Browns wide receiver Tori Gurley has lived the up-and-down NFL life.
In his two seasons before coming to Cleveland, Gurley was cut six times and never made it onto the field in a regular-season game. He was with the Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings, Oakland Raiders, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, San Diego Chargers and Baltimore Ravens, mostly bouncing around from practice squad to practice squad.
Then the Browns brought him to camp. Less than a week before the season opener against the Miami Dolphins, Gurley was yet again placed on an NFL practice squad. Then, for the first time, he got lucky. Gurley was signed a couple of days later to the active roster and, much in part thanks to Josh Gordon’s suspension to open the season, was in uniform for the first time in an NFL game that counted. He caught one pass for 15 yards. He was active again for the Browns’ Week 2 game against the Ravens but didn’t show up on the stat sheet.
Since those two weeks in the sun, Gurley has again become the practice squad pinball
He was waived and signed to the practice squad before Week 3 and spent about a month only practicing in Berea. On Oct. 18, he was added to the active roster for the Packers game and then waived afterward. He was unsigned while the Browns played the Kansas City Chiefs on Oct. 27 and was later added to the practice squad — again — on Oct. 30.
His checkbook has been just as inflated and deflated when hearing the good or bad news.
As a part of the active roster, Gurley makes the NFL minimum of $405,000, or $23,823 a week, for a player with no credited seasons, per the NFL Players Association. When he’s on the practice squad, though, his annual salary drops to $102,000 or $6,000 a week.
When Gurley was active for the Browns’ first two games, he received his $23,823 a week. Then he made $6,000 a week for four weeks. Then, for the Packers game, he jumped back up to $23,823. In the week that followed, he went seven days away from the team and was not paid at all. And, finally, he’s been making $6,000 a week since Oct. 30 as a member of the practice squad.
Back and forth, back and forth. So goes the life of the practice squad regular waiting for another chance. Gurley sounds genuine when he says he doesn’t care about his paycheck rising and retreating like the tide.
“It’s better than no paycheck,” Gurley said. “Last year, I was home for eight weeks. I just wanted to be around the guys. It’s fun to get paid but it’s nothing like being in the locker room and having an opportunity to compete and doing what I love to do. I’m blessed and fortunate for everything.”
During his seven days away from the team, Gurley wouldn’t go into too much detail but said he got in a few personal workouts, watched “a lot of TV” and had the chance to spend some extra time with his fiancee, Brie Dixon, who will be finishing up a medical degree at Wake Forest in three months.
A predominant practice squad player relegated to his couch, Gurley never disconnected from the Browns, who he says told him that it was in their plans to bring him back.
Gurley said he texted with running back Willis McGahee and texted often with wide receive Davone Bess, still trading ideas and spurring each other on as they had when Gurley was at his locker.
“Me and Tori, we’re pretty tight. We keep each other going,” Bess said. “He told me he looks up to me and there’s a lot of stuff I look up to him about even though he’s a practice squad player. That’s just life. You can learn from anybody. In life and on the football field.”
Gurley even predicted not only that Bess would bounce back from his disastrous, drop-riddled game against the Chiefs, but how. Gurley knew what Bess needed to do to open some things up for him and the two talked about it on the phone.
“We talked about it in advance,” Gurley said. “We were saying if he can get to the second level and have an opportunity to make a defender miss, he was going to make them miss.”
A week later, against the Ravens, it happened. Bess juked Ravens cornerback Lardarius Webb to the ground to score his second touchdown of the game. And who had been working on that juke move with Bess? None other than the practice squad pinball.
“We worked on it the week before I was cut,” Gurley said. “To see it happen, he called me and was like ‘Big Bro, I finally did it.’ It was cool.”
Bess and Gurley have, in one way or another, taken each other under their respective wings. Gurley said he and Bess often exchange notes during film sessions even though the two have different styles. Gurley even got texts during his week off that it was weird for guys like Bess and McGahee to see his chair empty in the meeting rooms.
It’s not the first time Gurley’s made an impact on a known NFL commodity. His first (and second) stops in the NFL were with the Packers, with whom Gurley worked with quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers won the NFL’s Most Valuable Player Award that year (2011). Gurley spent nearly the entire year on the practice squad.
But the two exchanged personal quotes that each still has to this day. Gurley won’t say what quote Rodgers gave to him but said he keeps it close. The quote that Gurley gave Rodgers, which Gurley wrote, reads, “Strip a man of his dreams and belongings and you will see how determined and focused he can be.”
An MVP Award winner has that quote in his possession. But it couldn’t describe the author any better.
The guy who has been called into the coach’s office to be told he was just sent down to the practice squad over and over again in two and a half seasons. The guy who, when given seven days away from the team, never really left but continued to text his teammates from his couch, offering and receiving advice. The guy who doesn’t mind what his paycheck is week to week.
The guy who only wants the chance to show up and wait for that next day in the sun.
Ryan Lewis can be reached at email@example.com.