Market drying up for some veterans

With 255 new players entering the league during this weekend's draft, it will only be harder for out-of-work veterans to find jobs, writes Len Pasquarelli.

Originally Published: April 27, 2007
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

With over 11,000 yards in 10 seasons, Corey Dillon ranks as the 14th-leading rusher in NFL history. Quarterback Aaron Brooks has logged 90 regular-season starts and thrown for over 20,000 yards and for 123 touchdown passes. Lance Johnstone has 72 sacks, Eric Moulds 732 catches, Keenan McCardell 861 receptions, Tony Parrish 30 interceptions and Chad Brown 1,233 tackles.

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Tight end Jerramy Stevens and defensive tackle Ian Scott started in the two most recent Super Bowls. Linebacker LaVar Arrington was the second player chosen in the 2000 draft and his résumé includes three Pro Bowl appearances. Troy Vincent has played in 207 games and five Pro Bowl contests and has 47 career interceptions. Adam Timmerman started at guard for St. Louis in two Super Bowls and owns a championship ring. Wide receiver Troy Brown owns three Super Bowl rings.

And, oh yeah, Morten Andersen has scored more points, 2,445 of them, than any man who ever played the game.

So, what, beyond the gaudy numbers and impressive accomplishments, do all these players have in common? None of them currently has a job and, in the next two days, the unemployment queue isn't going to get any shorter.

Yep, this is the league's annual Dickensian Weekend. For the 255 prospects who will be selected in the seven rounds of the draft on Saturday and Sunday, it represents the best of times. And for those veterans who are already out of work, and those who might be bumped from their jobs in ensuing weeks by the sudden infusion of young blood onto NFL rosters, it might well be the worst of times.

"It's a tough stretch, really tough, you know?" said an agent who is still seeking work for two veteran clients, and having a tough time getting call-backs from personnel directors and general managers. "All the decision-makers from all the teams have been bunkered down in draft meetings for two weeks, they're not looking to add a veteran guy now until after [the draft], and so your messages are ending up in the trash. And your [client] is pounding on you to find him a job because he knows that once they start picking guys in the draft, it's going to close some doors. The phone isn't ringing, these guys are wondering if they're going to be cashing a paycheck this year, and they know they're running out of time. It's cold, man, but that's what it's like right now for players [without a contract].

"They kind of feel like they're forgotten men anyway, and then here comes the draft over the weekend, and it's like reality is slapping them right in the face."

Indeed, the reality is 60-80 veterans, on average, lose their jobs every offseason. That rate of attrition has held fairly steady for the past seven years. Currently, there are about 100 unrestricted free agents without contracts. That number certainly hasn't been much reduced in the past three weeks, as free-agent signings have slowed to a trickle. It could actually increase after the draft, when some veterans are nudged off rosters by high-round rookie prospects.

Some of the unemployed veterans, notably Dillon, have contributed to their current status. The hard-running tailback essentially requested his release by New England and then told some media outlets he planned to retire. There are a few teams that would sign Dillon as a backup, but probably at or near the minimum salary, and he won't play for that.

Which means he might not play at all.

Stevens, the talented but troubled former Seattle first-round draft choice, again encountered off-field problems this spring. His legal dossier is now so thick that teams are loathe to give him another chance.

The majority of out-of-work veterans, though, are players in decline or aging, or, in the case of Brooks, a player who just isn't very good.

"Hey, it ends for everyone at some point. Not to be cruel, but that's how it is. I mean, it's not like the Eskimos, where we're putting a guy on some chunk of ice and pushing him out into the ocean to die," said Kansas City head coach Herm Edwards, referring to the urban legend. "But some guys see it that way."

It is, for sure, hard to grow old and unwanted.

Parrish was once one of the NFL's best safeties, a Pro Bowl-caliber player, but injuries have gotten the better of him and he hasn't played much the past two seasons. Johnstone, who was released by the Raiders last week, is 33 and has lost some burst off the edge. A team in need of a veteran pass-rusher and with some familiarity with him, like Tampa Bay, could phone after the draft. Or maybe not.

Moulds, acquired by Houston in a trade last year, was supposed to be the complement to standout wide receiver Andre Johnson, but doesn't seem to have much left. Andersen, who also holds the NFL record for field goals, might be called back by the Falcons, but probably not until the new coaching staff in Atlanta explores some younger options.

And then there are a few players, like Scott, whose continuing lack of work pretty much remains a mystery. There aren't many guys, though, in that category.

A four-year veteran, Scott is hardly a great player, but he is more than serviceable and plays a position, defensive tackle, that is difficult to fill. Scott played poorly in Chicago's loss to Indianapolis in Super Bowl XLI, but so did the entire Bears front seven. And it's hard to believe teams are going to judge him on one subpar outing. Scott has interest from several teams, like Atlanta and Chicago, but no one has offered much in contract talks.

Then again, there haven't been many contract offers, period, of late. And for veterans still looking for work, the reality is that the draft's second day brings cheap labor to the league, and further reduces their chances of being in a training camp.

It is, for many, a tough pill to swallow.

"I'm guessing that, if you're a veteran guy looking for a job, you're probably not planted in front of the TV set this weekend," said one general manager. "You don't want to watch. All it does is make the truth, that they might be finished in the league, that much more difficult to take. And for a lot of these players, well, it's like that movie, 'A Few Good Men,' where [Jack] Nicholson says, 'You can't handle the truth.'

"I mean, the truth is, if you're out of work at this point, you might be out of work for good. So, yeah, this is a tough time for some guys."

Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.