The reason Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett speaks personally to every player he cuts from the roster is because he spent his entire NFL career as a fringe player.
He understands the power a few words of encouragement, instruction or hope can give a player who has just seen his NFL dream derailed.
“It’s probably the hardest thing that we have to do,” Garrett said of cutting players. “We really take a tremendous amount of pride in doing it the right way. I will talk to every player, have a personal meeting with them. The coordinators will talk to each player. The position coaches will talk to the player.
“Typically, what we do is thank them for their effort and putting it all out there. We try to be instructive; ‘This is what we saw. This is how we think you can get better. It’s one person’s opinion or one organization’s opinion.’ And then encourage them.
“If we feel like they can continue to play, help them in any way that we can and just try to give any kind of guidance we can. That’s a hard meeting to have. Different players will handle it different ways, but we have to make sure we handle it the right way and are respectful of those guys because they have put it all out there.”
Garrett, who played in the NFL from 1993 to 2004, made just nine career starts. Only once did he start more than two games in an NFL season.
That’s why he also prides himself on making sure he gives every player an opportunity in practice and preseason games to prove he should make the team. It’s important, because he didn’t get many opportunities.
Garrett, like a few players on his team, looked forward to the final preseason game because he knew it meant he’d get to play.
Still, no matter how empathetic Garrett is or how much encouragement he provides, players don’t want to hear they’ve been released.
Some are gracious. A few cry. Others get angry.
"We have to be able to look at ourselves in the mirror and say: Did we give this player an opportunity to make this team? We talk about that all along the way. ‘We have to see this guy. We haven’t seen this guy play. Let’s make sure we give him some chances in practice and in these preseason games to show us'." Garrett said. “We really try to do that, and its very rare that we’ll look at a player and say we haven’t done that. Ultimately we’ll make a decision that we think is best for our team and typically the player understands.”