Commentary

Veterans have one focus in draft

Fans look to the future, but most players are interested in self-preservation

Originally Published: April 17, 2012
By Ross Tucker | ESPN.com

"All I care about is whether or not they take somebody at my position."

During my seven-year stint as an NFL player, that was my honest answer when family and friends asked whom my team should draft or whom I thought it would draft. After a few years, they knew better than to ask.

If a fan or a stranger asked, I had to be a bit more diplomatic so that I wouldn't seem self-centered or not enough of a team player. A lot of fans just don't grasp the independent contractor nature of a player's job.

Outside the team's top five or 10 guys, a player has only one interest when draft time comes around: that the team not take a player at his position. Period. Other than that, it doesn't really matter.

Sure, the stars might want the team to draft a stud wide receiver or an elite pass-rusher or whatever position is needed. But even with them, notice how they never say they need a guy at their positions?

[+] EnlargeSteven Jackson
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesSteven Jackson has said the Rams should draft a wide receiver, which makes sense. Most players don't want to see their eventual replacements drafted.
Rams running back Steven Jackson was quoted recently on ESPN as saying that he would "stand on the table for a wide receiver, like [Justin] Blackmon from Oklahoma State." That makes sense, because the Rams certainly could use a potential star receiver. It makes even more sense when you consider the tremendous buzz regarding the Rams' interest in Alabama running back Trent Richardson. Jackson doesn't want him. It's a self-preservation instinct.

Roster spots and playing time are a zero-sum game in the NFL. Every year, more than 200 rookies enter the work force and take the jobs of men who held those coveted roles the previous year. There are only around 1,800 spots in the first place, so the turnover is significant.

That's why the most respected and talked about stat, at least among players, is years of service. Five years is a milestone. Ten -- or more -- is an increasingly rare accomplishment in a young man's game. Ten years cements a certain status in the locker room, because the 10-year vet has survived the annual roster churning for far longer than most.

Some veterans don't worry about the draft. They are few and far between.

Most, even if they won't admit it, watch the draft closely and agonize every time their team makes a selection. What other occupation holds a televised event where you can see whether you are likely to lose your job -- or have a tough time keeping it? I can't think of many.

For example, most teams keep eight or nine offensive linemen on the active roster. Many organizations rarely cut draft picks. What happens if a team that keeps eight or nine linemen and hardly ever cuts draft choices selects two in the draft? Do the math. That could mean 25 percent of the available jobs are taken.

Enjoy the draft and seeing whom your team picks. Just don't ask any of the current players whom they think the team should draft. Now you know the answer -- at least the honest one.

From the inbox

Q: I was just wondering something about the Jason Peters injury. When a player is placed on the injured reserve, how is their salary cap number affected? Thanks!

Mike from Baltimore

A: If a player is placed on injured reserve (IR), his salary still counts against the cap for the year. Some players, especially young and undrafted ones, have "split" contracts in which they get paid and their cap charge is less for the season if they are injured and placed on IR. Because Peters was injured on his own and not at the team facility or under team supervision, the Eagles have the right to place him on the non-football injury (NFI) list. If he's placed on that list, the Eagles do not have to pay him and he would not count against the cap. What they choose to pay him is completely at their discretion, but whatever they pay him will count against the cap. It's a unique situation to keep an eye on this summer.

Q: I think I once heard you say that you used to collect your "used" equipment from each team you played with but that the Cowboys charged you for some of it. Just wondering how much you paid for a Cowboys jersey and helmet? Or did you leave them behind? What was their explanation for being so cheap? Would their policy change in an uncapped year?

Paul in New Brunswick, Canada

A: It has nothing to do with the salary cap, and yes, I have said that the Cowboys were the only team of five I played for that I recall charging me via payroll deduction for my helmet. I believe it was $200. I was told that Jerry Jones looks at equipment as team property, and if a player wants it, he has to purchase it. I'm a business owner, so on some level I get it, but I was pretty surprised, given how much money the Cowboys make. They also were the only team that deducted money for lunch every week during the season, which was even more astonishing to me.

Q: My question concerns the audio devices quarterbacks have in their helmets. I hear all the time about how a coach "calls in a play" to the quarterback. What prohibits the coach from then communicating "88 is open!" while the quarterback is in the pocket?

Jim in Miami

A: The audio communication between the playcaller and the quarterback gets cut off with 15 seconds left on the play clock or when ball is snapped in order to avoid this very thing.

Q: I listened to the Football Today Podcast this afternoon and I'm a little disturbed by the lack of concern the panelists had about the Saints bounty program. You all kept saying that the NFL is not Pop Warner football. I agree completely. There's no comparison between the ferocity of the NFL and patent politeness of youth football. But now every kid and every coach at every level of football knows that the New Orleans Saints, a championship football team, won the Super Bowl (the crowning achievement in sports) by rewarding intentionally hurting opponents. The precedent set by the pros will trickle down to lower levels. Do you honestly believe that high school players and boosters aren't considering this? Young men in high school and college are slipped money all the time. Now they have a price tag, a going rate for concussions, tendons and bones.

Dustin in Boise, Idaho

A: There was no lack of concern about the bounty program. Any money paid out, especially by coaches but really by anyone, for the expressed intent of injuring a player is unacceptable and reprehensible. I think you are probably referring to the Gregg Williams audio and our comments on the podcast about it. The main points that we made were that the audio sounded like what we thought a bounty program would sound like and that Williams had already admitted it and been disciplined for it. I also think it is unrealistic to believe that players don't target the weaknesses of an opponent, whether it's a bad hamstring for a cornerback or an offensive lineman's cast on his broken hand. That may not happen at the youth level, but the NFL is big business played by very serious men and they will take advantage of everything they can. And no, I don't think people will start paying money to high school and college players for injuries, especially when they are not allowed to pay them in the first place.

Q: How do players between contracts receive serious medical treatment such as surgery? Do they pick their own doctors? Is there some sort of insurance involved? Do they pay for the procedure and follow-up care out of pocket? I assume teams pay for all health-related events for players on contract.

Shawn in Loveland, Colo.

A: Those are good questions. In general, most injuries happen during the season or while the player is under contract. So, if a guy is on a one-year contract that expires in early March and he tears his ACL in the Super Bowl, it is still the responsibility of the club to pay for his surgery and subsequent rehab. Players also have insurance while on contract, but that is more for non-orthopedic issues and for their families. Ultimately, they have the right to select the surgeon they want, but the team can dictate where they rehab.

Ross Tucker, who played on the offensive line for five teams during his seven-year NFL career, writes regularly for ESPN.com. Tucker, who also hosts ESPN.com's Football Today podcast, graduated from Princeton.