Commentary

Emotions run high on cut-down day

Some dreams are deferred, and others die when final rosters are determined

Originally Published: August 31, 2012
By Ashley Fox | ESPN.com

The NFL is a tough business, and there is no tougher day than cut-down day. Every team pared its roster from 75 players to 53 by Friday at 9 p.m. ET. Twenty-two men per team lost their jobs in this final round of cuts. Spread across all 32 rosters, that's 704 jobs that were lost.

For some, it will mark the end of their careers. For others, they will get picked up because one team's trash often becomes another team's treasure. For many, there will be stress and uncertainty and crushed dreams. It will hurt whether the player is a 22-year-old rookie free agent or a 35-year-old veteran.

Roster roulette is harsh.

Just look at what happened in Atlanta earlier this week. In the span of two days, the Falcons cut two quarterbacks. One, Chris Redman, had been part of the team since 2007, when then-coach Bobby Petrino pulled him off the street and gave him a second chance after his career had stalled out. He was selling insurance in his hometown of Louisville, Ky.

[+] EnlargeChris Redman
Joel Auerbach/Getty ImagesChris Redman, 35, played nine NFL seasons, but his career might be over after the Falcons released him.

For the past five seasons and into this, a sixth, Redman was Matt Ryan's backup. They spent countless hours in meetings together, on the practice field and on road trips. Their lockers were near each other. Redman was as supportive of Ryan as any backup could be. Great guy. Well respected. Liked by everybody. Easygoing. Appreciative. Happy.

I saw Redman just a few weeks ago at the Falcons' training facility in Flowery Branch, Ga. He peeked out of a meeting room where he and Ryan were watching tape and told me how happy he was to still be in the league, to have stretched out his career longer than he could've ever imagined back in 2006 when he had a job in the real world.

On Tuesday -- boom -- the Falcons cut Redman and signed Luke McCown, who spent the past three seasons in Jacksonville, where he worked with Dirk Koetter, the Falcons' new offensive coordinator. At 31, McCown is four years younger than Redman. In the past three seasons, McCown and Redman have started the same number of games (two) and thrown the same number of interceptions (four). McCown's completion percentage over the past three seasons is 53.8, and Redman's is 59.5.

They're essentially the same guy. One now has a new job, and the other has no job.

I reached out to Redman through the Falcons, to no avail. He didn't want to talk. Not now, anyway.

Two days before cutting Redman, the Falcons cut third-string quarterback John Parker Wilson, who had been with the team since 2009, when he signed as an undrafted rookie free agent out of Alabama. Wilson never threw a pass in a regular-season game for Atlanta. He was released during final cuts last season, then signed to the Falcons' practice squad the next day before rejoining the 53-man roster in December.

[+] EnlargeTom Brady and Jabar Gaffney
Jim Rogash/Getty ImagesJabar Gaffney hoped to team with Tom Brady this season. Instead, he's waiting for the phone to ring.

For players in the lower third of NFL rosters, cut-down day will be nerve-wracking.

"You don't want the phone to ring," said David Douglas, an undrafted rookie wide receiver who was fighting for a roster spot with the New York Giants.

"I'm really nervous right now at this point," said defensive end Adewale Ojomo, who, like Douglas, participated in Giants camp as an undrafted rookie free agent. "This is my livelihood. It's a lot banking on this, so I'm kind of nervous right now. I'll just be getting my mind mentally ready for whatever comes."

On Friday morning, Douglas became one of those players whose dreams have been put on hold when the Giants placed him on waivers. Ojomo was more fortunate. He made the team's final 53-man roster after enjoying a fine preseason.

Some players who were cut will have opportunities to join a team's eight-man practice squad, which is where Douglas could land. Others will be out of work. Maybe they will get picked up later, when injuries mount and teams need replacements for replacements. Maybe they will never play again and their transition to the real world will have to begin.

Football is a game played on Sundays, but, at its core, it is a business. Tough decisions get made. Dreams get dashed. Careers end. It happens every cut-down day, from 90 to 75, from 75 to 53.

Some notable players were released even before Friday's round of cut: Terrell Owens, Billy Cundiff, Olindo Mare, Neil Rackers, Donte' Stallworth, Jabar Gaffney and Roscoe Parrish are just a few.

Parrish and Cundiff were lucky enough to be picked up by other teams. We'll see about the others. Stallworth worked out for the Dolphins but hasn't received an offer.

There are 704 names, big and small. Some you have heard of. Others you haven't. Cutdown day. It is the most dreaded day on the NFL calendar.

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