The news out of Owings Mills on Monday that safety Matt Elam will be out for some time with a knee injury could leave the Ravens with a tough call: Do they place Elam on injured reserve, with the chance to designate him for return at a later time? Do they keep him on the active roster, knowing he won't be available for at least the first few weeks? Or do they cut him, parting ways with their 2013 first-round pick who would solidify his status as one of their biggest draft whiffs.
After practice on Monday, Harbaugh said Elam would have arthroscopic surgery and would be sidelined "some number of weeks into the early part of the season."
There are no easy answers, but the league's new IR-designated to return rule could come into play.
Since 2012, the NFL has had an IR-designated-to-return label, which allows each team to place one player on IR while leaving open the possibility of that player's return; previously, anyone placed on IR was automatically done for the season. Ray Lewis received the IR-DTR tag in 2012 and came back to win a Super Bowl. The Ravens used the designated-to-return label on tight end Dennis Pitta in 2013 and on defensive end Brent Urban last season.
Under a rule tweak this year, the team does not have to use the DTR label on a player when placing him on IR. So the Ravens could opt to place Elam on IR and later declare him designated to return. But as in the past, a team can use the IR-DTR tag only once, so if they choose that route with Elam, they can't do so with anyone else. And if the Ravens have another player on IR whom they designate for return, Elam would have to stay on IR for the entire season, which would effectively end his Ravens career.
Elam is in the final year of his contract after the Ravens declined to pick up his fifth-year option this past spring.
Regardless of what happens, it's a tough break for Elam, who has had a strong camp after missing all of last season. But the new IR-DTR rule gives the Ravens a little more wiggle room than in past years. Then again, the Ravens, already facing some very difficult decisions to arrive at a 53-man roster, could decide to simply part ways with Elam, knowing he won't be available until at least the middle portion of the season.
"It’s unfortunate for (Elam)," Harbaugh said, "but Ozzie will deal with it roster-wise however he decides to deal with it.”