Commentary: Cuts are torture for everyone with Lions
August 30, 2012 at 1:00 am
Allen Park -- Nobody likes to see the Turk.
Nobody likes to be the Turk, either.
But it's a fact of life for virtually everyone in the NFL, from the players who face the cold, hard reality of pro football's numbers game to the coaches and front-office executives who must do the painful math.
In the middle of it all, there's the "Turk," the staffer assigned to tell players to report to the head coach or general manager's office to learn their fate on roster cutdown day. It's an unpleasant duty Lions head coach Jim Schwartz occasionally performed while working for Bill Belichick and the Cleveland Browns in the mid-1990s, much as Belichick had done two decades before in Baltimore, where he earned the nickname, "Billy Bad News."
"With us in Cleveland, all you'd do is wait by the door and get guys when they're coming in, tell them they needed to go see Coach Belichick," Schwartz said. "I mean, I wasn't the one breaking the news to them."
Not directly, no. But now he is, and if it's OK with the rest of us, Schwartz would prefer to keep the details of Friday's pending roster cuts in Allen Park to himself. Not just the "who" and the "why" — for obvious reasons — but also the how.
"That's a conversation, that's a process, that people really don't need to know more about," Schwartz said this week, when I asked him about the logistics of trimming the roster from 75 players to a 53-man roster by 9 p.m. Friday.
"It's not that it's top secret," Schwartz said. "But I think that's a private moment. It's like with (HBO's) "Hard Knocks," people have a lot of voyeurism — they want to be on the inside with it. But I'd rather not make it that way."Difficult moment
And that's just fine with his players, particularly the couple dozen who'll get the call they're dreading Friday, summoned to an office where they'll be told — some of them for the first time in their lives — that they're simply not good enough.
"When guys are putting their heart and soul into it, it's never an easy thing," Schwartz said. "But if you're honest with guys, and treat 'em with the dignity they deserve, it's …"
Well, it's still not an easy thing.
"Everybody's just hoping it's not them," said Ross Weaver, a third-year cornerback out of Michigan State who likely will be released from his fourth NFL team Friday. "But whoever gets cut, you know the coaches have made a conscious decision. It's not personal. They've put a lot of thought into it, watched a lot of film. Some people get mad, but all you can do is say, 'OK, I understand.'"
Some players don't view it quite that rationally, of course.
Former head coach Tony Dungy tells a nightmarish story of a roster cutdown from his time in Tampa, when a local pawn shop owner called to let the Buccaneers know one of the players they'd released was in his store trying to purchase a gun.
His anger wasn't directed at Dungy, but rather Lovie Smith, then the Bucs linebackers coach, who had security posted outside his house that night.
That's the extreme example, obviously. But the raw emotions are undeniable, especially when you consider what's at stake. The minimum salary for rookies is $390,000, or about four times what a player would make earning a $5,700-per-week minimum on the practice squad for the entire season. That minimum salary rises as high as $925,000 for a 10-year veteran on the active roster, and a vested veteran with four years or more in the league has his salary fully guaranteed if he's on the Week 1 roster.
"People have no idea what this is really like," said Dan Gerberry, a center who spent most of the last three seasons on the Lions practice squad but won't be eligible this year if he's among the team's final cuts. "You have a lot of mixed feelings. … Everybody understands that you're not rooting against people. But at the same time, you want your job. And you realize when other guys at your position get cut, that helps your chances. It's just such a weird thing to see your friend get cut."'A hard deal'
That happened for Gerberry earlier this week, when guard Jacques McClendon was among the Lions' initial cuts, trimming the roster to 75 players. And that'll happen for everyone in the locker room Friday — "a shivering day," Weaver called it — when good friends are replaced by vacant locker stalls. And long-held dreams are replaced by vacant thoughts.
"I mean, you know when somebody's playing better than you, so maybe it's not a shock," said Weaver, who was among the Miami Dolphins' final cuts as an undrafted rookie in 2010. "But once you hang up that phone or hear that news, it's like, 'Where to now?'"
For some, it'll be back to work. Teams are allowed to sign an eight-player practice squad beginning Saturday, and many, if not most, of those spots go to players who've been in camp.
"You leave the phone on — that's the first thing — and you turn that ringer up," Gerberry said, explaining the anxious day-after routine. "And then you just wait and see who calls."
For others, it'll be back to the drawing board. As Schwartz reminded everyone Tuesday, "When we say so long to some of these guys, it won't be farewell. Some of these guys will end up helping us somewhere along the line."
But that hollow guarantee won't soften the kind of blow few NFL players are ready to absorb.
"I would say this is easily the worst week of the year," said Dylan Gandy, among the veterans fighting to hold down a backup job on the offensive line. "And that's for everybody. For the coaches, who make relationships with the players. For the guys who make it but have good friends who get let go. And then for the guys who get cut, obviously, that's the closing of a chapter, whether it's just here or with football in general.
"It's a hard deal, man. It really is."firstname.lastname@example.org
From The Detroit News: http://www.detroitnews.com/article/2012 ... z252PjhJIT