Photos from the Veterans Combine held at the Cardinals training facility
Only about four months had passed since Thomas Keiser had last stepped on the Cardinals practice field in Tempe previously, before he did so Sunday for the NFL Veterans Combine.
"It feels like it was a long time ago," the free agent linebacker said. "It's trippy.
"It's definitely a different environment. I'm fighting for my job for a fifth year in a row, so I just have to do what I have to do to get a team to sign me."
That was the idea of the initial event, held in Tempe because of the NFL owners meetings taking place starting Monday in Phoenix at the Arizona Biltmore. A total of 105 players with some degree of NFL experience were invited to take part, in
what amounted to a collaborative workout that teams normally have constantly throughout the year.
The league reached out to teams to ask what players they wanted to see at the veteran combine, NFL director of football development Matt Birk said. Teams wanted younger players who don't have a lot of previous video, for one. Some veterans – including some coming off injuries – were sprinkled in.
"I think we owe it to these guys that they get an adequate shot," Birk said. "I think if you get one shot you should get two, because with one time, you can get buried on the depth chart, or you get hurt or a bad fit or whatever, you get a second look and then if it doesn't work out, it doesn't work out. Then guys can move on and say, 'I got a fair shake, it just wasn't meant to be.' "
Among the players working out Sunday were quarterback Brady Quinn, defensive end Michael Sam, running back Felix Jones, defensive end Jamaal Anderson and defensive end Adam Carriker.
Carriker, a one-time first-round draft pick of the Rams, played in just two games in 2012 and missed the past two seasons with leg injuries that forced multiple surgeries. He was just happy to have a chance to get in front of scouts.
"If you're out of sight, out of mind," Carriker said. "Absolutely. That's why this was great for me, to remind teams, 'Hey, I'm still alive. I can still play this game.' So we see where this goes from here."
Sam was the name that drew the most attention. The former seventh-round draft pick, who declared he was homosexual before coming into the NFL, was cut by the Rams and later released from the Cowboys practice squad in 2014. He's currently appearing on "Dancing With the Stars" and has other non-football opportunities, but insisted he is a football player first.
"As long as I stay healthy and keep working, I think my chances of being on a team are quite high," Sam said.
There were also a handful of former Cardinals trying to stay in the league, besides Keiser. Defensive lineman Everrette Thompson, linebacker Vic So'oto, center Deveric Gallington and running back Michael Bush all spent time on the roster at one time or another. Bush, who was signed by the Cardinals last year and briefly got some first-team reps in practice before being released without playing in a game, admitted he was "shocked" his career had forced him to Sunday's event.
Then he was told he was clocked at a slow 4.91 seconds for his 40-yard time, and that reality that Birk spoke of hit him: "There goes my career," Bush said.
The fight for a job is real, Keiser would have told teammate Bush – although Bush didn't become a Cardinal until two weeks after Keiser's release. Keiser wasn't thrilled he was cut from the Cards or that no other team called after that. None of that matters now.
"If you don't recognize it you're already dead," Keiser said. "There are two types of players who are in the NFL. Guys who are established with safe jobs because of guaranteed money or they have been drafted and they can exhale. Then there are guys who are year to year with minimum contracts, and they are the expendable ones."