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Valued veterans poised to fulfill big roles in camp


EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - This summer was one veteran wide receiver James Jones wanted to slow down, and so he did. His two boys, one and three years old, were just coming into their own. Jones was free to set his own schedule for the first time in eight years and found that he enjoyed working out three times per day. He enjoyed having the time.

Unemployment, at least for an athlete who was coming off contracts worth $9.6 million and $11.3 million, respectively, was coming at the right stage of his life. He knew that if and when he put a helmet on again, it would be on his own terms, and it would only be in a situation that may help improve on a near-perfect summer.

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He received offers from the Eagles, Chiefs, Seahawks and Bengals. Though many veterans in his situation would opt out of training camp, or stave off the move as long as possible, Jones felt a chemistry in New York with an old friend in offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo. Had he signed elsewhere, he may have drawn out the process longer.

"I've been through free agency and I've been through the lockout, but for me personally I just wanted to be in a camp," Jones told Around The NFL. "Some veterans like to wait until that process is over, but I wanted to come in, get comfortable. That was one of my main things I told my agent. I wanted to get to know the guys."

Jones co-headlined one of the more intriguing veteran free-agent groups ever to hit the NFL leading into this year's camps. At the moment, Pro Bowl guard Evan Mathis is allowing the market to dictate his situation. Some believe his value has only increased since being released by the Eagles back in June.

Jake Long, the league's former No. 1 overall pick, sounds like a player refusing to settle for the bare minimum after making two separate visits to the Giants and a third to the Atlanta Falcons. At the least, his bet that another team will sustain a camp injury and give him a break on salary or brutal injury restrictions is a smart one.

Pierre Thomas, the former Saints standout, turned down an offer from the Houston Texans on Wednesday. If the team were to take another hit at running back, his value could increase dramatically.

"If someone goes down or, maybe another team might offer him more than the Texans do, I mean, that was one of the things my agent and I were talking about," Jones said. "When people get hurt, teams start getting desperate. Now that Arian Foster is hurt, you know, the Texans are probably getting a little desperate.

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"If another running back goes down, all of a sudden, Pierre Thomas is the man with the master plan."

As the NFL's lifespan for head coaches continues to dwindle, the pressure to find experienced starters or players who understand the terminology rises. The NFL is not the teaching league it used to be. People want results, and known commodities are sometimes an easy crutch to lean on, especially now that practice time has been sliced and regimented.

For Jones, it didn't necessarily result in a better salary. Per league records, his contract was worth the veteran's minimum. But it did allow him to wait, enjoy time with his family and eventually play in an offense that he thrived in while with the Packers. Between 2007 and 2013, he caught 310 balls for 4,305 yards and 37 touchdowns. He also didn't have to spend his free time buried in a playbook. Most of the calls are familiar to him now.

"We all have different mindsets, different things we want to do," Jones said. "...Those guys have to do what is best for them and what is best for their situations. I'm sure they all want to be out here right now but at the moment, teams aren't telling them things they like."

He added: "For me, I just wanted to come to a familiar offense. I have a real good relationship with McAdoo. I wanted to come in and hit the ground running, not learn a bunch of new signals or anything."

While the concept of "taking the power back" is still a fickle one for vets, especially those in the 30-plus range like Mathis, Jones and Thomas, this offseason has given them something to think about moving forward. At the least, they can take their time.

The latest Around The NFL Podcast features Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo sharing his thoughts on the upcoming season.