There's an expiration date on every NFL career – a last season, game, snap from scrimmage, OTA, minicamp.
Marques Colston knows that he's approaching his, and so does his franchise.
Which is why the New Orleans Saints now handle with care the franchise's all-time leader in receptions, receiving yards, yards from scrimmage and touchdowns, to maximize what remains in the body of a player who has given every bit as much to the franchise as it has given to him.
Colston pretty much has been a spectator the last couple of weeks – last week during the Saints' final OTA and this week during the team's three-day minicamp, which will conclude Thursday – not because he can't work, but because after nine seasons, there is wisdom in working smarter rather than working harder.
"I think it starts with, we'd like to always return veteran players if you can, but of course you need to have a vision," Coach Sean Payton said. "So we sat down at the end of the season and visited again in the winter and talked about the vision for him. He's someone who has been a real steady, consistent performer and an important part of that room.
"I think we'll monitor the snaps he receives as well as some others who are 10-years plus (in tenure). I think you need to have a plan to make sure you're being smart with their reps and their legs."
It's an approach that the Saints began using with Colston before this offseason.
"For me, it's a different kind of work at this point," Colston said. "We've got a lot of young guys in the room and those reps are a premium. And me being where I'm at in this point in my career, the coaching staff and the training staff would rather give those reps to the young guys and allow me a chance to kind of limit my mileage at this part of the year.
"When you play nine, 10 years in this league at a skill position, mileage is mileage, whether it's game mileage or it's practice mileage. I'm just kind of in a mode where they want to manage that process throughout the year."
As every Saints fan can attest, it's been good mileage.
Entering his 10th season, Colston has 666 catches for 9,239 yards and 68 touchdowns. His lead in each category grows every time he catches a pass and scores a touchdown. But he's at the point now where the offseason recharge – mentally and physically – is a bit more taxing, takes a little longer.
Especially after last season, when he admittedly had one of his most disappointing seasons – 59 catches for 902 yards and five touchdowns, with a fumble lost and several uncharacteristic drops.
"You've got to settle down and get away from that 20-week season that you just played and really just evaluate," Colston said. "I took all the time that was necessary and really feel good about coming back and being a part of the turnaround this year.
"There's a process at the end of every year where you've just got to evaluate. I took my time and really let my body and my mind heal, and I'm here. I'm ready to work."
Included in the process was the restructuring of his contract. But, Colston said, that wasn't a hindrance whatsoever.
"At this point in my career, it's not necessarily about maximizing every penny of every contract," he said. "I've been blessed to be in a position where I'm secure financially and it was important to me to come back and finish what we started here collectively, and really just continue to play for a city and an organization that have given me so much."
New Orleans is where Colston began his career in 2006, as a seventh-round draft pick. It's where he wants to finish his career, and it's where a prominent teammate wants him to be.
"Marques is my guy, he'll always be my guy," Saints quarterback Drew Brees said. "We've been here for so long together and he's so dependable, such a professional, such a great person to have on the field, not only from what he brings to us from a productivity standpoint but also in the locker room and in the meeting room. He does everything that needs to be done.
"I love the way that he works, I love his approach to the game, he's a true pro and a guy that I hope I have the chance to play with for a long time."
Said Colston: "It's very important (to finish here)," he said. "This is the team and organization that took a chance on me back in 2006 and it would mean a lot to me to finish in this city, and really finish on a high note."
To do that, the franchise and player have realized that a maintenance schedule must be maintained, one that has been in swing for a couple of years now. The monitoring of Colston's miles will maximize his minutes on gameday.
"I'm just really making sure that I hit my stride coming into training camp, just taking mental reps right now," he said.
That's a sufficient workload for Colston right now. If working smarter keeps him playing harder for a bit longer, if it extends his NFL expiration date, then player and team both will get what they want in the package.
Photos of Marques Colston from the 2014 regular season. Photos by Michael C. Hebert. (New Orleans Saints photos)