Air Force has a chance to place multiple players on active NFL rosters this season, and Austin Cutting could be among them.
The Minnesota Vikings drafted Cutting, a senior long snapper, in the seventh round Saturday, making him the first Falcons player taken in the NFL draft since Bryce Fisher 20 years ago.
They drafted him knowing he would have to fulfill at least 24 months of his five-year military commitment, but there’s a chance he can serve and play concurrently.
There’s recent precedent for a service academy long snapper to immediately play in the NFL after graduation, as Navy’s Joe Cardona was able to do it for the New England Patriots. Cardona was stationed at the U.S. Naval Preparatory Academy in Newport, R.I., just an hour away from New England’s headquarters. Since long snapping doesn’t require the time commitment of an offensive or defensive player, Cardona was able to moonlight with the Patriots and won a pair of Super Bowl rings .
Cutting, who is slated to report as an acquisitions officer to Moody Air Force Base in Georgia after graduation, could potentially find a similar arrangement if the Air Force were able to place him as a second lieutenant at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport Air Reserve Base. The base is home to 1,300 reservists, including about 250 full-time personnel.
No one from Air Force or connected with Cutting has confirmed that the Minnesota base would be a possibility.
“It’s a dream come true to have the opportunity to play in the NFL,” said Cutting, who issued a statement in lieu of an interview with The Gazette. “I look forward to getting there and spending as much time during my postgraduate leave as possible to begin workouts and get to know people in the organization.
“I’m also looking forward to graduation from the academy and to begin my career in the Air Force. I came to the academy to serve my country and look forward to continuing that. If there is a way to have the opportunity to do both, like the many others that have preceded me in playing and serving, that would be the ultimate situation.”
The Vikings, who said Cutting was the top long snapper on their board, are working to find a way to get him on the field as soon as possible.
“We’ve been in constant communication with the Air Force Academy,” general manager Chris Spielman told the St. Paul Pioneer-Press. “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.”
Cutting isn’t the only Air Force grad entering the next few months with the possibility of making a roster.
Guard Ben Garland, recently released by the Atlanta Falcons, signed as a free agent with the San Francisco 49ers.
Tight end Garrett Griffin was re-signed by the New Orleans Saints. Griffin spent most of the past three years on the Saints’ practice squad before being activated in the playoffs and catching his first touchdown pass in the NFC Championship Game.
Safety Weston Steelhammer has a rookie minicamp invitation from Philadelphia .
Defensive end/outside linebacker Ryan Watson will attend minicamp with the Detroit Lions, as the 2017 graduate has completed two years on active duty. Wide receiver Jalen Robinette hasn’t responded to inquiries about potential invitations.
Versatile defender Jacob Onyechi — who attended three minicamps while on active duty — remains hopeful he’ll land an opportunity now that he’s free to pursue it, but told The Gazette that no teams have reached out at this point.