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Hanging On To The NFL Dream

Posted Jun 13, 2017

It's a stressful process for those often sitting on the NFL roster bubble

Cardinals wide receiver Jeremy Ross will fight for a roster spot in training camp, which is nothing new to him.

Larry Fitzgerald embodies the NFL dream.

The legendary wide receiver is the face of the Cardinals franchise, a slam-dunk Hall of Famer and a player with enough wealth to support his family for generations to come.

That level of fortune and fame is what every player desires, but only a select few actually attain. Many more are on the opposite edge of existence, scratching and clawing to keep alive a dream which can be in constant limbo.

“It has its difficulties,” said wide receiver Jeremy Ross, a former undrafted free agent who has bounced around to eight teams in seven years. “Mentally, you have to be really strong-minded to be positive that the pieces will fall.”

Those on the roster bubble must embrace a stark dichotomy. Just ask Chris Hubert, who last year was working at UPS one week and on the road with the Cardinals the next; who was on the team for the start of offseason workouts this year, released for a few weeks and then re-signed again.

“You always wonder when the next call is going to come,” the second-year wideout said. “You just try to stay ready, keep working out, and just keep the faith that what you did while you were there would be enough to bring you back.”

Hubert and Ross have at least made practice squads and active rosters. There are some players who regularly land with teams for training camp but never make the cut. The offseason stipend pales in comparison to the big paydays of the regular season, so after a year or two, a conundrum develops.

“Everybody has a different living situation,” Ross said. “Some people come from nothing. Some people are well off. So everyone’s situation is different, but if you don’t have nothing, you don’t really have anything to go back to. Chances are, your family might not be doing well also, so it’s like, ‘Do I just sit here and train with no dollars in my pocket, or do I work and get a job? I’ve heard some guys get out and start working, they’re working at a dealership or something, and they get that call.”

Coach Bruce Arians said it’s not that rare to have a player decline a roster spot. It seems unfathomable to give up the shot, no matter how slim, but Arians said some players are realistic about their chances of making an NFL team.

“They know when it’s over,” Arians said.

The majority still clings to any sliver of hope, and sometimes it works out. Hubert was a diminutive undrafted free agent out of Fayetteville State last season that played well enough to earn a glimpse of NFL life. After the downer of getting released right before OTAs began, he’s thrilled to once again be back on the 90-man roster for training camp.

“It means everything,” Hubert said. “I just want to take advantage of it and do everything I need to do to hopefully make the team again this year.”

For the players near the back end of the roster, the chances are slim to earn a berth. The cold reality is that their primary purpose is to swallow up snaps during practice and in the second half of preseason games.

While they mostly work in the shadows and the months of hard work often don’t lead anywhere, there will never be a shortage of candidates. A select few might walk away, choosing the stability of a regular paycheck, but most will chase the dream until its end is resolute.

“Even if they feel like they are a camp body, it’s like, ‘Man, let me get in here and make something happen, and hopefully something works out,’” Ross said. “Everybody wants to be in the NFL. It’s a great job. Some people are willing to take that risk, leave everything behind to come pursue this, even though it’s not guaranteed.”

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