Players age and their abilities deteriorate, but that only begins to explain what has happened to Packers tight end Bubba Franks.
Franks is a three-time Pro Bowler who scored 27 touchdowns from 2001-04. It was after the 2004 season that Franks became a free agent. After the Packers slapped him with the transition tag, they later signed him to a seven-year, $28 million contract that included $7 million in guaranteed money.
The day after Franks signed the deal, he stood in front of a group of reporters and said he wanted to become the best tight end in Packers' storied history.
Then, he disappeared.
For the last two seasons, Franks has done virtually nothing to earn the millions that the Packers have paid him. He had just 25 catches for 207 yards and one touchdown during an injury-plagued 2005 season. Last year, despite playing in every game, he had just 25 catches for 232 yards and no touchdowns.
Franks had trouble catching the ball and was a liability in the red zone. The only thing Franks did well last season was block and toward the end of the season that was all he was being asked to do. In five games last season, Franks was held without a catch. In four others, he caught just one.
In fact, the main reason Franks is still on the Packers' roster is because he only costs $1.5 million against the salary cap. But he's been so bad over the last two seasons that when he showed up at the Packers' organized team activities and found out that Donald Lee had taken over as Green Bay's new starting tight end.
Yes, this is the same Donald Lee who was the Packers' third-stringer and caught all of 10 passes last season.
That hardly means that Lee will be the starter when the 2007 season starts. There's still a lot of time between now and the beginning of the season and it won't be difficult to imagine Franks winning his starting job back between now and September.
But for now, Packers coach Mike McCarthy clearly wants to get Franks' attention. He wants to make it clear that even a first-round pick, and a three-time Pro Bowler can be benched if he isn't producing.
Franks walked into a starting job after the Packers took him in the first round of the 2000 draft, but this year's training camp may be the first time he has to fight for his job. With one action, McCarthy has let Franks know that his play the last two seasons has been unacceptable. If Franks wants to win his job back, he's got to show the coaching staff something between now and the beginning of the season. McCarthy wants to see if Franks can become the same player he was from 2001-04 when he was one of the better tight ends in the NFL.
Franks will be given every opportunity to succeed. Brett Favre desperately needs another veteran target and if Franks is able to play the way he did early in his career, the Packers offense could get a much-needed boost.
If Franks doesn't, losing his starting job may be the least of his worries.
Dylan Tomlinson is a frequent contributor to PackerReport.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.