When the Minnesota Vikings made Austin Cutting, a long snapper from the Air Force Academy, their final pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, it made a lot of people scratch their heads, and not just because the team had used a draft selection on a long snapper.
Generally, players that attend the service academies (West Point, the Naval Academy, and the Air Force Academy) are committed to at least two years of active duty service upon their graduation, and can then serve the remainder of their time in the reserves.
In a story by Chris Tomasson in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, he points out the story of Joe Cardona, another long snapper. Cardona attended the Naval Academy and was drafted by the Patriots in 2015. Keenan Reynolds, a quarterback from Navy, was drafted by the Baltimore Ravens in the 2016 NFL Draft as well. Both of those players received waivers and were able to report to their teams immediately, fulfilling their service commitment by joining the Naval Reserve.
However, that was before a change to Department of Defense policy that was enacted in May of 2017 that rescinded the policy that allowed the service academies to decide whether or not to waive the active duty requirement on a case-by-case basis. This affected at least a couple of Air Force Academy players that year, including wide receiver Jalen Robinette, the leading receiver in AFA history who was expected to be a mid-round draft choice in that 2017 NFL Draft.
When asked about the issue in a post-draft press conference, Vikings’ GM Rick Spielman made this comment about the issue:
“We’ve been in constant communication with the Air Force Academy,’’ Spielman said. “What I can tell you is I know Austin is very excited and obligated to serve his commitment. I know talking with the people at the Academy, we’re working through right now ways that he can serve his commitment but also be able to serve his capacity here as a football player.’’
On one hand, given the policy and its application in the not-so-distant past, it’s understandable that people are skeptical about whether or not Austin Cutting will be able to take the field for the Minnesota Vikings in 2019. (Or in 2020, for that matter.) On the other hand, I find it damn near impossible to believe that Rick Spielman would use a draft pick, even a low seventh-rounder, on a player that he didn’t think was going to be able to come in and play for the Vikings as soon as possible.
Since we’re now getting to the point of the offseason where there isn’t going to be a whole lot happening for a while, this is something that we’ll definitely be keeping our eye on.