INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts this week are hoping they can take advantage of one of the more notable roster rule changes put in place exclusively for the 2020 season.
Tight end Trey Burton, who was placed on injured reserve at the beginning of the season with a calf injury, is eligible to return to the active roster as soon as this Sunday's Week 4 matchup against the Chicago Bears at Solider Field.
Whether or not that actually happens is still up in the air, head coach Frank Reich said yesterday after the Colts' 36-7 Week 3 victory over the New York Jets.
"We're hopeful," Reich said about Burton's potential return this week. "He's made some good progress … made some good steps last week. We're not all the way back but made some good steps. We're hopeful and we'll see how things go this week, see how he responds. I know he's been working out over the weekend and getting treatment over the weekend, getting ready to go. We'll evaluate him and hopefully get him back in the fold."
To help teams adapt to the potential roster issues that could pop up with the COVID-19 pandemic, the NFL and the NFLPA agreed to a few adjustments to various roster rules exclusively for the 2020 season, most notably an expansion of practice squads from 10 players to 16 players and significant changes to the return-from-IR stipulations.
Previously, teams could only elect to return up to two players per season from IR; in 2020, teams have an unlimited number of return-from-IR spots it can use. Also, the length of time a player is required to be on IR before they can return was reduced from eight games to three.
What remains the same is once Burton or any other Colts player on IR is returned to the practice field, the team has 21 days to decide whether to officially bring them back to the active roster or revert them to IR for the remainder of the season.
Burton signed a reported one-year free agent deal with the Colts this offseason, reuniting him with Reich, his offensive coordinator with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2016 and 2017. He signed a free agent deal with the Bears in 2018 and would go on to have a career year in his first season in Chicago, catching 54 passes for 569 yards and six touchdowns. He would have an injury-plagued second season with the Bears in 2019, however; in eight games played, he finished with 14 receptions for 84 yards, and he was released by the team in April.
Burton had emerged as a favorite target of new Colts quarterback Philip Rivers' throughout training camp before suffering a calf injury in the team's second camp scrimmage at Lucas Oil Stadium on Aug. 29.
Burton's potential return will only boost what is already a strong tight end position for the Colts, as the team already has two-time Pro Bowler Jack Doyle and Mo Alie-Cox, who has 10 receptions for 181 yards and a touchdown already this season. The Colts also have undrafted rookie Noah Togiai on their 53-man roster.
Getting Burton back into the mix, Reich said, could really be a shot in the arm for a Colts offense that has already lost starting running back Marlon Mack (Achilles, out for the season) and top slot receiver Parris Campbell (knee; out indefinitely) the first three weeks of the year.
"Trey is a big-time player and a big-time play maker," Reich said. "We sure could use it."