The month of August is when difficult decisions are made for every NFL team. It’s the time to have difficult discussions about players’ futures. Decisions to keep or cut players going into the regular season can make or break seasons in some cases, other times it may change the direction of position groups.
Does a staff keep chugging along with a younger player who is underperforming? Do they cut the line and move on to something else? Sometimes giving up on a younger guy too soon can prove to be an even bigger loss when he goes elsewhere and thrives.
It is not just personnel decisions that prove to be difficult decisions, deciding the order of the depth chart and snap percentages is also tedious. Anyone who makes an NFL roster is worthy of playing in the league, the question for teams is how much.
An example is how Head Coach Todd Bowles and Offensive Coordinator Byron Leftwich are going to organize that receiving depth chart in Tampa Bay. After adding Julio Jones to the roster, they now have roughly seven players worthy of reps.
Obviously, using Mike Evans is going to be a priority but how they carve up the rest of the targets will be crucial.
When there are that many quality players at one position, or if someone is struggling what should you do? Getting inside the mind of two former NFL coaches will give a better idea of that process.
Handling Struggling Players
NFL team’s hit rate on first-round draft picks is less than ideal. Each round after that the hit rate gets lower and lower. Why? There is a multitude of reasons and factors behind why a player does or doesn’t develop into what they were as a college player or projected to be.
Former Colts Head Coach Chuck Pagano discussed why teams want to hold onto guys as long as they do. Difficult decisions like deciding a player wasn’t what you may have thought is tough.
“There is a ton of work evaluating that player…there was something there that made him the guy,” Pagano said. That statement hits the nail on the head.
Scouts don’t want to be wrong. After all, they spent absurd hours traveling all over their region talking to coaches and teammates about a player, which is followed up by the front office’s additional work on the player.
Sometimes teams are facing difficult decisions where they aren’t in a win-now scenario and can afford to be patient with a player. Other times, they may have a need at a certain position. Quarterback is always a great example because teams can’t afford to wait on that position for too long.
Sometimes, waiting might be the best option. Every year, players get let go a year or two early, and they sometimes pop up on another team and thrive. Former NFL coach Marty Mornhinweg says it may even happen when a player lands on a third team, he told The 33rd Team “you can’t give up on the baby before it is ready.”
This will never be an exact science for teams and personnel. All they can do is remain patient or go down with the ship.
The Influence of Coordinators and Outside Noise
While front offices and head coaches hold a lot of the final word on player decisions, that doesn’t mean the rest of the staff is powerless.
Position coaches and coordinators creating an atmosphere of competition is their way of having a say, Pagano said. In doing so, they showcase what players thrive in certain situations while also allowing for anyone to make themselves known to the staff.
How they communicate in meetings is also their way of having an influence on difficult decisions. What they voice about their players in the personnel meetings has a direct impact on how coaches and the front office will view these players when it’s time to trim the roster.
The most unique of voices though may not even be in the building, according to Pagano, the media may not have a direct impact but their voice is heard.
“Teams will say they won’t listen but we all do…everyone listens…,” Pagano said.
While Pagano said he never heard a coach directly quote anything they heard in front of the media when applying it to a scheme or a player, he reminded The 33rd Team the coaching staffs and front office hear the media every day.