Replacements for 10 aging stars

The Ravens have to consider who will step in when Ray Lewis grabs a mike or headset. Geoff Burke/US Presswire

There's a saying around the NFL that the game dictates when you leave, you don't get to make the decision for yourself. Injuries slow you down, speed fades and you can quickly go from the starting lineup to the cut list. Liz Merrill hits the subject today for us. But there are exceptions.

Now and then you see guys who seem to be able to play forever and really do need to decide when to go out on their own terms. What I've done below is picked out 10 players who are firmly in the "veteran" category and how their teams could approach looking for replacements, particularly in the upcoming draft. On the Urgency Meter, a 5 means there's a little time to work with or the position doesn't require a high pick. If it's a 1, the team needs to act fast. I'm sure there are more guys out there, but this is a glimpse.

Ray Lewis
Urgency Meter: 2

It's pretty incredible to think that Lewis will be entering his 17th NFL season this summer. 17th! I say that because if you watched Lewis this year, you saw a guy playing at a very high level for the most part. He's not quite as fleet as he once was, but his instincts are so superb that he can mask a lost step or two. He even holds up pretty well in coverage. My guess is that Lewis comes back for 2012, then hangs it up next offseason. In my first mock draft, I had the Ravens taking Vontaze Burfict out of Arizona State, so it's clear that I think there's some urgency to develop a linebacker who can step in for Lewis. It's not for the coming season, but I think the Ravens should be looking for a middle linebacker with one of their first three picks this year.

Brian Urlacher