Huskers Have Had Success as Undrafted Free Agents
Photo Credit: Aaron Babcock

Former Huskers Learn NFL Fate Over Weekend

September 03, 2018

The deadline to reach the 53-man roster limit for NFL teams came and went at 3 p.m. on Saturday. For some, dreams came true this weekend. For many more, the news wasn’t so positive.

There were many former Huskers among those that learned their fates on Saturday, and when the dust settled, 19 of them were left standing on active rosters.

Huskers in the NFL

  • Sam Koch, P, Baltimore Ravens
  • Matt Slauson, OL, Indianapolis Colts
  • Zach Sterup, OL, Miami Dolphins
  • Brett Maher, K, Dallas Cowboys
  • Ameer Abdullah, RB, Detroit Lions
  • Niles Paul, TE/FB, Jacksonville Jaguars
  • Nathan Gerry, LB, Philadelphia Eagles
  • Brent Qvale, OL, New York Jets
  • Spencer Long, OL, New York Jets
  • Quincy Enunwa, WR, New York Jets
  • Rex Burkhead, RB, New England Patriots
  • Andy Janovich, FB, Denver Broncos
  • Alex Lewis, OL, Baltimore Ravens
  • Maliek Collins, DL, Dallas Cowboys
  • Randy Gregory, DE, Dallas Cowboys
  • Will Compton, LB, Tennessee Titans
  • Lavonte David, LB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
  • Prince Amukamara, CB, Chicago Bears
  • Ndamukong Suh, DL, Los Angeles Rams

Many of the players on this list are established players who weren’t in any danger of being cut. David is a bonafide star in Tampa and Suh just signed with the Rams. Amukamara, Enunwa, Lewis and Long have established themselves as reliable veteran starters for their teams, as has Compton who signed with Tennessee after leaving Washington. 

Collins is coming into his own as a difference-maker in Dallas and Janovich is as solid a player as you’ll find at the fullback position. Gerry has transitioned to linebacker with the Eagles and appears to have carved out a significant role for himself.

New England’s top two rushers, Dion Lewis and Mike Gillislee, are no longer in Foxborough which should open up more opportunity for Burkhead as the team’s leading returning rusher who is also dangerous as a receiver. 

Gregory is finally ready to return to the field after missing the last two seasons while serving suspensions, and he’s turned plenty of heads during training camp and the preseason.

Qvale, Slauson and Sterup are all journeymen offensive linemen who apparently did enough to hold onto jobs with their respective teams to this point. Longtime Baltimore punter Sam Koch appears to have held off competition from a younger player and will enter his 13th season with the Ravens. Paul beat out others in Jacksonville because of his versatility. The former Nebraska wide receiver has moved to tight end in the NFL and could also see some time at fullback for the Jaguars.

Many thought heading into camp that Abdullah could be a potentially roster casualty in Detroit after the Lions added rookie Kerryon Johnson and veteran LeGarrette Blount, but he survived the cuts on Saturday. Abdullah has had a disappointing career with the Lions so far as he led the team in rushing last season but only averaged 3.3 yards per carry.

Finally, perhaps the biggest surprise was thew news that Dallas had cut Dan Bailey, one of the most accurate kickers in league history. That meant Maher was the last man, well, kicking in Dallas. Bailey had a severely down season in 2017 after suffering an injury and was being paid a hefty amount for a specialist. Maher, a Kearney native, has spent the last four seasons kicking and punting in the CFL where he converted 78.1 percent of his kicks included 82 percent in each of the past two seasons. He also averaged 45.8 yards per punt.

Huskers Placed on Reserved/Injured List

  • Jeremiah Sirles, OL, Carolina Panthers
  • Nick Gates, OL, Detroit Lions
  • Cethan Carter, TE/FB, Cincinnati Bengals
  • Stanley Jean-Baptise, CB Baltimore Ravens

One way to get down to the 53-man limit is to place injured players on injured reserve. Sometimes, these players truly have suffered season-ending injuries. Other times, the injuries are short-term and the players are put on the list for now before negotiating a settlement and being released.

Friend of Hail Varsity Jeremiah Sirles has carved out a solid career for himself, mostly with Minnesota. He signed with Carolina this offseason but a hamstring injury late in the preseason landed him on IR. I’d expect to see him with another team at some point this season.

Gates signed with the Giants as an undrafted free agent after leaving Nebraska a year early but apparently suffered some kind of foot injury that landed him on the list. 

Carter looked poised to make the Bengals’ 53-man roster again this season after playing in 16 games in 2017 as mainly a special teams contributor, but he suffered a torn labrum in the preseason finale that will require surgery.

Finally, Jean-Baptise, the former second-round pick by the Saint who washed out of the league and has been bouncing around between practice squads and active rosters the least couple of seasons but looked to have earned a roster spot with the Ravens this preseason. However, a broken arm has landed him on IR.

Huskers on Practice Squads

  • Tanner Lee, QB, Jacksonville Jaguars
  • Joshua Kalu, DB, Tennessee Titans
  • Chris Jones, CB, Arizona Cardinals
  • Vincent Valentine, DL, New England Patriots

Lee was Nebraska’s only player selected in the 2018 NFL Draft but after struggling for much of the preseason, the Jaguars cut him before bringing him back for the 10-man practice squad. 

Kalu signed with the Titans as an undrafted free agent, got cut, re-signed with the team then got cut again before agreeing to play on the practice squad.

Jones, another undrafted Husker from this last draft, went through the preseason with the Lions before getting cut. The Cardinals swooped in and signed him for their practice squad.

Finally, Valentine has had in interesting career with the Patriots after leaving Nebraska a year early. He played in 13 games with two starts as a rookie before spending last season on injured reserve. Now, the Patriots have cut the nose tackle and placed him on their practice squad.

Huskers Who Have Been Cut

Here’s the group of players who have been cut and haven’t yet found new homes.

  • Brandon Reilly, WR, Buffalo Bills
  • Luke McNitt, FB, Minnesota Vikings
  • Tyler Hoppes, TE, Minnesota Vikings
  • Givens Price, OL, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
  • Zaire Anderson, LB, Denver Broncos

Reilly was perhaps the most surprising cut on Saturday. The former walk-on turned starter at Nebraska busted his butt bouncing between the practice squad and active roster with the Bills last season and had built up something of a cult following among the fan base. It seemed like the Bills liked him, but in the end they kept other receivers instead. I’d be surprised if he doesn’t find a new home soon.

Price has been bouncing around for a few years despite never really playing at Nebraska. Anderson spent a few years in Denver, working his way up from the practice squad to the active roster, but the Broncos chose to go with a younger player with more upside over the veteran.

McNitt and Hoppes were both long-shots to make the roster in Minnesota. McNitt began with the Falcons before getting cut. The Vikings gave him a second chance but he didn’t do enough to make the 53.

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