EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Daniel Fells did not play in the NFL in 2013, but not by choice. Thirty-two teams with 53-man rosters had zero room for the seven-year veteran.
One year later, he might be the starting tight end for the New York Giants.
That doesn't speak well of the Giants' depth at that position. But it's an incredible opportunity for the 30-year-old from Anaheim, California, who sat at home on Sundays last season, wondering if his football career had come to an end.
"It’s hard. It’s very hard," Fells said Tuesday about sitting out last season. "Personally I felt like I had the skill set to be in the league and be able to play. But certain things dictated differently."
Undrafted out of California-Davis, an FCS program, Fells spent his first two seasons as a member of the practice squads of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Oakland Raiders, respectively. He finally saw his first real action with the St. Louis Rams in 2008, playing in 12 games, starting one, and catching seven passes for 81 yards.
He remained with the Rams in 2009 and 2010, playing in 30 of 32 regular-season games, starting 10, and scoring five touchdowns. In 2010 he posted a career-high 41 receptions for 391 yards.
The Denver Broncos signed Fells as a free agent, and he started 15 of 16 games for them in 2011, with 19 catches for 256 yards and three touchdowns. Then the New England Patriots signed him in the spring of 2012.
Fells played in 13 games for the Patriots in 2012, with four starts, but had just four catches for 85 yards. He was still with the team last summer but was cut at the end of training camp.
A couple of teams brought him in for tryouts in the first few weeks of the regular season, but things didn't pan out either time. Fells continued working out at home, but admits he had begun seriously contemplating life after football.
"I thought about owning a business," Fells said. "My father-in-law is a business broker, so he brings different businesses out in California to my attention, just things that he thinks that I would be pretty successful in. So I kept an eye towards certain things like that, but at the same time, football is where my heart is."
The Giants brought Fells in for a tryout just a few days after their disappointing 2013 regular season ended, and signed him on Jan. 7. Six months later, he's getting some reps with Eli Manning and the rest of the starters during the first week of training camp, and he caught a touchdown pass from Manning on Monday.
"Anytime you get your hands on the ball, it always feels good," Fells said Tuesday, smiling.
But Fells, despite sitting out last season, has the most years of NFL experience of the five, along with Davis. And probably the most appreciation of this opportunity, too.
"I’m not looking at it as a last chance, but at the same time, [I know] it can be taken from you at any moment," Fells said. "So I wake up every single morning and I go out every single day, I try to give my all, I try to do everything that I can to be the best athlete that I can, the best Giant that I can be."