Surviving the off-season is now a more difficult task for many veterans than surviving training camp.
That became obvious yesterday after very few well-known players got their walking papers when the 28 NFL teams made their final cutdown to 53 players.
Eric Martin, the New Orleans Saints' all-time leading wide receiver, and the Los Angeles Rams' Cleveland Gary, who ran for 1,125 yards and caught 52 passes in 1992, were two of the established players who failed to make it, but most of the players let go were rather obscure. Another well-known veteran, five-time Pro Bowl linebacker John Offerdahl of the Miami Dolphins, retired.
The combination of free agency, the salary cap and a change in the way cutdowns were conducted resulted in most veterans keeping their jobs.
Through last year, teams had to cut to 47 players and then could re-sign six players to get to 53. This year, they just got down to 53 so 168 fewer players were released.
Also, now that the NFL has a salary cap and free agency, teams generally decided which veterans they wanted during the off-season.
"People made a lot of decisions before they came to camp," said Washington Redskins general manager Charley Casserly. "If a player got to camp and he was a veteran, his chances of making the team were pretty good."
In another example of how the salary cap affected decisions, the San Francisco 49ers cut to 52 players, one below the maximum.
Until the final rosters are set, only the top 51 players counted toward the $34.6 million cap. The 49ers couldn't afford two more players. Since only 45 players and a third quarterback can suit up for the games, the 49ers don't need 53. But it's more difficult to practice without extra players.
It'll be interesting to see if the 49ers sign any practice squad players. Teams can put five players on that list at $3,300-a-week each. The 49ers would have to maneuver their roster to afford any of those.
There still will be some minor roster maneuvers. Teams can claim a player off the waiver wire in 24 hours or sign him later if they want him at a reduced salary.
There was one bit of good news for all the vested veterans with four years of experience or more who survived the 53-man cut. They are now guaranteed half their salary for the coming year.
Former coaches Joe Gibbs and Richie Petitbon would barely recognize the Redskins these days.
They wound up adding 22 new players to their roster.
They traded guard Darryl Moore to the Green Bay Packers for a conditional 1995 draft pick, released defensive end Rick Graf and cornerback Robert Williams and waived running backs Tyrone Rush and Cedric Smith, center Greg Huntington and wide receiver Damon Wright. Rush, who hasn't played since the first exhibition game when he felt numb after a hit, likely will go on the practice squad.
Graf and Williams didn't go on the waiver wire because they were vested veterans and they become free agents once they are released.
Coach Norv Turner said he wasn't sure how much change there would be when he arrived.
"I came in with an open mind," he said. "Free agency enabled us to do a lot of things."
The Redskins wound up keeping 10 defensive linemen instead of nine because of the injuries that likely will keep Shane Collins and Tim Johnson out of the opener.
The result is they kept 10 offensive linemen instead of 11 and traded Moore. "Moore has the ability to help somebody," Casserly said.
The Redskins kept all seven of their draft choices, but it's too early to rate the class. When they traded Moore, they were left with only six from the 1990-1992 drafts.
Eagles cut second-rounder
The most surprising move probably was the Philadelphia Eagles' decision to waive defensive tackle Bruce Walker, the 37th player taken in the draft.
He was the highest draftee to be cut and new owner Jeffrey Lurie, who fancies himself as a draft expert, isn't likely to be pleased about that. If the Eagles don't have a good year, Lurie may decide he wants changes made in the front office.
"He really didn't have much motivation," Eagles coach Rich Kotite said. "It's a darned shame."
Scouts try to figure out which players are motivated before the draft.
Walker was suspended last fall by UCLA after police found stolen property in an apartment he shared with two men. He pleaded no contest and was sentenced to community service, but said he didn't know the property was stolen.
You may not recognize the name Charles Jordan, but you probably saw the acrobatic catch he made with 26 seconds left in the Los Angeles Raiders' final exhibition game against the Houston Oilers Saturday. The catch, which made all the TV highlight shows, cut the deficit to 23-22 and the Raiders won with a two-point conversion.
The Packers liked it, too, because they traded an undisclosed 1995 draft pick for him. The Raiders are loaded at wide receiver so they could afford to let Jordan loose.
Around the league
The Rams cut defensive back Darryl Henley, who's out on bond on a drug charge, because a judge ruled if he traveled with the team, he would have to post a $1 million bond and pay a court officer to accompany him. . . . The Indianapolis Colts kept two veteran backup quarterbacks -- Don Majkowski and Browning Nagle -- behind Jim Harbaugh when they waived Paul Justin. . . . The Oilers promoted Bucky Richardson to their backup QB position ahead of Sean Salisbury, who's making $900,000 and may have to take a pay cut. . . . Add the Detroit Lions to the list of teams interested in Deion Sanders. "We're calling him just to see where he stands," Lions coach Wayne Fontes told the Detroit News. Sanders yesterday got a contract offer from the Dolphins, whom he has visited in addition to San Francisco, Kansas City, New Orleans and Atlanta.