The cuts have begun and they will finish up at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, as the Pittsburgh Steelers and every other NFL team must cut down to the regular season limit of 53 players.
That means the Steelers, which have 70 players on their roster as of Tuesday morning, must make 17 more cuts on the final day.
But in reality, that might only be one cut. The Steelers can add 16 players back to their practice squad, if they clear waivers on Wednesday.
The NFL has steadily seen growth from the practice squad, both in terms of number of players and in terms of salary. Years ago, a player might hang around for one season on the practice squad at most, and most of the bubble players coming into cut-down day were undrafted free agents. If things didn’t break well for them, it would mean taking up accounting or insurance sales or who knows what.
Instead of a roster bubble full wide-eyed youngsters, hoping for one shot to make or break their career, the Steelers bubble is full of been-there, done-that guys, that know the stakes are lower than they’ve ever been in terms of making the football team on Sept. 1.
“I don’t want to say I’m getting used to it, but that’s just part of the business,” said wide receiver Dez Fitzpatrick.
Fitzpatrick was a rookie in 2021. He was cut in the final round of cuts that August and ended up on the Tennessee Titans practice squad. He was called up midseason, only to be cut again at the end of training camp in 2022. Now in his third camp, but first with the Steelers, he has a different mindset about how to approach cut-down day.
“It’s my third training camp now,” he said. “I’ve been cut. I’ve been on the active roster, I’ve kind of had a taste a of both. I’m just living life in the moment. This is a business that I signed up for. A lot of people don’t realize when you’re a little kid wanting to go the NFL, how much business-oriented it is.”
So as the lockers started to clean out around Fitzpatrick — who has a temporary stall in the middle of a Steelers locker room that was built for 53 players but has been housing 90 — he wasn’t necessarily concerned about his standing.
“At the end of the day, it’s still football. I can just do my part and worry about everything else later. I’ll let the rest take of itself and let God handle it. All I can do is control what I can control, which is my effort.”
A look around the locker room reveals similar stories. Of the roster hopefuls still hanging around, only three — wide receiver Jordan Byrd, outside linebacker David Perales and running back Xazavian Valladay — are traditional UDFAs. All the rest have been through this before, and know what to do.
Or better yet, know that they’ve done what they can do, and now the chips are going to fall where they may. But either a call into Mike Tomlin’s office or a sigh of relief come 4 p.m. on Tuesday won’t necessarily be the start of something big or the end of the road.