Ravens cornerback Cassius Vaughn started 20 games over the previous three seasons at a premium position. Yet, after he was released by the Ravens at the end of training camp, the 28-year-old struggled to find a job.
He had tryouts with the Arizona Cardinals, Tennessee Titans and Carolina Panthers, but none of those teams made contract offers. Vaughn, though, stayed in shape and found another way to stay in the game. He became a volunteer assistant at his alma mater, Memphis East High in Tennessee.
"I definitely was around football for a lot of the time," said Vaughn, who was re-signed by the Ravens earlier this week after they waived cornerback Asa Jackson with an injury designation.
"They kept me young. Being away from the game is one of the things that I appreciate it more now than I did then. Sometimes you have to get away. It was good for me and I feel like it will be good for my career. I look at it a lot differently, focusing in and being able to hone in on what's trying to be done. I definitely can see it from a coach's point of view, trying to get you to do the right things and help you. It was definitely a humbling experience but I would say that I needed that. It made me grow."
Vaughn, who entered the league in 2010 as an undrafted free agent, played in 22 games, starting three, with the Denver Broncos in his first two NFL seasons. He was traded to the Indianapolis Colts in 2012, and started 15 games for them over two seasons. He then signed with the Detroit Lions before the 2014 campaign and started five games for them.
But before the Ravens cut him in September, Vaughn, who played his college ball at Mississippi, had never been released.
"Getting released for the first time was definitely a humbling experience, something I probably needed. But I took it in stride, just believing in myself, just having faith in working out every day," said Vaughn, who has seven career interceptions. "I needed it as far as to see my love for the game grow more, and just to know how much I love the game meant. And for my family, too, to spend time with them and help my kids grow and improve on that. Off-the-field life correlates with your on-the-field production and all that. It was good to be with my family and just see the world in a different way."
Vaughn, though, is enjoying being back on an NFL roster. It isn't clear how secure his roster spot is. The Ravens have been using Jimmy Smith, Lardarius Webb and Shareece Wright as their top three corners, and they also have veteran Kyle Arrington and rookie fourth-round pick Tray Walker, who the team probably wants to evaluate in games at some point this year.
But Vaughn isn't consumed by that. The couple of months away from the NFL have reminded him to keep things in perspective.
"I definitely wish the circumstances were different, but I'm super excited to be back with the guys and the coaches, and just have another opportunity to prove myself," Vaughn said. "Everything happens for a reason. This might just be the place where I need to be. This might be a place where I can spend the rest of my career. But these last two months and the time I have here, I'm going to take it in stride and try to help improve with whatever they need me to do and play the game happy and enjoy it. One thing that I learned about being away, it's not going to last forever, and once it's gone, it's gone. So enjoy it."