The Exempt/Commissioner’s Permission List has gone from an arcane roster designation to a key part of an international news story. NFL stars Adrian Peterson and Greg Hardy are being warehoused on the list as they await conclusions of their pending legal cases. While the NFL's use of this list is somewhat new, with troubled players now landing there after agreeing to leave their teams indefinitely in exchange for being paid in full, the list itself is not new at all.
It's been around for decades and used on a limited basis in the past, often as teams evaluate when players returning from a lengthy absence or suspension are ready for the active 53-man roster. Since players can only be deactivated for up to four games by teams for off-field issues, players like Peterson and Hardy waive that right in exchange for securing full paychecks while dealing with legal problems. Their teams are saying the players will be away until the cases are resolved.
Here is how this particular exempt list is explaining in the NFL Player Personnel Policy Manual:
EXEMPT LIST. The Exempt List is a special player status available to clubs only in unusual circumstances. The List includes those players who have been declared by the Commissioner to be temporarily exempt from counting within the Active List limit. Only the Commissioner has the authority to place a player on the Exempt List; clubs have no such authority, and no exemption, regardless of circumstances, is automatic. The Commissioner also has the authority to determine in advance whether a player’s time on the Exempt List will be finite or will continue until the Commissioner deems the exemption should be lifted and the player returned to the Active List.
At this point, with Roger Goodell saying he expects to have new policies and procedures to deal with person-conduct policy violations by the Super Bowl, expect to see other in-season cases occuring with any notable players (who have significant contracts and perhaps still a future with their current clubs) to end up on this list as well.