Bears inside linebacker John Timu knows the stress of this weekend on NFL players as well as anyone.
By 4 p.m. EDT Saturday, as many as 1,184 NFL players will lose their jobs as teams cut their 90-man training camp rosters to the regular-season limit of 53.
Some of this weekend's cuts will fall into a practice-squad safety net, as Timu has in years past. Some will latch on with other teams. But others will find themselves in early retirement, the newest examples of how quickly an NFL career can come and go.
The NFL Players Association said that over the last seven years the average career length of players who had accrued seasons - being on a roster for six games in a given year - was 3.3 years. The NFL has argued that average career length is better represented by the six-year average for rookies who make teams' opening weekend rosters.
Most around the NFL can recite similar numbers, but actually planning for such a reality is more difficult for players whose main concern is not being released this weekend.
"Especially when you're on the bubble, you want to focus on making sure you become a Chicago Bear, (or) whatever team you are," Timu said. "Everybody tries to make your sole focus on that. ... It's hard to tell somebody whose lifelong dream is to be in the NFL, 'Hey, they have different programs to be successful in life after football.' Because everybody is so locked in."
Robert W. Turner II, an assistant professor in the George Washington medical school's Department of Clinical Research and Leadership, spent eight years interacting with more than 140 football players in all stages of their careers to write his new book, "Not for Long: The Life and Career of the NFL Athlete."
Some players simply can't comprehend such a short career is in store for them, he said.
"We have to remember there's something about young people that is the same throughout generations across time," Turner said. "They think they're invincible and whatever has happened to everybody else is not going to happen to me, and so I'm the exception to the rule."
There are exceptions, but most players will have a tough time sticking around the league beyond age 30.
LaMar Campbell knows what NFL players are going through this weekend.
He played defensive back for the Lions from 1998-2002, and on the day the organization released him, he asked for another job.
The strategy worked. The Lions gave him an internship and his first taste of a front-office career. Now the Bears director of player engagement, Campbell's task is to help players plan for life beyond the game, from financial strategies to career development, in case retirement comes sooner than expected.
"To be honest, I think they know, but do they also believe they can defy odds?" Campbell said. "I believe that as well, because they have been doing it their entire lives."
The odds are reflected in players' ages.
On NFL kickoff weekend in 2017, about 14 percent of players were 30 or older. The rebuilding Bears have only three such players now.
At 31 and in his 10th NFL season, backup quarterback Chase Daniel is the oldest and most experienced. Defensive back and special teams stalwart Sherrick McManis and long snapper Patrick Scales are 30, and McManis' eight years of experience are the second-most on the team.
"You hear about the average, and it's kind of frightening in a sense when you're coming out of college because if you put three years after 21, you're only 24 years old and you have literally the rest of your life ahead of you," said Bears tight end Trey Burton, who was undrafted out of Florida and is starting his fifth season. "I was definitely a little bit afraid of that. I didn't just want to be another statistic."
Any conversation about the short shelf life has to begin with the brutality of the game.
The NFL's 2017 Health and Safety Report tracked 244 concussions, 56 ACL tears and 143 MCL tears in the 2016 preseason and regular season. The daily wear on players' bodies can affect careers significantly, especially those of aging veterans. That's not to mention the most serious injuries, which can derail a career trajectory, such as Bears tight end Zach Miller's catastrophic leg injury last year.
Bears offensive lineman Eric Kush believes it's better not to ponder such possibilities.
"You can't worry about getting hurt because that's how you get hurt or that's how you get cut, because you're playing safe," said Kush, who missed last year with a torn hamstring.
Money, of course, is another major factor.
Turner, who played professionally in three leagues, notes that the cheap labor younger players provide often works against veterans, who are owed more via the NFL wage scale. A rookie has a minimum salary of $480,000 in 2018, while a veteran with seven to nine years of experience makes a minimum of $915,000. (Some players can qualify for veteran minimum benefits, which allow them to count for less money against the salary cap.)
Turner argues roster turnover benefits the owners, agents and players association.
"The structure of football is designed obsolescence as far as the athlete is concerned," Turner said. "Your body will only last for so long, so we'll only pay you for that use value and that's it."
Bears cornerback Prince Amukamara was the Giants' first-round pick in 2011. He has overcome a few injuries, including a fractured foot and a torn biceps, to put together an eight-year career thus far, but his stay in the NFL isn't really surprising given his talent.
He still has taken conscious steps to prolong it.
Early in his career with the Giants Amukamara tried to mimic veterans' recovery routines, how they worked out, ate, stretched, used the hot and cold tubs and utilized massages and acupuncture. Now, at 29, he's serious about such methods.
Amukamara tries to eat organic and locally sourced foods, which can make it difficult when his wife wants to eat out. And while he calls himself "a very cheap guy," he splurges when it comes to health, a possibility since he long has been financially secure.
"Look at it like an investment," Amukamara said. "You're investing in your body. Sometimes those things are priceless. If I have to get a two-hour massage that costs us $200-300 every day, so be it."
For those who don't have first-round pedigree like Amukamara, career forethought means embracing the roles that will keep them in the league the longest.
Burton converted from quarterback to play several other offensive positions at Florida because that would keep him on the field. Kush, a center at California (Pa.), learned to play guard to stick around longer. He played with five teams in 2015 - "a year of going where I was needed," he said - but now is competing for a starting spot at left guard with the Bears.
McManis has played in 107 games - and started just five of them. His is a lesson for any young player who wants to shirk special teams duties.
"Everybody is so used to being superstars in college, and coming to the NFL, you still can be a superstar, but you might have to switch your focus at times," McManis said. "... A lot of people don't want to do special teams. When you have the mindset to embrace it, you can not only survive in this league, you can thrive in this league."
Daniel, a Heisman Trophy finalist at Missouri, was an undrafted free agent, signed with the Redskins and was cut in 2009. He then joined the Saints later that season and began trying to mirror the work that quarterback Drew Brees put in. He has started just two games and attempted 78 regular-season passes, but he earned about $24 million before coming to the Bears. He knows there's value beyond game performance.
"There are a lot of other factors that go into it - your work ethic, how well you pick up a playbook," Daniel said. "You're not always the tallest, you're not always going to be the fastest, but you might be the hardest worker. You might bring a leadership aspect the team needs."
Daniel's prior knowledge of coach Matt Nagy's system and his mentorship of second-year quarterback Mitch Trubisky are major reasons he's in Chicago. Team circumstances can help pave the way for a longer stay or an early exit, and he has tried to make decisions where the fit can keep him around.
"The outside audience might just think I just want to go there to make money," Daniel said. "Sometimes it's like that, but a lot of times, if you're in a situation where you really can't succeed - maybe they don't have the perfect offense that fits your skill set or they're really low on offensive linemen or they're just not a good team - it's hard to make a decision to go there because if you play and play really bad, your career is over. You definitely have to be picky on it."
Campbell said cuts weekend is "not easy" but he does what he can to direct the released players either to pursue positions with new teams or realize there can be more to their lives than what they do on the field.
"You don't have to play in the NFL to be great," Campbell said. "You can go to Wall Street and be great. You can go into construction and be great. You can go into marketing and be great. There are other ways you can chase those dreams you have, outside of football. So it's making sure they're motivated, that they don't question their worth and who they are as people."
One of Campbell's tasks throughout the year is to help players understand the financial obstacles that come with post-NFL life, including the cost of healthcare. The NFL provides healthcare for five years after eligible players' careers and has funds set up for various other ailments, but Campbell pointed to the pre-existing conditions that come with decades of playing football. Medical bills can be a cause of financial distress for former players, he said.
Beyond stretching their football earnings as long as they can, players often struggle to find a purpose after spending so much of their lives focused on football, Turner said. And so Campbell tries to zero in on players' interests through casual conversations and then direct them to corresponding NFL and NFLPA programs.
A NFLPA representative said 36 active players are enrolled in their partnership with Indiana's Kelley School of Business to pursue MBAs or other business degrees and certificates. They have had 126 players participate in their offseason externship program since 2014.
Other players take their own initiative.
This offseason, Amukamara participated with other NFL players in a professional athlete business combine, an event to help athletes network and learn about future career opportunities in various sectors, including financial planning and real estate.
Burton is a partner in the financial planning firm called TopTier Wealth Management along with former Eagles teammates Jordan Hicks and Chris Maragos. The business helps both NFL players and the general public.
"A lot of guys get done playing football, and they look at themselves and are like, 'What do I do? I have all this money - or I don't have all this money - what do I do now?' " Burton said. "One thing I've been focusing on the last two years is finding other streams of income so when I am done I'm not left with no income at all."
Timu, who is starting his fourth season, said he knows he should take advantage of such career planning but hasn't yet. After all, he has an NFL roster to make, and he tries to narrow his focus to self-analysis that will help him get there.
"If you're blessed with another opportunity, you make the most of it, because not many people get it," he said.
Sometimes the best mindset to prolong a career is football first, life later. But cuts weekend will force some players to face life after football sooner than expected.