SALT LAKE CITY — The novel coronavirus pandemic has caused disruptions throughout life in 2020, including for Utahns trying to make the NFL as rookies this year.
None of the 15 local rookies who signed with teams as undrafted free agents this offseason made the initial 53-man active rosters for NFL teams, and that included a pair of former University of Utah standouts who played key roles in the Utes’ 2019 season: quarterback Tyler Huntley and linebacker Francis Bernard.
NFL teams had to cut their active rosters from their offseason limit of 80 players down to 53 by Saturday at 2 p.m. MDT for their initial regular-season active roster. All totaled, 19 players with Utah ties were either released or waived on Saturday, as teams across the league made moves.
Among those 19, former Utes kicker Matt Gay’s release by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers became official Saturday, one day after reports he would be waived by the Bucs. The former Orem High and UVU soccer player was a fifth-round 2019 draft pick by Tampa Bay and was the team’s starting kicker last season.
Former BYU defenders — and brothers — Bronson Kaufusi and Corbin Kaufusi were also waived by the New York Jets, after both ended the 2019 season on the practice squad for the team. Both players have since moved to the offensive side in New York, Bronson to tight end and Corbin to the offensive line.
None of the nine locals who are rookies this year and were draft picks back in April were cut, however. There are 49 total Utah ties on initial regular-season rosters through Saturday, though that could change as NFL teams make waiver moves over the next few days.
Among them is Alex Smith, the former Ute quarterback who is trying to return to the field after suffering a gruesome leg injury that required extensive recovery. He is one of three quarterbacks on the Washington Football Team’s active roster after Saturday’s moves.
Players who clear waivers may be added to a team’s practice squad beginning Sunday. Teams are allowed to add as many as 16 players to their practice squads this season — the league’s new collective bargaining agreement includes a bump to 12 players (from 10) on a team’s practice squad, though that number was increased to 16 this year because of COVID-19.
Huntley, who was released by the Baltimore Ravens, would appear to be a strong candidate to be added to Baltimore’s practice squad if he clears waivers. “If the Ravens feel like they have a much better chance of sneaking Tyler Huntley through waivers and onto the practice squad than they do with Trace McSorley, then I’d expect that to factor somewhat in the decision,” The Athletic’s Jeff Zrebiec wrote Thursday in a cutdown day primer.
The Dallas Morning News’ Michael Gehlken, who first reported Bernard’s release by the Dallas Cowboys, called the move a surprise.
“Been belief he’d done enough to make 53-man roster; picked up playbook quickly, produced standout moments in camp. Likely came down to special teams. Dallas wants on practice squad but has to clear waivers first,” Gehlken said on Twitter.
Huntley was a first-team All-Pac-12 quarterback honoree last season and had a 23-10 record as starting quarterback for the Utes. He threw for 7,351 yards and 46 touchdowns with 20 interceptions at Utah, while also rushing for 1,146 yards and 16 touchdowns.
He was one of four quarterbacks on Baltimore’s roster during training camp, along with reigning NFL MVP Lamar Jackson, veteran backup Robert Griffin III and McSorley, a second-year pro. In early August, Ravens head coach Jim Harbaugh said the plan was to keep three quarterbacks on the active roster.
"That's the plan, we'll have to see how it shakes out."— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) August 7, 2020
Coach Harbaugh on carrying three QBs: pic.twitter.com/AGsG6VrP1M
The battle during camp for the third quarterback spot came down to Huntley and McSorley. “We like them both. We like all four of our guys,” Harbaugh said earlier this week, according to the Baltimore Sun’s Jonas Shaffer.
John Harbaugh's not giving up much on the battle for the third QB spot between Trace McSorley and Tyler Huntley: "We like them both. We like all four of our guys."— Jonas Shaffer (@jonas_shaffer) September 1, 2020
Huntley had his moments during training camp, though like so many other undrafted rookie free agents this offseason, including Bernard, he didn’t have the benefit of live-game reps, as the COVID-19 pandemic led to the cancellation of this year’s preseason.
#Ravens practice wrapped up. They were in shorts and shells today. Play of the day came when undrafted rookie QB Tyler Huntley threw a bomb to Marquise Brown for a 54-yard TD. Ball flew at least 50 yards in the air.— Aaron Kasinitz (@AaronKazreports) August 24, 2020
Bernard, who prepped at Herriman High, also earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors with the Utes last season. He started all 14 games at mac linebacker for Utah and was second on the team with 85 tackles in his third season — including a redshirt year in 2017 — at the U. after transferring from BYU.
Bernard stood out in camp for Dallas, and at one point had interceptions on back-to-back days during practice, according to reports.
Bernard embraced the situation of fighting for a roster spot.
“I would say it’s an interesting experience. It brings out the best in you,” he said during a press conference Thursday. “Every single day, you’ve just got to go come out and show what you’ve got. But I like it. I like the fact that I’m looked at as an underdog — a guy on the back end of the roster — because every single day I can fight and show the coaches what I’ve got.”
The full list of Utah ties waived or released Saturday:
- Brian Allen, DB, Utah, by Buffalo Bills
- Jackson Barton, OT, Utah and Brighton High, by Kansas City Chiefs
- Francis Bernard, LB, Utah, BYU and Herriman High, by Dallas Cowboys
- Branden Bowen, OT, Corner Canyon High, by Carolina Panthers
- Tipa Galeai, DE, Utah State, by Green Bay Packers
- Matt Gay, K, Utah and Orem High, by Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- Javelin Guidry, DB, Utah, by New York Jets
- Tyler Huntley, QB, Utah, by Baltimore Ravens
- Bronson Kaufusi, TE, BYU and Timpview High, by New York Jets
- Corbin Kaufusi, OL, BYU and Timpview High, by New York Jets
- Jared Norris, LB, Utah, by Washington Football Team
- Josh Nurse, DB, Utah, by Baltimore Ravens
- Sua Opeta, OG, Weber State and Stansbury High, by Philadelphia Eagles
- Nate Orchard, DE, Utah and Highland High, by Washington Football Team
- Darrin Paulo, OT, Utah, by Denver Broncos
- Noah Togiai, TE, Hunter High, by Philadelphia Eagles
- Andrew Vollert, TE, Weber State, by Indianapolis Colts
- Jonah Williams, DE, Weber State, by Los Angeles Rams
- Ty’Son Williams, RB, BYU, by Baltimore Ravens
Other Utah ties released in the past two months, prior to Saturday:
- Jalen Davis, CB, Utah State, by Arizona Cardinals
- Jordan Devey, OL, Snow College and American Fork High, by Las Vegas Raiders
- Dominik Eberle, K, Utah State, by Las Vegas Raiders
- Aleva Hifo, WR, BYU, by Kansas City Chiefs
- Dayan Lake, DB, BYU and Northridge High, by Los Angeles Rams
- Siaosi Mariner, WR, Utah State and Utah, by Las Vegas Raiders
- Dax Raymond, TE, Utah State and Timpview High, by Pittsburgh Steelers
- Caleb Repp, TE, Utah State and Utah, by Atlanta Falcons
- Pita Taumoepenu, LB, Utah and Timpview High, by Seattle Seahawks