Life On The Bubble: Behind the Scenes Of Cut-down Day

Philadelphia Eagles defensive tackle Antonio Dixon.Moments after the 9 o’clock deadline had passed Friday night, Howie Roseman sat at the head of a long conference-room table on the first floor of the NovaCare complex, and reflected on the player he just cut.

The day had been dedicated to trimming the roster down to 53 players. Antonio Dixon was the last to go. Dixon is a remarkable story. He spent much of his childhood in and out of homeless shelters, went to about 10 different middle schools, battled dyslexia and a major stammer, and still fought his way through college and into the NFL. He was claimed by the Eagles in September of 2009 after being cut by the Redskins, and had been with the team ever since.

“I remember the first time I saw Antonio Dixon,” said Roseman. “He was a senior and I actually went to see him at a practice where he had a heat stroke, and they took him out in an ambulance at the University of Miami. I remember telling him that story when we got him here. He’s a tremendous individual, he’s a tremendous personality for our football team. I think he has a bright future ahead of him.

“It’s like the question, ‘Who’s your favorite child?’ It’s the same way when picking players. At some point we picked every man on this roster because they have some trait  we want them to bring to the Philadelphia Eagles. When you let them go, you’re letting go someone you have chosen.”

For bubble players, cut-down day is all about the phone call. If you go the whole day without one, you have made the 53-man roster. If the phone rings and the incoming call starts with a “215” area code, chances are you are being summoned to gather your things and drop off your playbook.

Just imagine how slowly time ticks by. Or how your stress level shoots through the roof when  your cell phone buzzes because a friend or family member is unaware of the circumstances.

“You go about your day. If they call you they call you, if they don’t they don’t,” said cornerback Brandon Hughes. “You get an unknown number, that’s probably them calling you. I can’t be sitting by the phone all day hoping the Philadelphia Eagles don’t call me.”

“It’s just trying to relax, hang out with the family. You’ve got the day off, so you try and go do something to keep your mind occupied and see if you get a phone call or not,” said reserve offensive lineman Dallas Reynolds late last week. “I’ve gotten a phone call every year so far.”

The NFL is the definition of a competitive marketplace. Your grip on a roster spot is never tight. Roseman said that before the team goes to training camp with their 90 assembled men, they put together a list of all the players on other teams that have been drafted in rounds 4-7 over the past two years, along with those who have graded out in that area. They then take a look at teams who have an excess of talent at certain positions to try and gauge who may become available. That adds up to some 500-600 players that they are evaluating during the preseason to potentially claim somebody’s roster spot.

“By the time it got to [Friday], we had a targeted list of about 150 guys that we thought might get cut and we had good grades on,” said Roseman.

“We sit in our draft room. We have a board, by position. We grade the guys. We’re able to pick guys off, make playtime tapes of them, watch them and discuss them.”

One of the players they scouted who shook out was former Texans offensive lineman Nathan Menkin. He was put on waivers and the Eagles snatched him up. To make room, they had to part with cornerback Trevard Lindley, who had just survived the cutdown to 53 the day before.

“You can’t think about it,” said Lindley right before the Jets game. “Just go out there every game and play your hardest. Hopefully some team likes you and if they don’t, just hope another team will pick you up.”

Roseman makes it a point to try and call every player that is released, though he conceded with the flurry of activity leading up to Friday at 9 p.m., he needed some assistance from other members of the personnel department.

“They’re human,” said Roseman. “They had a dream, an ambition to play on this football team, to play in the National Football League. We just want to be as honest as possible. We want to tell them their strengths and weaknesses, we want to tell them how we can help them.”

As of Sunday morning, Dixon has yet to be picked up by another team. Same for Lindley. Reynolds finally avoided that phone call and is currently listed as the Eagles backup center and guard. Hughes also made the team and is a reserve behind Nnamdi Asomugha at right corner.

An odd part of the lead-up to the cutdowns was that Jeffrey Lurie was throwing  a barbecue at his house that Friday afternoon from 12-4. Attendance was mandatory for Eagles players. The thing is, there was a host of guys that had no idea if they would still be Eagles players at that time.

“Hopefully they have all their decisions made by 12 o’clock,” said Hughes Thursday night. “ But if they don’t, hey, I guess you get some good food out of it. And then if they call you, you can thank them for the opportunity, and the hamburger.”

Follow Tim on Twitter and email him at tmcmanus@phillymag.com.