As rosters got reduced around the league this week, many NFL players were left contemplating their futures. For some, it’s off to the real world, but for many others, the question becomes, how do I stay relevant to continue my dream? The road is bumpy at times, and this is one of those times, but paths do still exist.
A player’s options are few with no spring league (AAF, XFL, or USFL). As a former GM, I would always recommend a player who I thought had the NFL ability to “keep working and grinding away.” I wanted to give him the motivation that his window was still open. Many guys who end up cut at some point return to be productive NFL players later. Sometimes they get released because of numbers or sometimes timing or injuries elsewhere on their team’s roster, but most reasons are out of their control. Being released is part of the business for so many.
It happens to the best of players. I always remember a story that Head Coach Mike Holmgren told me in Seattle in 1999. It was the year the Rams QB Trent Green was injured in the preseason, and a little-known QB from Northern Iowa was thrust into the lineup. Holmgren remembered, a couple of years earlier, during a spring of OTA’s in Green Bay but before camp started. He wanted to throw his 5th QB a bone by putting him in a team drill to get his feet wet before players were dismissed for the summer, to return a month later for training camp. That particular player resisted by saying, “I’m not ready for that coach,” and pushed back against going in to execute a couple of basic plays in a team drill during practice. It was almost like the kid was afraid to go in, even in practice. That player was Hall of Fame QB Kurt Warner, who was later cut by the Packers before signing with the Rams. The Rams won the Super Bowl that year, and Kurt’s career was trending up for the next 10 years. He is the king of overcoming setbacks.
My point is, different people mature and develop on unique and very different timelines. That story was also a reminder to me to not only treat players with respect when you inform them of their release but also with the intent that your paths may cross again. Help them if you can, and make sure they know you’re rooting for them to return.
The key for these players who may end up on the outside looking in is to stay as active as possible and be ready for another opportunity. If I were one of these guys, I would knock down doors until I get my next chance. For a specific team to pull the trigger on bringing you in, you have to have a body of work that is positive and reflects your skills. Preseason games are the easiest and most obvious entry on their resume’. Film is “golden.” But now, there are only three weeks of those games.
A good player agent is a must for an out-of-work athlete. It’s beneficial to have someone in your camp that can advocate for you. That is a big part of any player rep’s job. It’s also imperative that you are genuinely important to that agent, and they are willing to use connections to help you. They can help open another door when one gets shut, but there are other things you can do on your own.
Train hard and be ready when called upon. Short of playing in a game, showing your wares is best illustrated in individual workouts for scouts and personnel. A relatively new example of this is what they are doing at HUB football. An invite-only showcase where a player can get more of that GOLD, otherwise known as film, and get the exposure that is shared directly with NFL teams.
Tuesdays are known in NFL circles as the player’s day off. Most teams will bring guys to their facility who are not with a team to gather more information if they have injuries or want to consider on s “ready list” when a roster opening is available. These workouts will include a physical and on-field drills with coaches and/or scouts. I think it’s a valuable tool for teams to stay current on street free agents. Some NFL teams do not make a habit of bringing in players for these workouts. I have never understood why but, it is what it is.
Scouting is about gathering information in a timely fashion. These HUB workouts should be another way of doing that for minimal cost. It’s a no-brainer for the NFL clubs. Heck, I’d send a scout to watch in person, and some teams do. I promise you, somebody will get exposure during these workouts that will translate into a job, and he will be a factor for an NFL team THIS YEAR.
The challenge for the teams is, which I would take as a challenge for a pro scout, is finding WHICH one in the group of invites is the RUBY. The challenge for these recently cut players is- taking advantage of the invite to the camp and finding a way to get identified as that RUBY.
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