The NFL’s deadline to cut from 90 to 53 players at the end of the preseason is a wild experience for players on the bubble.
Guys like Khalil Mack probably spend the weekend bench-pressing school buses or whatever, but much of the league goes two days just praying their phone won’t ring. If they hear nothing, they’re on the team.
Bears inside linebacker Josh Woods, a third-stringer, showed up a team meeting Saturday (before the 3 p.m. deadline) still wondering whether he was in the clear. At one point in the meeting, he said coach Matt Nagy told the group that everyone in the room would proceed with the team for the regular season.
“I was like, ‘Huh. All right,’” Woods said. “So I just waited for a break to call my mom and let her know, because she’d been asking, ‘Get a call yet? Get a call yet?’ I could finally tell her.”
Woods is quite a success story after enduring a tumultuous college career at Maryland and putting on 30-plus pounds to make the move from safety to linebacker. He spent all of last season as an undrafted rookie on the practice squad, and his story is instructive to players who find themselves there now.
For those who don’t know, practice squad is essentially an extension of the team. Those players practice and go to meetings with their position groups just like the starters, but they don’t dress for games, likely make the minimum $8,000 per week and are essentially free agents who can sign anywhere if they get an offer to be on the active roster.
It can be frustrating, but Woods never felt that way. He saw it as extending his opportunity to prove himself after being cut a year ago, and it paid off Saturday.
“I tell people all the time, even the guys that just came back today for practice squad, ‘You’re in the building. Take advantage of it, because you could be home,’” he said. “We’ve got the best job in the world. We play a game. As long as you come to work with that attitude and try to get better, you can’t ever get discouraged.”
Imagine being Woods when he got the news.
It was hands-down the greatest accomplishment of his young career, yet in the same meeting, the Bears were moving forward with game-planning for their opener against the Packers on Thursday. There was minimal time to process what just happened before moving on to an even more difficult task.
“I really can’t even put it into words,” he said of his dizzying weekend. “On one hand, I’m super excited and kinda relieved because camp is stressful in general, but then on the other hand it’s like, OK, you made the 53, so what’s next? Now it’s time to really hunker down and make sure nobody regrets that decision and just keep going.
“It wasn’t time to [celebrate]. Let’s go a little faster, go a little harder. It’s always about the next game... I’m just happy to still be here, honestly, and be blessed enough to keep playing this game.”
The next goal is being active for a game, which requires him to basically make the cut every week. Teams can dress 46 of their 53 players on game days.