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Matt Birk talks about lead in to first veteran combine

Matt Birk, the NFL's director of football development, wouldn't say that this process has been stressful or arduous or painstaking.

Yes, there were plenty of unexpected hurdles when the idea for a veteran combine showed up three-quarters baked on his desk. But when he thought of every player who he's seen get cut in training camp during his 14-year career, only to wash away into obscurity, the effort seemed worthwhile.

If this can help one player or one team, Sunday's inaugural running -- which can be seen during an 8 p.m. ET special on NFL Network -- it will be worthwhile. Around The NFL will also provide live updates during the event.

"I'm anxious to see how it's received by our clubs," Birk told Around The NFL. "It's a new event. There's a fair amount of skepticism surrounding it and rightfully so. So I guess we're just focused right now on executing and making sure that things run smoothly and that our clubs find it useful."

Birk said he received over 2,000 applications and had to turn away some close friends, some who even went through the trouble of calling him personally to complain. He joined a group of current and former NFL personnel executives who helped whittle down the pool to a manageable number, which you can see here.

"Did I get guys calling up mad at me? Guys that I know? Guys that I played with that didn't get in? Oh yeah," Birk said. "And I get it. Guys are fighting for their football lives. They want it as bad as anything and that hurts. It hurts me as a player. Football is a brotherhood and some of these guys I played with. It's hard."

Birk said he's intent on reaching out to clubs and players following Sunday's dry run in the hopes that he can make this an annual event that results in quality signings.

He admitted to being part of a pool, one that includes marketing, event planning and personnel, who are trying to create an event, but not a spectacle. The infusion of some well vested veterans like Michael Bush, Felix Jones and Jamaal Anderson was done so carefully and through the advice of some teams that might actually want a second look.

The rest are the types of players Birk felt for during his lengthy NFL career. Just one shot despite deserving another.

Based on the available talent pool, here are a few players we're looking forward to seeing:

1. Michael Sam, DE, Missouri: Sam showed some promise with the Rams in the preseason before getting a second chance with the Dallas Cowboys. After getting cut a second time, Sam, the league's first openly-gay player, refused to pursue other options and kept his eyes on the NFL above any other leagues on the periphery. As a natural pass rusher in college, his skills should find a home somewhere.

2. Jamaal Anderson, DE, Arkansas: A former top 10 pick by the Atlanta Falcons, Jamaal Anderson was most recently let go by the Bears, where he spent a portion of his summer in 2013. The 29-year-old has 7.5 sacks to his name so far and 132 career tackles. He also has some reps at defensive tackle.

3. Felix Jones, RB, Arkansas: Another former Razorback taken in the first round, Jones was part of a dominant three-headed monster backfield in college and his success carried over early into his NFL career. Just 27, Jones has gone through some recent workouts with a few NFL clubs, including the Giants, in the hopes of getting his career back on track. He last played in 2013 for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Honorable mention:Michael Bush, RB, Louisville, Aaron Berry, DB, Pittsburgh, Dan Fox, LB, Notre Dame, Da'Rel Scott, RB, Maryland.

The latest Around The NFL Podcast reacts to Chris Borland's sudden retirement and discusses Philip Rivers' future in San Diego. Find more Around The NFL content on NFL NOW.

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