On Saturday, nearly 1,200 NFL players will lose their jobs. About one-third of them will get offers to join a practice squad in coming days. The other 864 men will officially hit the football unemployment line.
Cornerback Sam Brown, who signed with the Vikings a month ago as an additional body for training camp, refused to stir in his team-paid hotel room waiting for that phone call.
The 25-year-old Missouri Western State product who was cut Friday had better plans to keep his mind occupied with his family in town.
“I’ve heard major things about the [Minnesota State] Fair,” Brown said. “I might go to the fair. I heard they got good food, so I’ll make sure I go on an empty stomach.”
The NFL roster churn begins at Saturday’s 3 p.m. deadline, when teams trim the 90-man rosters to 53. Then begins the waiver process, where teams put in claims on cut players, with teams given priority based on the inverse order of their records. Unclaimed players can then be signed to 10-man practice squads beginning Sunday afternoon.
More players than ever will be made available at once since the NFL eliminated the first cut-down day, from 90 to 75, in favor of one fell swoop to 53.
Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman has been active around cut day over the years, putting in waiver claims and making the occasional trade, including acquiring offensive lineman Jeremiah Sirles from the Chargers for a sixth-round pick a couple of years ago.
“We’re going to continue to look at the waiver wire,” coach Mike Zimmer said. “Because whatever the 53 we have this weekend doesn’t mean it’ll be the same 53 we line up Monday night [vs. the Saints].”
Safety Anthony Harris, all but a lock to make the 53-man roster as a special teams ace, remembers when he received the call in 2015 on a “nervous day” for the undrafted defensive back.
The Vikings practiced, just like they will Saturday, before he started seeing guys disappear from the locker room. Then he got the call and met with his position coach, Jerry Gray, Zimmer and Spielman.
“We had a light practice. Came in, showered up and then you start to see guys get called up,” Harris recalled. “There weren’t many guys left. There were maybe 63 guys, you kind of get the idea. You can kind of look around the locker room and tell a bit.”
Sometimes you’re blindsided. Veteran defensive tackle Tom Johnson, the 33-year-old who has been cut from NFL and Arena Football League teams alike, said young players can be naive about the situation until they’re faced with the reality.
“Because guys think once they get drafted or get this opportunity that they’ve made it,” Johnson said. “You’re going out with these guys, you got social media building you up and stuff. You get lost in the sauce a bit, you know? A lot of stuff going on behind the scenes that you have no idea.
“No one is above the reaper.”
The Vikings have difficult decisions to make at a few positions, perhaps none tougher than defensive line. Rookies Tashawn Bower, Ifeadi Odenigbo and Jaleel Johnson have made strong cases for roster spots.
On the other side, 2013 Packers first-round pick Datone Jones said he is not sweating his fate on the Vikings roster.
Unlike many of his teammates, Jones received a $1.6 million signing bonus on a one-year deal signed in free agency. But Jones, 27, was also given the difficult task of learning a new position at defensive tackle after four seasons bouncing between end and outside linebacker with Green Bay.
Jones didn’t play in Thursday’s preseason finale after producing sparingly in three exhibitions.
“I’m not worried at all,” Jones said. “I feel like coaches have seen a lot of what I can really do, our practice reps going against quality guys, the starters. I’ve shown I can do that. It’s preseason football. I’m a veteran. I’ve done it before at a high level.”