The fourth preseason game is essentially meaningless on a team-wide scale, but to players without a secure roster spot, it’s as important as the Super Bowl.
The Cardinals must whittle their team down to 53 players on Saturday, and Thursday’s exhibition contest against the Broncos is the last chance for backups to make their pitch.
Coach Kliff Kingsbury remembers well the emotions associated with this week and acknowledged the inevitable pain awaiting a significant portion of the roster.
“I think I was cut seven times – six or seven times – when I was a player, and I remember what it felt like,” Kingsbury said. “I remember certain conversations you had, and certain conversations you didn’t have. I think I can empathize with the players and just try to be upfront and honest about things.”
The majority of the Cardinals’ roster decisions are cemented, but some good or bad performances against Denver could still have an effect.
A player like outside linebacker Pete Robertson seems squarely on the bubble. He is hoping to be on the right side of the cuts after bouncing around the league since 2016.
“I done been through it several times,” Robertson said. “I think about the previous times, where I always got the short end of the stick. I use it as gasoline thrown onto the fire. Excuse my language, but it pisses me off as I think about it. I’m going to put everything this team needs from me into it, where I can be in a position to be on this team.”
Justin Pugh’s roster spot is secure, but he dreads this time of year. The veteran guard said he gives out his cell phone number to any interested party that needs a helping hand after getting cut.
“Imagine if in the real world, on one day a year, 50 guys in the office, 50 men and women, get fired,” Pugh said. “That is crazy to think about. It just shows that this is a business at the end of the day. We have to make sure we’re aware of that and help each other out as much as we can.”
Even for those who make the team, the elation should wait a day.
The Cardinals have the top waiver claim priority, which gives them first dibs at every released player with less than four years of accrued service. It will be a giant pool of options, and it will likely shake up the roster on Sunday.
“We’re in a unique position with that first claim,” Kingsbury said. “It’s my first rodeo on this deal. I don’t have the best feel for it, probably, but talking to Steve (Keim), I know he feels like there are going to be a lot of really good players out there. We’re going to have to play that by ear.”
For the Larry Fitzgeralds and Kyler Murrays of the world, this weekend is not much different from any other. To a large chunk of the roster, it can have a profound effect.
“When you’re a player and your entire life you’ve worked to get to that point, and then it’s not working out or it’s time to try something else, your whole world is changed,” Kingsbury said. “You’ve got to move and get a new apartment, all sorts of things. As a young person, it’s a tough transition, but it makes you stronger.”
Robertson leads the Cardinals with 2½ sacks this preseason as he tries to secure a spot behind Chandler Jones and Terrell Suggs. He wants to make the team not just for himself, but also for his daughter, who lives in Texas as he traverses the country chasing his NFL dream.
“I get to see my daughter in spurts,” Robertson said. “I try not to think about it. The more I think about it, it hurts me, because I want her here with me. … This would mean a lot to me, but it would even more to my daughter and my family. They know what I’ve put in. The times I’ve had and the things I’ve set aside. There are a lot of things I’ve set aside. I’ve sacrificed a lot.”
Images from practice at the Dignity Health Arizona Cardinals Training Center