FOXBORO, Mass. — Eighty players currently own spots on the New England Patriots’ roster. By 4 p.m. ET on Tuesday, more than a quarter of them will be out of work.
Roster cutdown day, when every team must finalize its initial 53-man roster, is one of the most difficult days of the NFL calendar for players — for the ones on the wrong side of the cutline, of course, but also for their teammates who must say goodbye friends and connections they’ve spent months or years forging.
Roughly a dozen of the cut players will stick around on the Patriots’ practice squad. Others will land with different teams, either through waiver claims or free agency. For some, their football careers will be over.
Speaking Monday afternoon, longtime Patriots co-captain Devin McCourty explained the emotions inside Gillette Stadium on a day like this.
“Throughout the building — coaches, players — we all feel that,” said McCourty, a Patriot since 2010. “I don’t think anybody likes this day. Even though we all know it’s coming, when you’re in the journey, you’re in the process, you’re just enjoying it. We’re enjoying when we do rookie jokes in front of the room or when we’re out there and we’re celebrating together for pushups on the line. All of those moments, you don’t think about this day that’s coming tomorrow. Everyone’s thinking about what it is now, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.
“But the realization is tomorrow’s tough. You think about guys’ families. You get to know guys, why they’re here, their journey, what they went through to be here. To just think that all just kind of comes crashing down tomorrow, it sucks.”
McCourty has spent his entire 13-year NFL career with the same team. Many of his teammates cannot say the same. Of the 80 players on New England’s roster as Monday afternoon, more than 30 have been cut or traded at least once, including some by the Patriots in the past.
A handful of players have experienced that more than once. Veteran safety Adrian Phillips, for instance, was released eight times by the San Diego Chargers before finally earning a permanent spot. Six different teams have cut backup quarterback Brian Hoyer over the course of his career. The Patriots cut kicker Nick Folk in each of the last three seasons, though two of those were procedural moves after which he quickly re-signed.
McCourty, Phillips, Hoyer and Folk likely don’t need to worry about their roster status this year, but many of their teammates don’t have that luxury. McCourty said the members of New England’s secondary dedicated part of their Monday meeting to acknowledging and appreciating the players who won’t make it through final cuts.
“Tomorrow is what it is where you can’t keep everyone in the locker room,” McCourty said. “You’re looking forward to Miami (in Week 1), but I think you still kind of have what will come of tomorrow in your head.
“As an older guy, as a veteran, I’ve seen so many of these guys come in and work their butts off to give themselves a chance, and I remind guys all the time. I say it before the game sometimes: This league is about every time you get out there, you represent yourself to 32 teams. It’s not just the team you’re on. It’s about going out there and playing well for every other team in the league.”
Head coach Bill Belichick — who annually adds two or three players who fail to their prior team’s 53-man roster — acknowledged there has been “a lot of anxiety” inside the locker room as the cutdown deadline approaches. Unlike some teams, the Patriots declined to release any players on Monday, saving those moves for Tuesday.
“I think it’s a lot of anxiety with the players of the team, as you would expect,” Belichick said Monday morning. “We have to make 27 roster moves, so it’s a pretty good chunk of players. It’s always a difficult time for them.”