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A note about final cuts, players passing through waivers

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NFL: MAY 04 Seahawks Rookie Mini-Camp Photo by Joseph Weiser/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The following is an excerpt from the Seaside Joe newsletter. I got an unusual amount of positive feedback from readers on it and found that I was satisfied with some of the points that it made and wanted to establish them as canon on Field Gulls. For myself at least. You can subscribe to Seaside Joe here if you’re interested for more.

Good afternoon Seasiders,

Teams often start their draft board with well over 1,000 players each year. Over time and through several different phases, they may whittle that down to 100-150 names. Each team is different. Some will have a smaller or bigger big board, but you get the point I’m making: every year, many hundreds of college football players believe they have a shot at playing in the NFL.

At the end of seven rounds and 250 picks or so, that leads to a lot of disappointed prospects. Many of those will sign undrafted free agent contracts with teams, but it’s important to keep those undrafted players in context: though someone like Jazz Ferguson may be a priority free agent, there were 28 receivers in 2019 who got selected and he wasn’t one of them. It doesn’t mean that he wasn’t draftable, as I assume he was one of the 150 players on Seattle’s draft board, but it gives us an idea of how ready teams must have felt they were to give Jazz an opportunity.

Similarly, there were 24 receivers taken before John Ursua, who went 236th overall. It doesn’t mean that Ursua is automatically going to be worse than all of them. We know for a fact that every year the order of prospects taken is 100% “wrong” and even if it shakes out as kinda fair some of the time, we know that either Ursua or Ferguson could prove as valuable as Doug Baldwin, himself a former undrafted free agent.

What this means to me is not that Baldwin is special -- even if he is -- it’s that there are many dozens of hopeful receivers every year and they are all “special”.

Out of those many dozens, maybe two dozen will be drafted. To be drafted at all makes you a very unique athlete. A very unique player. And probably a very unique person in general. People who make it to this level may have obsessive compulsive disorder. They might blow you away with how hard they work. They might be the smartest athlete you’ve ever met. They might be the fastest, jump the highest, and be strong enough to bench you 25 times.

Take 100 NFL receivers at random and sure enough Baldwin will be “special” among them because his level of production is so rare, but what you’ll also have is 100 amazing people. 100 people who’ve reached a height of sports that so few people reach, making them all quite special.

It means that whether you’re Doug Baldwin and the 10th best receiver in the game, or David Moore and you’re perhaps fighting to be #100, you’ve got traits that football fans will love.

Virtually everyone in the NFL has a number of traits you should absolutely love. Speed. Size. Agility. Work ethic. Leadership qualities. Production. Desire. Passion. Whatever else you wanna throw in the talent bucket. The problem with talent evaluation is that they’re all pretty damn talented. There are varying levels from Baldwin to Moore to Tanner McEvoy, but they’re all god damn special. In those three examples, McEvoy’s physical abilities would stand out ahead of Baldwin and Moore.

But his football abilities did not.

All of which is to say this: John Gilbert posted an article about Ursua, Ferguson, and getting through waivers. Read it here. Every year fans go crazy (not hyperbole, I think some of y’all lose your damn minds around cuts) about which guy is going to be the seventh receiver, aka the guy who probably doesn’t make it. (I call it the Kasen Williams Award.) Every year they cite his speed, or his agility, or what he did in college, or the absolute worst thing of all, his “intangibles,” and most years, those players fade away. John posted the nine receivers who’ve been claimed on waivers in the last two years after final cuts, and of those nine, names included Amara Darboh, Kasen, and McEvoy.

Do you find that Seattle is kicking themselves over those decisions? The other six names carry similar significance around the NFL today.

It doesn’t mean that sometimes teams won’t make a mistake on a cut, it just means that they usually don’t. Why? Because there are like 1,500 players in the NFL at any given time, and they’re all special, and none of them are special. We can all make a case for any player as if we were that player’s mom or dad. But can you step away and stop seeing them as your own pride? Can you see them for something beyond the exceptional traits that put them there in the first place?

In professional football, everyone is good. They’re the 1%. To be expendable though, it’s rarely ever a question. The ones you simply can’t get rid of tend to stand out in ways that would compel you to keep them. The ones who didn’t quite get there -- even if it’s Gary Jennings and not Ursua or Jennings -- often didn’t get there for a reason. Even when it seems unfair. It’s always gonna seem unfair if you’re focused on everything they do that seems special. But what can you find that will make you see them as “ordinary”?

It’s there ... but only if you’re looking for it.

(PS - I love John Ursua. I don’t think he’s going to get cut.)

-Kenneth Arthur III