Defensive back Aaron Berry had just made his way home in late September, landing in Harrisburg, Pa., on his way back from a workout with another team, when the Jets called.Out of a job after the Detroit Lions released him in the summer following two arrests, he was looking for a way back into the NFL. When the opportunity struck, he wasted no time, hitting the road again the next day to make his way for a workout in Florham Park. Three days later he was a Jet.As the season hits the midway point, Berry’s story, along with several of his teammates, is no different than most for players who are caught as free agents in the midst of an NFL schedule.They are looking to latch onto a club and most have to undergo workouts at the behest of a team, often on short notice, forcing them to be ready at any time. It creates a pressurized 24-hour shuffle, comprised of unexpected phone calls and hastily thrown together plans.
As a free agent in 2010, punter Robert Malone received a call from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at 5 in the morning with the tight details of his itinerary. There was a flight waiting for him in four hours, and he had to make it.While the stakes are high during workouts, the action itself is rote. Berry said he ran a 40-yard dash and did some individual drills. This year, Malone was brought in by the Jets for a workout the Tuesday before their season-opener. The next day he was the starting punter, signed in place of the released T.J. Conley after he made a lasting mark by hitting the ceiling of the indoor fieldhouse five times.“Hopefully, I’m here for a while,”Malone said earlier this season. “That’s the goal. I want to stick around and finish the contract. It’s a little frustrating sometimes, but it’s part of the game.”
Defensive tackle Daniel Muir knows better than most. Before he signed with the Jets on Oct. 10, he had worked out for four other teams. He had already made plans to audition with the Buccaneers when the Jets called. While staying with his in-laws in Pittsburgh and training, his agent called with the news on a Tuesday morning. He was working out for the Jets that night and signed the next morning. Each workout has its pressures, the self-confidence that it will lead to a contract is juxtaposed by the small window to impress. The plan is to get on a plane to your destination and hope you don’t return anytime soon.“Now your plan doesn’t work out accordingly,” Muir said last week. “It didn’t work out four times. I guess the fifth time was the charm.”But even immediate success doesn’t translate to the long term. Muir had moved into a hotel down the road from the Jets’ facility with his wife and two small children, hoping to fly home this week to collect belongings to provide a more comfortable stay for the rest of the season. But Tuesday, he was waived again after just three games.
Malone understands the carousel. He has already worked out or signed with nine different NFL teams. Young kickers and punters are placed through the ringer on a consistent basis as teams search for a marginal improvement, the player heading to each location hoping this can finally be a place to stick.“You kind of get a little used to the workout wheel but it’s been good,” Malone said. “It’s a lot of experience working with different coaches and different snappers and different weather situations. It’s been good. Hopefully, all of it has prepared me enough to stick around here for a while.”