For any NFL general manager, it’s one of the toughest times of the year. A team starts with 90 players at their training camp — but it has to cut it down to 53 players by the time the regular season begins. This year, weekly cut deadlines allowed teams to stretch the process out — but ultimately, each team still had to release 27 players just days after their last preseason game.
When you’re closely following a team, it’s likely that more than 53 players will appear to be talented enough for a roster spot — especially on a contender like the Kansas City Chiefs. But there’s no way around it: if the team sees you as the 54th or 55th player, the team will have to find a way to let you go.
Going into the 53-man roster cutdown, third-year defensive end Tim Ward looked like a player talented enough to make the 2021 Chiefs. In last year’s Week 17 game against the Los Angeles Chargers, he had five tackles, two quarterback hits and a sack in his professional debut. In this preseason, he racked up three sacks and was consistently impressive as an edge rusher. When the opportunity was there, Ward has made plays.
In his Wednesday afternoon press conference, general manager Brett Veach took time to explain how a very impressive preseason from Ward could still not be enough for him to make the team.
“Tim had a great camp,” Veach asserted. “In regard to his play and production, he can only line up there and play against the guy that is lined up against him. He took advantage of that — and certainly, other teams noticed. I know the Jets claimed him — and they were certainly up there on the waiver wire — so I wouldn’t be surprised if there were actually other teams that put in for him, too.”
While it’s a fair point that Ward’s production primarily came against second or third-string offensive tackles, he nonetheless played well — well enough to be a high priority to other teams that had more than 800 other recently-available players from which to choose.
So in addition to how well they perform on the field, there are other factors that contribute to a team’s decision to keep a particular player. Veach elaborated on some of them.
“It’s a combination of being committed to keeping 10 linemen and four tight ends,” noted Veach. “Saying, ‘Now moving forward, where are we and how can they contribute?’ Not just on game day, but on special teams. It was definitely a tough decision... It comes down to guys like [wide receiver] Daurice Fountain, guys like [tight end] Jody Fortson — and then [cornerback] Chris Lammons is another guy that is one of the better gunners in the league, too.”
Special teams is the key issue here. Every player that isn’t a starter — or another important player on offense or defense — needs to be able to contribute on special teams. In Kansas City, this is especially true. Special teams coordinator Dave Toub is also the assistant head coach — and every year, we can see his fingerprints on the initial 53-man roster.
A player like Ward has long-term potential as a defensive end — but it’s also true that the Chiefs are a current Super Bowl contender. As much as they’d like to develop players for two or three seasons from now, they’re also trying to win a title today. They need the best offensive, defensive and special-teams units they can assemble.
“We’ve got a tough schedule right off the bat,” emphasized Veach. “We’re coming out of the gate with a very, very strong opponent, so we just want to make sure that we’re not all of a sudden lining up Week 1 and we’re down at a position.”
There are other talented players that didn’t make the cut, too Last year’s seventh-round selection BoPete Keyes — the cornerback from Tulane University — was claimed by the Indianapolis Colts. Keyes was part of the 53-man roster all of last season, then played well in the Week 17 game that heavily featured reserves.
Players like Ward and Keyes could be missed. But it’s more likely that a few months from now — when the Chiefs are positioning themselves for the top playoff seed — they will be distant memories.
Just ask safety Tyrann Mathieu.
Listen I love Tim, and every player I have ever played with for that matter….. but imagine questioning hall of fame coaches and how they see their roster….. unbelievable.— Tyrann Mathieu (@Mathieu_Era) September 1, 2021
Led by one of the greatest head coaches in NFL history, we should be able to trust that the Chiefs know what they’re doing.