INDIANAPOLIS —The Indianapolis Colts have certainly benefitted from having a 90-man roster throughout their entire training camp and preseason schedule.
But now, the team's coaches and personnel staff have some tough, tough decisions to make.
By 4 p.m. on Saturday, all 32 NFL teams must have cut down from their 90-man preseason rosters to their initial 53-man regular-season versions, meaning about 1,200 players league wide will immediately become free agents with hopes of potentially starting over in a new city.
For Colts head coach Chuck Pagano, it's never easy to tell someone who's worked so hard — in many cases since the start of the offseason workout program — that they're no longer a part of the organization.
"We know that this weekend is the toughest weekend in football because of the cut downs," Pagano said Thursday night after the Colts' 7-6 win over the Cincinnati Bengals in their 2017 preseason finale. "But I'm really, really proud of all the players — their efforts, hard work, determination, dedication."
After seeing the traditional first preseason cutdown from 90 to 75 players — which occurred between the third and fourth preseason games — eliminated in a vote by team owners earlier this year, NFL teams were able to enjoy the luxury of having an expanded roster for the entirety of the preseason for the first time ever in 2017.
The extra players weren't just beneficial from a competition standpoint for the Colts, however, as the team would experience an unusually high number of injuries at several positions during training camp and the preseason.
Having such a large roster afforded Pagano and his staff the luxury of keeping those injured players off the field and avoiding any potential setbacks in Thursday's final preseason game.
"You've got a couple days to prepare for that Thursday game. You've got guys injured, you've got some vets that are probably not going to play — everybody does it, we all know it. So you're going in with a skeleton crew trying to play that last game," Pagano said. "To get through offense and defense is one thing, but then those guys need to play all the snaps with special teams and it makes it extremely difficult. Obviously (I'm) very glad that the league finally passed that rule and let us hang on to those players for another couple of days. It's great for them, we all get to evaluate for two more days of practice and one more game, so it's good stuff."
But now, Pagano and his staff are tasked with finding the 53 players they want to keep heading into their regular season opener Sept. 10 against the Los Angeles Rams. All the while, the team's personnel folks will be scanning the waiver wire to determine whether or not there are any potential new fits for the Colts' roster, or, at the very least, for their 10-man practice squad.
And even though the focus is now officially on Week 1 and the Rams, that doesn't make the next day or two any easier for those decision makers within the Colts' organization.
"There's a lot of guys who have been dreaming about this opportunity for a long, long time. And it's really hard," Pagano said. "They all have some special traits and special talents. Again, it's going to be a tough weekend. It's hard on everybody but it is what it is. It's a part of the National Football League and I'm glad that these guys got to go out on a winning note."