There are only 53 spots, each one a precious commodity for an NFL coach.
Juggling the roster for the regular season is never simple. That’s why J.R. Redmond was so important to the Arizona Cardinals.
Redmond was someone who could play three roles — punt returner, kick returner, No. 3 running back — and save at least one roster spot for someone who wouldn’t normally make the team.
But Redmond dislocated his left shoulder in Friday night’s preseason game, an injury that will take weeks to heal. Monday, the team put him on injured reserve, a designation that ends his season.
Suddenly, that roster flexibility has disappeared.
"We have our hands tied in a lot of different injuries that we will have to ride," coach Dennis Green said. "We are in the decision-making business, so you make the decisions and you keep looking forward."
The Cardinals had to make a handful of roster moves by today. Teams have to reach a 65-man limit; the Cardinals actually have five NFL Europe exemptions right now, making their limit 70.
Their roster stands at 69, after Redmond, defensive tackle Kenny King (wrist) and center Bill Conaty (arm) were put on IR and six players, most notably 2004 starters Ifeanyi Ohalete, a safety, and Peppi Zellner, a defensive end, were cut.
Green said the Cardinals will probably claim a return man of some kind off waivers to fill the remaining roster spot.
Part of the Cards’ problems are the number of injuries the team already is trying to ride out. Both of their top two centers, Alex Stepanovich (hand surgery) and Nick Leckey (ankle sprain), are not practicing and both could end up missing at least the regular season opener.
The team also has held a roster spot — at least for now — for starting middle linebacker Gerald Hayes, whose knee surgery will keep him out at least four games and probably longer.
"You are never quite satisfied with your roster makeup," vice president of football operations Rod Graves said. "There are always two or three other things you wish you could have.
"J.R.’s situation, he provided the potential for luxury. Now, quite frankly, we might be looking for three guys to do those things."
Undrafted rookie Dan Sheldon, who wasn’t going to make the team, probably now will as the punt returner. If the Cards keep, for example, running back Damien Anderson to return kicks, that’s another spot that might have been saved.
Redmond could come back. His agent, Boston-based Kristen Kuliga, said she has already had some discussions with the team in negotiating an injury settlement for Redmond. If Redmond receives such a settlement, he would be officially released — and would also be eligible to re-sign with the Cardinals when he is finally healed.
That path has been used before. For example, former Saguaro High School star Jeremy Brigham took a settlement early in the 2002 season from the Oakland Raiders instead of going on IR with the specific intention of possibly coming back. It allowed the tight end to re-sign with the team prior to Super Bowl XXXVII and play in the game.
Kuliga declined to comment on Redmond’s prognosis. Redmond, at the team’s facility Monday, would only say that he was "OK" before hustling off to get a magnetic resonance imaging test.
Redmond is gone for now. And the Cardinals must find a way to build their roster for opening day.
"As we improve as a team and the players get better and the salaries get higher, at some point we will be faced with making tough decisions of letting players go who can still play," Graves said. "That’s on the horizon.
"(With rosters), you always have to prepare for the unexpected."