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Giants’ roster churn is part of the harsh reality of the NFL

Big Blue has turned over 15 percent of the roster since Saturday

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Chicago Bears
John Jenkins
Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

After Thursday’s preseason finale against the New York Jets, with the deadline to cut the roster from 90 players to 53 looming, I asked New York Giants head coach Pat Shurmur about the human side of the cuts. About the difficulty of telling so many young men their time with the Giants, and maybe in the NFL, was done.

“The human element of it is tough. I think we all get used to it, but if you’ve got a heart and you’ve got a soul, you’re talking about guys’ livelihood,” Shurmur said.

“It’s a tough situation that way, but it’s real.”

Shurmur, GM Dave Gettleman and the Giants organization have taken that reality to the extreme.

Since setting the initial 53-man roster on Saturday the Giants have been busier than any other team in re-shaping their roster prior to Sunday’s season opener vs. the Jacksonville Jaguars. They were awarded six players on waivers, more than any other NFL team, and have added two veterans via free agency.

That’s a full 15 percent of the 53-man roster that has been turned over since Saturday afternoon.

“This isn’t unique to the Giants this season,” Shurmur said. “Guys come to teams and have to compete quickly, and typically they’re in shape because they’ve been in training camps and they’ve been on a lot of teams that have talked about the same types of things.

“You just put a blue bow around it and there you go.”

It is, however, unique to the players in the Giants’ locker room. Many are grizzled veterans who have been cut before and understand the reality of moving quickly from team to team, or seeing players they are used to working with or lockering near by in the room one day and gone the next. Some are wide-eyed rookies, excited about making an NFL roster for the first time, suddenly getting a harsh dose of football’s harsh, impersonal business side.

The Giants are the fourth NFL teams and fifth NFL stop (he was with the New England Patriots twice) for starting center Jon Halapio. He obviously knows what people mean when they say NFL stands for ‘Not For Long.’ Sitting in his corner locker on Wednesday, Halapio tried to make sense of what had happened to the roster in recent days.

“I have never seen it. I haven’t seen a roster shaken up like that from this team or any other team shortly after Saturday at 4 p.m. It was a crazy changeup and hopefully it’s all out of the way.”

Second-year fullback Shane Smith called the roster churn “pretty weird.”

“I think it’s just the harsh reality. This is just a business. Sometimes it’s just a numbers game” he said.

There is, as Shurmur mentioned, a human, emotional side to all of this. Players like A.J. Francis, who has experienced it roughly 10 times in his career, and Davis Webb, experiencing it for the first time, came out on the short end. A player like Alex Tanney, with his eight organization, came out on the winning side this time around.

Josh Banks, a former undrafted free agent who spent 2017 on IR, made the team on Saturday, got cut on Sunday and has landed on the practice squad.

“It’s hard to see players like that, like Josh. He works really hard, he was undrafted so he’s always behind the ball,” Halapio said.

“It’s a crazy changeup and that’s something all of us have to adjust to is the business. They’re trying to do what’s best for the team and not just a single player.”

Safety Sean Chandler is an undrafted free agent who made the roster on Saturday and has thus far escaped the purge. The last few days, though, have been a learning experience for the former Temple safety.

“You could be sitting with a guy one day, then he’s gone the next. Lets you know that you’ve got to keep performing each and every day,” Chandler said.

“It doesn’t make you nervous. It just lets you know that you’ve gotta go out there and perform. Keep grinding, keep going hard every day.”

Donte Deayon is a third-year player. After starting two seasons on the practice squad, Deayon has made the season-opening 53-man roster for the first time. The revolving door of the past few days has brought home something Gettleman said to the team at the beginning of training camp.

“Mr. Gettleman told us you have to earn your right from OTAs to training camp, earn the right from training camp to the 53 and then from 53 to the 46 or 47 that suits up,” Deayon said. “You’ve just gotta keep earning your right to play.”

Defensive tackle John Jenkins, cut by the Chicago Bears, was in the locker room with his new teammates for the first time on Wednesday. The Giants are the six-year veteran’s fourth team, but he admitted he hasn’t seen anything like what the Giants are doing before.

“That’s why I’m very grateful for the opportunity,” Jenkins said. “Now it’s up to me to prove that they made a good decision by adding me to the team.”

The whirlwind of the past few days has made it clear that the Giants will keep adding — and subtracting — until they feel like they have gotten the equation right.

Yes, the idea that anyone on the roster who isn’t among the top tier of players on the roster shouldn’t get comfortable is very real. And very different than the “scholarship days” of the Giants’ not so distant past.