Roller coaster for Zack Pianalto
blog by Ben Tsujimoto • September 06, 2011 @ 9:36am
Put yourself in Zack Pianalto’s shoes for a moment. You’re an undrafted free agent that signs with Buffalo in late July, fighting long odds for a roster spot. Because NFL teams passed over you several times in the April draft, you’re viewed as a “camp body,” someone that receives valuable experience in an NFL practice environment before you’re unceremoniously waived or released at the NFL’s roster cut-down. Life as a “camp body” is far from stable.
After a preseason in which the former Tar Heel tight end caught six passes for 59 yards, Pianalto initially survived the Bills’ roster purge on Saturday afternoon, beating out Shawn Nelson and Mike Caussin for the #3 spot on the depth chart. A sigh of relief would ensue, you’d think. After all, Pianalto was one of 61 undrafted rookies league-wide to make an NFL roster (an unexpectedly high number given the preparation time lost due to lockout). By our count, each NFL team signs between 15 and 20 UDFAs before camp, meaning that there are roughly 550 across the league.
So, through Pianalto’s diligence, he beat the 9:1 odds of making the team as an undrafted free agent. Twenty-four hours after the 53-man rosters had been determined, though, the Bills waived Pianalto to make room for Lee Smith, a 5th round pick in the 2011 draft who’d just been cut by the New England Patriots. Now, Pianalto finds himself in Tampa Bay, claimed off waivers by the Buccaneers. He’ll have to learn a new playbook, meet new teammates and make a first impression all over again.
A business parallel: earning a promotion at work before being reassigned to a branch across the country just days later. Think how life-altering such a change would be.
While the NFL’s detractors bemoan the luxurious lifestyle of professional athletes—a legitimate criticism—it’s worth noting that there’s a push-and-pull, a daily battle for some NFLers.