Which NFL Veterans Are in Danger of Losing Their Starting Jobs to 2014 Rookies?

NFL teams use the draft as a means to replace veterans who recently departed in free agency, as well as fill key needs. It’s a cheaper alternative to spending big bucks on players who might only have a few years of above-average production remaining in their careers. We saw this with the San Francisco 49ers last season, who let Dashon Goldson depart in free agency only to replace him with standout S Eric Reid.

The same can be said with each passing year. Who are this year’s veteran players teams were looking to replace during the 2014 NFL draft? Read on below to find out.

Matt Cassel, quarterback, Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings may talk about competition, but anyone who has paid close attention to their quarterback situation since Brett Favre retired knows full well that it isn’t going to be much of a competition in training camp. After trading up for Teddy Bridgewater at the end of the first round, Minnesota now has its franchise quarterback.

It makes little sense for the Vikings to delay the inevitable here. While I am a firm advocate of letting young quarterbacks sit for a while, especially if they are in put in a less-than-stellar situation, Bridgewater should be able to succeed early in his career. The Vikings boast a franchise left tackle in Matt Kalil, one of the best running backs in league history in the form of Adrian Peterson and a go-to tight end in Kyle Rudolph. They also have ample weapons on the outside in the form of Cordarrelle Patterson, Greg Jennings and Jarius Wright.

Cassel won three of his six starts last season, throwing 11 touchdowns compared to nine interceptions. He also just signed a new two-year, $10.5 million contract. Both his numbers and his salary suggest that Cassel will be Bridgewater’s primary back up in 2014 and beyond. This obviously leaves Christian Ponder out in the cold.

Brandon Pettigrew, tight end, Detroit Lions

While the Lions might very well run some nice two-tight-end sets in 2014, it’s rather obvious that Eric Ebron will be the starter when the season rolls around in September. He’s the highest-drafted tight end since Vernon Davis went sixth overall to the San Francisco 49ers back in 2006. That just goes to show you how the Lions feel about the North Carolina product.

Pettigrew, another former first-round pick, has been a major enigma in the Lions passing game for years now. And for the team, having to exhaust a top-10 pick on this position just a few years after drafting him shouldn’t inspire confidence that he’s going to see the field often.

According to Pro Football Focus, Pettigrew graded out as 10th-worst among qualified tight ends in the NFL last year. There is even a decent chance that second-year stud Joseph Fauria becomes the Lions No. 2 option when they run sets with two tight ends, which is something that they have done a great deal of over the years.

It’s also interesting that the Lions signed Pettigrew to an extension earlier this offseason, but we’ve all learned to stop trying to figure out their front office philosophy.

Kevin Burnett, linebacker, Oakland Raiders

It remains to be seen exactly where the Raiders plan on playing first-round pick Khalil Mack, but common logic seems to suggest it will be at one of the linebacker positions. He could either play the strong side role with Sio Moore moving to the weak side, or he could simply take over for Burnett as the Raiders starting weak-side linebacker.

In any case, Burnett, who has started 16 games in each of the last four seasons, will likely be relegated to bench duty in 2014. He recorded 104 tackles with three forced fumbles and 2.5 sacks a season ago. Burnett is owed $4.1 million this upcoming season, so there stands a chance that he even gets released. The issue there is that Oakland doesn’t really have anyone with experience ready to step up should Moore or Mack go down with an injury.

Dawan Landry, safety, New York Jets

Landry has been a regular starter in the NFL since breaking out as a rookie with the Baltimore Ravens back in 2006. He recorded 70 tackles, five interceptions and 11 passes defended that season and has started 112 games in eight NFL seasons.

He is now going to have to take a back seat to Calvin Pryor in New York.

The Jets may have reached for Pryor with the 18th overall pick, but safeties that are taken that high will start immediately. With Antonio Allen etched in stone at one starting safety position, there simply isn’t any room for Landry in the starting lineup. While Landry did record 100 tackles and seven passes defended last season, he was an utter mess in coverage.

According to Pro Football Focus, he allowed a 96.3 quarterback rating when targeted in 2014. With just a $1.8 million cap hit in 2014, there is no reason to believe that the Jets will release Landry. He can act as insurance in case Pryor struggles out of the gate, which should be anticipated.

Kendall Langford, defensive tackle, St. Louis Rams

Langford was a nice find for the Rams as a free agent from the Miami Dolphins prior to the 2012 season. In two years with the Rams, he has started 32 games and recorded seven sacks. According to Pro Football Focus, Langford ranked in the top 11 among all interior defensive linemen against the run last season. That’s a hard guy to push to the bench in lieu of a wide-eyed rookie.

Unfortunately for Langford fans, Aaron Donald is not a wide-eyed rookie and can start immediately. He has a chance to be a dominating interior pass rusher in a division where the position is extremely important. With mobile QBs Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson continuing to improve in the pocket, they need to be faced with pressure up the middle. That’s what Donald is going to bring to the table, even as a rookie. This doesn’t mean that Langford won’t get a ton of reps as a rotational backup.

Donald will be moved outside at times, leaving Langford to team up with Michael Brockers along the inside of the line. With that said, a starting defensive line that consists of Robert Quinn, Chris Long, Brockers and Donald has to be considered one of the best in the NFL. Langford will fall victim to this.

Lamar Holmes, offensive tackle, Atlanta Falcons

Whether the Falcons decide to play Jake Matthews at left tackle out of the gate or keep Sam Baker on that side of the line really isn’t the point here. While we know that’s the long-term solution in Atlanta, the short-term thought process has to be to keep Lamar Holmes as far away from the starting offensive line as possible.

Simply put, Holmes was a liability in every possible way last season. Tasked with replacing Sam Baker, who was lost for the final 12 games of the year, all Holmes did was give up 10 sacks and a ridiculous 53 quarterback hurries.

Justin Blackmon, wide receiver, Jacksonville Jaguars

Facing what promises to be a long suspension in 2014, Blackmon’s days with the Jaguars could be numbered. Their decision to pick up both Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson early on in the 2014 NFL draft indicated as much.

Flush will holes all over the field, general manager Dave Caldwell figured it was necessary to upgrade his receiving corps in order to help third overall pick Blake Bortles succeed early in his career. Unfortunately for Blackmon, he doesn’t figure to be a part of that plan.

According to ESPN, Jaguars owner Shad Khan had the following to say about Blackmon’s situation, who is still under indefinite suspension.

I think it’s an absolute tragedy….the best years (are) ahead of him but after a while, it’s out of your control.

Sounds like the Jaguars are giving up hope on Blackmon, who was the fifth overall pick in the 2012 NFL draft. It is a shame considering the natural talent that Blackmon possesses. He has hauled in 93 receptions for 1,280 yards and six touchdowns, in just 20 career games.