Jaguars Decisions: Not Just “The 53”

On one hand, it’s simple math this time of year in the NFL. The league changed to just one cut for 2017 instead of the traditional two so there are a lot of decisions and a lot of numbers to deal with this weekend. Instead of stepping down from 90 to 75 and eventually 53 players, this year the league is having teams make one cut. Each of the 32 teams will go from 90 to 53 players starting Saturday. That means each team eliminates 37 players who have been in camp, some longer than that and some whose football career will come to an end. On average, 40% of each NFL roster turns over year to year.

“I never felt like it was my place to tell someone not to pursue their dreams, and that’s what it is for a lot of people,” Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone said this week about making cuts in the NFL. ” You try to give them different things, there’s the Canadian League, Arena [Football League], things of that nature. I think that as long as you are honest and up front, I think the players appreciate it.”

While that might be the case, this year the sheer number of available players is staggering. Thirty-two teams cutting 37 players means there will be 1,184 professional football players who won’t have a job as of Saturday. With that number of players being released, teams like the Jaguars will be scouring other teams cuts looking to upgrade the roster. So perhaps the 37 players who didn’t play for the Jaguars against the Falcons in the final preseason game have a spot on the opening day roster. The next 16 players are hoping to hang on. Even if they’re part of the “final 53” this weekend, there’s no guarantee they’ll be around on opening day.

If it sounds fraught with sleepless nights and wondering by the players, Marrone says it’s the same for coaches.

“You spend all this time with players and you’re working with them and you’re trying to get them better and coach them and get them in a position where they can earn a spot or make a team,” he explained. “Within a matter of a two-minute conversation it’s over and that player walks out and you might not see him again. There’s a relationship that is built during this time. It is a difficult time.”

If you’ve ever been cut, you know it’s not fun and it’s not a conversation you can look forward to or predict. Former Jaguars quarterback Mark Brunell laughs when he says, “I’ve been benched, traded and cut. I’ll be OK.” But admits each time it happened, it was a new kind of disappointment and challenge.

Marrone agrees.

“I think it’s by far the toughest part of the business,” he said. “I think it’s one that everyone understands happens. There’s not a guy that doesn’t understand what happens. I struggle with all of that. I struggle with that; I struggle with that being on TV (as in on “Hard Knocks”). I think that’s a very, very personal moment.”

At this point it appears the Jaguars have some position where the numbers don’t add up and some players who are cut in Jacksonville will end up on other rosters. Wide receiver in particular is a position where the Jaguars will have to decide how important performance on special teams counts when making this roster. Rashad Greene and Shane Wynn look to be serviceable NFL players but might not have a spot in Jacksonville. And if they do, it could mean Allen Hurns does not.

There are three tight ends for one spot and one of them, free agent signee Mychal Rivera hasn’t been healthy in the preseason. Neal Sterling? Ben Koyak?

Will the Jaguars keep a fullback and if so, will it be one of the two that are currently on the roster? And what about T.J. Yeldon? As a blocker, he’s the best among the backs but is that enough?

There are a slew of defensive backs for only six spots, so somewhere they had to show some very special, special teams ability to be on “the 53.”

It’ll be a busy weekend for every NFL team, but especially for a team like the Jaguars, looking for depth and perhaps somebody who might fight for a starting spot. Executive VP of Football Tom Coughlin and GM Dave Caldwell will be busy that’s for sure. What decisions they make could shape the team not just for this year, but for the foreseeable future.