The NFL off-season is upon us, and roster moves have been happening at a rapid pace. Big splash free-agent signings attract the most headlines, but there have also been some notable releases over the past couple of weeks. The Browns cut troubled quarterback Johnny Manziel, the Colts cut 2013 first-round pick Björn Werner, and the Redskins cut RG3. Though getting cut from a team can never feel good, there is a bright side: It often gives a player a fresh chance with a new team. With that in mind, we decided to look back in time at some great NFL players who found themselves on the chopping block early in their careers. Here are five players who got cut before they became stars.
If Manziel can find inspiration from another NFL player who overcame early career issues, he needn’t look further than Cris Carter. Selected in the 1987 supplemental draft by the Philadelphia Eagles, Carter was a solid player during his first three pro seasons. However, his off-the-field substance abuse issues overshadowed his on-field performance, forcing the Eagles to cut him in 1990. The move motivated Carter to get clean, and he was signed by the Minnesota Vikings shortly thereafter. Carter blossomed in Minnesota, compiling eight straight 1,000-plus-yard seasons and becoming one of the league’s premier receivers. Now a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Carter believes getting cut served as a wake-up call and helped him reach his full potential.
Kurt Warner had one of the most improbable careers in NFL history. In 1994, the quarterback was signed by the Green Bay Packers as an undrafted free agent but was cut before the end of training camp. Shortly thereafter, he ended up in the Arena Football League and worked nights at a grocery store to make ends meet. After dominating the AFL for a few seasons, Warner was signed by the St. Louis Rams in 1998. He spent time in NFL Europe before finally emerging as the Rams’ starting QB in 1999. He then went on to become one of the best quarterbacks of the past 20 years, winning a Super Bowl in St. Louis and being named to the Pro Bowl four times.
Now regarded as one of the most productive slot receivers in NFL history, Wes Welker started his pro career by being cut by the San Diego Chargers after the first game of his rookie season. Marty Schottenheimer, then the Chargers head coach, calls cutting Welker the “biggest mistake I ever made.” He’s probably right. Welker signed with the Miami Dolphins and became an immediate contributor. After two solid years in Miami, Welker joined the New England Patriots, where he developed into one of the best receivers in football, leading the league in receptions in three seasons and being named an All-Pro performer four times.
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An undrafted free agent out of Kent State University, James Harrison started his NFL career by getting cut four times in two years. After the Baltimore Ravens released him in 2003, he considered giving up the game altogether. He finally caught on in 2004, when he got another shot with the Pittsburgh Steelers—a team that had previously cut him three times. Except for a single season in Cincinnati in 2013, Harrison has been a Steeler ever since. The five-time Pro Bowler has won two Super Bowls and was named the 2008 Defensive Player of the Year.
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Jeff Saturday is a six-time Pro Bowler who is best known for his role in the prolific Indianapolis Colts’ offenses of the 2000s. It’s hard to imagine now, but the stalwart center started his pro career by getting cut by the Baltimore Ravens in 1998. He then took a job as a manager at an electrical supply store, only to get a call from the Indianapolis Colts in 1999. He got a tryout with the team and impressed them enough to sign on as a free agent. Saturday spent the next decade protecting Peyton Manning and established himself as one of the most reliable centers in NFL history.
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