One of the main objectives of any general manager is maximizing his roster. Ideally, a team will have 25-30 starting-caliber players, and a solid group of young, cheap backups. Taking into account salary cap issues, injuries, age, experience and production, a general manager must mix and match to end up with the best possible depth chart. These decisions can impact the future of a team. The following types of players require the most careful consideration:
A great backup behind a star player is a luxury few teams can afford. During the season, the best situation is for the star player to play every game and the backup to receive a limited number of snaps. If the star gets injured, the backup is unlikely to play at the same level.
This backup will get a lot of preseason exposure, with the hope of increasing his value throughout the league. The hope is that another team will have a need for the player.
The question then becomes whether a general manager can receive enough in a trade to outweigh the insurance value of that backup to his team. Of course, if a player is dealt, the team can always use his cap money to find a replacement. If the player is traded for a draft pick, his former team can also use the selection to acquire a younger player.
Keep in mind, because of the money star players command, re-signing a talented backup when his contract expires is almost impossible. A great example of this is the running back situation in San Diego. The Chargers have a great deal of money invested in LaDainian Tomlinson, and even though they value backup running back Michael Turner, they won't be able to sign him next year.
The next scenario involves an older player with a large cap number, injury issues and/or diminishing skills. His team knows more about his present condition than anyone in the league. If a decision is made to move the player, the team must attempt to keep his value as high as possible, perhaps by limiting his playing time. This will keep him healthy and likely ensure his value remains at the same level. Playing him can be risky as it subjects him to injury, and if he struggles his value will probably decrease. If a team isn't sure a player will perform, holding him out might be the smart move. This scenario can be seen in Denver with Gerard Warren. This scenario was recently seen in Denver with Gerrard Warren. The Broncos sat Warren in order to keep him healthy and then traded him to the Raiders for a draft pick.
Some of the toughest decisions involve late-round choices and practice squad-eligible players, including all free-agent rookies. Each season, there will be a number of players a team would prefer to keep for future consideration. The practice squad is an obvious option, but because practice-squad players have to pass waivers, a team might lose someone to another club.
If a player clears waivers and lands on the practice squad, any team can sign him at any time during the season. The only sure way to protect this player is to hope he can land on Injured Reserve. If he ends up on IR, he is not eligible for the present season, but the player will remain on his current team's roster for the entire season. If he is a rookie, the team retains his rights for a number of years. What may seem like a present-day disaster might end up being the best for both player and team.
Former Tennessee Titans general manager Floyd Reese contributes frequently to ESPN.com.