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Explaining how the NFL works, Part 12: Physically Unable to Perform

Let’s examine the process of some of the inner workings in the NFL and how teams manage the situations.

NFL: NFC Wild Card Playoffs-Arizona Cardinals at Los Angeles Rams Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Whether it’s when the NFL is in the full swing of its regular season or if it’s during the downtime of the early summer, there still is constant news and happenings with the league that has made itself relevant 365 days a year. When various things are discussed, sometimes there are terminologies and procedures where fans might have a general understanding of things. Even the most die-hard fans may have certain areas they don’t understand exactly what various things mean and wish to have a better understanding.

Over the next few weeks, I will take some time to do my best in thoroughly explaining some of the various inner workings of things in the NFL. These are not on-field items but more from an administrative standpoint. Whether it be understanding the waiver wire, the Reserve/Injured List, or the breakdown of the practice squad, we’ll take a look at some of the various terms that are thrown around and utilized in descriptions of things in the NFL but may not be fully understood.

Next up is looking at the Physically Unable to Perform List, more commonly known as PUP.


This designation is exactly what it says— a player is not physically able to perform their football duties due to a football-related injury. This designation can typically only begin at the start of training camp when official practices begin. Once a player has participated in one official practice, they cannot be placed on PUP and instead are a candidate for the Reserve/Injured List.

Active/PUP List

When a player is placed on PUP to start training camp, this is the list they land on. A player on the Active/PUP List counts towards the team’s 90 man offseason roster. A player can be removed from this list anytime during training camp and are then able to practice. Once a player comes off the Active/PUP List, they cannot go back on.

Reserve/PUP List

Any player who is on the Active/PUP List is eligible to go on the Reserve/PUP List when teams must cut down their rosters to 53 players. If a player goes from Active/PUP to Reserve/PUP, they must then miss at least the teams first four games of the regular season as of 2022. Unlike the Reserve/Injured List, a player does not have to spend one day on the 53-man roster in order to return. In fact, a player cannot go on the 53-man roster if they are to stay on PUP.


Players on the PUP list during the regular season are paid their salary, but it could be the lower “down” amount if they have a split contract. A player on the PUP list will not have their contract tolled unless they were in their final year of the contract and were not activated during the season.

A prime example of a player on PUP having their contract tolled was when Ryan Shazier was injured in 2017 and how the Steelers treated his 2018 season on PUP. Shazier already had his fifth-year option picked up before his injury and he had a fully guaranteed contract that would have payed him $8.718 million. Instead both Shazier and the Steelers decided to move some things around in order to give both of them a better situation.

The Steelers instead gave Shazier a new deal with an $8.26 million signing bonus to go along with his $790k base salary. But this was a split salary so Shazier was paid a salary of $458k for the season. Adding his actual pay and the signing bonus, it comes to $8.718 million.

So why did the Steelers bother to do this? By dropping Shazier’s salary, the Steelers were able to have his contract toll to the next season at the league minimum instead of over $8 million. It would have tough for the Steelers to pay the $8.718 million for another season, but since it was a lower amount they kept Shazier which allowed him to get his treatment through the team. By having his contract toll for 2019, Shazier would have had an $805k base salary but his split contract gave him $473k. In all, Shazier made slightly more by being with the team for two seasons during his recovery. Throughout the entire time of 2018 and 2019, Shazier was on the PUP list.

In case you missed other parts of the series, they can be seen here: