In the movie Bull Durham, the Bulls manager has to tell Crash Davis (played by Kevin Costner) that he’s being cut. The skipper says, “This is the toughest job a manager has…” right before he breaks the news to Davis. It’s an emotional exchange between player and coach. Yes, Bull Durham is only a film, but this same exact situation happens in real life every season in the National Football League.
At the start of camp, the Seattle Seahawks had 90 players on their roster. By the time the regular season comes around in September, the Hawks can only carry 53 guys (a league-wide rule). That means general manager John Schneider and head coach Pete Carroll have to release 37 players along the way.
“I don’t know how it is at other places, but it’s very meaningful when we cut guys here,” Carroll told me. “Knowing how much of their lives are wrapped around this and how much this means to them, I take something like this very seriously.”
Carroll says he is connected to every single player on the roster. He told me that he gets to know all of his guys – who they are and what they’re all about — so he can help them be their best. Something that benefits not only the player, but also the team.
“You invest in that relationship to get that done, so it means something,” Carroll said.
Carroll already had to make 15 cuts to get to the league-mandated 75 earlier this week, and the roster moves aren’t nearly done. The Seahawks only have one more preseason game remaining, and then the team needs to cut 22 more players by the NFL’s Friday deadline. Nothing about the process is easy for Carroll. He calls it “a very emotional time.”
“I take into account as many aspects of it as I can,” Carroll told me. “They love this game and they’re doing everything they can to make it. It’s a part of their life and it’s a big deal when that’s taken away.”
Wide receiver Deon Butler is battling ten other wide receivers for what’s believed to be six spots on the Seahawks active roster. Butler isn’t a star, but he isn’t a slouch either. The Penn State University product has reeled in 57 passes for 611 yards and four touchdowns in his first three seasons in the NFL.
“It’s nothing new for me to be the underdog,” Butler said. “I just feel like there’s a place for me in the league. Whether it’s here — hopefully it’s here — but if not, I’m confident I put out good tape.”
Listed at just 5’10″ and 182 pounds, Butler is the smallest receiver on Seattle’s roster right now. You’d think his experience in the pros would outweigh any knock on his size at this point, but that’s not how the NFL works. If Butler makes the team, it’s someone else that has to go. The Seahawks are likely going to cut five wide receivers by the end of the week.
“We know that in the back of our minds,” Butler said. “You can’t worry about it, because the more you start thinking about that is when you’ll start to fall apart. You’ll start messing up. It does you no good.”
There are players like Butler scattered all over the Seahawks roster (and the entire NFL for that matter), sitting on the edge of their seat as the final cuts approach. But, for every player who is released, there’s someone else who makes the squad — officially living their NFL dream.
“We’re ecstatic for the guys who make the team,” Carroll told me. “The exhilaration they feel — they deserve it. They earned it.”
In a world where superstars get all the attention, it’s hard to remember that life isn’t always easy for professional athletes. Sure, most of these guys make salaries that we can only dream about, but many of them don’t. If they’re cut, that pay check disappears completely. A football player is let go from his job like any other Joe Blow around the country.
“I know guys around here like this team, and they want to be a part of it,” said Carroll. ”It’s a big deal when it works for them and a big deal when it doesn’t. It’s the same for us.”
The Seahawks open the regular season September 9th against Arizona. They will only have 53 players in uniform that day. Who those players will be is still up in the air — that’s up to Pete Carroll to decide by Friday. Let’s just say I’m happy to not be walking in his shoes this week.
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