By Ashley Dunkak
ALLEN PARK (CBS DETROIT) – The Detroit Lions whittled their roster to 75 men Monday, and by Sunday, only 53 will remain. It is the cold reality of the NFL that dozens of players on all 32 teams will lose their jobs this week.
Reducing players to numbers happens almost by default when discussing the paring down of the roster — the cut to 75, the cut to 53 — but Lions head coach Jim Caldwell does not lose sight of the personal toll that a team’s professional decision takes.
“In this city in particular and around the area, people understand and know what it’s like to lose a job,” Caldwell said. “Oftentimes I don’t think they put football players in that category. For some reason other people look at that and just kind of dismiss it. ‘Oh yeah, well he got cut,’ plain and simple … It’s difficult. These are human beings. They’re guys that have dreams and hopes and aspirations. It doesn’t mean the absolute end of the road for them, because hopefully, what I tell them typically, is, ‘Hey, I hope you get picked up by somebody tomorrow. And if not tomorrow, I hope somebody picks you up and puts you on their practice squad, but keep working.’
“Usually I tell them, ‘You’ve got a day or so to feel bad, but then after that you’ve got to get back to work because the opportunity for a number of these guys is going to come back around again,” Caldwell added, “so we try to encourage them, but we know that it’s a difficult time.”
Veteran cornerback Rashean Mathis said while he has not been cut, he makes sure to reach out to others who have been released. First he will send a text, giving the player some time to absorb the news, and then he will make a phone call. Many outside the football community will talk about cuts as simply reductions in numbers, but for players, getting cut means the same as getting fired means to the average person.
“This is our job,” Mathis said. “This is our livelihood. You’ve been preparing all your life for this moment. Most guys have been playing football at least 18 years at this point, or by the time they get here, starting at 4 or 5 years old, so for a coach to tell you — and you’ve always been the star on your team — and for a coach to tell you that you’re not good enough or it might not be working, we as athletes take it as, ‘You’re not good enough to be on my team,’ so it’s rough. It’s rough. It’s a rude awakening for most guys, I’m sure. I never had the experience personally, but I couldn’t even imagine having to go through it.
“A lot of guys have to bounce around this league looking for a job,” Mathis continued. “It’s not just looking to play football — it’s looking for a job and looking for a way to provide for their families. So it’s very serious, we take it to heart, whether we’re the guy that’s on the other end of it, that’s not getting cut, we feel the pain because we have a brotherhood here. We don’t look at that lightly.”
Wide receiver Golden Tate said Caldwell informs players of whom the team has cut, and the players appreciate the notice.
“That’s one thing I do respect about Coach Caldwell is that he keeps us in the loop,” Tate said. “Like today, he let us know, this is who we had to release, this is who we’re going to pick up, or this is who just had a child. We always feel like we’re in the loop, which is something I appreciate, and it’s not like that everywhere. A lot of times it’s just, you see some guy walking down and he says, ‘Hey, Coach wants to see you. Bring your playbook.’ You can kind of figure out the rest of that sentence.”
Tate, too, said he makes a point to reach out to players who have been released.
Always, the message to their departed teammates and friends is a positive one, as players can be picked up by other NFL teams.
With more cuts coming, Tate said he would tell young players to take advantage of every moment, whether they believe they have a shot to make Detroit’s roster or not.
“If I could give any guy advice, I’d say worry about what you can control,” Tate said. “You might get four snaps, you might get 20 snaps — make those the best snaps of your life and remember that you’re putting film out there for 31 other teams. Every play matters.”