The practice squad shuffle

On Saturday at 4 p.m. eastern time, when rosters become fixed at 53 players, there will be about 700 players competing for 256 spots on practice squads. Those 450 players who don’t get signed will be on the outside looking in, wondering why they didn’t land spots. Teams that were not satisfied with their castoffs will search the wire for players they attempted to pick up after the draft but missed out on in April. Agents and team pitchmen such as GMs and head coaches will try to convince players to stay put their practice squads with promises of seeing time on the 53-man roster in the near future.

For many undrafted free agents who were overlooked on draft day and had to put up with what I call the “worst two hours in football” after the draft -- when teams make pitches to players and agents like used car salesman with promises of opportunity -- the process can start all over again. But this time it’s done over a 24-hour period.

Those coveted few rookies who had great camps, turned heads and impressed in preseason games will be asked to remain at the hotel as the teams promise a practice squad spot with the possibility of being activated within a few weeks. It’s a mixed bag of emotions for a player who’s been cut but is now asked to stay and practice with the team for a quarter of the minimum salary. That same player, however, may get offers from other teams to join their practice squad. There’s a “grass is greener” mentality to this process by both agents and teams in which a fresh start for the player seems like a better idea than going back to the team that just cut him. And so, it’s decision time again.

Typically, I encourage a player to stay put if a team offers a spot. He just spent five weeks learning a position, terminology, a playbook and a new system, so most of the time it’s not in his best interests to go elsewhere and start all over again. During the regular season, practice is 90 percent game prep with very little time spent on player development. However, I do explore all options for my player by not making a definitive decision until the dust has settled. I will always take a 53-man spot with a new team over a practice squad spot with the current team

For positions like wide receiver or tight end, I may be more open-minded to a new team’s practice squad since that player gets to show what he can do every day against the first team defense. It’s a little tougher for an interior lineman to make his mark during the regular season on the practice squad.

Every now and then, I’ll have a client who gets cut and is not claimed but is sought after by a few teams so desperate to have him that they will either pay a premium over the practice squad minimum or swear an oath that he will be activated within three weeks. I once had a player, Damien Robinson, who was told by the Eagles that he had made the team, then was cut the next day with the promise that he would be active the following week. I call that “the head fake.” The coaches had a love-hate relationship with Damien; they liked his potential but didn’t trust him yet. They cut him a few days after he made the 53, put him on the practice squad and demanded that he stay put and work harder. After a short time, I thought there was too much damage done to the relationship so I moved him to the Tampa Bay active roster, where he quickly became a starter.

There will be a lot more going on behind the scenes this weekend as players rely on their agents to make good decisions and put them in places where they can succeed.

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