, likely, putting him on injured reserve.