Cut days are about more than the moment, money, fame
Tuesday marked the second time NFL teams were required to trim their rosters this year as they move closer to what will eventually become the final 53-man list. This time around, however, the cutoff was set at 80 players.
Before Tuesday's deadline, the team had already decided to part ways with linebacker Khalan Tolson who was waived on Monday before practice along with teammate offensive tackle Austen Pleasants.
With rookie quarterback Matt Corral and cornerback Duke Dawson Jr. on injured reserve, there was only one cut to make to get the roster squared up. Jared Scott was released to bring the current roster to 80 players as the team, now commanded by starting quarterback Baker Mayfield, continued preparing for Friday's final preseason matchup against the Buffalo Bills.
The process can be tough on coaches as well. Carolina Panthers head coach Matt Rhule reiterated those sentiments after practice. "It's the part I hate the most," Rhule said.
"I empathize with the players the most."
But no matter how tough it is for a coach, the overwhelming bearer of the moment is the player. Although players go through roster moves, trades, cuts and signings at different times during the season, the fight to make the 53-man roster is the most agonizing - primarily because of the time and concentrated effort during some of the most unforgiving months of the year just to earn one spot. So the further a player is from the final cut list before being released, the tougher it can feel.
From the start of training camp until the final name is chipped away, many of the players sit on pins and needles waiting for their dreams to come to fruition or be stripped away - some for the final time of their careers. But it's not just a uniform or a paycheck that is at stake. For many players, their entire identity is tied to what they've done on the field since childhood. So when the crowds stop roaring, whistles stop signaling them when to stop and go and, most importantly, the brotherhood of the locker room disappears so goes their sense of order in life.
Some players make a quick adjustment to civilian life and begin new careers as bankers, business men or philanthropists. Others turn to coaching the game to simulate the experience long enough to wean themselves to normalcy. But for many, the aftermath can be quite grim - as was the case for NFL veteran Charles Arbuckle. The former Two-time All-American at UCLA and fifth round draft pick by the New Orleans Saints in 1990 quietly spiraled into depression and indecisiveness. "I laid on my bathroom floor considering what should I do ...should I end it or should I keep going," said Arbuckle.
Arbuckle re-engaged in the next phase of life as a college football analyst for ESPN who continues to call games for the network. He also serves a similar role for several other top networks.
Former Carolina Panthers' defensive back Leonard Wheeler experienced deep depression for more than a year before he found a pathway to escape the effects of leaving the game. And although he's able to speak more light-hearted about it today, he faced a challenge even bigger than his winding journey to get to the NFL. "You just know that it's dark and even when you try to see the light it's like somebody just closes the lens and you're stuck in this place of transition." Wheeler said in a recent appearance on the Choppin' UP with Buck show on ADSN digital sports network.
"It was one hundred percent depression."
Wheeler now works as a transition coach and motivational speaker helping NFL players as well individuals in the corporate sector.
The help only comes when players seek it. Unfortunately, there has been a stigma attached to the normally rough and tumble men that play in the NFL who try to seek help for as long as the league has been in existence. And while it is dwindling, due to programs being created by the NFL, it remains high on the list of issues facing players who have separated from the roster.
So while this segment of roster cuts may not be as sizable as those to come, the impact on each individual is equally impactful.
The final cut to whittle rosters down to the NFL's mandatory 53 players is set for August 30 at 4 p.m. eastern time.