NFL draft can be wake-up call for vets

If team selects player at their position high, it reflects on how they truly are regarded

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Everyone is replaceable in the NFL.

That's a hard lesson many veterans in Chicago and across the league will learn when the NFL draft begins Thursday night in New York.

Rookies aren't just drafted to provide "competition" or "depth" to the roster — the buzzwords we hear constantly at this time on the NFL calendar. That's classic "coach speak" that will be filtered out through news conferences at Halas Hall and elsewhere over the weekend.

But it's far from the truth.

There is no "competition" with first-round picks. They are drafted to play, to start and to push veterans out of the way. Those high-priced rooks are an investment in the team's future so management (and coaches) will give them ample opportunities to see the field on opening day.

As a veteran, you might believe you had a good season the year before. That's fine. Think whatever you want throughout the winter months and the beginning of the offseason program.

However, the draft will tell you exactly how the team views your talents.

A rookie drafted at your position early this weekend? Hey, I have bad news for you, buddy. Your time probably is limited. Call your agent and complain if you want, but the writing is on the wall.

The club isn't just upgrading its roster; it is, in fact, upgrading over you.

Maybe the veteran can hold off a rookie during camp and keep his starting job to open the season. That's possible, considering rookies get lost trying to find the bathroom in the team facility when they arrive.

But, eventually, that rookie is going to get a legitimate shot to take the veteran's job.

I've been there multiple times. With the Rams, it was Adam Archuleta. With the Redskins, it was Sean Taylor. And with the Bills (my final stop on a journeyman career), it was Donte Whitner.

Those first-round safeties were drafted to contribute immediately. Those thoughts of mine actually competing for a starting spot? Limited. Back to special teams and covering kicks.

These draftees will experience a level of nervousness this weekend they never have felt before while they sit by the phone waiting (and sometimes begging) for it to ring. All they want is an opportunity to see their name flash across the screen and hear their new coach or general manager on the other end of the line welcoming them to the NFL.

It's a great feeling, a once in a lifetime experience they never will forget. Now, they will get paid to play football. It's a beautiful thing.

The Bears head into this draft with a new boss in Phil Emery who already has shown he is willing to make the necessary moves to improve this club. That continues Thursday night and throughout Friday and Saturday.

Maybe there will be a new defensive end to rush the passer or an offensive tackle, wide receiver, cornerback, etc. They will be rookies who will bring some excitement to the city during baseball season.

But don't forget about the vets. They also will experience some anxious moments when the Bears are on the clock.

From a player's perspective, the draft often will tell you where you stand in the eyes of the team.

Special contributor Matt Bowen, who played at Glenbard West and Iowa, spent seven seasons in the NFL as a strong safety. You also can find his work at nationalfootballpost.com.
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