Outlasting 'The Grim Reaper' on Redskins' Cut-Down Day

By Mike Wise
Tuesday, September 1, 2009

To get through cut-down day two years ago, Marcus Mason kept reciting what Rock Cartwright told him: "No call is a good call. No call is a good call."

Two releases and three practice squads later, Mason has yet to take a handoff in an NFL regular season game. Georgetown Prep's own, who once ran for more yards than any running back in the history of Maryland high school football, has a fool-proof plan this season to ensure he makes Washington's 53-man roster.

"I'm turning off my phone this year," Mason said. "I'm not checking the messages either. I'm just going to show up the next day and see what happens."

If they scorn him again, the least the Redskins can do is explain, face to face, why they think he isn't regular season material.

Really, worst mistake anyone could make this week is walk up to a 25-year-old player, forever on the bubble of making an NFL roster for the first time, and start in with the tired line, "The most meaningless game of the year is the last preseason game."

To Mason, Dominique Dorsey and Anthony Alridge, who must deal with a numbers game at running back, Thursday night in Jacksonville is everything. To Shaun Suisham and Dave Rayner, two players come out of the stadium tunnel; only one place kicker emerges with a job. Is Mike Williams considered offensive line depth? Or is he done?

"People always say, 'That game doesn't mean nothing,' " Mason said. "But for a young guy, that's your make-or-break game. For the young guy, that's our Super Bowl. I actually tell my family and friends that."

If he makes it -- and there are real concerns he might not because of pass-blocking deficiencies -- Mason's $80,000 practice-squad salary would suddenly be upgraded to the NFL veteran minimum of $285,000. What's more, he wouldn't have to deal with what he calls "The Grim Reaper," a team's annual dispenser of bad news, who inform players on roster trim-down day, simply, "Coach wants to see you. Bring your playbook."

Today, that guy is Matt Applebaum, the Redskins' second-year college scouting assistant. Thirty-odd years ago, long before he was an architect of a Super Bowl team, Charley Casserly had the thankless job.

"The Turk -- that's who they call them," said Casserly, the team's former general manager and now an NFL analyst. "And back then there were 120 guys in camp, so there were a lot of knocks on the door. For the most part, they know it's coming. But every now and then . . . "

Every now and then, there was a Jesse Freitas, the former San Diego State quarterback who refused to leave the dorm in Dickinson College after Casserly told him he was cut.

"We had to call the police," Casserly said. "We had just scrimmaged the Eagles, and he actually called [Dick] Vermeil and says to Vermeil, 'I'm better than [Ron] Jaworski.' Then he called up the Cleveland coach, Sam Rutigliano, and said he was going to give the Browns the game plan. I think we played them that Monday night. The Browns actually flew him out there. Yeah, old Jesse Freitas."

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