Six weeks ago, we introduced you to five players, each at different stages of their careers, who were trying to earn or retain a roster spot. They truly were players whose careers were On The Fringe. Those players are now off the fringe as NFL teams trimmed their rosters to 53 on Saturday.
Two of these players, Falcons linebacker Coy Wire and Arizona wide receiver Lance Long, made the cut. Wide receiver David Tyree (N.Y. Giants) and fullback Boomer Grigsby (Texans) were released and are hoping their careers, somehow, continue. Running back Ian Johnson (Vikings), the only rookie we profiled, signed to Minnesota's practice squad Sunday after being waived.
For some, their dreams have been fulfilled. For others, those dreams have been deferred.
We knew from the outset of this project that we were dealing with special types of players -- and men. They knew their NFL existence required precision, sacrifice, minimal mistakes, the capitalization of opportunities, remaining healthy and some good breaks.
Life On The Fringe
These were not the most gifted players on the field, but each possessed that certain want-to and grit that so many of us could relate to. These are the types of people who would work hard no matter what their occupation. They were not the types of players who were afforded much. Instead, they were among those who generate first- and second-chances, because of their resilience and respect for the game.
Wire overcame a career-threatening neck injury to earn a job as Atlanta's special teams captain in 2008. The feel-good comeback was short-lived, as the Falcons drafted outside linebacker Spencer Adkins, acquired veteran Mike Peterson and got back 2008 draft pick Robert James, who missed last season after an injury.
In order to keep his spot on the team, we saw Wire push himself through some of the most daunting offseason conditioning of any NFL player. He made an immediate case early in training camp for his retention by learning all three linebacker positions and earning enough trust to become the backup signal caller and, once again, special teams ace. For eight seasons Wire has managed to make himself indispensable.
Grigsby, unfortunately, suffered a high-ankle sprain that would sideline him for up to two months. That is the type of injury no player can afford, especially one not guaranteed a spot. He was released two weeks before Saturday's cut down and reached an injury settlement with the Texans. The tough part about Grigsby's bid to return to the NFL -- after being released in Week 1 of the 2008 season by Miami -- being cut short is that he was well on his way to earning a roster spot as the backup fullback and special teams ace.
Grigsby's candor and energy for maximizing every second of life was refreshing and entertaining. The cowboy from Illinois provided us many amusing moments, especially his hustle to sneak into the sound check of a George Strait concert. Grigsby is rehabbing back in Arizona, where he lives with Vikings defensive end Jared Allen, and plans to return to the NFL this season, possibly with Houston.
This likely won't be the last we've heard of, or from, Grigsby.
"The top five were easy to see -- Steve Smith], Domenik [Hixon], Mario Manningham, Hakeem [Nicks] and [Ramses [Barden]," Tyree said. "It was really three guys fighting for one spot."
Hamstring and groin injuries and inconsistency catching the ball sealed Tyree's fate. However, he has already heard from a handful of teams and it is likely Tyree will be signed within the next two weeks.
Like Wire, Tyree is deeply religious. He has a peaceful means of dealing with adversity; his first reaction to being cut was to take his kids to the movies and out for pizza. Though he is at ease with how things worked out with the Giants, he's not comfortable with this being a means to some unknown end.
His competitive fire has been stoked by being cut by a team where he's forever entrenched in history; he plans to make history again, just elsewhere, he said. Tyree's professionalism and sense of making everyone feel at ease -- including those of us who covered him during this journey -- was appreciated by his teammates, like Barden, who said Tyree always carried himself in such a way that made younger players aspire to be better in every facet of life.
"I've learned a lot through this and I believe I'm so much more prepared and stronger for what comes next," Tyree said after being cut.
Johnson's bid to make it with the Vikings seemed to grip us differently than the others because he and his wife, Chrissy, put so much into him making it to the NFL. In them we saw so much youthful hope, but we also knew that if things didn't work out, the potential heartbreak could be doubly painful since seemingly everything that took place was done in tandem.
Johnson's path seemed difficult from the beginning, trying to earn a roster spot on one of the most talent-rich teams that boasted running backs Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor. Yet, when he had the ball in his hands, he made things happen in four preseason games. His drive and potential could not be questioned. To make it as a fringe player, though, special teams performance is vital and he rarely was involved in the kicking game. Though he didn't make the final 53, he's in an on-call role as a member of the practice squad in the event of an injury.
Johnson was crestfallen at not making the final roster. But instead of lamenting, he insisted that he simply didn't do enough and that this humbling experience has motivated him more. Like Grigsby, this doesn't seem like the last time we've heard from Johnson.
We knew Long was going to be an ideal player to follow after the initial conversation to invite him to be part of our project. He was set to have all four wisdom teeth pulled five days before we were to shoot the video portion of the On The Fringe series. He was so flattered that it didn't matter to him that he could be looking like Alvin of "Alvin and the Chipmunks" while being introduced to the NFL.com and NFL Network world. Fortunately for him, he was healed when we arrived.
This one-time collegiate walk-on exemplified the epitome of never giving up. He barely started in college after walking on at Mississippi State, yet didn't find the task of fighting for a roster spot with Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin and Steve Breaston overly daunting. Long went from a camp body to practice squad player in 2008 to a member of the final 53 in 2009.
In a text message following his retention, Long remained as humble as ever, simply saying he was excited but not satisfied and that he will work harder to be better. Like the other players featured in this project, Long then uttered two words that are always nice to hear, but not often said by professional athletes, celebrities or people in general who don't appreciate everything life brings -- like getting a chance to play in the NFL: