Marcus Stroud has been around long enough to know that nothing lasts forever.
As he concludes his 10th NFL season, and his third with the Buffalo Bills, the veteran defensive lineman doesn't know what the future holds for him. Although he is under contract through 2012, the 32-year-old Stroud understands that job security in the NFL is far from guaranteed, especially for an aging player.
So when Bills coach Chan Gailey said everyone is playing for their jobs in Sunday's season finale at the New York Jets, Stroud took it to heart.
"That's what [Gailey's] preaching and it makes sense," Stroud said. "You never know what can happen in this game. You've got younger guys coming in and doing it a lot cheaper, so you definitely have to do something to try to show that you can still play, show that your leadership skills are where they need to be. Anyone in this league can be replaced at some point, and if you're smart you take that into account."
Stroud may not be the same player who appeared in three Pro Bowls when he was in Jacksonville, but he is still an important contributor to the Bills' defense.
His 52 tackles (five behind the line of scrimmage) are tied for third among Bills defensive linemen and he's tied for third on the team with three sacks.
"He's played good," Gailey said. "He's probably never had a great game, you know where he got sacks, where he got tackles for losses and things like that. He's been very steady for us during the course of the year, and that's one thing that you've got to have. You've got to have those guys that you can depend on week in and week out to walk out there."
It's still not the kind of season Stroud hoped for, but he believes he has played well considering he's in a defense that was new to him.
A 4-3 defensive tackle his entire career, he had to make a big adjustment to playing defensive end in the Bills' new 3-4 scheme. He has responsibilities in the current defense that he didn't have before. Instead of playing a one-gap system in the 4-3 that he had been accustomed to, the 3-4 calls for him to be responsible for two gaps.
Albert Haynesworth, another career 4-3 defensive tackle, gave the Washington Redskins headaches by not buying into playing in a 3-4 alignment. But Stroud has been the exact opposite. He embraced the change in his role and the challenge of learning something new.
"I've said from Day One that the more you can do, the more you can put on your resume, the more valuable that makes you," he said. "I've played in a 3-4 system and played in a 4-3 system. I've been successful in a 4-3 system and I'm getting the 3-4 down. I felt that it would be a feather in my cap."
The Bills' struggles stopping the run led them to use more four-man fronts in which Stroud lines up in his natural defensive tackle position.
Gailey has noticed an improvement in Stroud's game since the team started using a version of the 4-3, which features three down linemen and an outside linebacker up on the line of scrimmage.
"The thing about it is we've ended up in a reduced front on the back side quite a bit the last half of the season here so he's been back more in a little bit better comfort zone," Gailey said. "I think that's something that's probably helped him a little bit."
Stroud also has contributed in ways not seen on the field or a stat sheet. He is an established team leader who won't hesitate to express his opinion.
He serves as a mentor to young players, such as rookie defensive end Alex Carrington.
"He has a lot of knowledge of the game, and that's one thing I knew from the get-go that I would try to take advantage of," Carrington said. "Anything from a guy's stance to certain formations, I can ask him about it and he can give me a scenario of how I should play something or how he would play it. It's been that way since OTAs.
"I greatly appreciated that he was willing to take me under his wing and show me the ropes because development is a big part of it. The league is so much faster and you've got to do everything you can to get a step ahead of the competition. Stroud has been a big part of my development."
The Bills are expected to stick with the 3-4 as their base defensive formation. Now that he has a year in the defense under his belt, Stroud believes he'll be even better next year.
If he's around, that is.
As Stroud said, there are no guarantees. And with Carrington and other young lions sure to push for more playing time, Stroud is motivated to show that this old dog still has some new tricks up his sleeve.
"This is my 10th year. I'm getting up there in age," he said. "Everybody has that point where you're going to lose that step, so you've got to do a whole bunch of stuff to stay in the league. That's the point where I'm at and that's why I'm going to keep plugging and keep going. I feel like I still got some years of good ball left in me. What I've got to do is put it on tape for everybody to see, and that's the mentality of everybody in this room."