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The Byrne Identity: Ozzie: 'It's A Tough Thing To Do'



I mentioned in my previous blog that I could see the hurt in Ozzie Newsome's eyes when he told me he was going to release Derrick Mason, Todd Heap, Kelly Gregg and Willis McGahee.

Last night, I asked Oz, a Hall of Fame tight end who played 13 seasons for the Cleveland Browns, to talk about waiving important players like this quartet. This is what he said:

*"Throughout a player's career, he knows that his playing days are going to end when he is a relatively young man compared to people in other professions. The end of his playing days will come from injury, a trade, or he'll get waived. I lived with that as a player. I know that cloud that always hangs over a player's head. Only a fortunate few will get to retire when they want from the team that originally signed them. Even Jerry Rice got waived. Shannon (Sharpe) is going into the Hall of Fame next week, and he got cut twice – once by Denver, and then we did it to him, and he went back to the Broncos after that.

"Any time you have a conversation with a player telling him that he's being taken off the roster, there is surprise, disappointment and hurt. You have to recognize that when you have that conversation. Sometimes, there's anger, too.

"It's a tough thing to do, but I know it's part of my job. When I first tell the player, I get right to the point. There is no sugarcoating. Most of the time, that first conversation, be it by phone or in person, is short.

"I then try to come back and have a sit-down, face-to-face, man-to-man conversation when I can thank the player for all he has done for us. I explain the 'why' as best as I can.

"With Todd, Derrick, Kelly and Willis, it was nothing about what they are as persons. It wasn't about performance either. They are good players who can still be good players. I explained it's about a system that is part of our rules in the NFL that forces situations like this. And, if I thought the player was done – and I've had to do this – I'm completely honest. They deserve that honesty. It would be unfair to just try to be nice.

"I let the player know that his contribution to the Ravens will never be replaced. It's his. He did this for us – in his way. I ask the player for his thoughts. I try to frame my conversation so that two men can sit with eachother and agree and disagree. In the end, I'm hoping that, five years down the line, we can hug each other out of respect and the mutual memories we have.

"When I first got this job, I eventually had to cut former teammates of mine, who were also friends. Rob Burnett and Anthony Pleasant were the players. I've been able to hug them since.

"With the Ravens we just released, I let them know that I believe they can still help teams win, including us. And, I tried to be as honest as I could about how real that possibility is.

"You asked me, 'how does it feel to do this?' It doesn't feel good. And, because I've done it before, it doesn't get any easier."*

Thanks, Ozzie. Training camp is here. Better days are ahead.

Talk to you soon,

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