The next two days are going to be the most gut wrenching 48-hour period for hundreds of players around the NFL. As fans, we get geared up for the season and want to see the stars and the Pro Bowlers. However, there will be 22 players that leave 32 different NFL facilities wondering what the future holds for them. Six weeks of grueling training camp. Four or five pre-season games. A lifetime playing football.
Then, the GM/head coach call you and ask for your playbook and thank you for your effort.
Some see it coming and others are blindsided as if they were running down on punt return and didn't see the crackback block.
The news hits the interwebs fast and social media even faster. Blogs and websites track the cuts as they learn them as if trying to calculate the number of electoral college votes a Presidential candidate gets in an election. Some get a call from another team. Some wait by the phone and wonder if all is for naught.
Of those players, hundreds of younger players wait for a different phone call.
The potential practice squad phone call.
When NFL teams release those 22 players, they go through the waiver wire process. Once those players clear that process, each team has the opportunity to retain ten players on its practice squad. On cut day, teams can alert a player to the fact that if he's not claimed on waivers, they'd like to bring him back on the practice squad. Those players know that their football life is on life support but it's still alive.
The number of players that started on practice squad, made a roster and then starred is impressive.
Arian Foster was on the practice squad for much of 2009; he won the NFL rushing title in 2010.
James Harrison was on the Steelers practice squad for the better part of two years; he was the 2008 NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
Rob Ninkovich was a practice squad player in Miami; he has been a valued member of the New England Patriots defense for the past six seasons.
Charles James, the Texans Hard Knocks darling, spent 2013 on the New York Giants practice squad and 2014 on the Houston Texans practice squad; he's pushing for a spot on the 2015 53-man roster in a big way.
Those are just a few that I could think of off the top of my head but there are many more that I've missed. Regardless, the practice squad isn't a guarantee of success, but it does provide a player with the chance to learn, grow, mature and practice with the 53-man roster all season long. It gives those players a chance to extend their careers one more day or even a full year.
Last year, the NFL decided to change the practice squad rules to allow ten players on practice squad versus the eight that were designated in past years. The math isn't really difficult. Two times 32 is 64. That's 64 additional players and 320 in total. Those 320 players will have the opportunity to keep that dream alive this weekend.
The dream to be the next Arian Foster or James Harrison.
The dream to suit up on Sundays.
The dream to keep playing the game they've played for years.
The dream of a professional football career.
It won't be the words they want to hear, but the football grim reaper isn't dialing the phone either.