Commentary

Potential hardships for aging vets

In an uncapped year, players 30 and older would likely struggle to find work

Originally Published: February 24, 2010
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

The releases of 30-year-old running backs Jamal Lewis, LaDainian Tomlinson and Brian Westbrook shouldn't come as a surprise.

Running backs tend to wear down when they hit 29 or 30. That's been the case in this league for many decades.

But I think a bigger trend is going to be established in this potential uncapped year. It's not going to be good to be a 30-plus-year-old veteran at any position.

Over the next week, you'll see a bunch of 30-year-old veterans released. That's normal. Teams always want to get younger, but the scary part for the older veterans is a potential shortage of new job openings.

I think it will be tough for older veterans to find employment in 2010. One of the pluses of the salary cap is the exception given to veterans who sign for the minimum. In previous years, a team could have signed a 10-year veteran for more than $800,000 and it would show up as a $460,000 cap charge.

In 2010, there isn't expected to be a cap, so teams don't have any incentive to sign older players. If it costs more than $800,000 to sign a 10-year veteran, many teams will opt to sign first- or second-year players for significantly less.

Even though it sounds strange for NFL teams to remove the salary cap to save money on player costs, that is their plan. At least in the first couple waves of free agency, this is going to cost some older veterans jobs.

From the inbox

Q: Isn't it time for the Browns to try and trade Derek Anderson and give Brady Quinn a make-or-break year? Quinn still hasn't had a full year to show his stuff and he had a few bright spots to build on last year. If I were Mike Holmgren, I would draft a QB like Colt McCoy or Dan LeFevour in the second or third round depending on how things fall, trade Anderson, and tell Quinn he has one year to prove he's worth keeping as the starter.

Gary in Middlebury, Ind.

A: That's easier said than done. I would agree that ideally, the Browns would trade Anderson and give Quinn the chance, but what if there isn't a market for Anderson? That probably was the case last year too. I thought the Browns hoped to get a second-round choice for Anderson last year. Now, I don't know whether you could get a third- or fourth-rounder for him. That's not to disrespect the skills of Anderson or Quinn. I contend that last year's offense damaged the value of both quarterbacks. I blame last year's coaching staff for that, not the players.

Q: Do you believe the Cowboys have a realistic shot at being the first team to play a Super Bowl in their home stadium? I know the team needs to add depth on the offensive line as well as a playmaker at safety, but I think they have a shot.

Matt in Washington Township, N.J.

A: The fact that the Cowboys finally won a playoff game should help them in 2010. Yes, I do think they are now a Super Bowl contender. But they need to add youth. The offensive line has gotten too old. The Cowboys were able to get by most of last season with the oldest offensive line in the league. If they can't get two young starters for this line, I don't think they will be able to hold up in the playoffs. The offseason should be devoted to finding offensive line help. The defense is solid. The offense is solid at the skill positions. Tony Romo is hitting his prime. They could get help at safety, but offensive line is the priority.

Q: With the surprising recent retirement of starting OT Brad Butler, the Bills must now address both OT positions. Rutgers' Anthony Davis has great potential, but his work ethic is being questioned. In your opinion, would the Bills be better off long term selecting Davis or the slightly less-talented but hard-working Bryan Bulaga to anchor the LT position?

Grant in Buffalo, N.Y.

A: You might not want to hear this, but I'd take Jimmy Clausen if he's available at the ninth pick. If the Bills don't believe in Trent Edwards -- which apparently they don't -- they have to move on and get the next quarterback. After that, though, they need to address the offensive line. Even if Bulaga projects only as a right tackle, they need to look seriously at him and draft him. The Bills' front office destroyed the offensive line last year, and even if they have to reach, the Bills need to fix the tackle position if they can't get Clausen or Sam Bradford at quarterback. It wouldn't be a bad idea to do what the Jaguars did last year and draft two tackles. Sure, the Bills drafted and started two guards last year, but they need to revamp the offensive line.

Q: If 2010 is an uncapped season, as it is looking to likely be, and a team decides to break the bank and bring in a large number of highly paid players, what happens in 2011 if a new deal is reached that includes a salary cap? Would the new deal need to include how contracts signed during the uncapped year are handled under the new cap rules?

Paul in Marshfield, Wis.

A: You probably don't have to worry about that because there aren't enough good players who will command big salaries. But if there is a new deal for 2011, there will be a salary cap and the team will have to comply. That shouldn't be hard, though. An over-the-cap team would easily be able to restructure contracts to fix its cap issues. I'm sure there will be transition rules to fix any problems, but there won't be enough big salaries in 2010 to create problems in 2011.

Q: I have been wondering about the Terrell Owens in Cincinnati thing. OK, what are the chances of the Bengals getting Owens, and if so, do you think he will be the No. 2 wide receiver with Chad Ochocinco as the No. 1, Matt Jones as the No. 3 and Laveranues Coles as the No. 4? Also, if they get Owens, what position would they address in the draft?

Justin in Toledo, Ohio

A: I'd rank the Bengals as the No. 1 team for Owens, but they would have to let Coles go for that to happen. Owens would be the No. 2 receiver. He'll be 37 this year, so you can't expect him to get 1,000 yards. What Owens can do is clear out some things for Ochocinco. Jones would be a slot receiver and a possible tight end. The Bengals' next big need is a pass-catching tight end. The Bengals had no separation at wide receiver last season. They need to get Carson Palmer more weapons.

Q: The AFC North looks as if it's going to be very competitive this year. With the Bengals, Ravens and Steelers as already proven teams, it's already tough. But even the Browns showed some promise at the end of last season. As of now, whom do you expect to come out on top in 2010?

Justin in Frankfort, Ky.

A: I think the Ravens and Steelers may have the slight edge in the division, but it will be a three-way race because the Ravens, Steelers and Bengals have great quarterbacks and good defenses. The Browns are hurting at quarterback until someone -- Quinn or Anderson -- establishes himself. That puts the Browns in a position to go 1-5 or 0-6 in divisional play. To get to .500, they'd have to go 8-2 or 7-3 in nondivisional games. I don't see that happening.

Q: I've heard the Chargers are shopping cornerback Antonio Cromartie. What do you think about Thomas Jones for Cromartie? And what about Kerry Rhodes for Osi Umenyiora?

William in New York

A: There's no need to trade a first-round cornerback such as Cromartie for Jones because Jones is expected to be cut, which would put him in the open market. A Rhodes-for-Umenyiora trade doesn't compute. The Giants can't trade a pass-rusher who could be worth more than a first-round choice for just a safety.

Q: Do you ever get the feeling that Peyton Manning is doomed to be the NFL version of Sisyphus? According to legend, Sisyphus was doomed to roll a giant stone up a steep hill, only to watch it roll back down when it neared the top. Sure sounds like Manning's reputation in a nutshell. Just as he reaches the top of the hill, he makes a mistake that slings his reputation back down to earth.

Matt in Lowell, Ind.

A: Thanks for the education, but I hope you aren't onto something. For Manning to get his true place in NFL history, he needs to get to the top and stay there. He needs at least two more Super Bowl rings. He'll be a Hall of Famer. He'll have plenty of great stats and lots of passing records. But he needs to shed the Sisyphus tag and get to the top again. For salary and commercial endorsements, though, he's already on top.

Q: Being a Patriots fan, I'm getting tired of them having no running attack whatsoever. I believe the absence of a reliable runner who can handle 20-plus carries a game is putting more pressure on Tom Brady and not allowing the offense enough versatility. No one can logically argue that Laurence Maroney will be that kind of running back, and I don't believe Sammy Morris or Fred Taylor could be either. Do you believe this is a major issue roster-wise that the 2010 Patriots need to address to be more successful?

Dan in Lebanon, Maine

A: I'd say it's an issue, but not a major issue because teams like the Patriots have changed the game and taken it away from the running game. Only four backs in the league averaged 20 or more carries a game last season. The Patriots need a back who can handle 16 carries effectively. Maroney had all the physical skills, but I agree with you that he couldn't handle the assignment consistently. I think the more important needs for the Pats are on defense. I think they have enough running backs to get by, so I'd focus on getting better on defense.

Q: 3-4 nose tackles are in extremely high demand, but wouldn't those same guys work even better in 4-3 fronts? It would seem to me that their ability to force double teams would have a more dramatic effect with the extra 3-technique tackle next to them.

Will in New Orleans

A: Funny that you ask, but 4-3 defensive tackles tend to wear down and lose their effectiveness when they reach 32 or 33. Nose tackles in a 3-4 get more longevity. In a 4-3, the nose tackle isn't two-gapping. He's asked to shoot through the gap and penetrate the backfield. As a defensive tackle gets older, he loses the ability to run. In a 3-4, the nose tackle is more of a wrestler. Strength is more important than leg speed for a two-gapping nose tackle.

John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

John Clayton

NFL senior writer