For a guy whose NFL playing career was in the balance Friday, Greg Jones didn’t act too concerned.
The 11-year veteran fullback signed by the Saints midway through training camp was sitting in his locker, smiling as he watched a video on his iPhone, awaiting what turned out to be his final team meeting.
Despite his long career and a reputation as one of the league’s best blockers, Jones lost out to former practice squadder Austin Johnson, a league source told The Advocate, for the roster spot that was to have gone to Erik Lorig. Lorig has missed the past month with an undisclosed injury and appears headed for injured reserve.
It was Jones’ first time to be cut — or even to feel like he was on the bubble, for that matter.
“You see a lot of guys come and go, but this is kind of different for me,” he said before officially being informed of his fate. “It’s a humbling experience.”
Jones may have been the most experienced player on the Saints to get the “Hard Knocks” treatment Friday, but he was far from alone. Teams have until 3 p.m. Saturday to trim their rosters from 75 to 53 players. That’s 22 players on 32 teams — 704 individuals who will be out of work.
“It’s a tough business,” second-year tight end Josh Hill said. “When you make the team, it’s great. But it’s also the worst weekend in pro football.”
Many of those cut Friday will land on practice squads, expanded this year from eight to 10. Others will go on IR, meaning they’ll get paid despite being hurt.
And some, like Jones, will be looking for jobs. As Saints coach Sean Payton pointed out Friday, exhibition games are auditions for the other 31 teams as well as the one you’re currently on.
Veterans like Jones are well aware of that.
“I was home (in Jacksonville, where he played for nine seasons before spending the 2013 season with Houston), chilling with my family and working out, figuring I’d get a call when I heard from the Saints,” Jones said. “Getting cut here would be disappointing, but I’ll just go back home and get ready again.”
A few feet away from Jones, in the middle area of the locker room reserved for the rookies, receiver Brandin Cooks had no such concerns. First-round draft picks don’t get cut.
But Cooks, who likely will move into the locker space vacated by Jones, was aware what Friday meant for most of his fellow rookies.
“I know how hard all of these guys have been working,” said Cooks, a likely starter Sept. 7 at Atlanta. “I may have been a first-round pick, but I felt like I was pushing to make the team myself. It’s a tough time knowing that some of the guys you made relationships with are going to be gone. It makes you realize that this is a business.”
Guard Senio Kelemete knows the business side of the game. A fifth-round draft pick by the Arizona Cardinals in 2012, Kelemete was inactive for all but the final game of that season and, after being released at the end of the 2013 preseason, spent last year on the Saints’ practice squad.
“Getting cut sucks,” he said. “You’ve always been one of the best players on your team, never worrying about starting or anything, and all of a sudden at this level you find out there are a lot of other good guys on the team, too. But going through it makes you hungrier.”
Kelemete is in the running for one of the backup lineman spots and, with Ben Grubbs and Jarhi Evans being held out with injuries for most of the preseason, he started three of the four exhibition games, including Thursday’s finale against Baltimore.
But by most evaluations, Marcel Jones, who also spent last year on the practice squad after spending the 2012 season in IR, has the edge.
“I think I’ve had a good camp,” Kelemete said. “But I’ve tried not to think about where I stand. You hope for the best and prepare for the worst. And if it is the worst, you don’t let it beat you down.”
If he’s cut, Kelemete could go back on the practice squad. And that’s only one step away from being promoted to somebody’s roster.
Jones’ practice squad eligibility has long expired. In fact, Friday he was reflecting that he is the only member of Florida State’s recruiting class of 2000 still in the NFL.
“If you’re in the league this long, you know it’s not going to last,” Jones said. “You just play as well as you can for as long as you can.
“This is a great locker room, and it’s been fun to be around. But if I can’t be on this team, I still believe I can make it someplace.”