Ed Hinkel learned quickly that the National Football League is a business. That fact didn't cushion the blow when the former Iowa wide receiver was released from the Baltimore Ravens last week after failing a team physical due to a broken arm he suffered during the season.
"I didn't see it coming," Hinkel said in a phone call from his home in Erie, Pa, on Wednesday.
"That's why it hurt so much. It was tough. But stuff like that happens."
Hinkel broke his arm during the first half of Iowa's 34-17 victory Oct. 8 at Purdue. The senior missed three games before returning on Nov. 12 at Wisconsin. Two weeks later, he set a Kinnick Stadium record and tied a team mark with four touchdown catches against Minnesota. He then matched a Hawkeye postseason record with a pair of scoring receptions in the Outback Bowl.
At the NFL Draft Combine in February, Hinkel ripped off an impressive 4.5, 40-yard dash and posted the best shuttle time among receivers. Doctors checked his previously broken arm then asked him to return to Indianapolis for another X-ray before the draft in late April.
"I guess nobody really said that it was fine or wasn't fine," Hinkel said. "Everybody just kind of looked at it."
The doctors in Indianapolis apparently filed reports to interested teams saying that Hinkel's arm could use more time to heal despite him working out with it – issue free – at the combine and a later Pro Day on Iowa's campus. Baltimore's trainers obtained the records on Hinkel from the Indy physicians, but failed to provide that information to the Ravens' coaches.
"From what I understand, there was kind of a lack of communication in Baltimore between the coaches and trainers," Hinkel said. "The trainers didn't tell the coaches that I wasn't going to be able to participate in the (mini-) camp."
Once in Baltimore, the communication failed to improve in regards to Hinkel when he was examined by the team doctor.
"She seemed to think that it was OK from what I could tell," he said. "The trainers didn't see it the same way. They thought that it needed more time to heal."
The Ravens sent Hinkel home with no guarantees of bringing him back. They chose not to issue him an injury waiver, which would have kept him with the team until the trainers felt he was fit enough to work out.
"Pretty much all that was told to me was that the trainers feel like you need more time to heal," Hinkel said. "We're going to send you home and give you a call in August."
Baltimore also had the option of letting Hinkel go through camp on its doctor's recommendation.
"From what people have told me, if I would have gotten hurt (in camp), (the Ravens) would have to reach an injury settlement with me and go through all that stuff," he said. "They probably don't want to take that risk."
Hinkel had hoped to hear his name called during April's draft, and many experts felt he would after solid performances at the combine and pro day. But when it didn't happen, his phone in Erie rang off of the hook as teams positioned themselves to sign him as a free agent.
The frenzied set-up requires players and agents to act quickly in selecting a team so organizations that aren't chosen can move on to another prospect. Hinkel and his representation felt Baltimore was the right place.
While Hinkel understands the Ravens' reluctance to allow him to practice with the possibility of re-injuring his arm hanging out there, their communication breakdown cost him an opportunity to possibly join another team's mini-camp.
"They could have made things a lot easier on me," Hinkel said. "I could have went to another team and been in a camp right away if they had communicated. Yeah, they kind of put me in a bad position. I guess I understand why they wouldn't want to take the risk. I just wish they would have figured that out before I got there."
Hinkel feels like he could be contributing in a camp right now. His arm hasn't caused him problems since he recovered from a second surgery on it in February.
"I was able to do everything," Hinkel said. "I'm probably not 100 percent, but I don't if it will ever be 100 percent again. It's probably 95. It wasn't limiting me in any way. The bone is healed."
The Ravens' decision left Hinkel out of an opportunity as almost all rosters spots were filled with free agents within a few days of the draft ending.
"I've been in contact with some teams," said Hinkel, who has been working out in Erie. "Some of them have talked about tryouts when they get a roster spot open. Right now, I'm kind of back to where I was before the draft. I'm just training and not knowing where I'm going to go, if I'll go anywhere at all."
Most of the NFL mini-camps wrap up by mid-June. At that point, teams will start to release players and Hinkel hopes to hear from someone. He already has a tryout set up with the Buffalo Bills on June 15th.
"It's been tough, but I'm over it now," Hinkel said of his setback. "I'm just going to use it as motivation to keep going. I want to be able to go back and prove that I can play."
And there's a chance that Baltimore could call him back. Hinkel pauses for a moment when thinking about that option.
"It would be something that I'd have to think about," he said.
Sunday, Hinkel plans to return to Iowa City, where he will work out with Hawkeye Strength and Conditioning coach Chris Doyle until his June 15th tryout with the Bills.