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Summer School: Preseason physical, PUP designation, and more

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Clarifying some misconceptions regarding the business side of football during the preseason

NFL: New York Giants-Rookie Minicamp Danielle Parhizkaran-USA TODAY SPorts

Every year during training camp, I always get a question or two (or five) from readers who ask about certain roster designations such as PUP, NFI, and the Practice Squad.

In this installment of the BBV Summer School series, I have put together an overview on what a preseason physical entails and what the PUP list is (and who is eligible for it), as well as a couple of notes pertaining to the (as of now) two remaining Giants draft picks who are unsigned (Saquon Barkley and R.J. McIntosh).

Let’s jump right into things.

The preseason physical

At the start of training camp, all players undergo comprehensive physicals that, according to Appendix K of the CBA, includes a general medical examination, an orthopedic examination, flexibility, EKG, blood work, vision, hearing, dental exams, chest X-rays and additional testing done on previously injured areas including injuries from previous years (this part is done at the team’s discretion).

The reason for leaving no stone unturned is that teams want to establish baselines with their players so that if something should pop up over the course of a season, they can compare with previous test results, especially when it comes to concussions.

These base lines are used by independent neurologists and league medial personnel in passing players through the various stages of the concussion protocol.

These tests can also identify potential concerns, such as hypertension, irregular heartbeats, and other issues that might make it unsafe for an athlete to engage in intense physical activity often conducted during the hottest time of year and with over 30 pounds of added equipment on his person to boot.

Again, the outline in Appendix K is the minimum physical exam and what is covered. Some teams do get even more detailed.

What clubs cannot test for, according to Article 39, Section 6, is anabolic steroids and related substances or drugs of abuse or alcohol usage—banned substances are tested for by league-appointed testers.

The PUP (Physically Unable to Perform) list: Who is eligible and who isn’t

You’ve heard the term “PUP” a lot, no doubt, but a lot of people still don’t know what it means, who’s eligible and how it affects roster counts.

So let’s clarify all those questions. The PUP designation simply means that a player did not pass his preseason physical and hence is not cleared to participate in football drills.

If you read that a player was waived with a failed physical, usually that means the player has a significant medical condition that was uncovered during the physical or the club decided to give the roster spot to another player who did pass the physical.

Since I’m sure this question is going to pop up, let’s address it now. Receiver Odell Beckham Jr. was, at least according to head coach Pat Shurmur, “cleared to practice;” however, Beckham was held out of team drills against the defense.

Beckham will have to take another physical before camp, just like the rest of his teammates. And while he will likely pass that physical barring any unforeseen circumstances, the Giants medical staff, at its discretion, could still hold Beckham out of certain drills, at least in the beginning.

I mention this because a player on PUP cannot participate in ANY on-field activities other than rehab work with a member of the team’s training staff until he passes a physical. So that’s a big difference.

A player who is placed on PUP during training camp and the preseason counts toward the active 90-man camp roster (hence why the designation is Active PUP). Because of this, once a plyer does pass a physical, he can immediately take part in activities—there is no six-week minimum waiting time as there is with “inactive PUP.”

Inactive PUP, since we’re on the subject, kicks in when the player who is on Active PUP throughout training camp still isn’t ready to roll by the time rosters are trimmed to 53.

Again, the biggest difference is that a player designated as inactive PUP now has to wait at least 6 weeks before a 21-day window opens in which the team can decide regarding whether he’s healthy enough to join the roster.

Once a player passes his training camp physical, if he suffers an injury that is going to cost him several days or weeks of practice, he CANNOT be placed on PUP, regardless if he was there at the start of camp or otherwise. In other words, once a guy comes off PUP, he can’t go back on it this year.

If he wasn’t there at the start of camp, he can’t go on that list since he was declared physically able to perform following his physical.

At that point the team’s option are to continue to carry him or waive him injured (if he clears waivers, he goes to the IR list).

From a salary cap perspective, a player on PUP (inactive or active) counts against the cap; same with players on Injured Reserve.

Split salaries

The reason why I’m including a segment on split salaries here is because of the news from Shurmur that fifth-round pick R.J. McIntosh is going to need a procedure to address whatever it is that has kept him out of the spring practices.

McIntosh, as of this writing is one of two Giants draft picks who is unsigned. Although the Giants do not comment on contract matters, it probably wouldn’t be a stretch to assume that one of the holdups with McIntosh’s contract is a matter of a split salary.

A split salary, as the name implies, is when a player is promised one amount as his base salary if he is healthy and on the 53-man roster, and another if he ends up on injured reserve and/or PUP.

As previously noted, there are minimum base salaries for players depending on the number of accrued seasons they have. These minimums can be found in Article 26, Section 1.

The split salary table can be found in Article 26, Section 1b. Note that the split salary applies to players who make the minimum salaries and ho have this clause written into their contracts.

Splits aren’t used as often — to my recollection the Giants haven’t used the tactic since 2015 — but if a club is looking to save wherever possible, this is one way to do it if the team doesn’t feel confident of having the player available to them for an entire season.

Why players need to have a signed contract by training camp

As of this writing, running back Saquon Barkley is the Giants draft pick who isn’t signed.

Although it’s admirable that Barkley plans to be at training camp regardless of where things are with his contract, by rule, he would not be allowed to participate in any on-field activities without a signed pact in place, this largely due to injury protection.

Part of that has to do with injury protection. Whereas rookies can sign an injury waiver in the spring that protects them should the unthinkable happen, that waiver doesn’t carry over to training camp.

If you’re curious to see what kind of standard language is included in an NFL contract for both active roster and practice squad, check out Appendix J of the CBA.