Everyone’s motto on NFL roster cuts: “They were the best of times, they were the worst of times”. The careers of NFL hopefuls left abridged or perhaps just beginning. Eclectic fans imparting their knowledge of player’s on each other. Conversations of Superbowl caliber teams, and “why didn’t they keep that guy” questions still looming after Week 1. God, I love NFL roster cuts. I love the player hype, waivers process, occasional fan disputes in online chatrooms, and practice squad signees.
So, indeed, this period of time seems grand for those who dug deep in the trenches and stuck on with a team. It also appears to be the worst time for player’s that gave 110%, but couldn’t land 1 of those 53 roster spots. Even veterans are being cut! No harsh feelings though, these are business decisions with the “better” interest of the team in mind. Players seeking work can be rest assured that there are 32 practice squads, so don’t panic YET. The best of times or the worst of times? I’m saying, for everyone, it’s THE RIGHT TIME.
Coaches partake in an evaluation period with dialogue that resembles something like this: “He’s a keeper, that one fits into this offensive scheme, he’s serving a suspension, we wish he could stay healthy, we’d be over the cap limit with him, and that guy’s a one trick pony.” What we need to realize with regard to selecting a team is that each team’s game plan varies. There are a lot of important decisions to execute with respect to competing with the proper player personnel.
For example, just because a receiver can tantalize his opposition in preseason doesn’t suggest how he will fair against teams on that 16 game schedule. Does he mesh will with the team’s existing chemistry? Where and would he line up on a 3rd & 5 at mile high in the cold of December? Can coaches recognize that post-practice gym rat work ethic? How about his recovery speed, route running, soft hands, footwork, instincts, field awareness, etiquette, and ability to learn the playbook? What’s in his repertoire and what’s latently excellent? Case in point, decisions, decisions, decisions.
So, why is this the RIGHT TIME for everyone? NFL roster cuts are the right time to pare those who might hamper the team along the tough stretches of the season’s schedule. The time is right for the players who have the liberty to bounce around the league and align their skill set with a navigable (offensive or defensive) practice squad system. Again, the time is right for teams in need of freeing up some cap space. It is the right time for NFL teams to determine what they will need from what players they chose. Most of all, it’s the right time for a player to fall straight on his face, meditate on his utility, and reflect on what he NEEDS TO DO to solidify a roster role on the NFL stage in the near future.
The time is right because it’s a time where (as a coach) you have to prepare yourself for Week 1, Week 5, Week 10. I understand coaches coach game by game, with a strict focus on “the game at hand,” and never to overlook an opponent. However, roster cuts are the right time to keep that wide receiver you’re going to need in Week 7 versus Seattle’s jeering secondary. Maybe, it is the right time to do away with a linebacker who is a good run stuffer, but can’t drop back in coverage to matchup versus Gronk. I’m not saying teams look TOO FAR ahead nor keep a player off one particular skill, but this is the right time to consider which players’ are capable of combating the upcoming season’s potential obstacles.
In other words, it’s ok to conceptualize those gritty game situations as well as the necessary playmakers you need to congeal together as a team in order to win. Murphy’s law: “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong”. This is why it’s the RIGHT TIME to readily assemble a team that will calmly address issues with natural instinct. These guys are the sheriffs. They may have never been in a jam, but they know how to improvise. And that’s what I mean when I say it is the right time. Prepare for the unexpected; be that an injury, health issue, contract dispute or off-the-field scuffle. Coaches can’t see into the future, but they can select a group of selfless players they know will operate with the same tenacity in Week 1 as they will in the first round of the playoffs. Guys who have the RIGHT commitment, RIGHT leadership, and RIGHT work ethic in accordance with the team’s game-plan.
The 49ers know it’s the RIGHT TIME to make adjustments to their roster like any other team. A majority of their roster decisions revolved around the factors of aging players and price. So, what did they do before Saturday’s 1:00pm deadline? They cut 4 players (3 of which were part of the special teams unit) to save somewhere north of $5 Million:
- Kassim Osgood, WR, (34) – ($955,000)
- Bubba Ventrone, S, (31) – ($855,000)
- CJ Spillman, S, (28) – ($1.2 Million)
- Adam Snyder, G, (32) – ($1.0 Million)
With the departures of Ventrone and Spillman, it comes as no surprise that the niners decided to keep rookie safety James “LJ” McCray. The former Catawaba College standout is a versatile specimen who offers some resurgence in the kick return game as well as the defensive secondary. His 3-year ($1.54 Million) contract is a significant reduction from what the 49ers would have had to pay out (in over $2 Million total) to Ventrone and Spillman for the 2014-2015 campaign. A young safety with relative worth on the special teams side of the ball and defensive game, not too shabby.
How do you explain the exit of a veteran such as Adam Snyder? Easy, his name is Dillon Farrell. “He’s done a fine job,” Harbaugh said of Farrell, a rookie out of New Mexico. Farrell started 37 games at center and 6 games at right tackle while at New Mexico. It makes sense, however, that the 49ers would list Farrell as a Guard/Center with the 2 month absence of rookie center Marcus Martin to a kneecap injury. Shifting Farrell inside fills a void on the interior line, but gives the 49ers a guy who, worst-case-scenario, could also bump out to tackle (seeing as to how the Niners kept only 3 tackles). Again, Farrell’s contract stands at a low 3-year $1.54 Million like McCray.
Osgood was bound to be cut through no fault of his own. The former 49er wide receiver was targeted a mere 2 times offensively in 2013. He had one reception for seventeen yards. Despite being a unique special teams player, Osgood couldn’t stay. The niners ranked 5th in opponents kickoff-return average (20.4) which saw Osgood rack up 12 special teams tackles. The overwhelming receiver corps led by Michael Crabtree, Anquan Boldin, Stevie Johnson and company surely sealed Osgood’s fate. As Harbaugh noted, “There’s young players that are going to have to rise to the challenge… to get our special teams to where we’re used to them being.” Perhaps it was time to move on from an aging special teams unit.
As for the 49ers QB situation, why would anyone be surprised at the holding on of Josh Johnson as a third QB? I understand the guy is 28 years old and has migrated from team to team, but you are talking about a player who has 5 career starts. I don’t necessarily view that as inexperience as much as I believe he has a decent amount of football left in him. Can you trust newly acquired Blaine Gabbert to step in Kaepernick’s role, God forbid #7 goes down? Gabbert has a career quarterback rating of 66.4 opposed to Johnson’s 57.7 quarterback average; neither of which are spectacular. Consequently, Gabbert has started 27 career games while juggling with various offensive coaching personnel. You don’t keep Johnson because of his whopping (110.8) preseason passer rating compared to Gabbert’s (54.1) preseason outing. Harbaugh keeps Johnson because he’s not foolish enough to make the same mistake twice. Back in the 2012 preseason, Johnson posted a 115 quarterback passer rating to best then back-up Scott Tolzien’s 43 quarterback rating. Harbaugh then cut Johnson. He now knows what’s RIGHT about keeping Johnson. Also, of Johnson’s 4 starts throughout his sophomore campaign, 2 of those came against playoff teams. Keep in mind, Johnson had no previous starter experience during his rookie season with Josh Freeman at the helm. All of this is why you have to keep Johnson as your third quarterback.