<span>A day after suffering their first defeat of the 2009 preseason, the members of the Saints returned to the team's practice facility this morning for meetings, workouts, and for many, the collective exercise of holding their breaths.
The Saints, like every other of the 32 teams in the NFL, need to trim their roster from 75 players to 53 players by 3:00 p.m. on Saturday. The mood and sentiment in the team's locker room this afternoon during the time the media was granted access to the spacious room was different than usual. Which, of course, is to be expected when life-changing decisions are being made in the coaching and personnel offices on the floor directly above locker room.
"It doesn't matter how long you've been in the NFL," said starting middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma. "There are always going to be some things that surprise people and there are guys that have given it everything that have, but for whatever reason, it just isn't meant to be right now. It's hard to say goodbye because you get to know your teammates, you battle with them every day, you sit next to guys in meetings and practice with them, and then all of a sudden they aren't there the next day. That's difficult. We all know it's part of the business and that day will come for all of us, but it is never an easy day."
The day that Vilma speaks of appears to Saturday for the Saints, as most teams in the league will take advantage of the deadline in order to get a better handle on the overall health of their squad before they have to make any final decisions.
Many household names on the Saints' roster, such as Vilma and Pro Bowl QB Drew Brees, among others, certainly needn't fret over whether they will be on the roster come Monday, when the team kicks their preparations for the Lions into high gear. But nonetheless, Brees said that every player is affected any time roster moves are being made.
"As exciting as it is to be getting ready for the first regular season game, it's also tough to see guys packing up their belongings and moving on," Brees said. "It's never easy and there's a level of discomfort for everyone in the locker room. On one hand you are thrilled to see a young guy make it and realize his dreams, but maybe there is a guy in the next locker from his that is being told it's over that he is going to have to move on."
For many players, particularly the younger ones who have battled not only for playing time and reps during practice and in the preseason games, the waiting to hear is part anguish/part unknown.
"It's out of my hands now," RB Lynell Hamilton said. "I have faith and now I have to sit back and watch how it all unfolds. Is it easy? Not at all. But it's part of the business."
With NFL-imposed sanctions close to being imposed on three key Saints players (defensive ends Charles Grant, Will Smith and kicker Garrett Hartley), the Saints will gain three roster exemptions for their spots and thus will need to reduce their roster by 19 players, as the three aforementioned Saints will be placed on a reserve/suspended list.
The feeling of accomplishment for some players may be short lived, too, as the team reserves the right to put waiver claims in on players released by other teams, a practice the Saints have employed at times during Head Coach Sean Payton's tenure.
Some players may have the fallback option of having eligibility remaining and could very well end up on the eight-man practice squad, which can be established late Sunday afternoon after the 24-hour waiver claiming process is complete. "You have to hope you did enough and let the chips fall where they may," said Hamilton, a member of the team's practice squad for the majority of last season.
While yet others, such as wide receiver Rod Harper, who enjoyed an impressive training camp and more so, a big preseason highlighted by two punt returns for touchdowns, can only sit back and wait and hope that their efforts were enough to warrant a spot on the 53-man Saints' roster.
"I felt like I made some plays (in the preseason)," Harper said. "Obviously the two returns were pretty good, but really at the end of camp you never feel like you made enough plays. Hopefully in their eyes, I made enough."