Many dreams will be deferred, and some will end in the next few hours as the NFL deadline for clubs to cut their rosters from 80 down to a final 53 approaches at 4 p.m. ET today.
More than 800 men will lose their jobs over the course of the day. While some might get claimed by other teams, signed to practice squads, or re-signed later on, for many, it's the end of the road for 2021.
Arizona Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury knows the process well. After being selected by the New England Patriots in the sixth round of the 2003 NFL Draft, Kingsbury bounced around the NFL, often only participating in the offseason work, before a stint in the CFL preluded his move into coaching. Kingsbury said the coaches who took a moment to share a positive comment while firing him were the ones he remembers even today.
"I was cut seven or eight times, and you remember that," Kingsbury said, per the team's official website. "A kind word and appreciation for the work, that doesn't take a lot of time."
Kingsbury said being empathetic to players who have battled for a roster spot during the hot summer practices, only to come up short, and expressing appreciation for the work can go a long way with those who just lost a job.
"The ones that talk to you and the ones that didn't, you definitely remember that," Kingsbury said of coaches who told him when he was cut. "Just being there, I remember what it meant to me. Just acknowledge, 'Hey, I appreciate it and good luck.'"
With practice squads remained expanded this year -- 16 players, with six slots for veterans -- there are additional jobs to be had. Still, for so many players, there is a lingering unknown that hovers over today's proceedings. There is also the cruel reality that several players who make the final 53-man roster will be released in the coming days as clubs claim others off waivers, teammates are activated off the reserve/COVID-19 list, or signings at other positions become necessary.
The truth is, for most players near the back-end of the 53-man rosters, the constant churn of NFL employment over a season comes with the ever-present threat that they could lose their job at any moment.
For those cut today, staying ready to jump back in the game when called is key for the dream to continue.
"You never know what's going to happen, but you make sure they are staying ready," Kingsbury said. "That life is not very glamorous when you get on that circuit, trying out for teams every week. I've lived it, so I definitely have some empathy."
As cuts come by the handful today, there will be discussions about what it means for the teams, players, financial situations, and yes, in some cases, how it impacts fantasy football or other components that have become elemental to the game. For some media, these discussions are part of the job. But we'd do well to remember that behind the name, contract figures, or stat lines is a man who just lost his job.