Final roster cuts were made across the NFL on Saturday, and most of the focus of fans and media will be on the 53 players who remain for each team.
But the past week was bittersweet for much of the NFL. While 53 players on each team received happy news that they’ll be sticking around (at least initially), 37 had their dreams dashed — some temporarily, some permanently.
NFL teams cut down from 90 to 75 players last Tuesday, and to 53 on Saturday, tossing 1,184 players back into the free agency pool — mostly undrafted rookies chasing their dreams and older veterans looking to hang on for one last season. A maximum of 1,952 players can have NFL jobs — 53 on each roster and eight on each practice squad — meaning a lot of players are left to wonder what comes next in their athletic careers, and their lives.
“It’s a tough moment — your dreams are at your fingertips and then you get that call, and it’s definitely not a good feeling,” said Patriots fullback James Develin, who didn’t even get invited to a training camp as a rookie in 2010, and then was released by the Bengals after the 2011 and 2012 preseasons. “But you’ve got to find the good in it, and find a way to kind of recover. And if you get a call in the next day or two and get picked up somewhere, then you start a new journey. It’s all about moving on and keeping it going.”
Players spend weeks or even months training with their teams throughout the spring and summer, immersing themselves in the playbook and building friendships with their teammates.
And then it’s over in a matter of minutes. The player gets a call that the coach wants to see him in his office, and to bring his playbook (or iPad). The coach thanks the player for his service, and within a minute or two sends him on his way. The team pays for the player’s flight home, and after that a player is left to decide: keep the dream alive, or time to move on?
Former Patriots tight end Evan Landi, waived on Tuesday, has decided he’s “all in” for the 2013 season. An undrafted free agent out of the University of South Florida, Landi already has been cut by two teams — by the Patriots after spending two weeks in camp, and by the Buccaneers after spending a few weeks with the team after the draft.
Landi, 23, knew his odds were long when he arrived in Foxborough three weeks ago. He had Rob Gronkowski, Zach Sudfeld, Michael Hoomanawanui, Jake Ballard, and Daniel Fells ahead of him on the depth chart, and Landi was most likely just a “camp body.”
“I think sometimes you have to look at it realistically,” Landi said. “Then again, once you hit the field in the meeting rooms and things like that, you have to focus like you’re competing for a job. Everything is being looked at and watched. You have to think, ‘Hey, I’m here, I’m in camp, I have the opportunity,’ and you just have to take it.”
After his release on Tuesday — “a minor setback,” Landi said — he returned home to Coral Springs, Fla., where he is living with his parents, helping out with his dad’s business, and working out every day. He doesn’t know if the phone will ring, but he wants to stay in top shape in case it does.
“It’s a long season, and unfortunately injuries and other things happen,” Landi said. “I’m just trying to be as ready as I can, stay in the best shape possible, and if a team needs me, hope to be ready for them and earn a spot.”
“That’s the only way to be,” he added. “You can’t really sulk about it, can’t really pout. Just have to work hard and move forward.”
Landi said that getting cut by the Buccaneers this spring didn’t make the news any easier to take when the Patriots did the same.
“It hurts just as bad,” he said. “But then you just realize that’s the harsh reality of the business.”
Develin, undrafted out of Brown in 2010, has invested the last three-plus years of his life into his football career. After going unsigned after the draft, he played in the now-defunct UFL in 2010, before the Bengals picked him up for their practice squad in Week 11.
“I started looking for engineering jobs and stuff like that, but then luckily I fell into the UFL and got my feet wet there,” he said.
The Bengals invited him to camp in 2011 and 2012, and though they cut him both times, he didn’t have to wait long for a job. He spent 2011 on the Bengals’ practice squad, and 2012 on the Patriots’ practice squad.
Develin laughed when asked if taking the news of getting cut gets easier.
“No, it gets harder and harder each year, because you put that much more into it,” he said.
But Develin didn’t give up on his dream, and now is on the verge of realizing it after surviving Saturday’s cuts (players sometimes make initial cuts but are waived a day or two later after teams sift through the waiver wire).
He said he did not allow himself to think about fallback plans in case the NFL didn’t work out.
“This whole process is so tough, you just have to put [other plans] on the back burner and just kind of let God decide,” said the 25-year-old Develin. “At this point, my dreams are right there. I never question it. This is what I want to do, and I’ll fight and claw and do anything I can to try and make it come true.”
Landi is a lot further from making his dream come true, but he’s not giving up.
“Someone told me one time you can work for the rest of your life, but you can’t play football for the rest of your life,” he said. “That kind of stuck with me. So for the next few years I’m going to give it 110 percent and stay ready.”
Concussion agreement in its most basic terms
The NFL finally settled the concussion lawsuit that had been looming for years and included more than 4,500 former players, who sued the league for substandard care when it came to head injuries.
Since these matters tend to be complicated, let’s boil it down to the basic facts:
■ The NFL agreed to pay $765 million to settle the lawsuit, with $675 million available to former players “who present medical evidence of severe cognitive impairment, dementia, Alzheimer’s, ALS, or to their families.” It is important to note that all retired players are eligible to receive money, not just the 4,500 plaintiffs.
■ Retired players will have the opportunity to conduct baseline medical exams, and those who demonstrate any sort of cognitive injury will be eligible to receive money. Compensation will be based on the player’s diagnosis, age, length of his career, and other factors, and will be determined by independent doctors. Players who don’t exhibit cognitive injuries will not be able to benefit from the settlement.
■ Half of the $765 million (split equally among all 32 teams) will be paid over the first three years, and the rest paid over the next 17. Broken down, each team is responsible to pay $23.9 million over 20 years, including $3.98 million in each of the first three years and slightly more than $703,000 per year for the next 17.
■ A maximum of $75 million will be used to conduct baseline tests, $10 million will be used for research and education, and $6 million for administrative costs.
The settlement appears to be a victory for both the NFL and the retired players — but with a capital “V” for the league and a lower-case “v” for the retirees.
For the former players, many of whom are hard-pressed for money and need serious medical care, the settlement puts money in their pockets now. It’s possible they could have squeezed more out of the NFL, but many players don’t have time on their side. They need help now, and the settlement should accomplish that. There is also no guarantee that the retirees would have won anything had the case gone to court.
The owners, meanwhile, couldn’t have asked for a much better outcome. The sum of $23 million per team is a drop in the bucket for the owners, especially when considering they have 20 years to pay out.
“To me, it’s not even about the money, but it’s about a small price to pay when the NFL is going to make $27 billion [estimated] in the next 15 to 20 years,” former NFL Players Association president Kevin Mawae told TitanInsider on Thursday.
As part of the deal, the NFL also doesn’t have to disclose what it knew about concussions in the 1980s and ’90s. The deal also essentially squashes any threat of future lawsuits, as the NFL is now much more proactive about head injuries and concussion protocol.
“I know how much we are doing to focus on safety and health issues for all of football . . . We are devoting a lot of research, energy, and this is still the greatest game on earth,” Patriots owner Robert Kraft told the NFL Network. “We have to be sure we are being diligent in keeping it healthy and strong, and young mothers want to let their young children play football, and I think this is a step in that direction.”
Bucs kicker’s wife puts her foot down
There’s a nasty fight playing out in Tampa Bay between the Buccaneers and kicker Lawrence Tynes, who along with guard Carl Nicks has been diagnosed with a MRSA infection potentially contracted at the team facility.
Tynes is at home after initially being diagnosed with an ingrown toenail, and his wife has been doing all of the talking, via Twitter.
She first lashed out after coach Greg Schiano said Tynes and Nicks were “responding well” to treatment.
“I hear my husband is responding ‘well’ to treatment. LOL! He’s NOT responding at all yet,” she wrote, while posting a photo of Tynes hooked up to a catheter pumping antibiotics into his body.
“Thank you so much for all the well wishes. Lawrence finally has the right people in his corner,” she added.
Then Saturday, news came out that the Buccaneers were placing Tynes on the non-football injury list but were willing to pay him his full salary. Amanda Tynes lashed out again.
“The Bucs informed my husband via EMAIL that he will be placed on NFI. Wouldn’t expect anything more from such a classy organization,” she wrote.
The Buccaneers first discovered a MRSA problem while the team was having joint practices in New England, and both teams subsequently scrubbed their training facilities of any traces of the virus, per reports.
Jones is obviously brains of the operation
Jerry Jones certainly has acted like he thinks he’s smarter than everyone else, ever since buying the Cowboys in 1989. Now he says he has the medical tests to prove it.
“I’ve been told that I have, by CT scans, that it’s like the brain of a 40-year-old,” Jones, 70, said last week. “The guy really did not know it was me. I was there anonymously. He said, ‘And so I just wanted to come down. I saw your chart. I know how old you are. That part is really impressive.’ ”
With the preseason complete, a look at the NFL’s most impactful injuries:
Cardinals G Jonathan Cooper — Seventh overall pick, expected to bolster a weak offensive line, is out for the year with a broken leg.
Eagles WR Jeremy Maclin — Was expected to put up big numbers opposite DeSean Jackson in Chip Kelly’s offense before tearing his ACL.
49ers WR Michael Crabtree — Could be back in November after tearing his Achilles’ in May, but his loss puts the offense in a real bind to start the season, with very little at receiver.
Ravens TE Dennis Pitta — Ravens really could have used Pitta, Joe Flacco’s favorite target, given all the turnover they’ve had, but he’s potentially out for the season with a broken hip.
Dolphins TE Dustin Keller — Miami let Anthony Fasano walk in free agency and signed Keller as an athletic upgrade to help open the field for Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline, but Keller suffered a devastating knee injury and his season, and possibly career, are over.
And the top suspensions — Broncos LB Von Miller (six games); Redskins DLs Rob Jackson and Jarvis Jenkins (five games); Cardinals LB Daryl Washington, Jaguars WR Justin Blackmon, Seahawks DE Bruce Irvin, and Rams LB Jo-Lonn Dunbar (four games); Vikings FB Jerome Felton (three games); Browns WR Josh Gordon (two games); Texans DT Antonio Smith (one game).
The Patriots had a few surprise/big-name cuts Saturday in Zoltan Mesko, Tim Tebow, and Jermaine Cunningham, and there were several others around the league. Among them:
QBs — Vince Young, Packers; Greg McElroy, Jets; Trent Edwards, Bears; Matt Leinart, Bills.
WRs — Austin Collie, 49ers; Robert Meachem, Chargers.
CB — Antoine Winfield, Seahawks.
OT — J’Marcus Webb, Bears.Ben Volin can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @BenVolin. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.