INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – It’s always one of the toughest days on the NFL calendar.
Cut day. This year, it’s Saturday by 4 p.m.
That’s when general managers and coaches must settle on a 53-player active roster while dashing the dreams of dozens of players in the process. Should a sixth receiver be kept or an extra defensive back? A fourth running back or a fifth inside linebacker who’s a special-teams terror?
“We have a lot of discussions (ahead),’’ Chuck Pagano said Tuesday.
For the Indianapolis Colts, an extensive paring of the 90-player roster figures to be decidedly more difficult than previous seasons.
Blame mounting injuries to key personnel.
It’s entirely possible the Colts’ initial 53-man roster will include at least four significant players who won’t be available for the Sept. 10 opener against the Los Angeles Rams: quarterback Andrew Luck (right shoulder), center Ryan Kelly (foot), cornerback Vontae Davis (groin) and tight end Erik Swoope (knee). There’s also concern with guard Jack Mewhort (knee), wideout Chester Rogers (hamstring) and defensive back T.J. Green (shoulder).
If they’re on the 53, they count. If they count, they’re taking up a spot that could be used for depth at another position.
The only way to avoid an injured player who’s expected to be available at some point to not adversely impact the active roster is for him to be placed on the short-term injured reserve list, which keeps him out eight weeks.
Or in the case of Luck, the Colts hypothetically could leave him on PUP to start the season, which would mean he misses at least the first six games.
The Colts have been adamant they plan to add Luck to the active roster at the end of the preseason – again that’s Saturday at 4 p.m. – and Pagano reinforced that notion Tuesday.
“I don’t foresee anything changing,’’ he said.
We won’t be the least bit surprised if a high-profile player finds himself on the short-term IR or season-ending IR this weekend. And we’re not talking about safety Clayton Geathers, who underwent offseason neck surgery. General manager Chris Ballard announced when training camp opened Geathers would open the season on the active/PUP list.
Our best guess for short-term IR which would free up a spot? Either Kelly, who is expected to miss at least the first month of the season while a broken bone in his left foot heals, or Green, who’s dealing with a shoulder injury and is in the midst of a safety-to-cornerback transition.
Pagano didn’t bother hiding his exasperation with the Colts’ injury situation and how it will affect the pending roster cuts.
“It’s hard,’’ he said. “You don’t want to go in and say, ‘OK, we’ve got to carry A, B, C, D, E . . . whatever.’ You can’t do that. You don’t want to do it with one, you don’t want to do it with four, you don’t want to do it with five.
“You’re trying to find the 53 best guys to fill your roster, then 10 (on the) practice squad. Every one of those (injured) guys that you carry, that’s a spot. They count. You don’t get another body.’’
Like it or not, the Colts will have to carry a few injured players on the active roster.
“You’re right, 100 percent right,’’ Pagano said. “We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.’’
It’s also worth noting Saturday’s initial cut to 53 will be a precursor to additional change Sunday. More than 1,800 players will hit the open market, and we expect the Colts to be active in poring over other teams’ discards. They could use upgrades at tight end, the offensive line, inside linebacker and the secondary.
Now that you’re up to speed with everything, here’s a look at what the initial 53-player active roster might look like.
A couple of notes: We opted to keep Le’Raven Clark over rookie Zach Banner even though Banner is one of Ballard’s draft picks and Clark lost his starting right tackle spot to Jeremy Vujnovich . . . We like Barkevious Mingo and Margus Hunt because of their special-teams skills . . . We went with JoJo Natson over Quan Bray because he offers more as a receiver. . . . We’re not sold on Edwin Jackson sticking around . . . This alignment will extend the Colts’ streak of having at least one undrafted rookie make the opening-day roster to 19 seasons, the NFL’s longest active streak.
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PROJECTED 53-PLAYER ROSTER
- Quarterbacks (3): Andrew Luck, Scott Tolzien, Stephen Morris.
- Running backs (3): Frank Gore, Robert Turbin, Marlon Mack*.
- Wide receivers (6): T.Y. Hilton, Donte Moncrief, Phillip Dorsett, Kamar Aiken, Chester Rogers, JoJo Natson*.
- Tight ends (4): Jack Doyle, Erik Swoope, Brandon Williams, Darrell Daniels*.
- Offensive line (9): Anthony Castonzo, Ryan Kelly, Jack Mewhort, Joe Haeg, Jeremy Vujnovich, Le’Raven Clark, Denzelle Good, Brian Schwenke, Deyshawn Bond*.
- Defensive line (6): Johnathan Hankins, Henry Anderson, Al Woods, Hassan Ridgeway, Margus Hunt, Grover Stewart*.
- Linebackers (9): Jabaal Sheard, John Simon, Jon Bostic, Antonio Morrison, Anthony Walker*, Barkevious Mingo, Tarell Basham*, Akeem Ayers, Edwin Jackson.
- Cornerbacks (6): Vontae Davis, Rashaan Melvin, Quincy Wilson*, Nate Hairston*, Chris Milton, Corey White.
- Safeties (4): Matthias Farley, Darius Butler, Malik Hooker*, Ronald Martin.
- Punter (1): Rigoberto Sanchez*.
- Placekicker (1): Adam Vinatieri.
- Longsnapper (1): Luke Rhodes.