For the past six weeks, you've toiled, sweat, and given your all to be part of an NFL football team.
Then, in an instant, it's over.
The final cut-down date arrives on Saturday of Labor Day Weekend, and you find yourself one of the unfortunate few who must be sacrificed so your club can reach the mandatory 53-man limit.
"It's the NFL. It's a tough time of year," running back James White acknowledged.
He was virtually assured of a spot on New England's 53, given the circumstances surrounding his position (lack of depth, injuries), but that isn't the case for every player.
Rookie lineman Ted Karras was among the Patriots 2016 draft class, but even that wasn't a guarantee that he'd make the squad. He conceded that "it's been a tough month" of preseason games and training camp, so he spent this past Saturday trying to take his mind of the 4 p.m. deadline as best he could.
"I had some family out here, just spent time with them. Walked around Boston a little bit," he revealed. "It's a great honor [making the team]. I'm excited, ready to roll and do whatever I can to help the team. I don't think I'm going to change much about what I'm doing. Just every day come in and work hard."
Even for established veterans like special teams co-captain Matthew Slater, surviving final cuts is never something to be taken for granted.
"So many people have this dream and so few get to live it," Slater remarked. "I just thank the Lord for another season."
For the first time in his pro career, wide receiver Chris Hogan was assured of a job. He inked a lucrative free agent deal with the Patriots this offseason after four previous tenuous seasons in Buffalo. He laughed out loud recalling how he spent this year's cut-down date.
"I slept. I couldn't say that for four years. I usually don't sleep and I usually just kind of stare at my phone [on cut-down weekend]. But this is a tough day for a lot of guys," Hogan admitted, "and I've been there. I know what these guys are feeling. They put a lot of time and effort into this. This is their job, this is their life. Being cut, it's tough, but for those guys who didn't make the team, my message to them is just keep grinding and keep working hard, and whatever opportunity you get next, just take advantage of it."
For those 53 who remain with New England – plus the forthcoming 10 who will comprise the practice squad – there's little time to mourn those who are no longer with the team, friends though many of them might still be. The next week is all about focusing with utmost intensity of the regular season opener against the Cardinals in Arizona. The game will be broadcast nationally on Sunday night and there are precious few days until the Patriots depart for the Valley of the Sun.
"Yeah, definitely. This is what counts now," Hogan continued. "Preseason, camp, you're putting in your work, learning the offense, trying to get to know guys. That's what that's for, but now we kick it up a notch. The sense of urgency goes up. This is the regular season now. This counts. These games mean everything. We're going to be ready to prepare and get ready for this game. I'm anxious to start prepping for Arizona. I hope this week flies by. It's going to be Sunday night before we know it."
"It's a big change. The preparation changes. The focus changes," Slater added. "Obviously, come Sundays, the speed of the game changes and what's at stake changes. It's night and day from the preseason. We veterans understand that and hopefully get the young guys to understand that as well."
"Everybody's excited. It's a great challenge for us in the Cardinals," echoed White. "Have to have a good week of practice. They're a great team. We have to be prepared."
"Super exciting," Karras emphasized. "We get to go down to Arizona on Sunday and I'm really looking forward to it. It's going to be fun."
For Now, No Ninko or Brady
Two important players who won't be with the Patriots for the next month were conspicuous in their absence from the team's locker room Sunday. QB Tom Brady and DE Rob Ninkovich, both returning co-captains, are serving four-game NFL suspensions, Brady for his alleged role in the so-called Deflategate fiasco and Ninkovich for consuming a banned performance-enhancing substance. Ninko expressed his remorse two days ago, when the news of his suspension became public, saying his actions were unintentional.
"Rob's a good friend of mine," declared Slater, who called the incident unfortunate. "He and I talked about that situation. I understand what happened. I love Rob. He's been a great friend to me and my family, so, I support him as best I can."
Meanwhile, the Patriots, in a show of support for their franchise quarterback, have decorated two sides of the iconic lighthouse at Gillette Stadium with large photos of Brady.
"It's pretty cool that we have that banner, I just saw that," smiled WR Julian Edelman, a close friend of Brady. "Not going to lie, it's like one of your buddies going to jail. It's one of those types of things. The whole situation is unfortunate, but it's happened. We've got to move on. We love him to death. On the field, off the field, he's been a great help in my life. But we've got to deal with the situation and right now the situation is thinking about the Arizona Cardinals and who's going to be out there to go out and play against these guys."
Comings and Goings
Head coach Bill Belichick noted that this was an especially difficult year for him and his staff to let players go, given the quality depth in so many areas of the roster.
"That would be a fair characterization. I think overall our depth was good in camp and I think we had quite a few players beyond the 53 that will play in the league this year whether it's for us or somebody else eventually after things get sorted out.
"I really think that the roster settling takes place in October," Belichick asserted. "There is a long way to go and there are a lot of things to sort out on every team and certainly our team. We'll just see where it all turns out, but there are plenty of players that aren't on our roster that are good football players."
He was proven right by the NFL's transaction wire, which showed Sunday that a trio of Patriots has new addresses. Second-year cornerback Darryl Roberts was claimed off waivers by New England's AFC rivals, the New York Jets, rookie corner Cre'von LeBlanc by the Chicago Bears, and rookie linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill Eagles.
All three players still had in-tact lockers and nameplates in the Patriots locker room as of Sunday afternoon, presumably with the hope that they'd clear waivers and be signed to New England's practice squad. The Patriots, meanwhile, apparently claimed no one off waivers this weekend, which is unusual in Belichick's tenure as head coach here. However, according to ESPN, the Patriots have inked former Titans RB Bishop Sankey to their practice squad. Sankey, a 2014 second-round pick of Tennessee, cleared waivers and was free to sign with anyone.
Elsewhere, RB Tyler Gaffney and LB Kevin Snyder passed unclaimed through the waiver wire and are now on New England's injured reserve list. For Gaffney, who injured his right foot in the preseason finale at the New York Giants, this marks the third straight season he has wound up on that list. Snyder was also injured in that game.
Slater Contract Extension
Making the roster was just one reason Slater had reason to express gratitude Sunday. Last week, New England extended his contract by a year, giving him job and financial security through the 2017 season.
"The good Lord has really shown me a lot of favor here," a genuinely moved Slater commented. "At times, it's really been hard for me to take in and understand, but I'm so appreciative of the belief they've had in me as a player – Coach Belichick, [owner Robert] Kraft, the whole organization over my time here. I'm very humbled to have that opportunity and very thankful. I've never believed in self-made men. I know that I'm not a self-made man. There are a lot of people who've supported me along the way, important in my life and my career, who've enabled me to stand where I stand today. I'm very thankful."
The Patriots suited up for practice at 4 p.m. today. Only two players did not join the rest of the squad: TE Rob Gronkowski and LB Barkevious Mingo. The latter was spotted briefly in the locker room earlier in the day. Gronkowski, meanwhile, has been a limited participant in recent practices after suffering a lower body injury during joint practices with the Chicago Bears last month. He also did not appear in any preseason games this summer.
Elsewhere at practice, veteran defensive lineman Anthony Johnson is now wearing jersey number 96, previously owned by Terrance Knighton. Johnson was 65 during training camp and the preseason.
It also appears as if the Patriots have signed a half-dozen players to the 10-man practice squad: veteran LB Rufus Johnson, OL Chris Barker, DE Geneo Grissom, rookie WR Devin Lucien, rookie DL Woodrow Hamilton, and an offensive lineman wearing jersey number 72.
Monday will be an off-day from on-field work for the Patriots, but the club will be back in action Tuesday through Friday before departing for the Phoenix area.