Pelissero: No guidance, no guarantees for late-round picks in lockout
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Mistral Raymond still is living in his college apartment. His lease expires on June 30, and he's not sure where to go from there.
Like 253 other players selected in last month's draft and hundreds more who weren't, the Minnesota Vikings' sixth-round pick (No. 170 overall) is waiting out the NFL lockout with no job, no signing bonus, no idea when things will change.
And as a onetime walk-on at the University of South Florida, Raymond doesn't need to be reminded that each day spent at home in Tampa is a day he's not making an impression on the coaches and scouts who will decide whether he's sent home again on cut-down day.
"It just lets you know that there's no time to waste once you get there," Raymond said by phone last week. "So, you have to make sure you come there and you're in shape and you're ready to learn from a mental standpoint and that physically, you're able to withstand the wear and tear that they're going to put on you early."
Veterans have a track record in all of those categories -- work ethic, football intelligence, durability. Teams know what they can and can't do, who can be trusted in what role, etc.
It doesn't make much difference for high draft picks, whose talent and contracts guarantee them roster spots from the day they're drafted. Even mid-round selections probably won't be drastically affected by a lockout that already has dragged on long enough to wipe out all offseason activities.
But sixth-round picks? Seventh-rounders? Rookie free agents who weren't allowed to sign anywhere when the draft ended?
"If they really need a fair chance to make your team, then they've got to be in the OTAs, the minicamps," a personnel director for an AFC team said. "They've got to be making impressions. Walk in in August and just go out there and start practicing -- for those guys, that'd be a tough road to hoe."
Fifty-six of 86 players (65.1%) selected in the sixth and seventh rounds of last year's draft finished the season on 53-man rosters. Others ended up on injured reserve, practice squads or out of football altogether. And that was with far more than the week or two this year's class might have to get up to speed once the lockout is lifted.
DeMarcus Love is back home near Dallas. Another sixth-round pick (168th overall) by the Vikings, he's working out with friends every day, trying to remember all the conditioning and nutrition tips he picked up over five years at the University of Arkansas.
"It's tough being without the game," Love said. "But at the same time, you know that eventually it's going to happen. It's not going to go on forever. So, you've just got to stay in shape and you've got to stay mentally focused on what you want to do and everything that you have to do to get into camp and be ready to go."
Vikings coach Leslie Frazier has refused to publicly sever ties with any of his veterans during this unusual offseason, and with good reason. He knows the deficiencies of players such as safety Madieu Williams, receiver Bernard Berrian, nose tackle Pat Williams and offensive lineman Ryan Cook, but the fear of the unknown might be greater.
Money is one thing, and a reduced salary cap could have teams across the league making hard decisions at the top of their payrolls. But who is more prepared to contribute in a season without a training camp -- Madieu Williams or Raymond? Cook or Love? Berrian or seventh-round pick Stephen Burton?
The goal in the late rounds is to find players with developmental upside and enough dominant traits to raise their ceiling. That perspective changes when prime development time is lost, particularly for teams such as the Vikings, who will be implementing new schemes to their entire roster in two of three phases.
"Nobody could do any of that, and universally, the whole offseason program is going to be out," an NFC personnel man said. "So, teams are going to keep more vets this year than they will rookies, just because of that. Just because they've been through it."
Talk already has begun about expanding rosters, perhaps to 56 players. Then again, there also has been speculation within the agent community that some late-round picks might not be signed at all by teams who don't want to flush five-figure bonuses on players with virtually no chance to make the team out of camp.
It all leaves players such as Raymond looking on anxiously from afar, knowing the only thing they control is what they do each day when they wake up. Wherever that may be.
"I think I speak for a lot of guys coming out this year -- it's all we knew," Raymond said. "A lot of guys come out before, they had opportunities to get right into rookie minicamps and OTAs and all that stuff. But you only get one experience, and this just happens to be our experience.
"It's all we knew, man, so we just accept it and you can't really do too much about it. Just prepare for when the horn blows."