There is an adage that purports it is always easier to find a job when you've already got gainful employment.
Judging by the number of veteran NFL players who have been released in the past month or so, and who have yet to find new employment, that might seem to be the case around the league. If a player has been waived recently, he has had little attention in free agency. But players, agents, general managers and coaches surveyed this week debunked the suggestion that a lack of work would cause misgivings about the status of players recently released.
As of the morning of March 6, there have been 83 veterans released in the past month. As you'll see by surveying ESPN.com's 22-player "All-Cut team" (see below), there were plenty of stars trimmed from various marquees. Only a handful of the waived have landed jobs with new teams. But team officials insisted, almost to a man, that there is no overriding bias or prejudice against signing veteran players who have been cut.
"We rate those guys the same way we do everyone else," said Tampa Bay Buccaneers general manager Mark Dominik. "When a player is released, we immediately put him in the same pool as the unrestricted free agents. And we constantly re-evaluate the list according to the three categories we use. Top five at a position, top 10, and what we call an "emergency player." In fact, we update and re-evaluate that list every day."
Some released players never find jobs. Every year, there is a group of about 80-100 veterans who are unrestricted free agents, or players released by teams, who seem to fade out of the NFL consciousness. That likely will hold true this spring as well.
Natural attrition occurs several ways -- via free agency, being released, diminished physical skills, a change in coaching staff or philosophy, a new system or being cut for salary cap purposes. Still, the number of veterans released and available rarely fluctuates much. Usually, the players who can still perform find new jobs.
"A player is a player, no matter what," said agent Roosevelt Barnes, representative for wide receiver Laveranues Coles, who was recently released by the New York Jets and quickly found a buyer with the Cincinnati Bengals.
"Honestly, if a team thinks a player can help, it will sign him. Of course, every individual is different. And I guess every team has different feelings, too."
This spring, there seems to be an inordinate number of released veteran starters looking for jobs. Those who keep records of such things, however, suggest that 2009 has been the same as most offseasons over the past five years. Perhaps this year, however, the released players without new jobs include more high-profile veterans, like wide receiver Terrell Owens and strong safety Roy L. Williams, both released by the Dallas Cowboys this week.
The list even includes two future Hall of Fame members -- wide receiver Marvin Harrison (released by the Indianapolis Colts) and linebacker Derrick Brooks (released by the Bucs) -- along with several other notable players.
Unfortunately, many of those players have seen their physical skills diminished enough that their name is bigger than their game at this point. And the name recognition alone isn't enough to merit a contract.
For the most part, only those players with something left in the tank are signed by teams seeking to fill holes. And many franchises will frequently opt for a younger (read: cheaper) player than a more expensive veteran.
One player who will be heavily debated in coming days is Owens, who still might be relatively productive despite a decline in his numbers. But Owens has torched bridges for every team for which he has played in 13 NFL seasons. At age 35, Owens faces the perception leaguewide that he is no longer a No. 1 receiver. There are clubs that will automatically pass on Owens, because of the kind of headaches he brings with him.
Agent Drew Rosenhaus has his work cut out for him in locating a new place for his problematic client.
"Sometimes you work harder for those [older guys] than you do for a rookie free agent after the draft," said veteran agent Ralph Cindrich. "It's like some teams feel that [released] players have a kind of stigma about them. That's not the case, certainly ... but they can still be a difficult sell."
Coles was one of the fortunate few. Pass-rushing defensive end Jason Taylor, released by Washington this week, reportedly has a dozen teams vying for his services. On the flip side, it's believed that Harrison, the No. 2 receiver in NFL history, has drawn only modest interest so for.
The same is true for many of the unemployed veterans.
"Sometimes you get so caught up in [evaluating] a free agent, you sort of lose sight of those [released] veterans," said Arizona Cardinals general manager Rod Graves. "But you eventually get to them and grade them. You conduct your due diligence, just like you do with other players. Age might enter into [your decision], but you still rate a player largely on his football skills."
By nature, most veterans who are released are older players. Of the 22 players on ESPN.com's "All-Cut Team," only five are 28 years of age or younger. The baby of the group is center Mark Setterstrom, who was not tendered by the St. Louis Rams, and thus became a free agent. Conversely, nine of the players are 33 or older.
Dewayne Robertson is one player who seems to have been victimized by a change in coaching staff, and a subsequent shift from the 4-3 defense to a 3-4 look. He has been getting regular phone calls since the Denver Broncos released him. The first-round pick of the New York Jets in 2003 (fourth player selected overall), Robertson is only 27 years old. But he is viewed largely as a player who has not lived up to his enormous potential.
Still, it's likely that Robertson's skills will land him in some training camp this summer.
"My experience tells me that it's still a case-by-case situation," said agent Hadley Engelhard, who represents Robertson. "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. What might be the right move for some team or some player might not be as good for someone else. But teams want to win in this league. If a guy can help them, they'll probably sign him, no matter how many times he's been cut."
Most of the standouts below still were looking for a new team as of the morning of March 6.
Notes: (a) signed with Bengals; (b) signed with Patriots; (c) signed with Redskins; (d) signed with Patriots.
Senior writer Len Pasquarelli covers the NFL for ESPN.com.