One important aspect to consider when making roster moves in the offseason is the impact veteran leadership has on a team. NFL teams often try to get younger in order to help improve the team, but without those veteran leaders the young players will have no one to lead them in the locker room.
Coaching staffs will always be around to guide players on the field, but off the field and in the locker room it is the veterans who lead the team. They are the ones who teach the young players how to be digest what is being instructed and apply it, as well as supplementing what the coaches are teaching, and how go about things the right way.
The trick for teams is to then balance when it is time to let the veteran leaders go and let the young players step up in their place and lead the team. The Minnesota Vikings appear to be approaching that crossroad this offseason. They have been working on getting younger the past couple seasons and a few of their recent draft picks have started to step up in leadership roles.
The team has veteran players already on their roster or who are free agents this offseason and they will need to make some decisions on whether or not they wish to bring these players back next year.
“I think there’s a balance there. You have young leaders that are willing to step up, but you can’t discount the fact of that veteran leadership, too,” said Vikings general manager Rick Spielman. “I think last year was a key on some of our veteran leaders with this young football team. To have a Chad Greenway, to have a (Brian Robison), to have a Terence Newman-type guy that can still contribute on the field, but also, that presence and that leadership to give that direction to those young guys. What you’re seeing now is, some of those younger guys that have been here for maybe one, two, some three years, with that established, when the new guys come in, you have that presence in the locker room, or you have it that, ‘This is the way we’re going to do things,’ and the young guys have a tendency to fall in line.”
Greenway has spent all 10 of his years in the NFL with the Vikings and has been a member of the organization longer than any other player on the roster. He was voted as one of the team’s captains last season and even though his role was limited it was still clear how much he meant to the defense, especially the linebackers on the roster.
The veteran linebacker turned 33 in January, which makes him just one of two linebackers over the age of 30 on the Vikings roster (the other being Justin Trusnik, who the team signed part way through the season to help provide depth). A majority of the Vikings linebackers are 25 years old or younger, which makes having a player like Greenway important because he can help teach them and keep an eye on them when the coaches can’t.
The same kind of thing can be said about players such as Robison and Newman. All these veteran leaders provide experience and an insight to the game that young players can’t, but at the same time as veterans continue to get older they often can’t keep up with the younger players on the roster.
These veterans also have younger players behind them on the depth chart who have shown flashes that they are ready to step up and become full-time starters. It then is up to the coaches and the Vikings front office to decide which players give them the best chance to win, veterans or young players.
Another veteran player that the Vikings will have to make some decisions with is wide receiver Mike Wallace. They traded for him during the offseason last year and expected him to make a huge impact in the offense and provide the team with a downfield threat. That did not happen, and now he is scheduled to make $11.5 million in 2016, which is more than a receiver that records 39 receptions for 473 yards and two touchdowns should make.
Still, Spielman made it sound like the team is going to try to hold onto Wallace because of the veteran presence he provides the team, although it still seems unlikely they would do that at Wallace’s current price tag.
“Mike may not have had the production that he envisioned or we envisioned when he came in, but his leadership, his work ethic, how he took some of those young guys under his wing were all A-plus,” Spielman said. “Considering him for a guy coming in the first year being a tremendous leader for us down there, and even though the production part wasn’t there, some of the stuff that he did in this building, that he has done in this building, I (attribute) a lot of our success to him. And then how he approaches his business.”
Another thing to keep in mind when dealing with veterans on a team is giving them what they deserve. If a player works hard, does everything right and helps the team win it is often important to reward them. It shows the younger players in the locker room that the front office is willing to reward the efforts put forward on the football field.
The Vikings are going to have to make a lot of decisions regarding their veteran leaders this offseason, and it may be the year where there is a clear changing of the guard for the Vikings. With multiple, important contracts coming up for young, talented players on the roster it may be some of the more veteran players who get cut or not re-signed to make room.