Watching Hard Knocks gives us a realistic look inside the emotions of being cut from a roster. If you don’t have HBO, I can tell you that it’s more emotional than you know. I have had grown men cry to me on the phone, completely disappear for days from friends and family, even spiral into a depression where their confidence erodes and own self-worth is questioned.
You have to remember that these guys were always the stars of their hometown, college teams and always the first one ever picked in the school yard. Being rejected for their first time is a tough pill to swallow. There is no preparation for being released and it’s usually a first for players who have never experienced failure on many levels.
A Slow Death: With 90 players on the camp roster there are about ten to twenty players per team that get very little action in the preseason games or even practice. We call this cut a “slow death” because the player knows it’s coming and never gets a chance to prove himself but can’t and won’t quit. On top of that their position coach may outright ignore them because he knows it’s coming and doesn’t want to be attached. I’ve had players ask their coaches to meet for extra grease board or film work where the coaches say “sure” but never show up or say they have to leave.
The anxiety around being in a slow death situation stinks because you know you could be getting a better look with a team who has a bigger need for your position or has an environment where everyone gets a fair shot. This player usually gets cut at the 75-man mark.
The nagging injury: One of the worst things that can happen to a player is to go to camp with or suffer a nagging injury. I’m talking pulled hamstring, high ankle sprain, back spasm, neck stingers, groin pulls, light concussion and/or something where he can play but not be at his best. The problem is these injuries will hold you back from being at your best, but they are the type of injuries where coaches expect you to play and practice. You may miss a few days here and there but for the most part you are playing and practicing because you don’t want to miss out on the opportunity.
Playing with a nagging injury can make you look slow and/or hesitant and coaches really don’t care how hurt you are. Many teams’ trainers don’t even inform their position coaches of these injuries. One of the most frequent conversations between and agents and players during camp are, “should I practice, should I tell my coach I’m not 100%, should we get a second opinion, should I play this weekend?”
Having a nagging injury is sometimes worse than a season ending injury. With a nagging injury the player puts an inferior product of his services on the field and on tape for other teams to see. That’s the impression that is left to the rest of the league. At least with a more serious injury such as an ACL tear, a torn pec or bicep, the player at least can receive a financial injury settlement equal to the amount time he would miss. To be placed on injured reserve, the player at least receives a salary, is around the team for the season and most likely gets another chance the following season.
Making it to the 75 man
If a player does make it to the 75-man roster they most likely have a shot of making a practice squad or being resigned later in the season after someone gets hurt at their position. These twenty-two players are fighting for their professional lives. To them it’s the ultimate game of survivor. After the 75-man cut down, where they see their new friends, roommates and teammates disappear, they know they have one week and game left to prove themselves.
Some just need a few lucky breaks or just a few big plays in practice and/or the preseason game.
The agent’s job: When a player gets cut the agent really has to shine. He or she has to work hard and with exact precision in finding his client another opportunity. However, as agents we must be direct about the players’ future and the reality of getting picked back up by another team. It’s our job to know what our cut players’ deficiencies are, address them and have a plan. It’s our job to know where the other opportunities are, who is best at developing young players and getting our clients noticed. We have to text, email, cold call and promote our players daily. We have to do the hardest work when nobody is looking and even create an opportunity where there wasn’t any.
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