Veteran athletes often despise having to go through training camp. While they understand the importance, it still feels like a nuisance. NFL training camps may be the most grueling of the major sports. Teams no longer engage in full pads practice as frequently as in the past, but they still get after it more than any other time of the year.
NFL veterans tend to go through the motions of training camp more than going all out. Vets feel that getting through camp healthy is the most important thing. In many cases that sentiment rings true, however, for some, training camp is once again a proving ground.
The NFL is a league of what have you done for me lately, and if a player’s performance has begun to dip his team is always looking for his replacement. With that in mind, here are five veterans who must show their respective teams they can still be dominant players.
Ware statically only had one down year, and just two seasons prior he had 19.5 sacks. He usually put up stellar sack numbers, the problem was he didn’t appear to get his sacks on the important downs (third-and-long, especially late in games).
Last season, he had just six sacks and didn’t appear to be himself. He is not over the hill yet, but he will be 32 on July 31, which means his best days are likely behind him. It is not a question of can Ware still contribute to a team but is his contribution worth his salary? Ware signed a three-year $30 million deal with $20 million guaranteed. At an average of $10 million a year, a handful of sacks just won’t be enough.
2. Matt Cassel
Cassel had a 2013 season that was a microcosm of his career. At first, he didn’t play. Then, he began to play and played well. Eventually, he began to struggle. He was benched for Josh Freeman and when that blew up, he was reinserted. He ended up with a 3-3 record as a starter.
This offseason, the team selected Teddy Bridgewater in the first-round of the draft and Norv Turner has raved about him all summer. Cassel must come out and show there is a gap between the two of them. At 32-years-old, on his third team, this may be his last legit shot at being a starting quarterback in the league.
3. Percy Harvin
In 2012, Harvin was in the MVP conversation before he got injured. In 2013, Harvin spent most of the season on the injury list but was a spark on offense in the Super Bowl versus the Denver Broncos. Injuries have been the hiccup in Harvin’s career that have kept him from being considered one of the elite receivers in the NFL.
There will be pressure on Harvin to perform for two reasons. First, the departure of Golden Tate means quarterback Russell Wilson has lost his favorite deep threat. Secondly, the Seattle Seahawks gave up a No. 1 pick to get Harvin. He will need to give the team enough production where management doesn’t feel like they made a bad decision in making that deal. His talent warranted the deal, but if he can’t stay healthy it ultimately was a mistake.
4. Vernon Davis
Davis spent the offseason telling anyone who would listen he would like a new contract. His numbers say that he may have an argument. Last season Davis had 52 receptions, 850 yards receiving, and 13 touchdowns. He is slated to make $4.7 million this season. People will argue that he signed a contract and that he should honor it. NFL contracts are not like normal deals, they change all the time. This offseason the Pittsburgh Steelers demanded that Ike Taylor take a $4.25 million pay cut or they would release him. Taylor had a contract in place.
Davis is just trying to get the most money out of his talent for the short time he can. The problem is he has now placed a ton of pressure on himself to perform at a high level. If he struggles people will say the contract dispute was a distraction, or worse, this is why he does not deserve a new deal. He should not be looking for a Jimmy Graham–type deal but based on his production, he is under-paid.
5. Frank Gore
Gore defied age last season and did not have a huge drop off in production. When a running back hits the age of 28, teams become afraid, but when they hit 30, teams tend to release them. The San Francisco 49ers held on to Gore and he rewarded them for it. The problem is “Father Time” is undefeated, and while Gore has held him off longer than most, eventually he will fall victim as well.
Gore needs a solid camp because he has hungry young running backs itching to take carries away from him. Kendall Hunter, LaMichael James, Carlos Hyde, and Marcus Lattimore all want the opportunity to be the main guy. If Gore shows any sign of slowing down it is likely the 49ers will use it as a chance to start splitting carries with another back.
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