When Boom Herron was waived-injured by the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday, it sparked a number of questions (and criticisms) from fans about what was going on. Why didn't they just place him straight to injured reserve? Why was he in the preseason game to begin with?
According to NFL Media's Ian Rapoport, Boom Herron suffered a sprained AC joint in Thursday's preseason game when he was returning a kickoff - an injury described as a "minor setback." So what we have is a minor injury for Herron but one that will still cause him to miss a bit of time. So that leaves the Colts with a couple of options: either keep an injured Herron on the active roster or release him. If they were to release him, however, it would have to be with the injury designation to let other teams know that he is hurt. If it's not a major injury or a major contributor, this is common in the NFL - waiving-injured a player rather than simply placing him on season-ending injured reserve. That's precisely the option that they took, as they didn't want to devote a roster spot to an injured backup right now. That makes sense.
So Herron must first be subjected to waivers, since he was waived-injured. There's always a chance that a team will claim him, but let's suppose that no team does. What then? Well, normally, a player would simply revert to his former team's injured reserve. In the case of Herron, he would then revert to the Colts' IR. Rapoport, however, says that if Herron clears waivers, he will be released with an injury settlement. When a team and a player reach an agreement on an injury settlement, they come to an agreement on how long they should continue to pay the player. For example, if the two sides agree that it will take four weeks to recover, then the team will pay the player for four weeks. That's how an injury settlement works. If the Colts reach an injury settlement with Herron, then it would allow him to sign with another team once healthy - though if he is not signed, he would have to wait six weeks after he is healthy until he is allowed to return to the Colts. It is preferable for Herron, then, since he will be able to play as soon as he's healthy (if another team wants him).
Some might be wondering why the Colts didn't just place Herron on injured reserve with a designation to return midseason if he will be healthy by then. The problem with that, however, is that the NFL has rules in place to prevent teams from stashing players on IR. For a player to go on injured reserve (whether season-ending or with the designation to return), they must have an injury that will keep them out for at least six weeks. With Herron's shoulder injury, that likely isn't the case - thus he wouldn't technically be eligible for the list unless the Colts bent the rules, and it's unlikely that Herron or his agent would have allowed that to happen.
So that's why the Colts waived-injured Herron. It's because he's not crucial enough to keep on the 53-man roster even though injured and because his injury isn't long-term enough to put him out for the season. Herron will likely be able to play again at some point relatively soon, but the injury came at a bad time for him and that cost him a roster spot.
Lastly, then, is the question that many fans have about why Herron was in there in the first place. Why was the backup running back returning kicks in a preseason game? Well, the reality is thisL though you'd love to be able to just rest your entire 53-man roster and wrap them in bubble wrap, that's not possible since the NFL plays a fourth preseason game. Keep in mind: Herron was a backup. And backups play in the fourth preseason game. If the Colts still had questions about their return game (and when don't they?), then it's not that egregious to play Herron there in the game. Furthermore, I think we saw that the Colts did not consider Herron to be irreplaceable by the fact that they subjected him to waivers. They simply saw him as the backup running back, in a competition with Josh Robinson (and others). That's what he was, too, and while he could have had a nice role as the change of pace back, let's not pretend like he was Frank Gore. I don't really understand the uproar about it - if Herron wasn't injured, no one would have cared that he was in there. Three of the five starting offensive linemen played in the game - but you hear nothing about them playing, simply because they weren't injured. There are plenty of reasons to criticize head coach Chuck Pagano, but playing a backup running back in a preseason game is not one of them.