NFL Players Fight For Roster Spots in Preseason

August 20, 2012

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Kurt Warner on USNS Mercy 2-12-05 050212-N-650...

Kurt Warner played in ArenaBall and NFL Europe before getting his NFL shot.

We are rapidly approaching a unique annual event in professional sports, the team down selects. Unlike other sports with the down select in the NFL, many athletes who were considered for the highest level of play will simply be unemployed. The NFL sets a specific limit of players who can be on an active roster or part of the practice squad (players owned by a team who can be called up to the active roster). As part of the preseason, that number decreases in steps to 75 players on August 27 and 53 players on August 31. Part of the purpose of preseason games is to determine who will be part of that 53 man squad for each team.

Unlike Baseball and Hockey, Football has on “farm” system. Some players can be assigned to NFL Europe to play over the summer, but are still subject to be cut with nowhere to go. They have to look in different leagues or the dream of playing professionally is over. In Baseball at least, if a player is having some issues, he can go down to the minors for a while to recover. If that recovery does not happen, then he is cut loose.

Part of the reason for the differences in sports is the limited number of games played per year in Football (16 regular season) compared to Baseball (162), Hockey (82) or Basketball (82). Part is because of the huge number of players available compare to teams. There are 117 Championship Series colleges (old Division 1A) each with up to 99 players. Even if we say there are an average of 60 and only a quarter of them are available each year, that is 15 x 117 or 1755. There are only 32 teams in the NFL which would provide 54 new players for each team, or the whole roster. On average, a player will be on an NFL team for 5 years after he makes the first cut.

This is not an all doom and gloom event. Many of the players who are given a chance during the preseason are just not ready for the big show. This is their opportunity to play under the light in the really big stadiums and where a real NFL uniform. Also, some plays, who appear to have little chance of making the team, shine is a way that no other venue would provide.

There are always stories of a player who seems to miss the chance and comes back to be a star. James Harrison is one such example. He was undrafted and actually cut by the Pittsburgh Steelers, signed by the Baltimore Ravens, cut again, then came back to be defensive player of the year (with the Steelers again). This is of course the exception rather than the rule.

Preseason in the NFL can be very exciting. Fans are looking for those players who can make their teams contenders. Players on the edge are trying to make the team. Everyone is making mistakes, either because they are new to the team or they are rusty from the off season. This year, there is a lock out of the normal referees and the NFL cannot take from the NCAA due to an agreement between the organizations. That kind of makes it even more of a free for all in the later stages of each game.

May the best players be found, all give their best efforts, and most important, pray that none of the players get hurt.

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. kosmo
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 11:17:39

    One thing to note is that college rosters aren’t limited to 99 players. Duplicate numbers are allowed (and commonly used) as long as only one of those players is on the field at the same time. It’s actually pretty common for a team to have 125+ players.

    However, only 85 of these players can be scholarship players. The others are walk-ons. Note that some of the walk-ons are “recruited walk-ons” which generally means that are on scholarship for some other reasons (academics or track and field are most common) and are seen as an integral part of the team, but simply don’t count against the cap.


  2. Martin Kelly
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 21:39:37

    Kosmo, thanks for including the picture of Kurt Warner. He is even a better example of the unknown making it to the top, after all he was a Super Bowl MVP.

    On the college count, I did not even include the other divisions of football which do provide some eventual NFL players. The draft is only 7 rounds of 32 picks with some extras thrown in for various reasons just over 225 selected. There are about the same number who are considered as undrafted rookies, so under a third of those available actually get a chance to play even in the pre-season.


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