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Bill Belichick will likely appreciate new rules on IR designation

BOCA RATON, Fla. -- New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick sometimes talks about the importance of strategically managing his roster throughout the year, and the rule change passed at the NFL’s annual meeting this week regarding injured reserve/designated to return adds another layer that he should like in 2016.

Since 2012, every team in the league has been able to declare one player on injured reserve with a designation to return later in the year.

The Patriots have capitalized on that option each year:

2012: Tight end Visanthe Shiancoe (Sept. 5 to IR, activated Nov. 10)

2013: Running back Shane Vereen (Sept. 10 to IR, activated Nov. 18)

2014: Defensive tackle Sealver Siliga (Sept. 27 to IR, activated Dec. 4)

2015: Center Bryan Stork (Sept. 9 to IR, activated Nov. 7)

In each case, the Patriots had to declare that Shiancoe, Vereen, Siliga and Stork were designated to return at the time they were placed on injured reserve.

But starting in 2016, after a proposal from the Buffalo Bills that was passed at the Boca Raton Resort & Club, teams don’t have to specify that designation at the time the player is placed on IR. Instead, they can wait until the player is ready to return to action.

What that does is create flexibility should a player’s medical status change for the worse while on IR, or the team’s roster needs at a certain position suddenly shift during the season.

For example, last year the Patriots had hoped that Stork would be ready to return later in the year after dealing with the serious effects of a concussion. He ultimately did return, but what if he wasn't able to?

In that hypothetical, under the new rules, the Patriots would have been able to use the designated-to-return label on a different player, such as fullback James Develin, who broke his leg in the third preseason game and was healthy by the end of the year.

Thanks to the Bills, this type of flexibility is now available to the Patriots and the league’s other teams.