Finalizing an NFL Roster

Saturday, September 3rd at 6:00 PM EDT.

That’s the deadline that will directly impact the careers of more NFL players than any other day of the year.

It’s the time at which all 32 teams must submit their final NFL roster for the upcoming 2011 season to the NFL office.  Heading into the final preseason game each NFL team has 80 lockers filled by grown men with their eyes on a career as a professional football player.  As of Saturday night each team must trim their team to 53 players, only eight days before the first Sunday of the new gridiron season.

Do you ever wonder how the teams finalize their rosters?  Let me share with you the inside scoop on how NFL teams prepare to make these tough calls.

Each team will decide which players will stick around with the opportunity to make million$ and who will get escorted down the long dark hall to hand in their playbook only to be given directions to Concourse B at the airport.

Grading a Player

Each team differs in how they make their final cuts.  Typically, the following key factors are used to determine who “makes the cut”:

1.  Past Performance

2.  Athletic Potential

3.  Injuries

If a player is extremely talented and healthy, the call is easy.  Meanwhile if a young player with great potential is playing in a position of high need for that team, is lacking playing experience in a big-time football setting and is struggling with nagging injuries, that 6 PM deadline is coming way too fast for the club GM’s and head coaches making those decisions.

My responsibilities as head athletic trainer/physical therapist with the Jacksonville Jaguars during this process is to provide our General Manager Gene Smith and Head Coach Jack Del Rio with a complete medical update on all of our players on a daily basis.  From the minor muscle “tweeks” to the major fractures to the unmentionables, it’s my job to coordinate the entire Jaguars’ medical department, which is treating each and every one of the player’s injuries.

The Crossroads

There are only 6 options for each player and it’s up to the team to determine which road they take.

  1. Active Roster – total of 53 players.
  2. Waived (“cut”) – completely released from the team healthy.
  3. Traded – Players can be “shipped off” to another team.
  4. Injured Reserve – For a player who is currently injured and unable to medically perform their duties as a football player at the start of the regular season.
  5. Practice Squad – For 8 younger players and this has specific requirements to qualify.  “Clearing waivers” is the first step to being able to be signed by a team 24 hours after being released by an NFL team.
  6. Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) – For players who have not participated in any team drills or practices during this year and are medically unable to participate at the start of the regular season.

Volume of Info

As you can imagine, the amount of information on each and every player to be analyzed is huge.  The Jaguars’ Player Personnel Department and the coaching staffs work extremely hard at grading this data.  From comparing workout data, to watching practice/game footage, to factoring in medical reports to relying on their gut instincts on the capabilities of each player, making the final is not easy.

With a non-existent off-season this year, we have no Mini Camps, no OTA practices, no workout reports and only a minimal amounts of practices to help make these decisions for approximately $120 million worth of players for the 2011 season.

The End Result

It’s not an easy task but the objective is always the same: Create the very best NFL roster possible to help the Jags’ win as many game as possible.  I have extreme trust in my medical staff and the Jaguars’ football staffs that we will put the very best team on the field come this Monday morning.

Many childhood dreams and professional careers hang in the balance for players on all 32 teams.  The average length of an NFL player’s career is only 3.2 years.  Come Saturday night at 6 PM, that average is about to get even shorter.

Author: Mike Ryan

After 26 seasons as a full-time certified athletic trainer and registered physical therapist in the National Football League, Mike Ryan has outstanding first-hand experience. His unique professional and athletic background has sharpened his skills in the arts of sports injury management, elite rehabilitation, performance enhancement and injury prevention. Mike is now taking his experience to mainstream America. His mission is simple: Sports Medicine advice that is easy to use and brings fast results. Learn more about Mike Ryan

6 thoughts on “Finalizing an NFL Roster”

  1. Wow, tough job!! Is it hard to keep emotions out of the decision-making? Does personality of the player come into consideration at all?
    Good luck to my favorite team (besides the Chicago Bears!)

    1. It’s a great question, Anne. A player’s attitude, work ethics, learning skills and ability to execute their role as a football player are all factors along with the obvious…running, tackling and athletic skills come into play when “decision day” comes to town.

  2. Thanks Mike, Interesting info. It seems football more than the other three major sports leaves prospects with no consolation; no minor leagues, just the NFL or UPS.

  3. Mike
    I think your website is fantastic
    The recent posts have been most interesting to me
    How ever most of all I like the picture of Gannon and Sam!

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