Sunday, September 04, 2011

2011 Roster Cuts

So week 4 of the pre-season is done and now we are but moments (re: days) away from the start of the season proper. It's September my friends and that means the joys of football are back. This, this is why I love this time of year. I love the sight of trees shedding their leaves. I love the more moderate temperatures (I hate sunshine). And I love the fact that I can sit down and watch real football games once more!!

But although I'm about a third of the way through recapping the week 4 pre-season action, I want to take a pause and address the issue of the roster cuts. The full list of cuts can be found here.

I accept that many readers will already know the complete ins and outs of what is taking place, but I've decided to do something approximating closely to an "idiot's guide to roster cuts", just for the benefit of those not fully aware of all the implications and the terminology being chucked around on TV, in the newspapers and online. So here we go.

Basically every team went into training camp with a roster somewhere in the 70-80 player region, far more than they would ever be able to take into the regular season. These players are a mixture of:

-- The 53 man roster from last year, except those players who left as free agents or were traded,
-- Players who last season were placed on injured reserve, except those players who left as free agents/trades,
-- The eight players from last years practice squad, except those players who left as free agents,
-- The players brought in by the team as free agents,
-- The players selected by the team in the most recent draft,
-- Undrafted rookies, some of whom were on the bubble to get drafted and were just unlucky (like Mark Herzlich) as well as pure long shot players, often from smaller colleges or players from big colleges who saw little playing time but flashed some signs of potential,

These large training camp rosters must be carved down to just 53 players by the agreed deadline prior to the first week of games. In this seasons case, the deadline by which final rosters must have been submitted to the league was 6pm Eastern Time on Saturday, September 3rd. That deadline has obviously now passed and all teams appear to have made it on time.

But it's not just as simple as releasing a bunch of guys and sticking with your final 53. The process still has some intrigue to it.

-- Players who would otherwise qualify for unrestricted free agency (four or more 'Accrued seasons') become unrestricted free agents, free to sign with whomever they choose,
-- Players not eligible to become unrestricted free agents are entered into the waivers system. For the next 24 hours every team in the NFL has the opportunity to sign that player to their active roster (claim from waivers). The claims are prioritised by win-loss record from the year before, so if the Carolina Panthers make a claim on any player then they are guaranteed to eventually be awarded that player.
-- Any players that make it through waivers are now free to sign with any team, and can either be signed to the active roster or to the practice squad, providing they are eligible (less than 3 seasons already on a practice squad, have never been placed on injured reserve, have no accrued seasons - or if they have one then they must have spent less than nine games of that season on the active roster),

This creates a pool of new free agents, along with players who were already free agents through training camp (having not signed with anyone since March 1st). Over the course of the next few days, and even weeks, some of these players will still find homes on NFL rosters.

This is because the 53 man rosters that teams have settled on are by no means set in stone. Each teams roster by this point consists of four groups of players:

-- Key players the team wishes to keep by choice,
-- Players the team has to keep through necessity (to complete the starting line up and/or certain back ups),
-- Young players the team sees promise in and would like to develop,
-- Those other players that were needed to complete the 53 man roster,

In particular it is groups two and four above who are vulnerable. People in group four are easily replaced. They have jobs only because the team has found nobody better to replace them yet. That can change very quickly with waiver claims and the signing of free agents. Players in group two may also yet be proved expendable. A player who was kept only because he was the best player left to fill a certain role can be shunted out of his starting spot by a good free agent pick up. Normally he would become a back up, but the signing of additional free agents at his position may well be his undoing. This is naturally much more common on much weaker teams.

Then finally each team has eight practice squad slots that it can offer to eligible players. Many teams cut young players who they still intend to develop, hoping to slip them through waivers unclaimed and then sign them to their practice squad. Of course this runs the risk of giving away a potentially very talented young player, but the needs of the active roster come first.

Already there are lots of names out and about that have caught the eye. Many of these are rookies like Mark LeGree, cut from the Seahawks, who I think will go on to do well somewhere. I could list all those types of players but it would be a long list of people you probably would only read about if you came here. But there are also some big names/more surprising rookies that have been cut and we'll focus on them

Safety Brandon Merriweather being cut from the Patriots is a big one. Two pro bowls in a row are what catches the eye about Merriweather, however bad the voting can sometimes be for the pro bowl. Merriweather however has had a lot of troubles, including two shooting incidents in two years (in both cases he was cleared of any wrong doing) as well as two incidents in less than twelve months relating to illegal hits with the head during games. I suspect the Patriots lack of tolerance for problems under Bill Belichick has motivated the move, but even then it's still surprising given the lack of strength in depth in that defensive backfield.

Another Brandon released from the Patriots was receiver Brandon Tate. The likely cause is that Tate was really more of a returns specialist and with the new kick off rules, it makes him something of a luxury player. But I dunno. I kinda like Tate as a receiver and hope he finds a home.

Defensive Tackle Tommie Smith being released from the Colts was a bit of an odd moment given how suspect their interior D-line can be, but for the most head scratching decision by the Colts was keeping Curtis Painter but releasing Dan Orlovsky? What? Painter is terrible!!

My own 49ers have pulled a similar trick, releasing quarterback Josh McCown who had a solid pre-season game this week and is probably better able to play week 1 as a back up than Colin Kaepernick. But the reason I bring this up is not because of the 49ers being my team, but because it seems a lot of teams this year are going with just two quarterbacks on their roster, which to me seems very odd. There must be something in the CBA that everyone outside of the teams is missing.

Running back Chester Taylor was an odd casualty of the Bears. It's not like the Bears running game is flush with starting caliber running backs and Taylor has the advantage of being a versatile, every down back. He's know Matt Forte, but he's ok. My guess is that the size of his ridiculous free agent contract from last year (for a player of his level at least) is what cost him.

The Cowboys cutting Fullback Chris Gronkowski doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me. I thought He was doing pretty well down in Dallas, running, blocking and catching, but apparently not so.

The Broncos cutting corner Perrish Cox is a little surprising. He's done really well so far but off field legal troubles could hurt him. It's expected that he'll remain a free agent for a while and then when the status of that issue is resolved someone will pick him up.

The Texans released running back Chris Ogbonnaya, who turned a few heads in pre-season and I'm tentatively expecting him not to make it through waivers.

The Raiders, God bless them, cut quarterback Trent Edwards. That means Kyle Boller gets the back up job and Terrelle Pryor is the apprentice. Nice going Al. Raiders fans, in a way I feel for you. Then I remember you're Raiders fans. Mwwhahahaha (I shouldn't laugh, looking at it now I think the Raiders will finish better than us). The release of corner Lito Sheppard was also somewhat surprising, given the parlous state of the Raiders now Asomugha-less secondary.

The Eagles let go of defensive tackle Anthony Hargrove. Personally I look at him, look at the rest of the Eagles D-tackle roster outside of Cullen Jenkins and then say "what?". But there you go. Hargrove has spent a lot of time in a 3-4 defense and may just have had difficulty adapting to the Eagles 4-3 as well as Jenkins presumably has.

Now the Chargers? Man I don't get some of these releases. Seyi Ajirotutu looked to be a pretty promising young player for the Chargers. If he doesn't get claimed by somebody off waivers then I'm calling bullshit, because there's no way that every single one of the 32 teams in the NFL has kept better receivers that Ajirotutu. I was also surprised to see rookie QB Scott Tolzein cut, I thought he'd done really well for the Chargers in pre-season.

The Rams cutting Donnie Avery was a little odd. He missed the whole of last season with an injury, but otherwise was a good receiver on a team that needs good receivers!

The Buccaneers for me are one of the most surprising. QB Rudy Carpenter, cut. Safety Ahmad Black, cut. Tight end Daniel Hardy, cut. I mean seriously? Daniel Hardy cut? He's been one of the leading receivers for the Buc's in the pre-season so I really don't get that.

The Titans cut running back Stafon Johnson. I don't think they'll be seeing him again. Like LaGarrette Blount last year I think Johnson has shown enough talent to warrant someone with a dire running back situation taking a chance on him.

So that's your lot. Like I said earlier, the flow of players on and off teams rosters over the next few days is destined to be a little hectic at times, but I'll try and point out the ones that caught my eye as we go. I'll also be looking to get that pre-season week 4 review up in the next 24 hours.

Enjoy your lazy Sunday.

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