PHOENIX -- When the NFL initially went to a salary cap system there was a simple formula used by teams: old dudes got pay cuts. If they refused, they were gone.
Old dudes usually meant players in their 30s. Now, in this new NFL, a different formula is being used: young dudes, you're getting your pay cut, too. Refuse, and you're gone.
What was missed by the incredible display of fax buffonery by the now fired agent for Denver's Elvis Dumervil was this: Why was Dumervil, a three-time Pro Bowl player who just turned 29, being asked to take pay cut to start? Even in a sport that is age-phobic, Dumervil is still young.
There are a number of other examples of the NFL becoming more ruthless than ever before with veteran players, cutting them at younger ages, or asking them to take pay cuts at younger ages, because teams are less afraid to go with still-younger players.
None of the players I spoke with are criticizing the deal with the NFL. They are instead blaming the mentality of players who are afraid to push for guaranteed contracts.
What I hear from players is that the rash of cuts means when the next CBA negotiations arrive, the players must strike, if needed, to get all contracts guarateed.
"That's the next front in this fight," one longtime veteran said. "Football needs to be like baseball."
Since owners would rather stab themselves in the eyes than agree to guaranteed deals, that next CBA brawl could be epic.
In the meantime, players and agents are privately expressing anger over what is becoming an obvious fact, almost a sea change in NFL economics, and player-team relations. Teams that once targeted players in their early to mid-30s for paycuts and outright cuts are now targeting players in even their late 20s -- all to save a buck despite the league flush with cash.
There's no true way to compare exactly how veterans are being treated now to, say, 15 years ago. Or even five. But anecdotally, at least, the feeling among players is the targets on their backs are getting bigger.