Nobody was surprised when it happened, and certainly not the man to whom it happened. Paul Worrilow could read the writing on the Eagles’ locker room wall, and he knew he could be released at any moment.
That moment arrived on Sunday, and now it appears Worrilow’s NFL career is over.
The knee injury that wiped out all of last season and refused to heal in time for this season will probably scare away any team from signing the former Concord High and University of Delaware star. Even though he had a solid NFL career that many players would envy, he was never a superstar that a team would be willing to gamble on.
On the surface, it was pretty cold-blooded. The Eagles coaches raved about how hard Worrilow worked and how inspirational the linebacker was to the other players while he rehabbed, and then they cut him because he wasn’t useful to them anymore. They didn’t exactly snap their fingers and make him disappear, but it was close.
The way it happened underlines the harshness of life in the NFL, unless, of course, you’re one of those superstars. And even an All-Pro can have it all taken away in an instant by an injury – but at least he had something to take away.
The real hard knocks are the ones taken by the fringe players, the undrafted rookies and waiver wire survivors. They’re the ones who, like Worrilow, realize that they are just roster fodder until someone bigger or faster – or healthier – comes along.
Those players, mostly young ones, are on the team simply to fill a spot during training camp and the odds of them winning a permanent roster spot are slim, no matter how many times they watch Invincible.
Nobody really hides that fact. When Buddy Ryan was coach of the Eagles, one of the beat reporters asked him about a local kid, a wide receiver who signed as an undrafted free agent. The reporter’s question was: “Buddy, what role do you see John Doe playing with the Eagles?” Buddy just looked at him for a second and then said in his Oklahoma drawl “Legs.”
That’s all this eager, big-eyed kid was to the Eagles – a fresh pair of training camp legs to rest the players who will actually make the team.
Of course, every once in awhile, one of those kids impresses the coaches enough to make the team, and that’s what somebody like Alex Ellis is hoping for. Ellis also has a Delaware connection – he played at Delmar High before going to Tennessee – and he plays a position where the Eagles might have the most talent in the NFL – tight end.
Ahead of him on the depth chart are All-Pro Zach Ertz, rising star Dallas Goedert and talented Richard Rogers, and Ellis also faces competition from some other young tight ends like Joshua Perkins and Will Tye.
But to show how fickle life is in the NFL – whereas an injury ended Worrilow’s time with the Eagles, other injuries could prolong Ellis’. Goedert and Rogers are presently sidelined by injuries and the Eagles aren’t going to risk Ertz getting hurt, so that gives Ellis many more opportunities to show his stuff than he would have if all the tight ends were healthy. And he’s been impressive in camp, coming up with several nice catches. Now he needs to shine in the final two preseason games, because even if doesn’t make the Eagles’ roster, there are 31 other NFL teams out there and one of them may be looking for a tight end.
So, for somebody like Alex Ellis, these “meaningless” preseason games and practice sessions are really job interviews. Sadly, most of the young hopefuls won’t get the job, so they’ll try to hook on with another team, and even if they do, that position will also be precarious since, as they’ve already learned, they can be replaced in a heartbeat.
Those are the guys I feel sorry for, the players who just aren’t quite good enough for the NFL no matter how hard and how long they try. I remember when John Elway was trying to win a Super Bowl in Denver after coming close several times and somebody said he hoped Elway would win that elusive ring because he felt sorry for him. Feel sorry for a millionaire, future Hall-of-Famer? Sorry, but the guy I felt for was the young player who worked his tail off in the off-season and training camp trying to achieve his dream of playing in the NFL and then was told he’s not good enough.
But I don’t feel sorry for Paul Worrilow, even though he certainly worked his tail off to get back on the field and failed. He had a terrific NFL career, especially when you consider that a player with his background shouldn’t have an NFL career at all. He wasn’t recruited out of high school and he wasn’t drafted after college, but he spent six seasons on an NFL roster, mostly as a starter in Atlanta, and that ain’t bad.