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Vested veterans can now sign without guaranteed salaries

Ray Rice

FILE - In this Aug. 7, 2014, file photo, Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice sits on the sideline in the first half of an NFL preseason football game against the San Francisco 49ers in Baltimore. The Ravens have cut Ray Rice. Hours after the release of a video that appears to show Rice striking his then-fiancee in February, the team terminated his contract Monday, Sept. 8, 2014. (AP Photo/Nick Wass, File)


In the NFL, a vested veteran who is on the Week One roster is guaranteed his full-season salary, even if he ends up getting cut in Week Two. As a result, vested veterans often get plenty of phone calls in Week Two.

Vested veterans who sign during the season are guaranteed only 25 percent of their salary, or one extra week of salary if they’re cut after they’ve been on the roster for 25 percent of the season. That’s why vested veterans become cheaper alternatives (and more attractive to cap-strapped teams) after Week One than they are before Week One.

That’s what happened with Joe Hawley, the veteran offensive lineman who’s signing with the Buccaneers today. The Bucs visited with Hawley last week, but they held off on signing him until this week, when they won’t have to pay out his full 2015 salary if things don’t work out.

So which other vested veterans could be getting calls this week?

At quarterback, Jason Campbell, Rex Grossman, Christian Ponder, Thad Lewis and Matt Flynn are among the names worth keeping an eye on. No team would be thrilled with those guys starting, but they’ve all played the position competently in the past.

At wide receiver, Wes Welker has said he’d like to keep playing but hasn’t gotten a call yet. Randy Moss has also hinted that he’s interested in coming back. Reggie Wayne, who had a brief stay in New England during the preseason, is still out there. So is Brad Smith, the receiver/returner/quarterback who has bounced around the league for years.

The name that would draw the most attention is running back Ray Rice, who still wants to play but may never get the chance because he became the poster boy for the NFL’s domestic violence problem last year. One of Rice’s problems is that some of the other running backs available -- including Steven Jackson, Pierre Thomas, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Ahmad Bradshaw and Tim Hightower -- may be better players on the field without any off-field baggage.

Offensive tackle Jake Long has worked out for multiple teams and seems to have enough interest that he’s likely to sign eventually, perhaps as soon as this week.

On defense, players including Dwight Freeney, Barry Cofield and Da’Quan Bowers are available. Lance Briggs made a specific point of saying he’s not retiring when he announced recently that he’s taking a TV job, so he’s still out there, too.

And kicker Jay Feely could be an option for a team looking to replace a shaky young player with an established veteran.