The NFL is a tough business. Undrafted rookie defensive tackle Cedric Thornton just had that reality smack him directly in the face.
Yesterday, Thornton survived the last cut down day, surprisingly making the Eagles “final” 53-man roster. Today, he was cut in favor of former Indianapolis Colts guard Kyle DeVan. Ouch.
The Eagles always seem to hang on to an undrafted free agent or two, though keeping Thornton was especially surprising since they seemed to have some more established players to choose from. Instead, the Eagles cut veterans Anthony Hargrove and Derek Landri, who had both played well in practice and games, giving Thornton that last spot.
The move was celebrated as a testament to hard work and how nothing can or should be taken for granted on a football team. Hall of Fame writer Ray Didinger wrote a 400-word fluff piece congratulating Thornton. The Eagles website had a nice little write-up as well, complete with some awkward-in-hindsight quotes.
“It means that they’ve seen that I have a lot of potential as a rookie,” Thornton said regarding what making the team means. “They’re looking for me to step up and do something that they know that I can do and they trust me a lot. I’m ready to work my tail off for (head coach) Andy Reid, (general manager Howie Roseman) and (defensive line) coach (Jim) Washburn.”
“I thought I was actually going to get drafted by the Eagles in the third or fourth round,” said Thornton. “I don’t know, my heart was always set on the Eagles. I talked to coach Washburn the day of the lockout, he said he really wanted me to come down here.
“Thirteen or 14 other teams tried to call me and I told them I was already dedicated to Philly and my heart was always set on Philly.”
Hopefully those 13 or 14 other teams are still interested.
“He’s somebody that you love to play for,” Thornton said regarding defensive line coach Jim Washburn. “He’s going to push you to every potential that you have in you and then he’s going to give you a hard time because he knows that there’s always more to come out of you. He’s someone that you want to put your body on the line for, sacrifice your body to make plays … and you know that he always has your back too.”
Maybe Thornton will even get to play for him someday. Unfortunately, that day isn’t this coming Sunday.
“I know anything can change at any moment,” said Thornton, not realizing at the time how prophetic this statement was. “I just know that they chose me for a reason, and the reason is that I go hard in practice every day, I never take a day off. As long as I’m doing what I’m doing, I’ll always have positive production. As long as I can practice and go hard, I’ll be elevating my skills.”
And now they chose to let him go.
The 6-4, 310 pounder out of Souther Arkansas did play hard, and for a time earned his way into the NFL. But teams in this league are never quite done tinkering, especially with those last few spots. And with so many players getting cut by other teams, rosters are constantly churning. Thornton learned this the hard way.
For now, Thornton has work to do, and who knows, the fact that Trevor Laws is on the team means that a spot could be open again soon. Laws seems to be in a perpetual state of injury, and when he’s not he moves over to a near-constant level of ineffectiveness. So Thornton needs to keep his head up and practice well, because as he now knows, anything can and will happen at any time in the NFL.
The man replacing Thornton on the roster is DeVan, a veteran from the Colts who had something majorly in his favor — he played for offensive line coach Howard Mudd while Mudd was in Indianapolis. With the offensive line being so shaky, we commented yesterday on the fact that it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Eagles make a move for additional help there as cuts play out across the league. The Eagles had carried five defensive tackles, a higher number than usual, while on the other side they only carried nine offensive lineman when they usually carry 10. So a move was there to be made. And now, at the expense of Thornton, that’s exactly what they did.
It’s a smart decision. The line needed a solid backup option and the 26 year-old DeVan can provide that, especially since he comes in already knowing the scheme. Over the past two seasons, the 6-2, 294 pound veteran has started 21 games at right guard for the Colts. Nine of those starts came in 2009 for Mudd. This means he will actually be able to contribute right away, especially if rookie right guard Danny Watkins shows he can’t get it done. Thornton, on the other hand, would likely have de-activated every week anyway.
The good news for Thornton is that he’ll still have a job in the NFL, albeit at a bit lower pay rate. Today the Eagles added him to their practice squad, along with wide receiver sparkplug Chad Hall, wasted 2010 third round pick defensive end Daniel Te’o-Nesheim, guard/center Dallas Reynolds, as well as rookie seventh-round picks fullback Stanley Havili and linebacker Greg Lloyd. So that leaves two spots open for the eight-man squad, meaning they can sign a couple more guys without impacting the 53-man roster.
But again, no one should get comfortable, as even once the season starts the guys on the tail end of the roster are always on the bubble. With teams always looking to add talent, both to the active roster as well as the practice squad, players need to keep their head on a swivel, even in the locker room.