Harbaugh plays coy with the final roster
When they see him coming, they know the gig is up.
Across NFL facilities this weekend, "the Turk" is lurking. That's the nickname given to the staff member -- usually a low-ranking member of the pro personnel department -- who is tasked with finding certain players on roster cutdown days.
He might as well be the Grim Reaper.
For the Turk comes bearing a simple message that always goes something like this: "Coach wants to see you, and bring your playbook" (or, these days, your iPad.).
And that can only mean one thing: You are cut.
The Turks were out in force Friday as teams began the painful task of trimming rosters from 75 to 53, which must be done by 6 p.m. tonight. That is more than 700 jobs lost in a span of 48 hours. No wonder past Turks describe the work as "gut-wrenching" and "humbling" and "brutal."
The Ravens cut 11 players yesterday and placed one on injured reserve, leaving 10 more moves to be made by the 6 p.m. deadline. Those won't all be cuts, as defensive backs Asa Jackson and Christian Thompson can be moved to the reserved/suspended list to take them off the 53-man roster. Still, the Turk will be out there.
Granted, some of the players can see the writing on the wall, especially in the first cutdown from 90 to 75. They know the depth chart, and they can do the math and add up to 53. But it's never pleasant -- not for the head coach, not for the Turk, certainly not for the player.
In an NFL.com article last year, an anonymous NFL personnel executive summed up how difficult the job of the Turk is:
"One of my saddest experiences was when we had two young backs in camp who had really worked hard. Each one knew only one was going to make it. They sat next to each other in the locker room. So, I have to go down and get the one we are cutting. I walk in and both are looking at me. Who's going to the gallows and who's going to the castle? I tell him. The other kid works hard to control himself. The kid that walks with me is devastated. That is a tough one when they are side-by-side like that."
John Middlekauf, who was the Turk two seasons while he was a pro personnel assistant with the Eagles, said he tried to avoid those situations whenever possible by meeting the players at the door of the facility, or at an apartment or training camp dorm room, when they were alone.
"You don't want to put them in a bad situation where they are hanging out with their teammates," Middlekauf said. "You want to be the first guy they see."
Middlekauf pointed out other than informing the player, the most vital job of the Turk is to get that playbook back.
"That playbook is like gold," he said. "You cannot leave (the meeting with the player) without that bad boy."
Middlekauf also said the Turk frequently will give the newly cut player a ride to the airport.
"On the way, there is a lot of them talking to themselves, how they're gonna make it," Middlekauf said, "or, 'This was a bad decision by the team.' "
Regardless, it's a decision that will be made throughout NFL cities today, and once it's done, the Turk will be called upon.
"It's something you never get used to," Middlekauf said, "telling a guy that he's done."