Veterans one of few to benefit from lockout

Adrian Wilson (Getty)

Many are suffering from the ongoing lockout but a higher importance will be placed on veterans this season.

There are two sides to every story, it has been said, and the continuing NFL lockout is no different.

Except in the case of the lockout, there really are two sides to at least one of the two divergent sides.

It's been chic to detail the manner in which the absence of rookie orientation sessions, minicamps and OTAs could reduce the ability of young players to demonstrate their wares and earn roster spots. The flip side: With the likelihood that NFL franchises will be subjected to condensed preparatory time for the start of the season, whenever that is, experience and familiarity take on a renewed and significant importance. And that almost certainly translates into increased opportunities for some veterans who might otherwise exist only on the fringe of the roster.

"You take the five- or six- or seven-year veteran who isn't a starter, is making good money, and is a role player," agent Joe Linta said. "In a normal year, those guys would be in jeopardy. A lot of teams would be looking to replace them with a draft pick or a (rookie) free agent, someone who makes a lot less money, and might more or less do the same job. But if there's basically no minicamps or any offseason program, no training ground for the young guys, teams are going to keep the older players because they know the system."

Certainly, the logic is sound.

And let's extend it a bit further, perhaps, to the quarterback spot.

Example: The Tennessee Titans have a new head coach (Mike Munchak), new offensive coordinator (Chris Palmer) and no veteran quarterback of any real NFL tenure on the roster. Kerry Collins is a pending unrestricted free agent. Ditto Chris Simms. Even with the departure of Jeff Fisher, the club has reiterated that Vince Young will not be back for 2011. Brett Ratliff has yet to play in a regular-season game and second-year veteran Rusty Smith owns one career start.

That leaves first-round selection Jake Locker or the potential for re-signing a guy like Collins, whose most enhanced value for 2011 might actually be back with the Titans instead of signing with the sixth different team in his league tenure.

Said one veteran defensive player who has fewer than 10 career starts but has been around the league long enough now to be vested in the pension program: "I'm sure that in most years, it would be a situation where even my (minimum-level) salary would put me on the chopping block, and they'd be looking for some cheaper kid to run down under kickoffs, or be a backup. But the lockout, while it's put some strain on my finances, could keep me around for another year."

Most franchises turn over about 25-40 percent of their rosters in a given season, and clubs seem to rely increasingly on young players, even late-round draft choices, to make rosters and fill roles. The league's standard roster metrics, though, could be disrupted if the lockout precludes most offseason work.

For the most part, the focus throughout the work stoppage has been on the negative impact the lockout will have on the ability of young players to earn jobs. In a rather convoluted way, the lockout might actually allow some potentially at-risk veterans to cash paychecks for another season.

Len Pasquarelli is a Senior NFL Writer for The Sports Xchange. He has covered the NFL for 33 years and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee. His NFL coverage earned recognition as the winner of the McCann Award for distinguished reporting in 2008.

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