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Pulling back the curtain on the NFL’s cutdown weekend

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Goodbye and hello.

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Kansas City Chiefs Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

The team has finally reached the end of its last preseason game, and now the time has come for some very tough decisions. However, this is a good thing because it means that it is also time for some real meaningful games to begin, and that is what everyone is here for.

As an individual who worked in the medical side of things for so long, I can attest to the fact that it is not just as easy as calling a player and telling them the news. There are a multitude of steps that go into this very exacting process.

While it is true that most decisions on roster spots are made by this point, there are usually several spots still undecided. I used to say that I could predict the roster within a couple of spots. Some seasons were easier than others, but there always seemed to be a surprise out there waiting—either positive or negative.

It is never negative to change your team for the better, but it sometimes hurts to have to sign a guy out that was with you for a long time or was a team favorite. That hurts, there is no way around it and no one enjoys that side of it. However, the team rolls on and games must be played with the best roster that can be put built.

After the final game, the long process begins of final player evaluations. Not just on the team you are rooting for—for all teams.

Personnel staff must evaluate everyone to be ready for potential cuts, trades or injuries. This means keeping tabs on the entire league, an arduous process to be sure.

Once cuts for your team are decided, the player is contacted and told to report to the facility. They all know it’s coming, and a phone call from a number they don’t recognize is usually the sign. I’ve even experienced situations where players left town or wouldn’t answer their phones, as they thought this would prevent them from being cut. It didn’t, of course.

The players then report to the building and see all the appropriate people, beginning with the personnel department and then the coaching staff first normally. At that point, the player then must check out with all the rest of the football departments, including video, equipment, football ops and of course medical.

Medical is one of the most important, obviously, since at this point of the process, the player is required to declare himself healthy or report any issues. The vast majority of players declare themselves healthy, sign out, then leave. Most of them are just looking to move on to the next thing or team.

Occasionally, an issue arises that needs to be checked by a physician and that is taken care of at this time as well. A player reporting an unknown issue when they are signing out because they are being released is always something that can raise eyebrows. However, most issues are benign and simply a player wanting something on record.

As the person who oversaw the medical sign in/out process for many of my years in the league, I had my own way to deal with things. Most guys got a handshake, a “Good luck and let us know if we can do anything for you.”

Others, who were more beloved or had been with the team longer, got hugs and long goodbyes making sure we all had each other’s numbers and business cards for staying in contact down the road.

To be sure, not everyone is happy about it. I’ve seen it all. Players crying, yelling, fuming, refusing to sign anything. The reality is that they will no longer be with the team no matter the behavior and most just need/want to vent to someone. Almost everyone over the years handled the process with dignity and respect of others. Those that didn’t, I typically didn’t ever see in the league again, probably showing more about their character than their playing ability in the first place.

On the flip side of things, it is a time to welcome new faces on to your team. Whether it is a trade or free agent from another team, the roster is truly not set until the first practice of the regular season, sometimes even later in the week.

Constant movement during this period sees players cross the country on late notice in order to make it to practice for their new team after just playing a game for another team days ago. After the roster has been initially set over the final preseason weekend, it is extremely common to have several changes in Week 1 prior to the game. Unless your team plays on the first Thursday, there are 10 days to tinker with the roster before they play.

Some players that have been released will be back with the practice squad also, so signing them out and then back in is a reality and a formality. By the end of the weekend, everyone must have a spot – active roster, practice squad, IR, PUP/NFI.

Going forward, this is your team. It will change and it will evolve, but the first step in the process is to go from 90 to 53—many guys saying goodbye, or maybe just goodbye for now.

Aaron Borgmann is the founder of Borgmann Rehab Solutions. He spent 12 years in the NFL as an assistant athletic trainer and physical therapist before joining Arrowhead Pride.