Preseason finale adds to anxiety on NFL bubble

TEMPE — Colin Parker walked into the Cardinals dressing room on Friday morning and was greeted by a depressing remodeling job. Gone were the lockers for former Arizona State teammate Eddie Elder and former University of Arizona rivals Paul Vassallo and Gino Crump.

No name tags, no equipment, no trace of their former presence.

“I knew cuts were coming, but it was crazy how fast it moved,” Parker said.

After the Cards arrived home from their fourth preseason game on Thursday night in Tennessee, Parker dropped Elder off at his home at 2:45 a.m. on Friday. By 7 a.m., Elder, Vassallo, Crump and others had received the bad news from the Cardinals along with a request to return their playbooks.

Such is life for players on the football margins. One day, you’re throwing your body in harm’s way, the next you’re looking for a job. More players will be doing the latter when the Cards and other teams make their final cuts following this weekend’s final NFL preseason games.

All NFL rosters must be down to 53 players, with eight additional players making the practice squad before the season opener. If a player doesn’t achieve one of those 61 spots, the picture gets murky. That is the case with Elder, who was among the Cardinals’ first round of cuts when they went from a 90-man roster to 75.

“It’s just a waiting game right now to see if anybody else is interested,” said Elder, who is in constant communication with his agent. “We’re just not sure right now.”

In other sports such as basketball, baseball and hockey, there are a host of fallback options between minor leagues and Europe. In football, those options are far fewer. You might hook up with a Canadian Football League team, where the average salary is around $50,000 and each team’s salary cap is $4.3 million.

You could try the Arena League, where starting QBs make $1,200 a game and all others $400 a game, or you could try the UFL with the hope it remains financially solvent to keep playing and keep paying.

For Elder, the latter would be his first fallback, because the UFL has a franchise (the Mountain Lions) in his hometown of Sacramento.

“I would consider every league, but if I have to get a 9-to-5 (job), I’ll get a 9-to-5, because I still have to pay the bills,” he said.

For Parker, the NFL dream is still alive, although he is considered a longshot to make the team, given the Cardinals’ depth at linebacker. The starters are O’Brien Schofield, Daryl Washington, Paris Lenon and Sam Acho. Backups Stewart Bradley, Reggie Walker and veteran Clark Haggans also appear set.

Since linebackers play a prominent role on special teams, there will likely be at least two more roster spots available, which leaves Parker battling with Brandon Williams, Quentin Groves, Quan Sturdivant and Antonio Coleman. There’s also the possibility of the practice squad. Williams is currently listed No. 2 on the depth chart at right outside linebacker. Parker is No. 3 at inside linebacker behind Washington and Walker.

“It’s hard to say where I stand,” said Parker, who got first-team reps on special teams through the first three preseason games and should get plenty of opportunities Thursday against Denver.

Parker has considered other options if he is cut and another NFL team doesn’t pick him up, but “I’ve had that in the back of my mind and I’ve tried to keep it exactly there, because I want to play in this league first and foremost,” he said. “If it didn’t work out, I would explore other options.”

To stick in the NFL, Parker must show well on Thursday – and show off his greatest assets to the coaching staff: intelligence, discipline and technique.

“Regardless of what happens here I need to go out and put good film out there for other teams to see,” he said. “If I am cut here, it may not be a case where they didn’t like me. It may be a case where they have to let me go because of numbers.”

But as an Arizona native, Parker’s preference is to stay at home.

“When you talk about a potential 53-man roster, there’s probably a couple different spots where it’s between two or three guys,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “It’s going to really come down to how they play in this game.”

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