Coaches hate this week of the preseason. It’s when the business side of football takes over, players who have worked their entire lives for an opportunity have their dreams dashed.

It’s hard.

On a human level, you have to say goodbye to people you’ve been around for months, people you’ve worked with, laughed with, shared meals with, day in and day out. While there is genuine excitement for the season, there is also real sadness.

But amongst all those difficult conversations, there are ones that you’d like to bottle up and replay over and over again. I imagine for Coach Saleh, two of those conversations this week were with undrafted free agents, (UDFAs) Xavier Gipson and Jason Brownlee.

“They called me, I came down and then they tricked me into believing I was gonna get released…[Saleh] said ‘I’m sorry…you made the team’” – Gipson

On 259 occasions during this year’s draft, a team approached the podium with an opportunity to select wide receivers Gipson or Brownlee. On 259 occasions, the teams passed on that opportunity.

If they want to look for further encouragement in their journey, they don’t have to look too far. Allen Lazard, Kenny Yeboah and Irvin Charles all went undrafted at different points and all made the Jets’ initial 53-man roster on offence – Yeboah has since been placed on IR.

Lazard in particular is an example worth trying to replicate. The former Green Bay Packer was a UDFA out of Iowa State in 2018 despite enjoying a productive four years in Ames. He finished his Cyclone career with 241 receptions, 3,360 yards and 26 touchdowns, yet failed to hear his name called over draft weekend.

He was then cut by the Jacksonville Jaguars during his rookie training camp and picked up by the Packers for their practice squad. Eventually, after having to be patient his rookie year, he worked his way up the Green Bay depth chart and finished his time in Wisconsin with a 2022 season that saw him catch 60 balls for 788 yards and 6 touchdowns.

First round picks often get the plaudits and the excitement, but the anatomy of an NFL roster means that your ability to spot talent further down the draft and amongst the pool of UDFAs is what separates some of the good teams from the great ones.

Besides the players mentioned above, the Jets will also carry a number of other UDFAs on the roster. Bryce Huff, Justin Hardee and Tony Adams were all players who failed to find a home through the draft process, and all of those players will play a key role for the Jets in 2023.

“It feels good, we came in together, we played at the NFLPA game together, so we already had a bond and just to make the team with him, knowing all the hard work we put in every day here. Just making sure we’re holding each other accountable at practice and even in the film room, so it feels good to know I’ve got my dog with me and I ain’t gotta go through it by myself” – Brownlee on making the team with Gipson

You don’t have to be a UDFA to be a feel-good story. Speaking to Jets fans, one name continued to come up when I asked about players they wanted to see make the roster.

Chazz Surratt.

Out of high school, Surratt was initially recruited to North Carolina as a quarterback but struggled to find consistency while working through injury. When highly touted QB Sam Howell arrived at Chapel Hill, Surratt had a choice to make, transfer and follow the quarterback dream or switch to defence and play linebacker.

He opted to stay and that decision was validated immediately.

In his first year as a linebacker, he racked up over 100 tackles with 15 for a loss, 6.5 sacks and an interception. The year after that he had 90+ tackles, 6 sacks and an interception.

It’s easy to see why the Minnesota Vikings chose to spend a third-round pick on him in 2021, especially when you add in his lightning-fast 4.59 speed in the 40-yard dash.

Things didn’t work out for Surratt in Minnesota, largely because it was believed he was unsuitable for former defensive coordinator Ed Donatell’s system. The Vikings loss was the Jets gain. Having spent a year on the practice squad getting to grips with the Jeff Ulbrich/Robert Saleh system, Surratt was able to play free and fast this preseason. His interception against Cleveland came to the obvious delight of Coach Saleh.

All of these players are a testament to the phrase ‘it’s not where you start, it’s where you finish’. Their journeys are nowhere near being complete, but they’re certainly on track.