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Roster purges might just be business as usual


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Pat Kirwan


(March 3, 2006) -- There is a lot of tension in the air when it comes to the NFL, the salary cap, and an extension on the Collective Bargaining Agreement.


I am glad to see the two sides in these matters pushed back the start date of free agency so they can keep talking about an extension. The most important thing I learned as a negotiator was to keep talking and never let things get so bad that the communication stopped.


Despite six Pro Bowl trips, La'Roi Glover's age and salary led to his departure from Dallas.

Despite six Pro Bowl trips, La'Roi Glover's age and salary led to his departure from Dallas.

But while the dialogue continues, club executives have a job to do with their respective rosters. It would appear that many teams decided not to wait until the final decision about a new CBA to purge their salary-cap situation. That begs the question about why now and not later, when they will have all the facts and new cap information?


Of course, some would say if the salary cap goes up to $105 million with a new CBA instead of the $94.5 million it is at now, then maybe players who already have been cut would not necessarily had to have been terminated. But team executives are smart people, and there is little chance they are going to let people go before they have to just to prematurely get under a salary cap that doesn't exist yet.


To me, it appears that we are witnessing the natural correction period on NFL rosters -- the end-of-the-year adjustment that probably was going to happen anyway with 10 new head coaches in the league, medical issues and -- most important -- age-to-salary ratio. The NFL finally realizes you can't pay players for what they have done in the past, but only for what they can do in the future.


Terminations are happening so fast that by the time I finish writing this article, my list will be outdated, but a few points can be made about the roster adjustments that have been made this week.


Of the first 44 players to be shown the door, 32 of them play defense. It appears that the age of the players released has to be a big factor when salaries are factored in -- 23 of the defensive players and eight of the offensive players terminated would have been at least 30 years old this upcoming season. Almost 71 percent of the first wave of players cut have a birthday before 1977.


Eric Warfield turned 30 today, and his age might have played a role in his release.

Eric Warfield turned 30 today, and his age might have played a role in his release.

The NFL is a young man's game, and the first week of March is a big reminder of that issue. No sooner do the 32 clubs get back from the Scouting Combine in Indianapolis -- where they evaluated 330 prospects leaving college at an average age of 23 -- then they start making room for them. With seven rounds in the draft and a few extra picks (compensatory), room has to be made for the 230 young men entering the NFL, and so the cap purge starts up.


Now, if the CBA doesn't get extended, the wave of terminations will intensify, but the early cuts look more like the natural process taking its course. Look at the birth year of the players who have been set free to find work at a cheaper price -- or just retire. Keep in mind, 1976 or earlier means an over-30 football player.


Defensive linemen: Sam Adams, 1973; Ted Washington, 1968; Brady Smith, 1973; Brentson Buckner, 1971; La'Roi Glover, 1974; Gary Walker, 1973; Trevor Pryce, 1975; Kenard Lang, 1975; Lance Legree, 1977; Chris Cooper, 1977.


Defensive backs: Brent Alexander, 1971; Lawyer Milloy, 1973; Dexter McCleon, 1973; Denard Walker, 1973; Jerry Wilson, 1973; Ty Law, 1974; Marcus Coleman, 1974; Sam Madison, 1974; Tebucky Jones, 1974; Duane Starks, 1974; Eric Warfield, 1976; Ahmed Plummer, 1976; Reggie Howard, 1977; Andre Dyson, 1979; Derrick Gibson, 1979.


That pretty much paints the picture. Sure, players like Mike Anderson (1973) and Johnnie Morton (1971) probably will be back in the NFL in 2006, but the truth is that there is constant pressure to get a younger roster around the NFL.


As one former great NFL player said to me the other day, "I spent the first three seasons wondering if I was going to even make the team, then I spent four years enjoying being a pro, and then I spent two years waiting to be cut because of my age." He entered the NFL as a 22-year-old and left as an "old man" at the ripe age of 31.


There are a lot of professional football players staring at their cell phones this weekend expecting that call from their clubs letting them know they are headed in a different direction.

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