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Washington’s practice squad probably won’t get picked clean during final cutdowns

NFL: NOV 08 Giants at Washington Football Team Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

A regular feature in the comments section of Hogs Haven is the comment that ‘Player X won’t make it to the practice squad because another team will sign him’. I think this concern is over-prioritized and largely unfounded.

Before explaining why, though, let me say, let me say, first, that, yeah, this happens.

But it don’t happen a lot.

Some Redskins examples of players lost

Tevin Mitchel

Mitchel was drafted by the Redskins in the 2015 draft. The late round corner was expected to compete and potentially earn a spot on the final roster as a backup. Mitchel made it to Redskins training camp but didn’t do much before getting injured. Mitchel had an injury history going back to his days at Arkansas, and, though it was unfortunate, it came as little surprise to anyone who had followed his career. Mitchel got surgery on his torn labrum and was waived by the Redskins in August 2015.

It was generally believed that the ‘Skins intended to resign Mitchel once he cleared waivers but the Redskins wouldn’t get the chance as the Indianapolis Colts claimed him off waivers. Mitchel, of course, was out for the entirety of his rookie season with the Colts. Mitchel no doubt planned to be healthy for the 2016 season but again was hampered by injury. This time it was a hamstring that kept him out of action for the Colts. They placed him IR and released him with an injury settlement.

If you misspell the surname and Google “Tevin Mitchell” today, the top result is for a baseball player who played two seasons in the minor leagues. That’s because ‘our’ Tevin Mitchel never played a snap in a regular season NFL game, so Google assumes you spelled it correctly and love minor league baseball.

Austin Reiter

People sometimes want to point to Center Austin Reiter as an example of a guy who didn’t make it to the practice squad, but that’s not right. Reiter was signed off of the practice squad a couple of games into the season when Cleveland suffered injury to their o-line. Unlike a player claimed from waivers, Washington could have offered Reiter a spot on the regular roster in an effort to keep him, but they let him go to the Browns.

Reiter had been a 7th round pick of the Redskins in 2015. He spent his entire rookie season on the practice squad, and started the 2016 season the same way. In late September, Reiter was signed to the Browns’ 53-man roster, and started in his first-ever NFL regular season game, but tore his ACL in that game. The Browns held onto him through two seasons, then waived him ahead of the start of the 2018 season.

Reiter was claimed off waivers by the Kansas City Chiefs. He signed a two-year contract extension with the Chiefs, and in 2019, Reiter was named the Chiefs starting center and started every game including the playoffs. He got his first super bowl ring when the Chiefs defeated the 49ers to end the ‘19 season. In 2020, he played 15 regular season games for KC, starting 12. There was a stretch at midseason when the Chiefs tried out Daniel Kilgore for a few games, but Reiter reclaimed his starting role and held it down through the postseason, starting every playoff game for the Chiefs and appearing in his second superbowl.

Reiter did not re-sign with the Chiefs when his contract ended after that super bowl, and the Chiefs used their 2nd round pick to draft Creed Humphey out of Oklahoma. Today, Reiter remains a free agent; NFL Trade Rumors rates him as the 12th best free agent currently available (They list Morgan Moses #1, Le’veon Bell #13, Trent Murphy #25, Josh Norman #44, Chris Thompson #76, and Nate Orchard #99).

Nate Sudfeld

Sudfeld was selected in the 6th round by the Redskins in 2016. He was on the 53-man roster as a rookie, but was inactive for all 16 games, with Cousins and McCoy both active.

At the end of training camp in 2017, Sudfeld was waived, but the team almost certainly planned to re-sign him to the practice squad. Sudfeld actually cleared waivers; however, the Eagles, who had Carson Wentz and Nick Foles already on the roster, wanted a third 6’5”-plus guy for the “quarterback factory” and offered Sudfeld the same salary to join Philly’s practice squad as he would have gotten on a rookie contract as a member of the active roster. Washington was only offering the standard practice squad salary. Sudfeld wisely said yes to the Eagles’ offer.

It paid off for him. Carson Wentz got injured, Sudfeld was promoted to primary backup and actually got some regular season snaps. Of course, he was on the active roster for the super bowl win, meaning that he has a championship ring in his dresser drawer.

Sudfeld’s final appearance for the Eagles will be infamous for year’s to come, as he replaced Jalen Hurts for the second half of the Week 17, which had playoff implications for the NY Giants.

Washington Football Team v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Sudfeld’s career continues, at least for a bit longer — he signed with the 49ers in early April, where he appears to be the 4th string QB behind Jimmy G, Trey Lance and Josh Rosen.

Of the three examples given above that fans often remember, only Tevin Mitchel was actually claimed off of waivers on the way, in his case, to IR. Reiter was signed off of the practice squad partway through the season and Sudfeld left for a better offer.

It doesn’t happen often prior to Week 1

The idea of a practice squad — and the rules that relate to practice squad players — is that it is a partial replacement for a developmental league. The practice squad is designed primarily to offer a ready-at-all-times pool of NFL quality players who can be promoted to the regular roster (or signed by another team) to replace injured players lost during the season. In a league like the NFL, where dozens of players weekly are injured, being on a practice squad gives players a decent chance to make it to a 53-man roster at some point. It’s a way to stay in the league and keep the dream alive.

Players sometimes have choices about which practice squad (ie. which team) they will join. Nate Sudfeld had an easy choice and followed the money. His choice worked out. Most players, though, will stick with the team where they spent training camp if they have that chance, relying on familiarity with coaches, teammates and scheme, and preferring a bit of stability in their lives with regard to home and family. After all, even practice squad guys get paid pretty decently. The minimum salary for a PS player was $8,400 per week in 2020 ($142,800 for 17 weeks) and veterans with over two years’ experience made $12,000 per week last season ($204,000).

Still, players may choose to join a different practice squad for other reasons. They may perceive the opportunity to be better because they feel there is a vulnerable player or two at their position on the roster; they may want to join a coach or teammate that they have a strong relationship with, or they may simply want to live and play in their home state or closer to where they went to college. Not a lot of players jump voluntarily to a different practice squad, but it happens. While it’s not quite the same situation, after Washington released Evan Spencer in 2015, he signed with Tampa Bay, where his father was the running backs coach; that’s the kind of connection that can lead a player to jump teams voluntarily.

But a player making a voluntary jump to another practice squad isn’t what most fans are worried about when they talk about losing a player who is waived in anticipation of re-signing him to the practice squad. What fans are worried about is the possibility of a young promising player getting “poached” by another NFL team.

As I said at the start, this happens...but it doesn’t happen often between the end of preseason and the start of the regular season. The fear of losing players in this way is mildly irrational, by which I mean to say that the probability of it happening is pretty small. This is a case where familiarity with our own favorite team’s roster colors judgement, making it seem as if Washington has such a deep roster that the 54th guy — the guy who almost made the team here — will be desirable enough for another NFL club to want to put him on their 53-man roster.

That in itself isn’t far-fetched. What seems to be irrational to me is the extent to which fans seem to believe that Washington’s roster leftovers, who would otherwise be destined for the Football Team’s practice squad, will hold this kind of attraction for other teams. I’ve seen at least a half-dozen roster bubble players spoken of this way in the comments section of articles this offseason.

While I feel good about the WFT roster depth, I don’t believe for a moment that Washington’s intended practice squad will get picked clean by other teams grabbing them off of waivers and adding them to the regular season roster following the final roster cut down.

I urge you to think about what’s going on that week. All thirty-two teams have spent the months of May, June, July and August working with their players and forming bonds. Through the preseason and training camp, coaches have watched guys put in maximum effort to demonstrate that they belong in the NFL and on the team.

In the lead-up to the final preseason game, and in its immediate aftermath, coaches and GMs go through what they universally describe as the worst and most difficult part of their respective jobs — deciding who to cut and then delivering the bad news.

This season (2021), five players will be released from each team following the first preseason game, then another five after the second game. To make the final cut from 80 to 53 after the third and final preseason game, then, means that each team needs to release 27 guys — most of whom they’d probably rather keep if they were allowed to. If the 2021 rules are the same as the 2020 rules, each team can form a 16-man practice squad, and for most teams, the bulk of those 16 players will be guys who spent training camp with them.

But not all.

Some will be free agents who are cut by their teams and clear waivers, voluntarily choosing to change teams à la Nate Sudfeld. But no one goes on the practice squad who is claimed off of waivers; under NFL rules, a player claimed on waivers must be signed to the regular 53-man roster.

Let’s imagine, for a moment, that in the final cutdown process following the last preseason game, Washington sees a player from another team that was waived (presumably so that the other team could put him on the practice squad), but Washington wants him on their roster. In order to claim him off of waivers, the front office needs to look at the 53-man roster that they’ve just very painfully finalized, and cut one more guy to make room for the one they want to claim.

That’s a tough decision. You’d need to be really sold that the guy you are claiming is significantly more valuable to your team than the one you release to make room for him.

Examples of Washington claiming players prior to Week 1

Wendell Smallwood

Washington did exactly that in 2019, claiming Wendell Smallwood off the waiver wire from Philadelphia, and releasing Byron Marshall to make room for him. It was a clear player-for-player decision, and it seems to have been mildly positive for the Redskins.

Washington Redskins v Minnesota Vikings Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

Smallwood put up 145 yards from scrimmage that season and returned a kickoff 14 yards. Byron Marshall has never played another snap in an NFL regular season game and is currently on the roster of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in Canada.

T.J. Clemmings

The Redskins also grabbed OT T.J. Clemmings off the waiver wire from the Vikings during final roster cuts in 2017. His roster position seemed to come open in Washington via players being moved to IR rather than released. Clemmings played 142 offensive snaps in his single season in Washington.

Duke Ihenacho

In 2014, Washington picked Duke Ihenacho off of waivers from the Broncos. This ended up being a somewhat significant move. Ihenacho stayed with the Redskins for three seasons.

Washington Redskins v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

He fractured his foot in Week 3 of the ‘14 season, and was out for the rest of the year. In 2015, he beat out Jeron Johnson for the starting safety job, but broke his wrist in the season opener (Johnson, by the way, is now the CB coach at Boise State, his alma mater, and also that of newly drafted TE John Bates). In 2016, Ihenacho missed the first two weeks, but went on to play 638 defensive snaps and 179 special teams snaps before his career came to an end with a September 1st knee injury as a member of the Giants in 2017.

So, in eight seasons — seasons in which Washington had some of the thinner rosters in the league — the team picked up three players off of waivers following final cut downs. It happens, but, again, it isn’t a common occurrence.

Furthermore, of the three players acquired this way by Washington prior to Week 1 since 2014, only Ihenacho really had a roster impact here. The Broncos, I think, were not deeply saddened to see him go.

Which players are WFT fans currently worried about losing if the front office tries to put them on the practice squad?

I’m gonna list some of the players I’ve seen discussed as being targets of other teams if they were to be waived or released by Washington ahead of Week 1. I’m not suggesting it’s a comprehensive list, but I think it is representative of fan concerns.

I fully recognize that any of these players could be claimed off of waivers. My contention isn’t that none of Washington’s players will be claimed, but that the concern is overblown in general, and that the chances of losing multiple players in a WFT front-office attempt to get them to the practice squad is pretty slender.

Therefore, I’ll confine my remarks on each player to giving reasons why that player isn’t likely to be poached at the beginning of September, confident that the odds are with me.

Sammis Reyes

There seems to be more fear of Reyes getting snatched than exists for any other player on the roster. Reyes is a great story and someone that I’m rooting for, but he’s not a strong candidate to be poached.

Emilee Fails

Related articles:

Washington signs Sammis Reyes, TE prospect

Sammis Reyes Presser:“I know no one is going to outwork me when it comes to sitting down and learning the game”


The guy has never played a snap of competitive football. He is athletically gifted and a number of other basketball players — the most recent being Mo Allie-Cox from my alma mater VCU — have turned their skills as power forwards into successful careers as NFL tight ends, but Reyes is a project.

Washington has a nice roster, but when you get to the team’s #3 tight end spot, the quality of competition isn’t intimidating — it’s the usual collection of NFL competent players and below. We’re talking about Deon Yelder, Ricky Seals-Jones and a few UDFAs. If Reyes isn’t good enough/ready enough to make the Football Team roster, I can’t imagine another front office that would be willing to cut a player to sign Reyes as a developmental work-in-progress. Roster spots in the NFL are simply too valuable.

Someone is sure to point out the report at the time that Reyes signed with Washington that as many as 20 NFL teams were interested in signing Reyes when Washington inked him to a deal. Yes, I read that report, but there is a huge difference in the low risk/no risk signing of a guy to come to rookie minicamp, OTAs, minicamp and training camp as compared to putting him onto your Week One 53-man roster.

Reyes will almost certainly be in burgundy & gold in Week 1, whether that’s as a member of the regular roster or the practice squad.

Jeremy Reaves

I have always been a Jeremy Reaves fan, however, he has been more of a practice squad player for Washington than anything else during his 3-year NFL career. He has been active for just 20 of a possible 48 games and he has played limited snaps:

Jeremy Reaves snap counts

Reaves played well in his 336 defensive snaps in 2020, with PFF giving him an overall defensive grade of 84.1. But it’s hard to ignore that he started the season on the practice squad, and that, although he was promoted to the regular roster when Landon Collins was injured, he didn’t break into the starting lineup until Deshazor Everett was lost to injury as well, in Week 14.

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Washington Football Team Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Related articles:

Could Jeremy Reaves be the WFT’s long term option at free safety?

A review of Washington’s eight safeties ahead of minicamp


Reaves may have done enough in his limited play last season to catch the attention of another front office, but if he can’t find a place at safety in Washington in competition with Collins, Curl, Everett, Chris Miller and Darrick Forrest, I’m not sure which NFL team is going to see him as an upgrade to their existing depth chart.

Antonio Gandy-Golden

The only reason to be a Gandy-Golden fan right now is that Washington drafted him, or you were a huge Liberty University fan, or you went to high school with him in Georgia. Gandy-Golden was active in 6 games for Washington last season. He was targeted 7 times and caught one pass for 3 yards, though he did rush one time for 22 yards and a first down.

Washington Football Team v Cleveland Browns
Wide receiver Antonio Gandy-Golden #10 of the Washington Football Team runs for a gain during the first half against the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium on September 27, 2020 in Cleveland, Ohio.
Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

Let’s face it — if Washington signed Antonio Gandy-Golden as a free agent in 2021 he’d be immediately dismissed as a “camp body”. Any interest in the receiver that exists right now is residual hype from last year’s training camp.

I think the competition for roster spots Nos. 4, 5 & 6 is open enough that Gandy-Golden could earn a roster spot with an outstanding training camp and preseason performance, but absent that, I don’t imagine that any team in the league would cut another player to make room for this second-year player who spent most of his rookie year on IR and did very little on offense when he was active.

Dax Milne

I’m not discounting Dax Milne’s opportunity to make the regular roster with Washington this season, but if he doesn’t, then it’s hard to see how a guy who lasted until the penultimate pick of the 2021 draft is going to be attractive enough to another front office to see them release one of their training camp players to make room for him. Like Reyes, I think Milne is destined to start the 2020 season in burgundy & gold, one way or another.

Kyle Allen

Very few teams carry three quarterbacks on the active roster. I don’t see anyone making a decision to grab Allen off of waivers to make him their #3 guy to replace someone who has spent months learning their offense.

Allen would need to be seen as an upgrade to a team’s primary backup quarterback, and the team would have to believe he could step in and learn the offense very quickly. It’s hard to imagine a situation where that would be the case.

Emilee Fails

Related:

A Kyle Allen primer


When you throw in the fact that Allen is rehabbing from a serious broken/dislocated ankle, it seems even less likely that any GM in the league would roll the dice on him. Would you pick a guy off of waivers and release an existing player to grab a QB like Allen who was coming off a major injury and couldn’t beat out Taylor Heinicke — a player with two career starts — as the #2 quarterback on your team?

Isaiah Wright

Wild Card Round - Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Washington Football Team Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Isaiah Wright is a commodity — 27 catches for 197 yards in 2020. Sure, he’s a guy that you keep around and try to develop. In a couple of seasons he could be a UDFA success story like Cam Sims, Jeremy Reaves, or Deshazor Everett. But Wright isn’t the kind of guy that makes a coach or GM decide to cut a guy days before the season starts to make room for him on the roster.

Jaret Patterson

Of the players listed so far, Patterson is the one guy listed that seems to have a genuine possibility of not making the Washington 53, but getting signed off of waivers by another team. The reason is that Patterson seems to have NFL quality skills (we won’t really know until we see him in preseason games, and maybe not even then) but he doesn’t fit neatly into the Washington running back room.

If the coaches are willing to either carry 4 RBs or replace Peyton Barber with Patterson, then he could make the 53-man roster in Washington, but if the coaches want to ride with Gibson, Barber and McKissic again in 2021 (which I believe would be a mistake), then Patterson could easily be seen as a better or cheaper option as RB3 for many teams.

Related articles:

Washington Football Team 2021 UDFA profile: RB Jaret Patterson

Jaret Patterson “puts defenders in a torture chamber”


The fine line here is that Patterson would have to play well enough in preseason to make believers out of other front offices, without playing well enough to convince Washington coaches that he belonged on the regular roster.

William Bradley-King

Washington has two great starting defensive ends in Sweat and Young. But the competition behind the two star players is not mind-blowing; it comprises four 7th rounders who entered the league in 2020 or 2021.


Related:

What can we expect from 7th round draft pick, DE William Bradley-King?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 24 Baylor at Texas
Texas Longhorn QB Sam Ehlinger gets sacked by Baylor Bear DE William Bradley-King (99) during game featuring the Baylor Bears and the Texas Longhorns on October 24, 2020, at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium in Austin, TX.
Photo by John Rivera/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

I’m rooting for all four of these guys to succeed, but chances are that one or two of them will need to go to the practice squad to start the ‘21 season. The one that fans seem worried about losing is WBK.

My argument here would be similar to some of the others I’ve made already; that is, if Bradley-King can’t make the Washington roster against limited competition, why would he be good enough to force a player off another roster to make room for him in a defense?

Troy Apke

Emilee Fails

Ha! Just kidding. Nobody is worried about losing Apke.

Bottom line

I’m not saying that no Washington players will get scooped up by another team if Rivera and Mayhew try to move them to the practice squad. I am strongly suggesting that it doesn’t happen often, and that the likelihood of multiple Washington players getting claimed off of waivers following final cutdowns and ahead of Week 1 is really low.

Like most Washington fans, I feel as though the 2021 Football Team roster is pretty deep and appears to be the strongest roster top to bottom that the franchise has fielded in a lot of years. It’s almost a matter of pride to say that other teams will be anxious to sign Washington’s cast-offs. At the same time, fans get invested in underdogs and want to see the team developing young players for the future. It’s kind of schizophrenic, this simultaneous cause of pride and fear. You know, a fan thinks, “Damn... wouldn’t it be cool to see other teams diving into the Washington dumpster looking for a bit of treasure because the roster is just that deep?” at the same time that he hopes no one does because he doesn’t want the team to lose a developmental player for the future.

It could happen, I guess, that the Football Team loses a bunch of players to other teams while trying to get those players to the practice squad, but I think that the way teams build rosters mitigates against it. I certainly don’t think fear of losing a player to another team needs to be a priority consideration in whether or not to keep a guy on the 53. If the decision is that close, there’s probably another player somewhere in the league that will be available and ready to take his place.

Poll

Which current Washington player is most likely to get claimed by another team if the WFT front office tries to move him to the practice squad before the season opener against the Chargers?

This poll is closed

  • 9%
    Sammis Reyes
    (102 votes)
  • 24%
    Jeremy Reaves
    (272 votes)
  • 7%
    Antonio Gandy-Golden
    (88 votes)
  • 4%
    Dax Milne
    (45 votes)
  • 13%
    Kyle Allen
    (146 votes)
  • 4%
    Isaiah Wright
    (51 votes)
  • 31%
    Jaret Patterson
    (357 votes)
  • 1%
    William Bradley-King
    (22 votes)
  • 3%
    Someone else
    (37 votes)
1120 votes total Vote Now