On Tuesday, August 31st, 864 NFL dreams will be extinguished.

The league-wide cutdown day for teams to trim their rosters from 80 to 53 players looms just a few days after the final preseason game of the 2021 season. Beyond those players cut Tuesday, 320 others have already seen their dreams dashed thanks to prior cutdown deadlines in the past few weeks. 

With their professional fate hanging in the balance, many players on the gridiron will be fighting to keep their dream alive this weekend. But mathematically, only so many will succeed.

A gloomy start to this article, I know. But hear me out because there’s a point to be made here, one that isn’t made enough.

This final preseason game — hell, every preseason game, every training camp practice before the real games start — matters. While many players are cut in the days after this final game, some keep the dream alive for at least a while longer.

Many of you will remember this, but back during the Hall of Fame game several weeks ago; there was a Tweet from a blue checkmark floating around that garnered a lot of attention:

I won’t beat the proverbial dead horse, but this tweet was many things. 

Belittling. Arrogant. Tasteless.

And it essentially undermined itself because what makes the preseason so important is exactly what the tweet points out — that many of the men suited up on that field don’t have an easy path onto a 53-man roster. The Hall of Fame game, the obligatory “dress rehearsal game,” and every preseason game — while certainly not the best in terms of play quality — are all absolutely crucial because even if these players don’t stick on their current team, they’re putting our film that serves as an audition for the 31 other teams in the league.

My favorite response to the aforementioned tweet captures this last point and is from Mike Golic:

Every team around the league this weekend will play their final preseason game. The final score will have zero bearings on how the regular season goes, and in many cases, starters won’t even suit up. 

But for the players who do suit up?

This is their Super Bowl. 

The Miami Dolphins have several examples of this — bubble players fighting to survive and will have nothing guaranteed to them even if they make the 53. To them, to their families, to their friends, this game means everything. 

Malcolm Perry was drafted by Miami in the 7th round of the 2020 NFL Draft. The team traded up in the final frame to snag the shifty, elusive quarterback-turned-receiver from Navy, who is now also a member of the Marine Corps. He’s an incredibly talented player, but he comes from a smaller program and joins the team by a cheap draft pick. The team also beefed up the wide receiver room in a major way this offseason, the position he’s spent most of his time at in South Beach.

Do you think his spot is secure?

Far from it. He’s playing to stick this weekend.

Linebacker Sam Eguavoen, a fan favorite now if he wasn’t before his heroic four-sack performance last week, is likely to make the team but isn’t written in stone. 

His path to the NFL was even more circuitous than Perry’s. 

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Eguavoen was a three-star recruit out of high school but went undrafted in the 2015 NFL Draft after playing collegiately at Texas Tech. He then ventured north to the CFL and played three seasons for the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Like the great Cameron Wake, Eguavoen had garnered interest from NFL teams and signed with the Dolphins in January of 2019. 

His timing was impeccable, as the team was in the throes of its rebuild and spots all over the roster were up for grabs. However, in his third season with Miami, the roster has been almost completely turned over since his arrival. The linebacker room is much improved from 2019, making Eguavoen’s path to the roster more difficult than before.

However, with his performance in the Falcons game last weekend, the CFL product likely cemented his place on the team.

Without the preseason, Eguavoen doesn’t ever rack up four sacks and a safety in an NFL game and probably doesn’t make the team. 

Linebacker Shaquem Griffin is a player many fans know, but his name value alone won’t get him on the team. He’s no stranger, however, to adversity.

At the age of four, Griffin had his left hand amputated due to amniotic band syndrome but was still rated as a three-star recruit coming out of high school. He spent four years playing at UCF, including his senior season when the team went undefeated. 

Griffin has now been in the league since the 2018 Draft when the Seahawks selected him in the fifth round, but he may be an outside shot to make the roster in a talented Dolphins linebacker room. Eguavoen’s gain from last weekend’s preseason game was likely Griffin’s loss. 

As he has for his entire football career, Griffin will be out to beat the odds in the final preseason game.

Finally, Kirk Merrit is a great example of a player who, whether he makes the team or not, needs to play well this weekend to stick on another team’s roster. The Arkansas State Red Wolves Product went undrafted in 2020 and was actually released at this time last year, but the Dolphins managed to stash him on the practice squad and elevate him several times in the 2020 season. 

Headed into the final preseason game, Merritt racked up 3 catches for 34 yards last week against the Falcons and has been generally impressive in camp. However, the crowded receiver room leaves his odds of making the 53 somewhat slim, just like with Perry.

However, Merritt is undeniably a talented young player and could certainly be given a chance to earn a role on a team needier for pass-catchers. Same as for Griffin, Perry, and Eguavoen, this game looms large for Merritt as he seeks to stick with Miami or at least make a case to latch on elsewhere and keep his NFL dreams alive. 

Aside from these Dolphins players, athletes around the league are dealing with the pressure of using this weekend to make their final case for a roster spot. For many, a nightmare will be realized come cutdown day on Tuesday. For some, the dream will endure. 

As you watch the final round of preseason games before the regular season gets underway, take a page out of Mike Golic’s book. Realize that while starters may not suit up and the quality of play may not be at a Super Bowl level, the level of effort — and the height of the stakes — will be for many. 

That’s what makes the preseason so crucial — the dreams that are on the line, and the nightmare that players fight to stave off as cutdown day looms.

(Thanks for reading! For more content give me a follow on Twitter @EvanMorris72)