If anybody can attest to the lack of job security in the NFL, it would be Chicago Bears linebacker Jerry Franklin. Currently in his second year in the league, Franklin has already played for four different teams, on three different practice squads, including Chicago's earlier this season.
Franklin seems remarkably calm for a player who has gone through so many transitions in his short career. He said he feels at home in Chicago, despite his lack of familiarity with the Midwest. A native of Sunset, Arkansas, Franklin spent his college career with the Arkansas Razorbacks, leading the team in tackles during his four years and notching two seasons with more than 100 tackles. Although projected to go in the fifth round of the 2012 draft, Franklins was passed over draft weekend, then signed by the Denver Broncos as an undrafted free agent.
"It was a difficult time for me personally," Franklin said this week. "You have your hopes up so high then the phone never rings. Finally Denver did call so I felt a lot better after that happened."
But those good vibes lasted only a few months, as he was cut by the Broncos just before the beginning of the regular season. After several weeks of waiting and hoping for a second chance, the Carolina Panthers contacted Franklin in late October.
"I could breathe again," Franklin said. "I had certainly hoped that my career wasn't over so soon, and luckily, it wasn't. "
But again, Franklin's relief did not last long, as he was cut from the Panthers' practice squad several weeks later. Shortly thereafter, Franklin's phone again rang. This time the Dallas Cowboys were on the line looking for an additional practice squad linebacker.
"I signed right away and headed for Dallas," Franklin said. "At that point my bags were permanently packed."
Unfortunately Franklin's stay in Dallas was brief and he again found himself at home, hoping for the phone to ring.
"Another team, another move, another cut. I was pretty discouraged," he said.
Finally in early December, the Bears came calling and signed Franklin to a two-year deal on Dec. 11. Time to relax? Not quite yet.
"I was released by the Bears on August 30, 2013," Franklin sighed. "This was getting demoralizing. I couldn't catch a break."
Yet Franklin was soon re-signed to the practice squad on Sept. 1. He was elevated to the regular roster on Oct. 18 after starting middle linebacker D.J. Williams was lost for the season. Since then, Franklin's life has stabilized, allowing him to focus on nothing but football. So much so that he recently earned kudos from special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis, who lauded Franklin's abilities.
"I would say a guy who has improved from the start is Jerry Franklin," DeCamillis said. "He has done a good job for us. Hopefully we're getting some young guys who get it. Both of these guys (Franklin and rookie running bck Michael Ford) need to be four phase guys for us, and so far they have done that when they've been active."
Franklin was surprised and relieved to hear DeCamillis' comments but didn't feel quite ready to relax just yet.
"I'm working all of the time to improve, to get better," Franklin said. "I think I bring two things to the table. I'm fast on the field and I'm a fast learner off of the field. I've been through a lot in my short career so I appreciate every opportunity that might come my way. Special teams gives me the chance to go out there and show what I bring. I have versatility and the strong desire to compete. I understand all too well that nothing is a given in the NFL."
In speaking about this week's game against the Baltimore Ravens, Franklin was all business.
"They have an extremely strong special teams unit. They are quick down the field. But I think all the experience with different teams that I've had this far is going to be an advantage for me. Why? Its all about adjustments.
"As a special teams guy you need to be able to do well against whomever you are facing that week. One time it might be a big strong guy. The next week, it could be somebody small and fast who will be going against you. You need to be able to read your opponent and react instantaneously, otherwise you'll get burned. I've seen many different schemes, experienced a variety of opponents. I'm confident that I can make a contribution based on my abilities and on that experience."
Despite his success this year, Franklin still isn't quite ready to completely unpack his suitcase.
"I feel comfortable here with this team," Franklin said. "However, you never know when that phone will ring. A team's needs can change from day to day, hour to hour. I'm just trying to stay positive and to make a positive impact here with the Bears."
Beth Gorr has been covering the Bears for the last 12 years and is the author of Bear Memories: The Chicago-Green Bay Rivalry. She is currently working on a second book about early Bears history.