The 53-man roster cutdown carries the same intentions as the back end of the NFL draft’s seventh round.
The playing field is where things differ.
Teams aren’t directly calling non-vested players around the league in the days prior to their exit from a locker room of 90, expressing interest or discussing numbers in the event that such a transaction is filed with 345 Park Avenue. That would be tampering, right?
The recruitment of undrafted free agency is the apple to the waiver wire’s orange, in that sense. Meetings along the lines of, ‘We hope to have you back here on the practice squad tomorrow afternoon,’ strike a similar tone as those calls from war rooms telling prospects, ‘We’re thinking of drafting you with our last pick, but if we trade out, we’d love to sign you as a priority free agent.’
A waiting period comes along with the former.
New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick discussed the process Monday on WEEI’s Ordway, Merloni & Fauria.
“There’s a claiming procedure in place here,” Belichick said. “So, all the players that are released go on the waiver wire, and depending on where you are in the claiming ladder – if you’re behind a bunch of teams and you claim a guy – you might not get him anyways.”
That much is known. But the Patriots experienced that like few others did on Labor Day weekend 2017.
New England was not awarded a single waiver claim that Sunday. No roster, meanwhile, had seen more players claimed off of waivers than the Super Bowl LI champions, with four in all between wide receiver Austin Carr becoming a New Orleans Saint, tight end James O’Shaughnessy a Jacksonville Jaguar, offensive tackle Conor McDermott a Buffalo Bill and cornerback Kenny Moore an Indianapolis Colt.
It’s part of the deal. The Patriots’ pro scouting department, as do all, have an idea of just whom they have a flier’s chance to lose – or to get. The preseason is as much about a team evaluating another team’s players as it is their own, and not only on the grounds of ability but availability. There is hiding. There is anticipation.
“I would say of the players that are going to be released, let’s call it 80 to 85 percent of them, I’d say we probably could tell who those guys are,” Belichick added. “And then there’s another group of players that it’s down to this guy or that guy, or here’s five guys – two of them are going to make it, three of them probably won’t be on the roster. There might be a surprise here or there that we don’t anticipate, but for the most part, we can usually have a pretty good idea of where the roster decisions are coming.”
Perhaps that good idea played a part in the Patriots preemptively striking a handful of trades during the week leading up to 4 p.m. ET on the first Saturday of September.
In a span five days last year, the Patriots acquired linebacker Marquis Flowers from the Cincinnati Bengals in exchange for pick No. 249 overall in the 2018 draft, sent cornerback Justin Coleman to the Seattle Seahawks in exchange for No. 250 overall, added cornerback Johnson Bademosi from the Detroit Lions in exchange for a 2019 sixth-rounder, swapped quarterback Jacoby Brissett with Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Phillip Dorsett, and then capped it off with defensive end Cassius Marsh from Seattle for No. 168 overall along with the same capital that’d been obtained in the Coleman trade.
The likes of Flowers, Bademosi, Dorsett and Marsh were on a list far shorter than the thousand-plus who were part of other 31 rosters trimming to 53 apiece. They were New England’s de-facto waiver claims.
But countless others were placed on injured reserve, physically unable to perform, non-football injury or non-football illness. And countless more were waived-injured, waived or – in the case of accrued NFL veterans who could be back after Week 1 with non-guaranteed salaries – let go outright.
“We’re not looking at every single player that gets released,” said Belichick. “There are a lot of players that’ll be released that probably won’t play much football after this year. But there’ll be a chunk of players that are and they’ll go to practice squads, and there’ll be some other players like, I don’t know, usually in the range of 30 to 35 players that’ll be claimed by another team. So, let’s call it about one a team, even though some teams will have two, some will have none. But it’ll be something in the range of 30 players that’ll be claimed on the final cut, and then there’ll be another group of players that will either go to a practice squad or, if they’re not practice squad-eligible, will be available.”
New England signed nine players to its 10-man practice squad who slipped through unclaimed on Sept. 3, 2017. All nine were with New England for that preseason in running back D.J. Foster, wideout Cody Hollister, offensive linemen Ted Karras and James Ferentz, defensive tackle Darius Kilgo, defensive end Geneo Grissom, linebacker Trevor Bates, and safeties Damarius Travis and David Jones.
A day later, receiver Demarcus Ayers and defensive lineman Angelo Blackson were in, and Kilgo was out.
The final churn goes well beyond the fourth preseason game. But having an understanding of who will be cut and who will be of interest are not one in the same.
It takes a fine-tooth comb.
“It’s not 1,300 that we’re looking at,” Belichick said. “It’s probably 50 to 100 that are realistic in some capacity.”