Brian Banks' path to the NFL was an inspirational journey that may be over. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
The script reads the same every season, but the actual process of releasing players from your team never gets any easier. The league requires that all teams must meet the 53-man roster limit by Saturday, Aug. 31, and the final cuts can be particularly brutal. A bunch of low-level team employees are walking around their facilities right now, issuing sideways glances as they tell players that their coaches would like to see them, and can they please bring the iPods that contain their playbooks? There will be hundreds of cuts by tomorrow afternoon, and here are some of the most notable.
Brian Banks' return to the game may be at an end
You may know Banks' story, but if you don't, here's a quick recap: At 16, the former Southern California high school star was accused of rape on a charge that proved to be false. He spent five years in prison and another five on probation before he was finally exonerated. Banks had verbally committed to Pete Carroll's USC team in 2002, and a decade later, he was up in Seattle after getting in football shape to attend a private workout with Carroll, now the head coach of the Seattle Seahawks. Banks didn't make the Seahawks' roster, but he didn't give up. He worked with noted NFL trainer Travelle Gaines in Los Angeles (Gaines was so moved by Banks' story, he trained him for free), played in the UFL for a while, and was signed by the Atlanta Falcons in April.
On Friday, the team announced that Banks didn't make the final cut. According to FOX Sports' Jay Glazer, Falcons owner Arthur Blank was so impressed by Banks as a person, he is now looking to employ him in some capacity with the organization, though it doesn't look as if he'll make the practice squad.
When you talk with Banks for any length of time, it's easy to understand Blank's reaction. I first met Banks in 2012, and I was immediately struck by his lack of bitterness when he recalled what had happened to him. He understood that his NFL learning curve would be steep and severe, but he was ready for the challenge. When the Seahawks released him in 2012, Banks headed back down to Gaines' gym, and I would see him there while on other assignments, quietly working his butt off in the corner while more highly-regarded prospects and established NFL players were forging their own easier paths.
Banks' football career may be over, but he can be an amazing inspiration for anyone who feels that they've been unjustly put in difficult positions in their lives -- which is to say, most of us. He is a truly exceptional individual, and we wish him nothing but the very best in his future.
Ballard was claimed off waivers by the Patriots in June, 2012, and spent all of last season on the Reserve/Physically Unable to Perform List with a knee injury he suffered in Super Bowl XLVI, back when he was with the New York Giants. He was an under the radar guy until it became clear Aaron Hernandez would not be a part of the Pats' future and Rob Gronkowski's injuries kept his status unclear. Many thought that Ballard could pick up some of the slack as an inline blocker with some receiving capabilities. Instead, he was overwhelmed in the preseason when asked to pass-protect, and the ascent of rookie TE Zach Sudfeld changed New England's thought process at the position. More importantly, it's possible that Gronkowski's recovery has progressed enough that he'll make it back to the field early in the regular season, which would make Ballard redundant at best. The Pats also released TE Daniel Fells, who signed a three-year deal with the team in 2012.
It wasn't really Webb's fault that things didn't work out for him in Chicago -- when an organization selects an offensive lineman in the seventh round, as Chicago did in the 2010 draft, and that player doesn't show any transcendent abilities ... well, if you start him at left tackle for every game two years in a row and he's kind of a disaster out there, it's your own damned fault. Webb was clearly overwhelmed out there for the Bears in 2012, allowing five sacks, blowing 18 blocks in pass protection, and racking up nine penalties, but it's tough to understand what else the Bears expected. He was moved to the right side for the 2013 season and took a pay but in the process, but it didn't save him from Friday's cuts.