If you’ve been following us for more than just a little bit, then you are probably well aware of the fact that Alex Kozora hates the term ‘camp body’ to describe any player who has been deemed worthy enough, at some point or another, to be signed to an NFL contract.
The mere fact of that having taken place means that that player, in the past, at some level, has displayed a requisite level of quality in their performance and character to be deemed worthy of consideration for participation at the highest peak of the sport, which in and of itself is an achievement. Regardless of whether or not they ever spend a second on a 53-man roster, or get into a game.
Beyond that, though, it’s also worth remembering that when we’re talking about ‘camp bodies’, or players that we’re sure have a close to zero percent chance of making even the practice squad, we’re still dealing with human beings. And generally, these are human beings whose lives are devoted to this sport, beyond the business, because they love it.
Take, for example, Zach Banner, the third-year offensive tackle who is already on his fourth different team, that being the Pittsburgh Steelers, since being drafted in the fourth round by the Indianapolis Colts in 2017. He didn’t make their roster, but was claimed by the Cleveland Browns.
He was on the roster four the season, and active for half of it, even playing a couple handfuls of snaps, but he was released in March of last year. He was claimed by the Carolina Panthers after that but released at the end of May.
He spent the summer out of football—June, July, and then nearly half of August—before the Steelers called him up and signed him when they needed, yes, a body at tackle. But he proved to be more than that, and they were impressed enough with what they saw that they seemingly didn’t want to risk waiving him to try to get him to the practice squad, as he had been claimed off waivers twice previously and now had more preseason tape to work with.
So he spent all of the 2018 season on the 53-man roster, almost always inactive, and never seeing the field, as the ninth lineman. But how realistic are his chances of making the team this year, even with the Marcus Gilbert trade? They already have three tackles competing at right tackle, and the two losers may be the ones who stay. He could make the team, but it’s far from guaranteed.
If he doesn’t, though, while I would want him to be re-signed to the practice squad, a part of me hopes that he gets claimed again and gets an opportunity somewhere else. “My entire life I wanted to be” in the NFL, he recently told the team’s website”.
“I wanted to dominate. I wanted to play at a high level. Now I am here, and I want to do just that”, he added. He called football his “passion”, and “the only thing important other than my family”. And this is not a unique story. This is going to be the case for most of the players that fans are begging to be released. Every release is the crumbling of somebody’s dream.
Some get to pick it back up again, but for many—maybe for most—it’s the realizing of a harsh reality. So that’s why I never root for anyone to be released. And why I try to avoid the ‘camp body’ term, because all of them are more than bodies. It doesn’t seem like too much of an effort to make to offer that basic level of dignity.