Ex-Badgers TE Traylor training, waiting for next NFL opportunity
While nearly 3,000 players are readying to report for NFL training camps, for the first time in a decade Austin Traylor is waiting to finalize his summer plans. Whether it was high school or college fall camp or an NFL training camp, the former Wisconsin Badgers tight end could always count on being somewhere practicing and playing football in July and August.
But this year is different.
Traylor is in Davie, Fla., working out and waiting, hoping he gets another call from a team which will allow him to continue playing football.
Of course, Traylor might never even have had a shot at playing professionally if Paul Chryst hadn’t re-entered the picture. Chryst recruited Traylor to Wisconsin but soon left to become head coach at Pittsburgh. In Traylor’s senior year, Chryst was back, as well as Joe Rudolph and Mickey Turner, all coaches who knew Traylor’s personality and ability.
After serving as a blocking tight end his first three seasons with the Badgers – accumulating all of three catches for 24 yards, all in his junior year, in 30 games, Traylor had 14 receptions for 210 yards and four touchdowns in eight games (a fractured arm in October cost him five games) in 2015, Chryst’s first year as UW head coach.
“I do think the silver lining in everything was when Paul Chryst came back and got me involved in the offense and got me a couple of passes and teams did see I had the ability to contribute and not just block,” Traylor said.
Traylor wasn’t selected in the 2016 NFL draft but said he had multiple opportunities, eventually deciding to sign on with Dallas. Although he admittedly was at the bottom of the depth chart, he felt he had a good camp and had a chance to make the roster, especially after partaking in a walkthrough on cutdown day. But, alas, the Turk came calling and Traylor didn’t make the team.
“It was kind of the first time for me being cut in my life. So that was kind of a shocker going through that process,” Traylor recalled.
If you think the NFL life is all glitz and glamour, you might rethink that after tracing Traylor’s steps in 2016.
After being cut by Dallas, Traylor was re-signed to the Cowboys’ practice squad. But that lasted only a week-and-a-half before he was cut again. Traylor flew back home to Columbus, Ohio and the next day he got a call from the Patriots, so it was off to New England for a workout. The next day he had signed – with the Chargers, then located in San Diego, onto their practice squad. Two weeks later, on Oct. 4, he was cut again. It was back to the Patriots, who signed him to their practice squad on Nov. 1, but that marriage lasted only 11 days. That was a week longer than his stint with the Ravens, who signed him to their practice squad a few days after he was cut by New England. A month later it was onto Denver and another practice squad.
Four months, five teams. Living in a hotel out of the duffel bag and backpack he’d bring on every sojourn (“just wash and rotate some clothes and some shoes and was ready to go,” he said) with no mode of transportation supplied (luckily for him in San Diego he had good friend Melvin Gordon to help him out and in New England the hotel was a short walk to the facility). It didn’t take long for Traylor to learn the business side of the NFL.
“After the first time (he was cut), Dallas, that was probably the only time I was really on myself about it all, but after that you just realize you can’t take it personal,” Traylor explained. “Teams are making moves, doing things … they have to make a lot of important decisions to make a team and win games. It’s not just my job, it’s my position coach’s job, his offensive coordinator’s job, his head coach’s job, the GM’s job – it’s just a line of people who have to be in agreement on something to try and make a great team and win.”
Things went a little better for Traylor with the Broncos – although he was cut again after having what he thought was a good training camp and then signed back to the practice squad. But this venture lasted longer than a few days or weeks.
Traylor remained on Denver’s practice squad in 2017 until mid-November. That’s when his position coach – Geep Chryst, Paul’s brother – told him to be ready. Denver had some injury problems at tight end and during the week head coach Vance Joseph informed Traylor he would be coming up to the active roster that week, he wasn’t sure exactly when but it was going to happen, so study up and get prepared. Traylor said getting that advance notice helped and he went out and caught four passes for 36 yards – both of which remain his high in a game.
He’d play in Denver’s final seven games and total eight receptions for 100 yards and compile a season’s worth of memories. Playing against Cincinnati, the team he grew up following. Starting three games and being announced as such on TV on a Thursday night game at Indianapolis. Doing a jersey swap with his college roommate, Dare Ogunbowale, who had been called up by Washington at the end of the year. He also got to play in several NFL stadiums, one of which stood out.
“I got to play in Oakland, which was a sight to see,” Traylor chuckled.
Traylor’s stay in Denver didn’t last too much longer, however. While he might have had an inside track on making the roster after how he finished the 2017 season, he was cut by the Broncos at the end of 2018 training camp and this time was not signed to the practice squad.
“Honestly, I just think they liked a couple other guys they had in more, plus me tweaking my shoulder at the time and missing some time didn’t help me,” Traylor said. “The way I came in, no investment kind of guy (made it easier for them to cut him). I wasn’t devastated or nothing. Definitely was humbled by the opportunity. There was no explanation given to me, so I can’t really speak on that. It happens, it happens.”
It was back to Columbus and training – and waiting. Traylor went to Miami for a workout, but he wasn’t signed. Late in December, as the NFL season was winding down, he got a call from Randy Mueller, the general manager of the Salt Lake Stallions of the startup Alliance of American Football.
“It was a first-year thing so obviously things weren’t going to be perfect (but) I thought it was good,” Traylor said. “The hotels, the travel, everything was pretty good. Coaches were good, game-planning wise. … I thought the AAF was good. I thought it had potential, honestly, after playing in the NFL, I thought it could grow and be a decent league.”
He caught two passes in eight games before the league disbanded, much to the shock of Traylor, his teammates and even his tight end coach.
“I was in meetings at the time and the wide receivers coach walked in and told us, he was like, ‘Meeting was done.’,” Traylor recalled. “At first we’re thinking he’s joking. Our position coach was the OC, so he’s like, ‘C’mon man, we’re trying to finish up, looking at film.’ He’s like, ‘No I’m dead serious.’ We kind of looked and checked it out. I think Randy, our GM, comes around and calls a meeting for later in the day and definitely confirmed that stuff has been halted.”
Some former AAF players have horror stories about the ending of the league and how they were treated. Traylor has no such complaints. Yes, he did have to get his own transportation out of town but at least his hotel bill was paid for.
Hours after finding out the AAF was no more, and he was thus out of a job, Traylor took a red-eye flight to Ft. Lauderdale, landing on a Wednesday morning. By Thursday he was in Davie, working out at The System 8, which is where Gordon trains. Other Wisconsin Badgers are there as well, including former cornerback Sojourn Shelton and current Badgers running backs Garrett Groshek and Jonathan Taylor, who stopped by for a week.
While nothing is imminent, Traylor said his agent has talked to a number of teams and while no one roots for another player to get injured, in football they occur often, whether it’s in camp or the season.
“That’s the plan right now, (to) play as long as I can play, we’ll see what happens,” said Traylor, who earned a degree in retailing and consumer behavior from Wisconsin. “Short term, football is where it’s at. I’m kind of full head of steam towards this and (hopes it will) work itself out.”
And, hey, in 2020 both the XFL and Pacific Pro Football are scheduled to start play.
For now, though, Traylor will keep training — and waiting — for that next opportunity.