Without guaranteed contracts, life in the NFL is never easy. The possibility of being waived at a moment's notice is a burden all players must bear. That is especially so this week, as final cuts are due Friday afternoon.
The Chicago Bears roster currently stands at 75 but must be pared down to 53 in less than four days. As such, a number of bubble players must sweat it out this week. Pink slips will be handed to 22 players – although eight of them will be offered a spot on the practice squad – which can create a stressful locker room.
One of those players is safety Anthony Walters, a second-year player who is trying to earn a job in place of the injured Brandon Hardin, who was placed on IR yesterday. Walters spent last offseason with the Bears but didn't make final cuts. Fortunately, he was signed to the practice squad and elevated to the roster a month later.
Again this year, Walters is unsure whether or not he'll be staying in Chicago beyond this week.
"I'm not really sure if I'm staying," Walters said today. "I don't have an apartment yet, I'll tell you that. I'm still living where they pay for it."
S Anthony Walters
Brian D. Kersey/Getty
Not knowing if you'll have a job in a week can weigh on a player's mind, especially for the rookies, who are trying to make their first NFL roster.
"It is extremely tough," said Walters. "I usually don't think about that. I did when I came in last year. It's a stressful situation. I tell a lot of the undrafted guys that I talk to now, and the rookies: ‘You can't worry about that type of stuff because it will consume you. Just worry about what you're going to do today, what you have to do and not the guy next to you. Because if you're not doing what you're supposed to do, you won't be here.'"
Kyle Adams, one of five undrafted free agents to make the team last season, is in a similar spot this year.
"Both years I've just tried to trust that God has a plan for my life," Adams told Bear Report. "Take care of what I can control and not worry about the rest. That always sounds great but it's harder to put into practice, but I'm doing a decent job."
Yet it's not just the youngsters vying for roster spots. A player like Rashied Davis, signed by the club during training camp to replace the retired Devin Thomas, has established himself during his seven years in the league. Yet that's no guarantee he'll be on the team this year, as he's in a battle with Dane Sanzenbacher for the team's last wide receiver gig.
"At this point it is what it is. You can't really do much about it," Davis said. "Personally, I've never been cut. So I don't know what it's like to have to deal with that."
Davis said he's never before been worried about making an NFL team.
"I've never been on pins and needles waiting on the last cut. Never," he said. "I probably was on the bubble several times. But I never felt like I was on the bubble. I've always felt like I made the decision easy for them and in my favor. Coming in late now has made it more difficult, because they're more familiar with the younger players than they are with me, at least the new coaches."
The bubble players have just one game left to show they are worthy of a place on the final 53, although offense and defense isn't necessarily where they need to shine. The majority of the time, these decisions come down to which player performs better on special teams.
"[This game is} a big for a lot of guys," said special teams coordinator Dave Toub. "It's important that we see what we've been seeing in training camp and kind of reinforce it. Securing some spots. Some decisions that still need to be made."
TE Kyle Adams
No team in the NFL puts more emphasis on special teams than the Bears, something the coaches stress throughout the preseason.
"Oh, yeah. They know how important it is," Toub Said. "It starts with [coach] Lovie [Smith]. Lovie emphasizes it, and all the coaches do, and it filters on down. We have the first meeting of the day, so the guys know how important it is, and this is a big game for a lot of guys."
Walters and the others have been paying attention during those meetings.
"If you're not a starter, special teams is huge, " said Walters. "So if you want to make the roster it'll be through special teams. I learned that last year. I think that special teams right now is just as important as defense."
So while the starters won't be playing much in the preseason finale, and the final score will be meaningless, this is still the biggest game of the preseason. Jobs will be won and lost, 22 of them in fact.
"It's not like you can all of a sudden see something [in a player] you really haven't [before]," said Smith. "You just want them to continue to confirm the things that they've done and keep showing you. And if you have something that you've been saving, some special play to get you over the hump, then this is definitely the time to do it. Once you get to the fourth quarter, the last game, guys know what's at stake."
Those Chicago bubble players that leave it all out on the field this Thursday against the Cleveland Browns will be the ones invited back to practice on Monday.
"They're the ones," said Toub. "They show us on the field. They decide who makes it and who gets cut. Really, it's the player. It's all about the player."
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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.