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Mustard is NFL nomad

When his cellphone vibrated last Monday, Chad Mustard still officially was out of work, watching his dollars and looking for his ball as he walked down the fairway at Wellshire Golf Club.

When his cellphone vibrated last Monday, Chad Mustard still officially was out of work, watching his dollars and looking for his ball as he walked down the fairway at Wellshire Golf Club.

"It's 23 bucks for 18 holes and that's the best deal I've found out here," he explained.

Mustard, the veteran tight end whom the Broncos had cut Aug. 30, noticed the call was coming from the team's Dove Valley offices. Although Broncos tight end Tony Scheffler had suffered a pulled muscle the day before against Tampa Bay, Mustard didn't allow himself to get his hopes up.

The last time he did that for a call from the Broncos' offices, it was assistant coach Pat McPherson calling to be social, just to check on how Mustard was doing.

When he answered this time, Mustard heard Broncos assistant general manager Jeff Goodman saying, "Chad, we need you back." So Mustard was back in a Broncos uniform for last Sunday's home game against the Jacksonville Jaguars.


Such is life on the NFL fringe.

"Those guys, they understand the business," Jeff Goodman said. "They understand there are only so many roster spots, and that a lot of what you do on your roster is who's healthy and who's injured. That's why I always tell people that when they're thinking about where they should go in the spring, they should look at a team's history. Do they bring back guys who were in camp, or do they go other places to find guys?

"Coach Shanahan just believes that when we bring in a guy during the season, especially when there's been an injury, the person we bring in -- if we can do it -- needs to be able to have a grasp of what we're trying to accomplish, especially on offense."

Case of job insecurity

Since joining the Cleveland Browns for the 2002 season, Mustard has played 41 NFL regular-season games, caught 12 passes, been waived nine times by three different teams, and learned not to take any of it personally. Not even the four times the Broncos have told him: Hey, about that playbook . . .

Besides, NFL game checks don't bounce.

"I realize that football's been good to me, my family, and my friends, and that it's been a good experience, so why hold the fact that I've been released or cut against someone?" said Mustard, who turned 31 on Oct. 8. "That's going to hold me down and keep me from taking advantage of my next opportunity."

When the good news came this time, Mustard and his wife, Kalli, already had committed to moving out of their Denver area apartment, and were planning on loading up the U-Haul truck and heading back to settle in the home they own in Omaha.


There, Chad was going to submit his applications for high school math teaching jobs in the area, perhaps do some substitute work the rest of the school year, and -- if nothing happened -- accept that his football career was over.

The U-Haul went to Omaha last Thursday. Kalli made the trip alone, then returned to Denver last Friday with her parents, Wayne and Peg Morfeld. When she answered her cellphone while in the U-Haul, she reported that she was "somewhere in central Nebraska."

Asked if the entire experience wasn't a little weird, she laughed and said: "I wish it were a little weirder, but it really isn't that unusual for us. We've done this a time or two before, so we're used to it."

After giving up the apartment, Chad and Kalli instead moved into a hotel. How long they'll stay there depends on Scheffler's recovery, other Broncos injuries, or perhaps whether he makes the coaches decide they must find room for him on the active roster for the foreseeable future.

Mustard, who was hampered by a hamstring problem in training camp and the preseason, returned ready to play.

"I'm in the best condition I've been in since May," he said. "I cut a little bit of weight to take some strain off the hamstring, been lifting four days a week, cardio four to five days a week, walking on the golf course. I'm strong, I feel good."

He also is realistic.

The dreams get downgraded a bit when, as has happened to Mustard, you've been waived four times by the Browns, once by the Carolina Panthers, and four times by the Broncos.


Isn't it enough to make a guy feel unwanted?

"Earlier in my career, it was tougher," he said. "You handle rejection a little harder. Now it's just like, OK, let's get ready for the next phone call."

Humble beginnings

In small-town Columbus, Neb., about 90 miles west of Omaha, Mustard was the son of a truck driver, Don Mustard, and his wife, Pam.

"We didn't have a lot of money, didn't have a lot of things, so I'm thankful for what I've got," Chad said. "I've been given a lot of ability and I'm just trying to take advantage of it."

He attended Scotus Central Catholic High School, mostly on tuition waivers, then turned down an offer to be an "invited" walk-on, or nonscholarship player, at Nebraska.

At the University of North Dakota, he played football and basketball, then entered the NFL revolving door. He was on the Browns' practice squad as a rookie in 2002, then played 17 games for Cleveland in 2003 and '04.

"My career was so iffy, I lived in a hotel there for almost two years," he said.


Mustard was out of football in '05, then joined the Broncos -- well, sort of. He's been waived those four times and now signed five times.

He and Kalli were married three years ago, but were dating for seven years before that.

"She understands the same thing, that football's been good to us, though it's inconvenient at times," he said. "She's an independent person and strong and that helps in all these situations."

Kalli has an accounting degree from Nebraska-Omaha, and she said she also was considering attempting to obtain a teaching certificate and joining Chad in teaching after he's through playing.

"Chad was playing basketball all through college, so a career in the NFL wasn't something I was even thinking about for him," she said. "We realize this is sort of a short-term thing, that this won't last, and I know he's just trying to take advantage of the opportunities he gets and enjoy them."

Mustard suited up and saw special-teams duty when the Broncos played the Jacksonville Jaguars last Sunday. He's hoping for another opportunity when the Broncos meet the Patriots at New England on Monday night. The chances of sticking with the team for the entire season aren't good, but the way the NFL works, getting in the "pool" and proving yourself to be a good guy for team chemistry often leads to opportunities. The Broncos' system of tracking players who are on the street is typical.

"We keep track of it on a daily basis," Goodman said. "We have multiple short lists. Veteran short list, cheap short list, practice squad short list. We keep track daily of who's trying out where, who's getting worked out on a daily basis. We work out players here every week at a different position. It's a continuing process of figuring out who is available and trying to find a symmetry with what your needs are at the time."

And, yes, he did say "cheap."


"Well, when you have cap and cash constraints, do you want a guy who is a 12-year guy or can you deal with a young guy who might be a third of the cost?" Goodman said. "You must have multiple short lists."

The guys on them are all on the fringe -- and on rosters for a week at a time.

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