What it feels like to be released
There are very few phone calls during our existence that are truly life-altering. For no fewer than 1,000 players on the cut line, one of those calls could be coming on Saturday, when NFL teams have to cut their rosters to 53 players. Take it from a guy who's been there, it is utterly amazing how disappointing a two-minute conversation can be.
Once you get the call and realize your fate is sealed, the rest of the process is just a formality. There is typically a check-out procedure, during which you hand in your equipment and playbook and sign-off on your health status with the trainers. The only thing left after that is the conversation.
There is a certain indignity to sitting in a room with a dozen other guys, waiting to speak with the head coach. It feels as if you are on death row, just biding your time before meeting the executioner.
I was so caught off guard by my 2006 release in Cleveland that I couldn't bear to wait in that room. I strolled the hallways looking for someone, anyone, to give me an explanation. I finally found Jeff Davidson, the offensive line coach.
"You guys are cutting me?" I asked.
"Yes, we are," he replied.
I should have known that the answer wouldn't matter. There is no explanation at that point that makes getting cut any better. I had thought I would be starting in the season opener against New Orleans. Instead, I was soon in my car, heading home to Pennsylvania, trying to stay focused on the road as my mind raced.
The sleepless nights for this year's prospects began in earnest days ago, and while some hope they can make one final strong impression in the last preseason game, the reality is the decision likely has already been made. Six teams play games on Friday night, the day before having to submit their cuts to the league office. You think the Broncos, Cardinals, Chargers, Niners, Raiders and Seahawks don't already know what they are doing personnel-wise before those games?
Most of the players who will receive that dreaded phone call this week fall into three distinct categories. I've been in each of those scenarios and know exactly how it feels.
First, there are the walking dead -- those players who know they are getting cut and just want to stop delaying the inevitable.
"It feels like you wasted six weeks of your life ... if not more," says former quarterback Jim Miller, twice a final cut casualty. "But you can handle it as long as you have been told the truth up to that point. If they have been lying to you, then there can be problems."
I found myself in this predicament with the Buffalo Bills in 2005. Even though I had performed well in 12 starts the previous season, the combination of my back surgery in April and two other injuries during training camp had sealed my fate.