For the first time, NFL general managers and coaches will have to cut their roster down from 90 to 53 players in just one day after previously going through two separate cut down periods (90 to 75 and 75 to 53) in two weeks. While this is a benefit for coaches looking to keep their rosters at full capacity for the fourth preseason game and a bonus for bottom-of-the-roster players hoping for more field time to showcase their abilities, it will also be a crazy day for personnel departments everywhere.
Here are some things to look for on Saturday, when all rosters must be trimmed by the 4 p.m. ET deadline.
- One big challenge facing teams this weekend? Infrastructure. Personnel departments have likely been working overtime (more overtime than usual) to revise their projected cut lists so they have an idea of who will available from other teams. But, with more than 1,100 players hitting the market at once, this is a much steeper undertaking. Remember, at this point a year ago, 480 of those players were already cut and, because they were among the first wave which contain more camp bodies, they were not going to be very high on anyone's list. This year, another opportunity for those bottom of the roster players could complicate the decision-making process a bit and scramble some team's lists.
Speaking of infrastructure, one NFL executive wondered, simply, how they were going to get 37 players to the airport. Teams still drop off cut players and see them to their next destination (or back home). Team employees could be pulling double duty on one of the busiest days of the year.
Which leads us to our next point...
- General managers are still trying to maintain a personal touch. Browns executive vice president of football operations Sashi Brown told reporters earlier this summer that he expected a busy day that could feature some surprises but that he still planned on meeting with all 37 players during the day.
"I think it is going to be a pretty jammed cut weekend," Brown said. "We do not really know what to expect. None of us have cut that many players at one time. That will be a long day. I think [head coach Hue Jackson] and I have great relationships with all 90 guys in our building so we take the time to meet with every one of them. I do think it makes it a little bit more challenging for the teams to try to do so that in one cut, but we will be prepared and ready to go as we always are."
For those who have seen Hard Knocks, the bring your playbook moment before the meeting is absolutely heartbreaking. Players know they are losing their jobs. What follows is usually a short one- to two-minute meeting about what they can do better or something encouraging about the future. Here's an example of an early cut from this year's Hard Knocks.
It was easier in previous years with much fewer players. Personnel departments had everything, including the timing, down to a science. Now, they'll have to balance the human element with the unknown.
- To understand the day from a player's perspective, I spoke to a pair of agents preparing their client list for the day. One major takeaway? The most action could be in the days and weeks that follow cut down day. Why? There will be a flood of players hitting the market at once, so a team keeping an eye on a prospective free agent from another team could more easily miss out on their target. Should those players end up on a practice squad, where they are able to be claimed by other teams, that's when a team could end up jostling the bottom half of their roster. Churning the bottom third of a team's roster has been a hallmark of successful teams over the past five years anyway. Now, there just may be more incentive to do it.
- A second takeaway from the pair of agents: Fewer new faces on the practice squad to start. This is not entirely unusual and is partially due to the limits on practice time from the 2011 collective bargaining agreement -- teams do not want to waste time breaking in new players. Teams rightfully like their rosters so much that they end up comprising the entire 10-man practice squad with young players who narrowly missed their own 53-man roster. But this trend could increase simply because of the market saturation and overall uncertainty. Thirty-seven players per team is a lot to keep an eye on for pro personnel staffs.
- A more electric Week 4 of the preseason?
In my time as a Jets and Giants beat writer, I can't remember too many players altering a roster decision based on a Week 4 preseason performance. Could that change this time around? Coaches will essentially have 40 players for 10 practice squad spots and 60 minutes to let them battle it out. I thought Patriots head coach Bill Belichick was interesting on Wednesday when asked about the importance of bottom-of-the-roster players not feeling overburdened or over-pressured heading into the final weeks.
"It's a fair question, but this is the National Football League and there is pressure every week," Belichick said. "There is pressure this week. There is going to be pressure in October. There is going to be pressure in November. We're going to be under stress all year every week. We're going to be under stress out on the field every week against every opponent. Playing in the National Football League, that's what you sign up for. If you're looking for vacation weeks and weeks off where we play some Division IV team and all of that, that doesn't happen in this league. There is stress every week."
He added later: "If there's too much pressure in August, it's probably going to be too much pressure in November. This is the world we live in. You tell me a week in this National Football League when there is not pressure, I don't know when that is. Every week is a tough week. Every week is a good team, good players, good coaches, work hard that have a lot of things that you've got to deal with, and if you don't deal with them then you're not going to win that week. That's the NFL."
- Quarterback movement could define cut down weekend. Personally, this is what I'm looking at. By my count, there are 11 teams that, if they decide to keep only two quarterbacks on the active roster, could cut a third that would be a marginal to significant upgrade for another team at the No. 2 spot. For example: The Giants could cut loose either Geno Smith or Josh Johnson, the Cardinals might decide they don't need two quarterbacks behind Carson Palmer and set Blaine Gabbert back on the market. Niners rookie C.J. Beathard played ahead of Matt Barkley, potentially allowing for Barkley to become a free agent, and Bears backup Mark Sanchez has played just a handful of snaps for Chicago this preseason so keep an eye there.