New Carolina Panthers RB Travaris Cadet on joining the team
Travaris Cadet wasn’t expecting that call.
Cadet, a longtime New Orleans Saints running back and Appalachian State alum, was working out in Florida this week when his agent phoned him. After spending most of the 2018 NFL season as a free agent, Cadet finally had a new employer:
The Carolina Panthers ... the same team he’d hated for most of his professional career.
“I was surprised it was the Panthers — I mean, it’s been a longtime enemy of mine being in New Orleans,” Cadet said Wednesday. “When I first came in here, Thomas (Davis) came to me and said, ‘A long time wearing the wrong colors.’ And I said, ‘a long time you hit me in my back when I’m not looking.’
“But you respect your peers. We’ve been through a lot of wars together, and there’s respect there.”
When the Panthers released veteran C.J. Anderson on Monday, it left the team apparently thin at running back behind starter Christian McCaffrey. In came Cadet, with years worth of divisional experience ... and direct knowledge of the Saints offense.
That, coach Ron Rivera hinted Tuesday, might come in handy later this season, when the teams meet twice in a three-week span of December.
“It could be very beneficial,” Rivera said with a grin. “It’s funny that you say that. We’ve got awhile before we play (New Orleans).”
But Cadet’s value extends far beyond backing up McCaffrey and potential insight into New Orleans’ playcalling. As a longtime veteran, he has felt the worst pro football has to offer, both physically and mentally.
And despite that, he’s still standing.
‘My soul was pretty much crushed’
The first thing to know about Cadet is that, even at 6-foot-1 and 210 pounds, he went to college as a highly touted quarterback recruit.
Highly touted as in, ranked higher than eventual Super Bowl champions Nick Foles and Russell Wilson in his high school class. So yeah, dude could sling it.
But after redshirting his lone year at the University of Toledo and then spending another at Pearl River Community College in Mississippi, Cadet was far removed from that recruiting hype — and from any sense of himself.
“I was trying to find my way. My soul was pretty much crushed before I got to App State,” Cadet said. “I didn’t have the confidence I always portrayed, but Coach (Jerry) Moore was the guy who revamped my confidence in terms of being able to move forward and put everything behind me.”
Cadet credited Moore with helping him move past his early college disappointments and become a valuable part on two FCS playoff teams. Cadet played some quarterback, some running back, and some receiver, establishing early on the sort of versatility that led to his NFL career.
After going undrafted in 2012, Cadet signed with New Orleans as a free agent and worked his way onto the 53-man roster. He had minimal touches until his third season, when he caught 38 balls for 296 yards and a touchdown. Then, after brief stints with San Francisco and New England, he returned to the Saints in 2016 and had a career-best year: 40 catches, 281 yards, four touchdowns.
And from then, everything went downhill.
‘If you get knocked down ... you can get up’
Cadet split time between the New York Jets and the Buffalo Bills last season, but late in the regular season, he suffered a debilitating injury with Buffalo. He bounced outside the right tackle on a simple run play, but as he was tackled, both he and the defender rolled over onto his body.
He dislocated and fractured his ankle.
“I thought my career was coming to an end. I thought I was done,” Cadet said of that moment. “I didn’t mentally have confidence that I was physically able to put toward my rehab.”
Over the next few weeks and months, Cadet learned firsthand the struggles of a serious injury, but also the toll adversity can take on a person’s mental health.
“It’s kind of a humbling experience, all the small things we take for granted. As far as walking, all our senses working every day,” he said. “When I broke my leg, somebody had to help me take a shower. Somebody had to help me on a plane, somebody had to help me off the plane.
“I went home, I was by myself the first month, falling down the stairs, falling out of the shower. Just miserable, like, ‘What did I do to deserve this?’”
Cadet could have quit. After that sort of injury, some might argue he should have.
But instead, he grew — not just physically healing his ankle, but mentally healing his sense of self-worth and confidence.
“I think in those trying times, if you can point the finger at yourself still, I think that’s when you grow from it,” he said. “Because I didn’t know where I was going to go. I didn’t know if I was going to be able to come back and be myself, or ... I didn’t know.
“I’ve grown more mentally than anything. I think what separates the greats is their mindset and how they attack every day. It’s not always the guy who’s biggest, strongest, the most physically gifted, who always wins — it’s the guy who is willing to endure the pain and continue to keep moving forward.
“If you get knocked down, if you look up, you can get up.”
‘What I made a living doing’
Cadet’s journey back from injury has been arduous, but by signing with Carolina he took the next step.
He isn’t expecting to absorb the entire playbook overnight or supplant McCaffrey, but he is actively looking for his way to help the team. That may be as McCaffrey’s understudy, or a special teams ace, or just a veteran presence.
“A lot of stuff they do with McCaffrey is what I made a living doing in this league,” Cadet said. “Guy being in space, trying to exploit matchups, and also being able to run.”
Some of the smaller differences between Carolina and New Orleans are already making themselves apparent. The playbooks and terminology, Cadet said, aren’t the same, but similar. And even though he’ll now take handoffs from Cam Newton instead of Drew Brees, he said both players have an aura about them.
“You wouldn’t think Drew would have a swag, but Drew’s definitely got a swag,” Cadet said grinning. “He’s a go-getter.”
Next up for Cadet is learning Carolina’s playbook, studying after more practices with McCaffrey and Cameron Artis-Payne. He won’t play much soon, or perhaps at all given McCaffrey’s high usage rate, but his role on this team is still apparent:
Some Saints insider tips, and a heck of a lot of motivation.
“It’s definitely a true blessing,” Cadet said, “and I’m grateful for it all.”