Anthony Gaitor is the first Tampa Bay Buccaneers player ever to be placed on the Injured Reserve-Designated for Return list. He will also be the only Buccaneer with that distinction until at least 2013.
The Buccaneers placed Gaitor on I.R. Tuesday due to his ongoing struggle with a hamstring strain but used the NFL's new "designated for return" option to leave open the strong possibility that he will return to action before the 2012 season is over. He must remain on injured reserve for at least six weeks, after which he can practice with the team for two weeks without counting against the 53-man roster limit.
Tampa Bay used the resulting roster vacancy to promote linebacker Jacob Cutrera from the practice squad to the 53-man roster. The team also added two new players to that eight-man practice squad: cornerback LeQuan Lewis and defensive end Aaron Morgan.
Since the early 1990s, the NFL's injured reserve option has been a season-ending move for any player placed on that list, and that remains the case for most I.R. inhabitants. That system was adopted, replacing the short-term injured reserve, in order to prevent teams from "stashing" players who might not be that seriously hurt. However, beginning in 2012, the NFL has added the "designated for return" I.R. option to provide a little more roster flexiblity for teams that have injured players with medium-range prognoses.
Each team is allowed just one I.R./designated for return placement per season, which means the Buccaneers are taking a bit of a chance using it on Gaitor. Any Tampa Bay players who subsequently get hurt will either have to be carried on the active roster or placed on season-ending injured reserve. On the other hand, there's not much sense in holding onto that single option for too much longer, as eight weeks grows closer to equalling the remainder of the season.
Gaitor, a second year cornerback drafted out of Florida International in the seventh year in 2011, has not played since the middle of August due to his hamstring injury. He returned to the practice field for the first time on Monday but apparently suffered a setback. As a rookie, Gaitor played in eight games and contributed three tackles on defense plus another two on special teams. He was having a strong 2012 preseason (six tackles, two passes defensed) before suffering his injury.
Cutrera joined the Buccaneers in October of last season, signing directly off Jacksonville's practice squad, and appeared in eight games before landing on injured reserve due to a head injury. He was an instant hit on special teams and finished with three kick-coverage stops and a forced fumble. The 6-3, 238-pound linebacker originally entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent out of LSU with the Jaguars in 2010. He split his rookie season between the Jaguars' active roster and practice squad.
Lewis, the former Arizona State cornerback, will be joining his fifth NFL team since coming to the Tennessee Titans as an undrafted free agent in 2011. He didn't play in the NFL as a rookie but signed with Oakland this past summer and eventaully ended u in training camp with the New York Jets. Lewis (5-11, 193) started the season on the Jets' practice squad but was signed by the Dallas Cowboys to their active roster on September 12. He actually played in the Cowboys' 16-10 win over the Buccaneers in Week Three, contributing one tackle and one pass defensed.
The 6-4, 250-pound Morgan was with the Jaguars, the team that signed him as an undrafted free agent in 2010, until last Friday when he was released at the same time Jacksonville signed former Buccaneer Micheal Spurlock. He played in the first four games of this season, contributing one tackle, after spending all of 2011 on injured reserve. As a rookie in 2010, Morgan got into seven games for the Jaguars and pitched in with two stops. He played his college ball at Louisiana-Monroe.