Skip to main content

It's complicated: How to get to the final 53-man roster

Week 3 of the preseason has come to an end, which means it's time for teams to begin trimming the roster fat, so to speak.

Most of you have put together your fantasy teams with great detail and thought to ensure you have a great season, covering as many situations as possible. Well, the same applies to every team in the NFL. As teams cut down their rosters, they are not always picking the best 53 players, but trying to assemble the best team possible. Building the best possible team means having great players in every phase of football -- offense, defense and, most importantly, special teams.

Special teams control so many of these cuts that I thought it would be interesting to break down how teams formulate their rosters.

Most teams have their rosters set before they enter the final week of the preseason. They might have one or two spots left open, but for the most part the roster is settled, unless an unexpected injury occurs. With such a short week of practice ahead, and the fourth preseason game not offering a fully competitive environment, there is little time for any players on the bubble to change the organization's mind.

Therefore, entering Week 3 of the preseason, teams have essentially a core of 40 players making up the offense and defense who are secure with their starting and backup positions. All that is left is the final 13 spots, along with formulating the practice squad.

The 40 will include a kicker, punter and long snapper, along with the starters and vital backups. The most often asked questions this time of the year is will a player dress in the 45 and what impact does he have on special teams?

For example, if the fourth best wide receiver does not play in the kicking game, then how can he dress on the 45-man game-day roster? He won't and probably won't make the team unless he is a young, less-expensive player who can be developed. Teams don't want to keep a veteran who will not dress on the opening day roster because once that player makes the team he is guaranteed his salary for the entire year, regardless if a team waives him, which then limits cap flexibility.

In those remaining 13 spots, the coaches must make sure they have specialty players who can contribute specifically against the unusual opponents on the schedule. If a team is facing the NFC North you might need to make sure you have someone on the roster who can match the size and speed of Packers tight end Jermichael Finley. Or a team might need to carry extra defensive linemen because they play in the heat and humidity early in the season.

Each scenario must be addressed in assembling the roster with regard to the final few spots. Teams must build a roster that is versatile in terms of the style of players they assemble in all three phases. Teams can control the kicking game with talented young players covering kicks, therefore adding a good special teams player at the final cut is always helpful.

The last few spots must be flexible. Ron Wolf, when he was the general manager of the Packers, always had an agreement with coach Mike Holmgren that the 51st to 53rd players could become expendable if he saw someone on the waiver wire that was better. Being able to make moves now is crucial, as Bill Walsh always believed it was easy to add players in September than in March, when everyone wants to improve their team.

Therefore many teams will be active once they set the final spots of their roster and rely on their personnel departments to improve the back end of the roster. The Rams, with the first claiming order at the final cut, can add a few players who can significantly improve their roster. (Expect them to make many moves, including adding some receivers. Some of these players who are claimed might not help instantly, but they might be able to offer help down the stretch in November and December or, in the Rams' case, add talent for next year.

From a personnel standpoint, things get interesting this time of year, and the good personnel departments can really make a difference as the rosters are being set.

Week 3 preseason musings

» The Cowboys need to fix their offensive line before they can even think about playing in the Super Bowl at home this year. They really need a healthy Dez Bryant back on the field, too. He gives them an explosively quick player who can separate from press coverage and keep the pressure off of Miles Austin.

» I love the new-look Titans defense, especially tackle Jason Jones as he looks impressive inside at tackle. Tennessee is much better this year, especially on defense.

» Speaking of defense, Panthers defensive lineman Charles Johnson and Everette Brown look great, as does the team speed of Carolina's overall defense. The Panthers might not score many points, but they won't give up many, either.

» By the way, if I needed a runner, I would trade for Mike Goodson of the Panthers. He is a talented multi-dimensional back, who is stuck behind two great backs and will never play. He could be a star for another team.

» If the Jets are going to be a legitimate playoff team, they will need to run a complementary offense and not try to win with it. They need to play smart, play sound and win games with their defense and kicking game, not their ability to be offensive.

» Antonio Bryant was a $7 million mistake by the Bengals, which they normally don't make. They messed this up on every level, first passing him on the initial physical, then giving him $7 million, then allowing him to practice one time, which will ultimately bring on an injury grievance.

» I know I have been high on Detroit this summer, and in reality if they were in the NFC West instead of the North, they might be a playoff team. Quarterback Matthew Stafford will have a great year.

» Love when young undrafted wide receivers like the Giants' Victor Cruz or Miami's Marlon Moore make NFL teams. College wide receivers are difficult to evaluate for the draft, and oftentimes there can be talent found at the end of the draft. For instance, the Cowboys' Austin and Saints' Marques Colston were both gems found in and after the 2006 draft; Colston was taken in the seventh round, while Austin was an undrafted free agent.

» I thought Miami's second-round linebacker Koa Misi was going to be a very good player, and so far this preseason he has not disappointed me or the Dolphins. He will make a huge impact to their team this year.

» Based on what I have seen this summer, corner Vontae Davis of the Dolphins is destined to be a Pro Bowler very soon.

Follow Michael Lombardi on Twitter @michaelombardi.

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.