It is certainly ironic that on Labor Day weekend across America the labor force of the NFL is slashed by almost 20%. This is a difficult weekend for the entire mix of the NFL – players, front office, medical staffs, coaches, agents and, of course, landlords – as the privilege of playing in the most popular sports league in the nation is pulled from hundreds of players.
Most of the names on the waiver wire have been with their clubs since the bleak days of winter, working out at the club’s facility, listening to coaches, heeding the advice of team trainers and doctors, and hoping to never hear the phone ring on Labor Day weekend. They have done everything the club has asked them to do, have played in the preseason games and tried to make a play or two to turn everyone’s heads. They have, simply, worked their rear ends off to make the club. But, in the end, they do not.
I have been at the Packers’ offices for the nine prior Labor Day weekends and always have the same thought: these players have spent the last six months doing everything we asked them to do and they are not going to be with us. Their position coach would give them a pep talk and wish them luck before returning to staff meetings to prepare for the opening game. In select cases, the head coach would also meet with the player. I suppose the former agent in me took over when I felt empathy for these young men, especially when they stopped in and shook my hand appreciating the opportunity they were given. At times, I felt worse than them!
The cold reality is in the numbers. Prior to the dissolution of NFL Europe this year, we carried 88-90 players going into training camp. Looking at that practice field the first day of camp, reality was that almost half that group would be employed elsewhere in a month. Now is that time. As they say their goodbyes today – although 8 per club will be re-signed to the Practice Squad – many will never play in the NFL again.
There will be many vested veterans cut this weekend. Due to the collectively bargained rule concerning termination pay for vested veterans, few, if any of these players will be signed prior to the opening game next weekend. Vested veterans are entitled to full salary if they are on the opening-day roster, no matter when they are released. For that reason alone, we will not see players such as Daunte Culpeper, Joey Harrington, Marcus Pollard, Roosevelt Colvin, Ashley Lelie, Rudi Johnson, Joe Horn, Shaun Alexander and others signed by any team prior to the opening games. Perhaps they will be signed after next weekend, when the termination pay requirements are 25% of salary rather than 100%. We had several occasions where we released veteran players prior to the vesting date – next Saturday – only to sign them after the first game.
Cap managers and general managers always have to budget for more than the 53-man opening day roster. Prior to the cuts, I would work out different scenarios if we kept certain players over others and our potential Cap room in each scenario. Beyond the roster, though, there are many fixed costs.
There is the Practice Squad for 8 players making a minimum of $5,200 a week. There are players on Reserve/Injured and PUP (Physically Unable to Perform), all counting against the Cap. There are injury settlements to be done. There is potential termination pay. There are incentives that may become charged against the Cap when earned. There will be more injuries and players to replace them. And, most importantly, there needs to be sufficient Cap room for in-season extensions with core players, a staple of solidly-managed teams.
Thus, after six months of being on a team during the long and tedious off-season, hundreds of players are sent to the unemployment line this weekend. Labor Day weekend is a holiday for most workers. Unfortunately, it is the beginning of an extended holiday for many now-former NFL players.