Roster construction can be like a giant jigsaw puzzle for teams as they navigate the cutdown to 53 players while taking into account injured players and their impact on some of those that remain around for the original 53 (not the final 53!).
There are also the emotions involved as those that are sent packing might wind up somewhere else, but for others the NFL dream might be over.
“It's tough,” Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury said after practice Tuesday, about three hours before the team’s reductions become official. “It's the worst day, two days of the job. There's no doubt (there are) a lot of great men, a lot of great people that deserve it. But there's some deep (position) rooms and sometimes numbers don't make sense. But it's never fun. It's still pretty fluid. Right now, up until 1 o'clock (Arizona time), we're gonna still be moving and shaking to try and figure it all out.”
Asked about seeing teammates leave, linebacker Isaiah Simmons said, “This is like, really, one of the worst weeks for me; just seeing so many guys who just bust their ass every day, good guys, guys who you create friendships. It always sucks to see guys get cut, but knowing that they can be able to live their dream out somewhere else is also positive, and also be able to come back here and have another chance. And there's also guys that fall into that. So, it’s one of the worst weeks personally for me, just because of the friendships that I create with everyone.”
Simmons said he tries to help guys if he can.
“I'm always open door, whatever I could do to help them,” Simmons said. “I'm always here. I know that's not an easy thing. And some of my best friends actually have dealt with this just recently and just being able to be there for them knowing that this is a hard time. It's something that a lot of guys, especially rookies, haven't dealt with.
“And even though I had a different path, and not really having to worry about things like that, I still understand the hardships of it and what it can do to you mentally. So I just tried to be there for guys as much as possible for whatever they could need.”
Several Cardinals cut Tuesday could be back on the roster if players are placed on short-term reserve/injured Wednesday or signed to the practice squad.
Kingsbury acknowledged there are “two or three guys that we’re looking at that (short-term IR) as an option. And it's just a lot of semantics that go into it, trying to move a guy here and cut a guy for a day, things of that nature. So it complicates it a bit. But I think the short-term IR give us some flexibility to your roster.”
The practice squad isn’t a bad gig. Each team can have 16 players, although the Cardinals can have 17 if tight end Bernhard Seikovits is added. Of that total, six can be veterans. The practice squad was expanded for the last two pandemic seasons and still remains in effect.
Players with two accrued NFL seasons are paid $11,500 weekly, while veterans with three or more accrued seasons can negotiate a deal in the range of $15,400 a week to $19,900 a week.
The $11,500 would be $207,000 if the player is on the practice squad all season. For the veterans it’s $277,200 to $358,200.
Kingsbury said he communicates with the players about the team’s hope to have them back if they don’t end up on another team’s active roster.
“I make it a point to talk to all those guys,” he said. “I remember getting cut a bunch of times. And you remember who talked to you and who didn't and who gave you some feedback and information. That always stuck with me. And some of those conversations are tough when there's not a spot for him. But we definitely make the guys aware that, ‘Hey, we want you back.’ And we hope they get picked up for their own sake and financial situation, but we'd like to have him back.”
Kingsbury also likes the 16-player total not only for the opportunity for players. In the past, it was as low as eight and veterans weren’t allowed.
He said, “I think it's great. It definitely allows you to rest some of those older players, having those type of numbers and not having to do scout team, not having to take as many reps. So I really think that was a smart move by the NFL.”