There is an “angst” factor during every NFL Draft and for most teams, it starts to happen about three picks before a particular team is on the clock with their selection. Decision makers start to cross their fingers and toes under the table in hopes that the player they really want will be available when it is their time to make a pick. It’s a hidden anxiety to most, but believe me, when you sit in the chair of the general manager, the player personnel director, the head coach and even the scouts, you all feel it and it's real.
Another high anxiety timeframe is during the last meaningful week of preseason, I always held my breath that nobody unnecessarily comes up lame or worse just prior to the season opener on the schedule. As many NFL teams wind down what has been a more normal off season in 2021, the focus will shift to a window of time, the next 30 days, where players dismiss in a similar fashion to the last day of school, when students run out the doors for summer vacation.
As a general manager in the league, this was one of those three different times during the calendar year that I really began to “hold my breath”. It’s the non-football injuries and the legal issues that you feared most. Please excuse my paranoia, but I’ve gotten that gut punch call before on more than one occasion.
In one situation, the call came during the first week of July when our starting corner blew out his knee in a pickup basketball game. I remember it like it was yesterday. I also can recollect being in Frankfurt Germany, scouting the final game of NFL Europe, and getting the call that our young DT, who we had big plans for, was arrested on South Beach in Miami and was being held on bail. These types of calls only have to happen once for you to get the sick feeling of thinking disaster is always just a phone call away. Idle time and minds can cause issues anytime but it seems as though this time of the year it's inevitable. If you have been around the league as a decision maker for any period of time, you’ve gotten one of these calls.
The Kansas City Chiefs just recently got that call when they were notified that DE Frank Clark was arrested and now faces felony charges of gun possession. That’s serious stuff for a guy who has a history of these types of incidents and it’s one of the big reasons that the Seattle Seahawks traded him to KC two years ago. A suspension for Clark is a very real possibility now so look for the Chiefs to acquire some depth at his position, if they can find it, in the next week or two. It happened with the Minnesota Vikings this week as well. A recent draft choice in the wrong place at the wrong time, shot four times according to his agent in Washington DC.
No matter how passionate the plea is from the head coach on his way out the door for summer break, the fact is boys will be boys and many inside a team’s front office always fear this time of year. Going home is not always simple for some guys. Having the “cold sweats” is no way to live when you’re supposed to be relaxing and getting away before training camp starts. However, I’ve seen the best laid plans of mice and men go up in smoke before. Trying to readjust a roster in response to a given situation the week before your fall camp begins is very difficult. The shelves in the cupboard are fairly bare at this stage.
With the pandemic of 2020 reducing the salary cap, this year is a bit of an exception. There are numerous options, depending on your position of need, still available in the free agent pool. If you have a hole to fill, this year would be the year to do it. I
I remember one July when I was with the Seahawks and we needed some veteran depth at corner. I had been trying to sign a particular player (for the veteran minimum) and his agent had several other clients who were veterans still looking to find the right fit. In order to get the commitment from the corner I desired, I took two other vets off that particular agents’ books to fill out our roster. As it turned out, two of the three veterans I acquired that day ended up making our team. Needless to say, GM’s can still find value, even in July.
To stop building and claim you are happy with your team roster is a plan filled with both “hope” and “neglect”, IMO, especially this year. There are numerous good players still on the street looking for a job. I mentioned two on our “The Football GM’ podcast last week. LB KJ Wright, a productive and versatile player who adds leadership and fits in most schemes, is one player I would consider. Maybe its age or money or maybe its fit, but he hasn’t signed with anyone yet. Another player worth mentioning is Corey Peters, a DT who was with Arizona last year and is coming off a knee injury.
I always liked to consider positions where you know an injury will play a factor in the future. Its just the nature of the game for injuries to happen frequently at linebacker, defensive line or with your offensive linemen. You just can’t have enough of these guys on your roster at the start of your fall camp.
It’s also always a matter of not IF, but WHEN, your team will get hit with injuries. The teams with the deepest rosters entering the fall camp will be the ones with the most margin for error. That’s why I questioned the WFT releasing two tackles last month when they didn’t have to. Their margin for error just disappeared at the OL position.
There really is no rest period, even during a month when most fans think decision makers are on vacation. Those on the inside are all holding their collective breath in hopes of NOT getting a call about one of their players while at the same time, still continuing to improve their roster in preparation for the upcoming season.