You have reached your limit of free articles this month.

Enjoy unlimited access to myPalmBeachPost.com

Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks.

GREAT REASONS TO SUBSCRIBE TODAY!

  • IN-DEPTH REPORTING
  • INTERACTIVE STORYTELLING
  • NEW TOPICS & COVERAGE
  • ePAPER
X

You have read of premium articles.

Get unlimited access to all of our breaking news, in-depth coverage and bonus content- exclusively for subscribers. Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks

X

Welcome to myPalmBeachPost.com

This subscriber-only site gives you exclusive access to breaking news, in-depth coverage, exclusive interactives and bonus content.

You can read free articles of your choice a month that are only available on myPalmBeachPost.com.

NFL teams weigh when to draft replacements for veterans


Derrick Johnson has always been a company man, willing to do whatever it takes to help the Kansas City Chiefs win playoff games and someday end their long Super Bowl drought. 

Restructure his contract? OK. Tutor young linebackers? Sure thing. 

The point where Johnson draws the line is in telling the Chiefs when he'll finally hang up the cleats. The 34-year-old is coming off a second season-ending Achilles tendon injury, and he knows he's entering the twilight of his career. But he doesn't know if the end will come after the upcoming season or the one after that, when his current contract is due to expire. 

"I struggle with that," he said. "The older you get, the more you know it's coming to an end at some point. But I just hope and pray when football is over for me I can have peace and rest." 

Therein lays the challenge for the Chiefs, along with every other team in the NFL: When is it the right time to draft replacements, especially when extra roster spots have become invaluable, time limits on practice are more constrictive, and the pressure to win has never been greater. 

"You're always trying to work ahead and trying to prevent the roster from taking a major, major hit at any position. That's the nature of the National Football League," said Titans general manager Jon Robinson. "As veteran players age or hit a level where they become maybe too expensive for your football team, that's something that you have to look at and manage." 

Precisely how teams manage it varies in just about every respect. 

First there's the timeframe. 

Teams try to forecast about three years ahead, but several GMs said that has become increasingly difficult. More players are walking away from the game early because of the increased risks of injuries and concerns over head trauma, while the shelf life of some positions may only be a few years to begin with, making it difficult to forecast even a year in advance. 

Players such as Johnson, who is entering his 13th season, are about as rare as the I-formation in an era when the NFL Players Association reports the average career lasts just over three years. 

Then there are positional differences. 

There are some jobs where a player can be drafted and slide right into the starting lineup with minimal experience, while it may take others — quarterback, for one — several years of development before being ready for games. 

Finally, there are philosophical differences. 

Teams such as the Packers prefer to shore up holes almost exclusively through the draft, while others are more willing to dip into free agency. The draft carries the significant benefit of financial flexibility, but the downside is the pressure of enduring a crash-course on life in professional football. 

"You can't predict the future," Robinson said, "but you just try to set yourself up so the rosters can kind of weather the storm of losing guys, and you can still play winning, productive football." 

Robinson is facing that very challenge this offseason. 

Already, he's released cornerback Jason McCourty and begun the search for a replacement for the nine-year veteran. Tight end Delanie Walker is coming off a Pro Bowl season and is a 12-year veteran who will be 33 in August, so finding a replacement for him could become an issue soon. 

The Cowboys are another interesting case study in drafting replacements. 

A few years ago, they gambled that breakout running back Demarco Murray would age quickly and let him go in free agency. Dallas struggled the following season — though it did put the Cowboys in position to draft Ezekiel Elliott — while Murray ran for more than 1,200 yards with Tennessee last season. 

The Cowboys also recognized that injury-prone quarterback Tony Romo was heading toward the end of his career, so they chose Dak Prescott in last year's draft. But any thought that he was a developmental project quickly dissolved when Prescott took over the starting job and never let it go. 

Dallas also tried unsuccessfully to draft an heir to tight end Jason Witten, whiffing on second-round pick Gavin Escobar. Witten is signed through 2021, but realistically has only a couple seasons left. 

His situation is not unlike Johnson's in Kansas City, where a longtime fixture is still capable of playing at a high level, even if nobody is quite sure how long that will last. 

"One of the neat things we have going is we bring in good competition at all spots. There are no positions absolutely guaranteed," Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. "I'll tell the rookies when they come in, 'You can cut it loose and see what happens,' and that covers all areas. 

"If a guy goes down, the next one comes in, and you have to maintain that, maintain that level of competition. And you obviously keep the best guys that create the most competition."


Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Sports

MLB's first Lithuanian learned the game where few play
MLB's first Lithuanian learned the game where few play

The decades-long journey of a father and a son, of a game and a country, ended with a sprint.  When Dovydas Neverauskas — fresh from the airport and wearing cleats and a glove bummed from his new Pittsburgh Pirates teammates — jogged onto the mound at PNC Park on April 24 to clean up what was left a lopsided loss to the Chicago Cubs...
Florida State’s Kermit Whitfield to sign with Chicago Bears as free agent
Florida State’s Kermit Whitfield to sign with Chicago Bears as free agent

Kermit Whitfield #8 of the Florida State Seminoles runs after a catch during a game against the Clemson Tigers at Doak Campbell Stadium on October 29, 2016 in Tallahassee, Florida.
Reflections on the Miami Dolphins roster post free-agency, draft
Reflections on the Miami Dolphins roster post free-agency, draft

Quarterback DeShone Kizer of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish is chased by linebacker Raekwon McMillan of the Ohio State Buckeyes.
2017 NFL Draft: Picks go smooth and “easy” for Miami Dolphins
2017 NFL Draft: Picks go smooth and “easy” for Miami Dolphins

Pretty much everything about this Dolphins’ draft class is normal and sensible, and that’s a nice departure for an organization that’s had some bizarre picks over the past decade or so. In their second NFL Draft together, Miami’s power trio of general manager Chris Grier, vice president Mike Tannenbaum and coach Adam Gase...
Dolphins’ AFC East rivals look to find value on Day 3 of NFL Draft
Dolphins’ AFC East rivals look to find value on Day 3 of NFL Draft

Deatrich Wise Jr. #48 of the Arkansas Razorbacks celebrates after sacking Anthony Jennings #10 of the LSU Tigers in the second quarter of a game at Razorback Stadium on November 15, 2014 in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
More Stories