The life of a veteran player in the NFL this time of the year has got to be pretty awkward, especially for those players who are free agents or are about to become free agents. You've got every fan out there clamoring for your replacement and that replacement has already been anointed as the hall-of-fame player that you never became.
It's the optimism flowing through every fans mock draft as they're sure that 'their' guy is the next All-Pro and difference-maker right from the start. This is obviously an exaggerated version of a thought-process that does actually happen for most NFL fans.
That thought-process is happening for most Kansas City Chiefs fans right now as two of the most popular positions that could potentially be upgraded with a high draft pick in this weeks' NFL draft are at left guard and inside linebacker, at least according to the draft experts and most fans. What most fans aren't necessarily thinking about right now though is that these two positions are currently held by veteran players that are under contract for next season.
It's obviously a good problem to have as you want to develop these young guys so that they can eventually take over when they're ready to play. But how does that play out on a daily basis at practice, in the meeting rooms, and during off-season training activities for these veteran guys that are then looking at helping groom the guy who's about to take their job? That's where the idea of 'veteran leadership' comes into play in my opinion. It's not about the guy 'rah rah'ing' on the sideline during the last two minutes of the game. It's about helping bring along a younger player that could eventually take over your job. It's part of being a professional.
The Kansas City Chiefs could have this particular situation this season as guys like Ryan Lilja and Jovan Belcher, who have been under heavy scrutiny this off-season, could have their potential replacements taken as high as the first round come Thursday. With both Lilja and Belcher under contract for next season it's fair to say that they will be a big part of the early development of any player that's selected to take over for them.
David DeCastro is one of the most popular picks for Chiefs fans right now. The guard from Stanford is thought to be the best guard prospect to come out in a very long time and would probably come in and start right away if all the hype surrounding him turns out to be true. But just because he could be a more physically gifted player than Lilja at this point in his career, that doesn't mean that there still aren't things that he'll need to learn right now, and most likely learn from Lilja himself. It's the attitudes of veteran players like Ryan Lilja in these situations that go a long ways in how quickly a young player develops, or if the player develops at all.
The other situation would be with inside linebacker Jovan Belcher, who was just given a second-round tender for the 2012 season by the Chiefs. There has been a lot of talk about the Chiefs taking Boston College linebacker, Luke Kuechly, with the No. 11 pick if they decide to not trade out of that spot. The pick of Kuechly would signify that he's the future of that inside linebacker position for the Chiefs.
How would Belcher react to bringing in a player like Kuechly as a first round pick? It's one thing if it's a 4th round flier on a guy because you know they're always going to bring in guys and create competition. But it's a whole different animal to see a player taken at No. 11 in the first round that plays the same position as you do.
It is something that would be very difficult for fans to grasp because we're talking about the inner-circle of player relationships from the locker room, film study, and everything associated with being a NFL player that isn't on camera Sunday's in the fall. It's also where the character of these veteran players will be tested. Are they going out of their way to help these new guys understand the schemes and positions' specific responsibilities? I'd like to think they would be but I also understand the conflict of interest in their own personal goals and careers.
The bottom line is that these particular situations should be handled in a "What's best for the team?" kind of way. I think it's easier said than done and in most cases, but I'd like to think we've got the kind of players that will help along their teammates. And I for one respect the situation that these veteran players are put in and I respect the hell out of these guys that handle the situation in the manner that benefits the team, even if it means it doesn't benefit them personally.