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Every day in the NFL can be cut day

SB Nation logo SB Nation 9/14/2018 Natalie Weiner
a baseball player wearing a helmet © Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Making a team’s active roster doesn’t mean suiting up— or even sticking around.

New York Giants rookie running back Robert Martin hadn’t gotten the call. It was after 4 p.m. ET on Saturday, September 1 — the 2018 deadline for NFL teams to pare their rosters down to 53 players after carrying as many as 90 through training camp. Not getting a call, he explained later, was a good thing.

“Basically you go on with your day and if you don’t get that call, you know you’re on the team and you can just show up the next day,” he said after practice the following Friday. “You just really didn’t want to get the call.”

Despite making it through what’s better known as “cut day” — a day that looks like a milestone from outside the locker room — Martin knew better than to celebrate. Instead, the Pennsylvania native who went to nearby Rutgers did they same thing he and his peers on the fringe of the Giants’ roster had done all through training camp: He went back to the extended-stay hotel where the team puts up many of the rookies and undrafted players, ate, and played Fortnite with some of his friends from home.

“During our free time, everybody pretty much just wants to go to their room, relax and get off their feet,” he says.

Though he acknowledged that it was “a good feeling to make the active, to know that my hard work didn’t go unnoticed,” Martin didn’t even tell his family that technically, he was slated to suit up for the Giants’ opener — his goal since going undrafted and signing with the team back in May.

As it turns out, Martin was right to treat making first active roster like an anticlimax. There are a number of cliches around just how ephemeral NFL careers can be: when most hear “Not For Long,” though, they’re thinking years, not weeks or days. But Martin and the other players on what’s colloquially known as the roster bubble know that any day can very easily become cut day. Forty-four of the 1,696 players who were listed on the first round of active 53-player team rosters didn’t suit up Week 1; most of them were cut by Sunday or Monday to make room for new waiver claims.

Martin made it until Wednesday—the day after his 23rd birthday—when he was cut from the active roster. The Giants’ official announcement of the transaction was sponsored, ironically, by a payroll management company. He was signed to the team’s practice squad on Friday.

“They know I can play at this level, so they’re just anxious to see what happens,” Martin says of the family that he’s trying to protect from the emotional ups and downs of fighting for a spot on an NFL roster.

The Giants wound up cutting seven players who made the initial 53-man roster but would not suit up with any team in Week 1 —the highest turnover in the league. Only Martin wound up on the team’s practice squad. Quarterback Davis Webb was signed to the Jets practice squad, and the five others remain without a roster heading into Week 2.

“I haven’t seen a roster shaken up like that from this team or any other team shortly after Saturday at 4 p.m.,” Giants center Jon Halapio told Big Blue View. “It was a crazy changeup and hopefully it’s all out of the way.”

Like Martin, defensive tackle Josh Banks had made the active on cut day. It looked like a victory for the undrafted player originally from North Carolina, who spent the entire 2017 season on IR with a shoulder injury. And that same Friday, his locker looked much like all the others at the Giants’ training facility: Three or four jerseys hung neatly next to some warm-up gear, as did a slightly askew pair of football pants from a hook. A stray sock peeked out from an otherwise tidy shelf. A label bore his name and number — 64 — next to the Giants logo.

The only thing missing as the team returned from practice to shower and change was Banks himself. He’d been cut from the active roster on Sunday, timing that meant foregoing an active roster-sized paycheck: $28,200, in Banks’ case. He was signed to the team’s practice squad on Tuesday, and cut from that group on Friday morning as the team prepared to make its regular-season debut against the Jaguars. Assistants had yet to clear the evidence of his one-year stint with the team from his locker.

The players who wind up on practice squads have their own preferred NFL adage. “It’s always next man up,” says Martin, matter-of-fact in citing the saying that’s as inspiring to players looking to get their shot at the active roster as it is ominous to those who are already on it, whose NFL careers could be easily be over with one wonky hit or bad fall. To cope with the uncertainty, Martin and his teammates at the bottom of the roster practice a blend of stoicism and optimism.

“I know the team’s going to do what they gotta do to be successful, so I really wasn’t that upset,” Martin concludes of his tumultuous week; all he can do is literally take his tenure with the team one day at a time. “You gotta stay ready. I know God will make a way out of no way, and I know I can play in this league.”

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