The Process of Cutting the Roster

After the third preseason game, NFL clubs have to get to the business of creating the 53 man final roster. In many cases, who makes the final 53 is pretty much determined after the second preseason game. The exceptions are when an untimely injury happens and a player you had figured to be on the 53 is now on injured reserve. Many believe that how a player performs in a preseason game is the determining factor. In some cases it is, but often the decision is made on how a player practices and how he responds to class room work. Coaches what players on the squad that can be trusted, meaning they know their assignments. You will see some players cut in the next few weeks who may have made some big plays but don’t know or understand the play book. Because of that, a coach can’t trust him enough to play him. Often, these are the type of guys you see on a practice squad; players that have the physical tools, but need the extra practice time to really know and understand their assignments. Who has the final decision on the roster? Every NFL club has one and only one person that has control of the 53 man roster. In essence, regardless of title, the person that holds that designation is the man who runs the club. In most cases, it is either the General Manager or the Head Coach….it’s can’t be both. Depending on who that person is, there can be a difference in philosophy. If it is the Head Coach, the thought process is often on today. Coaches have to win in order to retain their jobs. If the coach has the final say on the roster, he is almost always going to choose players that are going to help him today, not tomorrow. If he doesn’t win, there is no tomorrow. The General Manager, on the other hand, also has to win, but often thinking of the future of the franchise. He may choose to keep some younger players who have upside, even though a limited veteran may be more helpful today. Are their disagreements? Sure, but usually just on a few players, and often, if there is a good working relationship between the coach and the GM, compromise will and does happen. Is money a factor? Yes, money can be a factor, but it can come down to what the club going to get from the player as far as production. If you are paying a million dollars to a player, the club hopes to get back a million dollars in production. If the decision makers feel a player is not going to give back in production what he is being paid, then it is time to cut the cord. Often, you can see a veteran cut at the final cut down and then brought back to the squad after the first game is played. The reason this happens, is because if a vested veteran (over four years of service) is on the opening day roster, his contract is guaranteed for the season. If he is cut and brought back after the first game, then he is paid for only the games he is on the roster. For teams that have minimal salary cap room, this is important in doing business. What is the breakdown by position? This can and will change from team to team, and often, the scheme effects how many players a club keeps at each position. For example, a team that runs a 3-4 defense usually won’t keep as many defensive lineman as a 4-3 team. The same hold true for linebackers. The 3-4 team may carry more linebackers than the 4-3 club. If the Head Coach is an offensive coach, you will often see a few more players allotted to that side of the ball. For example, many clubs will keep five or six receivers. If the coach is offensive minded, you can bet they are more likely to keep six. The defensive minded coach will often keep more defensive backs or linebackers. When we talk about these final numbers, the players we are talking about are guys who fill out the final spots on a roster. Clubs used to always keep three quarterbacks on the roster, but in the last few years, we have seen a trend towards keeping just two. The third quarterback is often a young player who has practice squad eligibility. He is cut at the final cut down and brought back the next day after he clears waivers. Since his chances of playing are very limited, there is no sense in keeping him on the final 53. If a club has a young quarterback who they feel is a good developmental prospect and they won’t be able to slip him through waivers, they may choose to keep him on the final roster. You don’t want to expose a player that may have a good future to waivers. It’s just too risky. How important are special teams to the process? Special teams always play a huge role in determining the final roster. Games are won and lost on special teams play, and clubs are always looking for players who can be difference makers on special teams. When clubs get to the cut down process, there are almost always a few players who make the final roster who were not the best positional players on the team. For example, a club's fourth and fifth receiver and third running back have to play special teams. A club may cut a player who is worthy of being a team’s fourth receiver on talent, but he has no special teams' value. Because of that, the player who is say the sixth best receiver on the depth chart may jump ahead of the fourth receiver because of the special teams' value. When things like this happen, hopefully the player you cut has practice squad eligibility, so that you can resign him to the practice squad if he clears waivers. Cut down games Clubs are always trying to play games when it gets to cut down time. If a young player who is relatively unknown looks good in practice, the club may choose not to play him in the preseason games. The reason being is they don’t want to take a chance that he will make a few big plays in a game. If that happened, the other 31 clubs would see it on tape, making the chances of that player clearing waivers lower. Sometimes in these cases, the club may choose to cut the player before the final cut down, limiting his chance to be claimed by another club. Once the rosters are set, they quietly resign the player to the practice squad with the hope that he will continue to improve and eventually help the club in the future. Over the next few weeks, watch how your favorite club trims its roster. In my opinion, it is always a fascinating time the year, mainly because there is so much gamesmanship used. You will see that there are more roster moves made in the first two to three weeks of the season than there are the rest of the season combined. Follow Greg on Twitter @greggabe

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