ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Even though there were still 78 men still on the fields Monday, practice seemed like it was missing a lot more than 12 people. The Broncos began their first round of cuts in the morning, making 12 roster transactions as they near the limit required by Tuesday at 2 p.m. MDT.
The Broncos got back on the practice field Monday as they prepare for a final preseason game. (All photos by Ben Swanson, unless otherwise noted)
It's a necessary and yearly part of the process that goes into making a football team, but that doesn't make it any easier.
"It's a tough day because you spend all offseason with these guys," Head Coach Gary Kubiak said. "You've got 90 guys. You go through OTAs, you go through camp and they bust their tail for you. Today we made 12. It's very difficult. I told them last week, I didn't think we had a guy in our locker room before the game that couldn't play in this league. Sometimes you just have to keep battling and those guys will. It's a tough day from that standpoint."
For these men—men who are, in the most basic sense, trying to earn a job—whether they make it through this round of cuts and then another round in a week is more than just about playing football.
"You have so much going through your head," Chris Harris Jr. said. "You just want to feed your family and just be able to be in the NFL. That's everybody's dream. To have one game on the line for these younger guys, it's something that they'll remember for their lives, so I just tell them to take advantage."
Harris knows all too well how much a player has to fight to earn a roster spot. As an undrafted rookie, he worked his way to the roster by showing his skills and unrelenting spirit regardless of role. Now he's one of the NFL's top cornerbacks.
His lesson is that you can have meager beginnings and make a name for yourself whether you're first on the depth chart or last. And he intends to tell the Broncos' young players exactly that.
"I haven't had a chance to talk to all of them at once," Harris said on Monday. "It's something that I definitely plan to do before the game on Thursday and just kind of explain to them how I made it, how I came in and really had to make the team in that fourth [preseason] game."
Unfortunately, three of the players currently on the roster will not be able to hear that lesson. The roster must be curtailed to 75 players by NFL regulations by the Tuesday 2 p.m. MDT deadline. By Sept. 5, it must be down to 53 players.
"We just have a couple other decisions that we've got to make," Kubiak said. "[We] wanted to work today and take a look at a couple of different things. It also has a lot to do with how you play the game on Thursday and how you get to Thursday with your guys. We've still got some decisions to make on that."
Some NFL dreams may have taken a hit on Monday, but for those cut, the door is not necessarily closed.
"Kubiak said it best," Emmanuel Sanders said. "Everybody in that room, last week before we played against San Francisco—he said, 'Everybody can play in the National Football League. Just because you get cut doesn't mean it's the end of the road.' You just have to keep working, you just have to find your team and when the opportunity comes and make the most of it."