It used to be a given. They'd lounge around the dorms, prank a couple of rookies and sign a few hundred autographs. Training camp was a necessary evil, the preseason a complete joke. They were stars, or prospects, and they were going to make the team. No amount of tomfoolery or egomania would change that.
Now that time has slowed their fleet feet and weakened their muscles, their prospects look dimmer. Perhaps they never achieved their potential, or maybe proved too headstrong for an organization's liking.
No matter the cause, these veterans now find themselves locked in a fight for their careers, exerting every ounce of energy left in their fickle frames for one more shot in the National Football League.
The former Pittsburgh Steeler didn't make many friends during his time in the Steel City, and as long as the oblong ball went through the yellow uprights, nobody seemed to mind. In 2010, when Reed's aim betrayed him, the Steelers were all too pleased to release the veteran kicker.
After a year in San Francisco, Reed has landed in the NFC West once more with the Seattle Seahawks, the team he kicked against in Super Bowl XL. With a record of bad behavior preceding him, Reed will have to prove he's better than fellow placekicker Brandon Coutu to put aside any character questions and earn a spot on Pete Carroll's team.
One thing working in Reed's favor is the new rule putting kickoffs at the 35-yard line. Reed was never a great kickoff man, but under the new regulations, that may not matter.
After a fantastic rookie season that saw him catch 80 balls for 1193 yards, the former first-round pick of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers found himself fighting to get onto the field for the injury-depleted New York Giants last season. Clayton hasn't eclipsed 500 yards receiving since his first year, and at 28 years old, he's a long shot to make the Giants' roster.
He's already behind Hakeem Nicks, Mario Manningham and Domenik Hixon on the depth chart, and he'll need to outpace Devin Thomas, Duke Calhoun and Ramses Barden in order to make the team. He's further proof of how fleeting success can be as a wideout in the NFL.
Shifting from NY's pass catchers to their pass throwers, could this be the final act of David Carr's uninspired professional career? It certainly looks that way. The Giants typically keep two quarterbacks on the roster, and Rosenfels is far and away the more accomplished pro.
Carr does have the financials working in his favor, with Rosenfels due $2 million more this season than the former Fresno State star. Eli Manning has proven durable during his career, so Big Blue could take the frugal route and keep Carr. Chances are that one of these two is out of a job come September 11th.
Bernard Berrian's rock-bottom 2010 (28 receptions for 252 yards) was just the latest disappointment in what's been a lackluster Vikings career. Supposedly Minnesota considered releasing him this offseason, but decided the former Bears star deserved one more look.
Early reports on Berrian in training camp all came back glowing, and that may save the veteran wideout's hide. His preseason performance has been so strong, in fact, that he's currently listed as a starter alongside Percy Harvin. Considering his declining production and advanced age, Berrian will need to maintain that level of play in order to stay with the Vikes.
Would the New England Patriots do it? Would they release the prime time defensive tackle they just acquired via trade, as this report suggests?
Of course they would, they're the Patriots. If players don't fall into line they cut them. So far it seems Haynesworth's issue isn't behavior as much as it is performance. Haynesworth didn't practice this week and won't play in the Patriots' next preseason game.
My guess is that New England sees more impact potential in Haynesworth than they do in fellow newcomer Chad Ochocinco, but if Haynesworth can't prove his mettle before Week 1, he may hit the chopping block.
The Patriots didn't give up much to get him, and they certainly don't need him to make another deep playoff run. Combine those factors with a restructured contract that pays him next to nothing this year, and he's at least a candidate for release.
A week ago, this spot may have been reserved for current Buffalo Bill Shawne Merriman. After Merriman broke out in his first preseason game with Buffalo, the role of imperiled pass rusher now belongs to former Bill Aaron Maybin.
The former first-rounder from Penn State didn't record a single sack during two unhappy seasons in Buffalo, and the Bills wiped their hands of him earlier this week. The New York Jets, always on the prowl for more defense, took a waiver on Maybin in the hopes that he'd harness the potential that made him such a coveted amateur.
Needles to say, if Maybin doesn't prove himself in a hurry, the Jets will send him packing.
I have to think one of these two is out of a job before the season starts. Stewart Bradley has struggled with injury the past couple of seasons, failing to deliver on the promise he showed early in his career with the Philadelphia Eagles. Apparently those Brian Urlacher comparisons were a bit premature, and if Bradley can't stay on the field, he'll leave Arizona in a hurry.
Joey Porter took a pay cut this offseason, an indicator of his deteriorating skills. If a younger player like O'Brien Schofield or Bradley can supplant him, the Arizona Cardinals might consider letting Porter go. On that front, his tendency to talk won't work in his favor.
Barrett Ruud's contract tells you all you need to know. One year. That's what the Tennessee Titans gave him, and he won't even have that long to prove he belongs. The future in Nasvhille is rookie Colin McCarthy, and if he can prove he's ready now, the Titans won't have much use for Ruud.
In order to stake his claim, Ruud needs to combat the perception that he's soft against the run. A good camp could go a long way towards landing him a bigger contract next year, but the 28-year-old has plenty to prove.
Like Ruud, Atari Bigby couldn't find anything better on the free-agent market than the one-year deal he netted with the Seattle Seahawks. The safety showed potential in Green Bay, just not enough to keep the champs interested. The short contract reflects Bigby's injury issues, and if he doesn't stay on his feet with the Seahawks, he won't last long there.
I could see this year going either way for Bigby. He could start, and even star, in Seattle alongside second-year standout Earl Thomas. But it's just as likely he'll suffer another injury and find himself out of the league for good. Here's hoping he fares better than that other defensive back with a video-game-related name.
Chad Ochocinco's entertaining and controversial career might be in its final act. I'm not suggesting New England will be his last stop, but if he doesn't make this Patriots team, he's likely only a season or two from retirement.
The reasons to keep Ochocinco are largely financial. The Patriots already sunk a $4.5 million bonus into him for this year because of a restructured contract. With that commitment made, New England will likely keep him around through this season.
Of course, those figures haven't stopped the rumor mill from churning out reports that New England will jettison him before the season starts. Ochocinco isn't a make-or-break player for the Patriots, so his spot on the team will reflect his attitude and performance. So far, there have been no negative reports on the former. Whether or not he's still quick enough to make a difference on the field, remains to be seen.
As you all know, it's a big league with a bunch of big dudes. I'm sure I missed somebody, and I'm sure you'll let me know in the comments.