The worst day in the NFL, outside of the day after the Super Bowl when you realize there are six months till the next season, is cutdown day. A NFL camp roster is comprised of 90 men, and it needs to be cutdown to 53 by a time and date set forth by the league. That means roughly 1,180 players will be released and be without a team. I’ll take you through the process of being cut, one I know all too well, and how rosters are built.
Let’s start with the latter. A roster is comprised of 53 players. Generally speaking, three of them are specialst players — a long snapper, kicker and punter. Two or three are quarterbacks. You have at least seven offensive lineman, two tight ends, four wide receivers, three running backs, seven defensive lineman, five linebackers and five defensive backs. That’s 40 which leaves 13 open roster spots at the maximum which must be decided upon, but it’s probably closer to only five spots come actual cutdown day.
I’ve said this before and I’m glad Joe Banner on Twitter has backed me up.
I think the media spends more time on the final 53 than the teams do. 49-51 have been set for weeks. Only a couple of spots left to finalize today.— Joe Banner (@JoeBanner13) August 31, 2018
This idea of competition is a myth in the NFL. Generally speaking, the roster is spoken for before camp with only a few still being decided on cut day. None of this means much to the players who get released though.
The most common question I get asked by y’all about being released is “do you know it’s coming?” The answer is most often, yes ... heck yes, when you’re an older player.
My final training camp in the NFL, I was in Detroit. I had played okay in the first preseason game but was held out of the second game. I had practiced all week heading into our third game against the Ravens. Prior to that night, I was the backup at both interior offensive line positions which is a great spot to be in. I felt confident I was making the team, but that changed quickly at halftime.
I was preparing to head into the game to start the second half when my offensive line coach pulled me aside and said I was down for the half. I was upset and I could tell he was as well because they kept him in the dark. Back on the field for the third quarter, I found my offensive line coach and asked him: “Am I getting cut tomorrow?” His answer “It doesn’t look good.”
Why did I expect to be cut? Well, by the time you’re a veteran you understand how the process works. The third preseason game is the dress rehearsal game, and if you’re a veteran getting no reps, it’s for one reason. You’re being released and they don’t want you to get injured. We flew back from Baltimore to Detroit and the following morning I got the call I knew was coming.
“When you get in, please come see Coach Caldwell and Bob Quinn.”
Just like that, it was over.
Sometimes, the team might just tell you you’re getting released. When I was a rookie in Carolina, I was informed by my agent the Panthers weren’t going play me in the fourth preseason game so they could hide me for the practice squad. Being told you’re being getting released ahead of time doesn’t make that 6:30 a.m. phone call from the team the following morning any easier.
If you’re being honest with yourself as a player, you know where your status stands on the team. Looking at the math, you can sense when you’re getting meaningful reps in the preseason. Are you getting any reps at all with the ones or twos? Still stuck with the threes? Not a good sign. Where do you fit on the depth chart? Are you being used at multiple positions? How about special teams? Are you starting on any of those as most of the starters don’t see preseason reps on the teams.
One tell for offensive linemen is the field goal team. Starters typically did one or two field goal reps a game. If you were part of that unit, then you assumed you were making the team, which I did.
After you get released, you’re out of a job. You feel like you’ve failed. All that work, time and sacrifice is for nothing, or so you think. You’ve made friends in the locker room and around the facility that you may never see again. But we all know it’s a cruel part of the game.
The absolute worst part of cutdown day is the waiver claim process. After players are released they are able to be claimed by teams. The order of claims is determined by last season’s record, so the Browns have first priority this season. So once you’ve been in the first team meeting as part of the 53 man roster your team might claim players. When they claim players they must cut someone else, usually a younger player who thinks they’ve already made the team. It’s brutal.
So hopefully that gives y’all a little insight into the world of roster cutdown day.