With cuts looming, NFL players in limbo

BEREA, Ohio – A few Cleveland Browns players joked with defensive lineman Brian Sanford when he returned to the locker room on Wednesday morning, no more than 36 hours after he’d been traded.

That trade went bad when the Browns had medical concerns over the player they received in exchange for Sanford, guard John Moffitt. Sanford had gone to Seattle, but only long enough for a physical at a downtown doctors’ office and a quick visit to the Seahawks training facility. Someone at the Seahawks then took Sanford back to the airport, and he flew all night to get back to Cleveland in time for Wednesday’s practice.

He’s back on the Browns roster. The jokes he heard from his former and current teammates were quick and not cruel, for as strange as Sanford’s situation was, it can happen to just about anybody.

It’s that time of year.

The optimism of preseason and heavy legs of training camp remain, but these are nervous moments in 32 locker rooms across the league. By August 27, teams must cut their camp rosters from 90 to 75. By Aug. 31, the preseason is over and every team must cut to the regular-season roster size of 53.

The Browns are still searching for help at guard. Perhaps another trade will happen after they play Saturday in Indianapolis and before next Tuesday’s deadline. Or maybe it won’t come until next weekend. With 32 teams due to make as many 37 roster moves in the next week, a few guards have to hit the waiver wire, right?

Sanford was back in Browns meetings Wednesday morning. The Browns have built a defensive line that’s better and deeper than what lots of teams have, and some of those teams might call back. Sanford is really probably only one injury away from staying with the Browns.

It’s also entirely possible that next week he could be traded again and be back taking that same physical at that same doctors’ office in Seattle.

The Moffitt story was especially strange because the Browns had announced the trade and introduced Moffitt to the local media. Moffitt even came walking out to the practice field before Browns coach Rob Chudzinski escorted him back into the building.

Presumably, he got a ride to the airport like Sanford did. To make this strange story even stranger, Moffitt was then traded to the Broncos and passed his physical there.

Per orders from upstairs and respect for the NFL’s transaction process, Chudzinski wouldn’t talk about why the trade was rescinded or where the personnel department’s next round of calls will be directed.

“Right now, this is a time of year when you’re looking for everything,” Chudzinski said. “Our scouting department is burning the midnight oil looking at a lot of positions.”

NFL teams send representatives to as many preseason games as possible to scout possible waiver-wire additions and trade targets. In a regular-season NFL pressbox, there’s a bunch of friendly chatter before the game and it goes quiet when the game begins. With these scouts in the preseason, there’s silence as they use their binoculars to get a look during pregame warmups, then the real work begins in the second half when bottom of the depth chart players are playing.

They’re not usually there to see starters. Some are there just to get a general look at the two teams playing; others fly across the country — like Sanford — to see a specific player or a specific position group. It’s in this situation that relationships between teams and personnel execs become so important. Teams want not only to be able to work out the best deals; they’d also like to know the truth.

There’s a reason the Dolphins cut well-paid starting cornerback Richard Marshall earlier this week, right?

Moffitt for Sanford is not the first trade to be rescinded. It’s not even the first Browns trade to be rescinded with the traded player ending up in Denver; that happened two summers ago with Broderick Bunkley. It’s part of the business, just like the waiver system and potential trades and the nerve-racking fight for roster spots are.

The Browns still need a guard — and maybe a running back, and probably defensive back help, and don’t rule out them making a move or a series of moves to add a kicker, tight end or wide receiver, either. Thirty-one other teams are playing a similar game — and hoping like crazy to avoid further injury this weekend.

Hundreds of NFL players are hoping that in a little over 10 days, they’ll have a home. And one of those big regular-season game checks.

Upon being traded, Sanford had summoned his younger brother to Cleveland to get his car and take care of some things at his apartment. Sanford had no time to waste; he had a flight to catch — he ended up being delayed overnight Monday in Minneapolis — and a new team to try to make.

Sanford’s brother picked him up at around 6:30 Wednesday morning at Cleveland Hopkins Airport and brought him a couple miles south to Browns Headquarters. He had an old team to try to make.