By the time you read this week's Hangover, all of the NFL's 53-man rosters and 10-man practice squads will be as set as they ever are. At presstime, the cuts have been made, but the waiver wire is a hotbed of intrigue, and the 53rd guy on the Jaguars or Browns roster knows better than to celebrate when the 59th guy on the Patriots or Seahawks roster is now looking for work.
Not interested in cataloguing every Jordan Todman-to-Steelers or Stanley Jean-Baptiste-to-Lions level signing? Well good news! All 53-man NFL rosters are essentially the same, so Hangover can safely break down your team's full roster with 100 percent accuracy!
QB1: GOAT, Elite, Franchise Quarterback, Maybe Elite, Established, Top Prospect, Top Rookie, Make-or-Break, Put-Up-or-Shut-Up, Won't-Get-Ya-Killed, Caretaker, or if all else fails, Brian Hoyer.
QB2: The only reason the midday sports talk show has not converted to an all-political-conspiracy-truther format.
QB3: The guy who you will swear deserves a chance to show what he can do by Week 15. Even if he is Robert Griffin III.
RB1: Your fantasy first-round pick because the head coach called him a "workhorse" and plans to establish the run. Will carry 12 times for 43 yards each week.
RB2: Versatile speedster with big-play ability, receiving skills, blocking skills, a great attitude and better-than-you-think rushing ability between the tackles who is 3/16th of an inch shorter than RB1 and therefore consigned to life as a backup.
RB3: Rushed for 1,800 yards in a power conference in his final college season. Now too worn out to do anything else.
FB1: Special teams captain!
WR1: The member of the roster with the most breathtaking athleticism, second-biggest contract and the Instagram account most likely to be quoted verbatim on TMZ.
WR2: Five percent less talented than WR1, 90 percent less of a walking, talking migraine.
WR3: Hardworking underappreciated blue collar fan-favorite—oh heck it's the short white guy.
WR4: First-round pick two years ago. Stands 6-foot-4, runs like a cheetah, looks like he just rode the Bifrost down from Asgard. Just figured out after playing receiver since third grade that even-numbered routes go to the middle of the field, odd-numbered routes to the sideline.
WR5: The return specialist. The offensive coordinator talks every year about finding creative and surprising ways to get him the ball. Offensive coordinators are grown men who think screen passes and end-arounds are creative and surprising.
WR6: Special teams co-captain!
TE1: Lines up everywhere from fullback to flex receiver, has a major role in the rushing and passing game, and even plays special teams. But he doesn't block the way Mike Ditka blocked in that NFL Films montage, so he's not a real tight end.
TE2: The guy who scores a one-yard touchdown on a play-action pass the week you absolutely need six points from RB1.
TE3: Averaged 12.3 points per game as a small forward for a mid-major. Earned the general manager a lot of post-draft kudos for finding a Jimmy Graham type. Can't play a lick.
LT1: Not bad, but not the prototype. (Note: Orlando Pace was not quite the prototype.)
RT1: Just as good as LT1 with nearly identical responsibilities but earns several million dollars per year less. Thanks, Michael Lewis and Sandra Bullock!
LG1: Some big guy who is not athletic enough to play tackle.
RG1: Some big guy who is not athletic enough to play left guard.
C1: Combines the power and determination of a tackle with the intelligence and leadership skills of a quarterback. Was a sixth-round pick.
OT2: One of the top picks in the 2013 draft.
OG-C2: A veteran who can play every position from center through right tackle, which makes you wonder why when a player moves from left to right guard we sometimes act like he just took up professional hang-gliding.
RE1: The sack guy.
NT1: The fat guy.
DT1: The wannabe Sapp guy.
DE2: He was a 230-pound outside linebacker in college who had 14 sacks (all unblocked against Drexel) in his final season, and the GM was like, "Oh yeah, we can make him a down lineman," and the defensive coordinator was like, "There is definitely a role on our offense because we are so multiple," and now he plays when it is 3rd-and-24.
DE3: Old veteran pass-rusher who provides "leadership" which mainly consists of passive-aggressive remarks about DE2.
DT2: The "wave" defender who covers for one of the high-priced, high-profile starters when he needs a rest on 3rd-and-goal in the fourth quarter of a close game.
WLB1: The "Will." Primary job: get beaten over the middle by running backs far faster than him.
MLB1: The "Mike." Primary job: give the interior offensive lineman someone to point to before plays.
SLB1: The "Sam." Primary job: stand on the sideline because this is the 21st century and nickel defense is the base defense.
LB2: A tough between-the-tackles thumper from the B1G Conference whom your GM drafted, not realizing that it is no longer 1974 and there is no reason to sign guys to tackle Larry Csonka.
LB3: Special teams demon!
CB1: Expected to hold other teams' WR1 to zero catches for negative-five yards each week and be totally humble about it.
CB2: Ordinary citizen who walked into a formal wear shop, ordered a size 58-long sport coat and was drafted as a Richard Sherman-type.
CB3: The slot corner. The guy whose scouting report said "too short to start in the NFL" who will be on the field for approximately 63 percent of defensive plays.
CB4: That kid who ran back the interception for a touchdown in the preseason game? Nope. The guy drafted ahead of him.
CB5: On the Chiefs, this guy somehow ends up with two interceptions and three sacks.
SS1: The guy who draws roughness calls and gets beaten deep by Jimmy Graham.
FS1: The backup for the guy you paid $54 million for last year, who is on the PUP with an illness which has baffled the world's greatest scientific minds. (Ooh! Jairus Byrd burn!)
S2: For the Giants, this could actually be someone you played flag football with in the spring.
K: The only guy on the roster who knows the words to John Mellencamp songs.
P: The cheap young alternative to the established punter who just got cut. He will shank some 17-yarders to the Gatorade table and hit Devin Hester in the belly with a few low line drives but was totally worth the $153,000 in salary cap savings that will fund 1/10th of WR1's roster bonus.
LS: The long snapper. The local newspaper writes a feature about him every year. He's a magician or a jazz singer or a beekeeper or something in his spare time.
If you counted, you may notice that the list above does not quite reach 53 players. Ha-ha! You counted!
Because so much of the Labor Day weekend cut-down experience consists of scrolling through Twitter in search of major (and sometimes heartbreaking) news, this week's Stock Watch includes a few more tweets than usual.
Tim Tebow and the Third-String Quarterbacks: Falling. One of the few things we really learn from the final preseason games is what third- and fourth-string NFL quarterbacks really look like. We see Dylan Thompson throw for 225 yards and two touchdowns for the 49ers, only to get released. We see B.J. Daniels move from wide receiver to option quarterback for the Seahawks, sealing the fate of third-string quarterback R.J. Archer.
We see Josh Freeman, a guy many chiseled in as the Buccaneers' franchise quarterback four years ago, throw a pair of interceptions for the Dolphins in what was probably his last NFL shot. We saw Josh Johnson, so talented he always gets another chance, sprint around and spray passes to random places for the Jets in what may finally have been his last chance.
We also saw Tim Tebow outplay Matt Barkley against the Jets, but to no avail: The Cardinals traded for Barkley, but the Eagles released Tebow.
Third-string quarterbacks are generally hard workers and solid citizens, because they have to be. While there are occasional speedsters like Johnson in the third-stringer pool, most third-string quarterbacks lack any special qualities, though they usually also lack critical flaws.
Watch Thursday night's preseason games (Editor's note: We do not recommend this.) and you will see third-stringers complete the checkdown to the running back but throw the sideline out-route out of bounds, execute the boot pass on 1st-and-10 but throw into traffic on 3rd-and-10, scramble for a first down but later get caught from behind by a backup defensive end. That's who they are and what they are capable of.
The best third-string quarterbacks are neither seen nor heard. That's why they remain in the league while talented first-rounders on the skids, from Vince Young to Josh Freeman, tend to bounce on and off rosters. Third-string quarterbacks don't require special attention from the public relations department. Unless they are actual quarterback-receiver hybrids like Daniels or the Panthers' Joe Webb, they don't get special, situational practice schedules. They get a few reps per week with the real offense, then it's off to the scout team, where they must focus on impersonating an opponent's quarterback, not rekindling their own careers.
That's why Robert Griffin will remain a permanent headache in Washington. It's also one of the reasons the Eagles released Tebow. Tebow was one of the better third-stringers on the field last Thursday night. He wasn't as good as Brett Hundley, Thompson, Taylor Heinicke in Minnesota or some others. But he was better than Barkley, Freeman, Johnson and others, and he was better than he has looked since the 2011 playoffs.
Tebow made Chip Kelly's decision difficult. But the Eagles don't need a left-handed scrambler with his own publicity department playing make-believe Eli Manning against their defense in midweek practices. They opted for Stephen Morris off the waiver wire instead: strong, athletic and not terribly interesting.
Final cuts were rough on third-string quarterbacks this year. Only 12 teams were carrying three quarterbacks when I checked the official rosters on Sunday morning, before the waiver shuffles and the practice-squad announcements. Most of the third-stringers were rookies like Hundley, Sean Mannion (Rams) and Garrett Grayson (Saints). Charlie Whitehurst of the Titans, one of the few non-disgraced veterans, is the third-stringer behind a rookie starter and a second-year backup, making him more of a "designated veteran" than a third-stringer. Young veteran third-stringers of the Thad Lewis, Brad Sorensen, Kellen Moore category got hammered by the cuts, though many will reappear on rosters or practice squads by the time you read this.
Coaches like their third-stringers anonymous and interchangeable. Tebow is neither of these things. Nor is Freeman. Nor is Griffin. That's bad news for all of them.
Arian Foster: Rising. The Texans chose to not place Foster on the injured reserve; Ian Rapoport reported that Foster may return in a month, which is good news for the Texans, who are hoping to win a series of 3-0 shutouts until his return.
It's also good news for the guy in my fantasy league who drafted Foster, Todd Gurley, Martavis Bryant and Alshon Jeffery and planned to draft Tom Brady (the draft was last week) before getting beaten to the punch. His team should be called the October Surprise. Guess who has to face him in November?
Fred Jackson: Rising. Jackson resumes his original role as Marshawn Lynch Wrangler. Jackson passed that baton to Michael Robinson when Lynch left Buffalo for Seattle. Robinson passed it on to Robert Turbin. But an ankle injury landed Turbin on the IR, and Lynch, like Doctor Who, requires a Companion to keep him grounded in the ways of earthlings.
Jackson is one of the NFL's most likeable guys, and a move from Buffalo to Seattle and a role as Lynch's backup/mouthpiece will increase Jackson's visibility. Look for Jackson, like Robinson, to parlay this opportunity into a broadcast gig in a few years.
As for the Bills: Take a careful look at that roster. They really could have used an extra guy to keep everyone grounded.
Christine Michael, Rising: Michael has been a frustrating prospect for three summers, but the Cowboys backfield is becoming a halfway house for frustrating prospects. Maybe going from one of the worst offensive lines in the league (among playoff teams, certainly) to one of the best will help Michael. When healthy, he often looked like a running back searching for a hole that was never going to open.
Jarryd Hayne, Rising. Hayne is what makes being an NFL fan great (because, let's face it, it has been a chore lately). His Australia-to-America, rugby-to-football transition is a great story and a ray of optimism for a 49ers team that needs something to show the world that it is doing more than boarding up the windows and waiting for the last veterans on the roster to skedaddle.
Look for more rugby and Australian footie players to attempt the transition to American football over the next few years. Australia and New Zealand produce a lot of Hayne-shaped athletes now, thanks in part to training and nutrition programs for young athletes that are well ahead of what we commonly do here in the United States. Meanwhile, satellite dishes and video games have introduced the world to NFL football, and the increased popularity of rugby as an American college sport will allow some kids to come to America with a scholarship for one sport and an interest in trying another.
Someday, scouts and reporters may find themselves flying to a Pro Day or combine in Auckland or Melbourne. Well, it sure beats Waco.
Reggie Wayne: Falling. I expected Wayne to fill the old Deion Branch role as den father for the receivers who gives Tom Brady a reliable nine-yard target on 3rd-and-8 now and then. The decline curve for wide receivers is typically very steep, however, and the combination of declining skills and a new system can be too much for even the best receivers. Wayne will probably retire with the Colts. Colts fans all get one take-back on some awful "Traitor" comment you made about Wayne. Just don't let it happen again.
Untested Kickers and Punters: Rising. A young bazooka leg named Andrew Franks from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in upstate New York won the Dolphins kicking job over Caleb Sturgis.
The Chargers selected Josh Lambo over veteran kicker Nick Novak, whose kickoffs have always left something to be desired. Jason Myers of Marist College will kick for the Jaguars, who sent Josh Scobee to the Steelers to quell their kicker emergency.
The Buccaneers hastily traded tight end Tim Wright to the Lions for rookie kicker-punter Kyle Brindza after souring on both their incumbent challengers. Punter Jake Schum replaces Michael Koenen as the Buccaneers punter in a cap-cutting move. (The Buccaneers also insist on trading Tim Wright every year.) The Giants released popular punter Steve Weatherford, then traded for Brad Wing, who was expendable in Pittsburgh because the Steelers liked what they saw of rookie Jordan Berry.
The Patriots and Seahawks, incidentally, made no changes to their kicking and punting units. The Patriots actually extended Stephen Gostkowski's contract even though he is costly for a kicker and Bill Belichick knows his way around the engineering colleges of the Northeast. Young kickers and punters have a way of shattering your heart. Every Giants fan in the audience is nodding right now. It's one thing for a rebuilding team like the Jaguars or Buccaneers to experiment with their specialists, but teams on the verge of contention like the Dolphins, Chargers and Steelers (who had no choice at kicker but did have a choice at punter) should really think twice before saving a few bucks in the kicking game.
A few of these young specialists will be NFL institutions in a few years. But at least one of them will end up costing his team a game or two this year. Let's hope it's a game his team can afford to lose and a mistake he can bounce back from.
Devon Still: Steady: The Still family has been an inspiration to families battling cancer and other serious illnesses. There were times last season, during the dark days of the Ray Rice crisis, when Devon's devotion to his daughter Leah was one of the few things about NFL fandom that even felt right. So it was upsetting to see Still released by the Bengals.
It's also important to keep in mind that dozens of players were released this weekend who really needed their jobs for all sorts of common reasons: young families, dependent parents and so on. Labor Day Weekend is a sad time for hundreds of NFL hopefuls, and unemployment is never pretty, even when it happens to someone with a little fame and NFL money to fall back on. It's a sad weekend to anyone who does not have a job to return to Tuesday morning.
We know Still's situation, so we will keep his family in our minds and hearts as he moves on to his next stage in life. Let's keep all families in our minds and hearts, even if we don't know their situations.
Going For Two
The final preseason tally on two-point conversions: Teams were 24-of-54, or 44.4 percent.
The Browns, Seahawks and Rams did not attempt any two-point conversions in the preseason. Fifteen other teams attempted just one conversion. The Packers led the preseason with six attempts, converting just two. The Steelers, coping with injured kickers throughout the preseason, were 3-of-5.
The final preseason extra point rate was 93.3 percent. A handful of misses by tryout kickers probably skewed that rate slightly.
Hangover will keep track of two-point conversions throughout the season. It's unlikely we will see some team abandoning the extra point, based on what we have seen so far.
The sauce is made by PLB Sports, which bills itself, probably accurately, as "Your premier source for athlete-endorsed, quality food products."
I first came across PLB Sports five years ago when I forced my children (and dog) to taste-test OchocincOs Cereal. Chad Johnson's cereal is no longer on the company's website, not even in the form of a "collector's flat" (an empty box, in other words).
Collector's flats of David Eckstein's Ecks-O's and Ohio State State Buckeyes HerO's are available. You would figure that Ohio State cereal would never go out of style. But perhaps the whole imitation Honey Nut Cheerio market has dried up; despite all of the FlaccOs, TebOws and Joey VottOs opportunities, the folks at PLB are not marketing cereals like they used to. Flutie Flakes remain PLB's most famous triumph; sadly, they are only available in the form of a collector's flat.
Condiments are the new cereals. In addition to Gronk's Hot Sauce, PLB Sports still markets my favorite football-player endorsed food ever: Ed McCaffrey's Rocky Mountain Horseradish, with Easy Ed wearing a cowboy hat on the label.
Gronk is in some impressive company. Times have changed, however, and I wonder if there is a place for tight end-themed hot sauce in a marketplace that values boutique products over novelties.
Even the biggest Patriots fan is likely to think twice before pouring Gronk Sauce on his taco after buying some locally grown fusion cuisine product at the farmer's market.
Hot sauce merchandising also veers toward products with names like this and this. There are shelves of products making proud claims about causing some very private pain. It seems like a strange advertising choice, up there with "Morbid Obesity Whipped Cream" or "Chocolate Blasted Ritalin Neutralizing Sugar ADHD's Cereal."
So Gronk is associating himself with a product that's proud of uncomfortable next-day bathroom experiences, is what I am saying. But what can he do? The NFL would frown upon Gronk's Cotton Candy Flavored Bargain Cognac.
Mike Tanier covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.