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PHILADELPHIA (BASN) — With training camps set to open in late July there are still some quality players looking for work. Unfortunately for most of the players currently not on NFL rosters, there seems to be distinct reasons (off the field issues, age, injuries, etc) why NFL teams are taking a wait and see view toward them.
Maybe some of the free agents will have to go the route of the UFL to get back into pro football, but we know injuries are a huge factor in the NFL. It is only a matter of time before some unfortunate players go down in training camp and preseason which will necessitate some of the free agent players listed getting a call.
In studying this list there was one trend that I tended to see. Despite an increasing salary cap — 2009 salary cap set for $127 million per team, which is $10.3 million higher than last year’s figure of $116.7 Million – and league CBA mandated cap relief for signing older players (7-9 year veteran – $720,000 but only counts around $445, 000 on the salary cap), the NFL outside of specialists (kickers, punters, and long snappers) continues to become a young players’ league.
Lately at cut time, NFL teams would rather keep a younger “developing” player around while telling a veteran (over 6 years in the league), “We don’t need you anymore.” NFL head coaches in trying to fill, a too small in my opinion, 53-player roster seem to believe they can “coach-up” a younger player while they learn on special-teams rather then keeping an older guy who will only be able to contribute on about 20 or less snaps a game.
In looking at the rosters of the two Super Bowl XLII teams, the average ages on each squad was right around 27 years old with the Steelers having only five players over age 33 including their punter (Mitch Berger, 36) and conversely the Cardinals having even less with only four players over that mark.
Future Hall of Famer and former Pro Bowl defensive tackle Warren Sapp recently said of NFL veteran’s dilemma, “It’s not the same for the veterans anymore. The NFL doesn’t need us. In this NFL, the old vets don’t factor in”.
You hate to see a once quality veteran player trying to hang-on for one more season, but some of the older players on this list still can be a valuable resource to a team. Nothing can replace the knowledge and leadership that some of these older players bring especially when most NFL lockerrooms are now filled with former college underclassmen.
Older players are “reliable” and are usually students of the game, just ask the Arizona Cardinals how glad they were when they had veteran quarterback Kurt Warner on their roster when 2006 first rounder Matt Leinhart imploded. Warner, age 37, produced a season for the ages throwing for numbers 401-598, 4583 yards, and 30 TDs while leading the NFC West Champion Cardinal to their first Super Bowl.
LB Derrick Brooks, formerly of Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Hard to believe after 11 Pro Bowls, being named All-Pro six times, winning one Super Bowl (XXXVII ) and being named Defensive Player of the Year in 2002, that the former Tampa Bay Bucs linebacker cannot find a job. Brooks has said “I committed myself to playing one more year”, so all he needs now is an opportunity to return for his 15th season. Of course at age 36, Brooks is not the same tacking terror that led Tony Dungy’s vaunted defense but his leadership and savvy are immeasurable. The former Florida State star is completely healed from a hamstring injury that dogged him in 2008 and I believe in the right system, he can reproduce his ’07 numbers of 84 tackles and 3 forced fumbles in 16 starts. Maybe a team running the Tampa 2 defense (Colts or Bears) or a 3-4 team looking for a solid leader (Patriots) will give him a call before he makes his way to Canton.
WR Marvin Harrison, formerly of Indianapolis Colts - Another Canton bound player, who I believe can still get it done in the NFL. It is surprising to me that other veteran receivers Torry Holt (Jags) and Joey Galloway (Patriots) found homes before Harrison. The issue of an alleged gun discharge in Philly went away and Harrison even at age 36 is one of the best route runners in the NFL. Despite battling through injuries and not looking like his old Pro Bowl self at times in 2008, the former 8-time Pro Bowl player 60 catches for 636 yards (10.6 ypc) and 5 TDs. Though no longer a number one receiver, Harrison could help move the chains on 3rd downs and help teach younger players. I think he has at least two more years left in him to build on his impressive career numbers (1102 receptions for 14580 yards, 13.2 ypc and 128 TDs)
Look for one of the myriad of teams looking for a receiver (Vikings, Bears, Titans, Jets, Steelers and Ravens) to bring Peyton’s former main man in for a look.
RB Edgerrin James, formerly of Arizona Cardinals – This maybe a tough sell as the NFL is definitely “No For Long” for running backs over thirty years old, even if they are the 11th All-time rusher in NFL History (12,121 yards). The 4-time Pro Bowl player will be 31 in August and has 2982 carries on his odometer plus the Cardinals clearly pushed him to the background in ’08. However when given opportunities, James showed flashes like in Week 17 (100-yard effort on 14 carries) and in the 2008 NFL Playoffs. The former back-to-back rushing title king (1999 and 2000) only rushed for 514 yards last season with a pedestrian average of 3.9 yards per rush. However I still expect to see the ten-year veteran’s name called when another running back inevitably goes down. I was already surprised when the Eagles didn’t call when RB Brian Westbrook had ankle surgery.
OT Levi Jones, Cincinnati Bengals – When the Bengals drafted Alabama All-American offensive tackle Andre Smith in the first round, it spelled doom for Jones (6’5, 310). After missing parts of the last three seasons and a high price tag (due to earn a base salary of $3 million this year), Jones was a goner. Surprisingly after being set free from the strange world of the Bengals, Jones has taken his time in signing with another team. I guess the stout tackle, who was once viewed as a cornerstone lineman, wants to see what opportunities will arise in training camp. I also believe like most veterans, Jones wants no parts of two-a-days in the hot training camp sun. With his long arms and good feet expect to see this 30-year old by the start of the season on someone’s roster real soon. Hopefully to keep his image clean before signing, Jones will go the other way if he sees Dolphins LB Joey Porter and his boys in the casino again.
WR Matt Jones, formerly of Jacksonville Jaguars - This former 1st rd pick by the Jaguars in 2005 has never lived up to all of the “Freak” talk bantered around when he was drafted. Jones has been an enigma during his short NFL career as has shown flashes of athleticism while not showing maturity off the field and having run-ins with members of the Jaguars coaching staff. Jones (6-6, 240), was also arrested on July 10, 2008 for drug possession and eventually had his case sent to drug court with the NFL suspending him for 3 games at the end if the 2008 season. Despite missing three games, Jones established a career-high for catches with 65 receptions for 761 yards ( 11.7 ypc) and 2 TDs. However on March 9th, Jones was arrested for violating his probation due to drinking alcohol and the Jaguars cut ties with him March 14th. Many have pointed to Jones as a player that just doesn’t get it, but at only 26 years old there may still be a team willing to bring him in. It will be interesting to see if injuries cause any of the current receiver depleted teams to call Jones.
OT Jon Runyan, formerly of Philadelphia Eagles – Probably one of the toughest players I have ever seen. This 13-year veteran is there every Sunday no matter what – 190 consecutive regular season games started. Runyan is a tough player, who will battle to the whistle and beyond sometimes. There is nothing finesse about Big Jon as his nasty demeanor helps him maul opponents. Unfortunately after playing through the pain for so long, Runyan’s body seems to be showing wear and tear. Runyan had to have microfracture surgery on his right knee so no one is sure where he stands. My prediction is if he can comeback healthy that some team looking for a versatile veteran on the offensive line will come calling. By the way , even though the Eagles have several quality young offensive lineman they still have Runyan’s stall in their lockerroom.
DL Anthony Weaver, formerly of Houston Texans – This former 2nd Rd pick of the Baltimore Ravens in 2002 is a stout two way defensive end who has experience in the 4-3 and 3-4. Though he is not a sack type pass rusher (only 15.5 career sacks), Weaver is a strong at the point of attack defensive lineman that excels at stopping the run. At age 28 and with so many teams utilizing more defensive linemen rotations, I expect someone to give the former Notre Dame star a look. Weaver started 16 games in ’08 for the Texans and even had an interception.
WR Plaxico Burress, formerly of NY Giants – Now that Burress’ gun case from November 2008 has been adjourned until September 23, 2009 there is speculation that some teams (Bears, Bucs, Ravens, and Jets) will take a look at the Giants former Super Bowl XLII hero. Though his actions caused the Giants’ 2008 season to go awry there is no doubt that Burress 6’6 frame gives smaller defensive backs fits. In limited action, Plaxico had 35 catches for 454 yards and 4 touchdowns. But this big and athletic playmaker will need to show that he has growm up on and off the field. There have been rumors that the Giants kept quiet on a lot of the problems that Burress caused, so I know teams looking to sign him will be doing their homework. Even though there has been an adjournement eventually Burress will have to face the legal process in a trial or plea deal and then there is the little matter of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell possibly suspending him. There is no doubt if Burress can get his legal issues straight that he will be at the top of the free agent receiver list..
QB Michael Vick, formerly of Atlanta Falcons - After the Falcons recently released Vick, he could officially sign with any NFL team. Of course no team is probably going to sign Vick until Goodell reinstates him from his indefinite suspension stemming from his federal dogfighting case. Vick will leave federal custody on July 20th and he will then have to meet with Goodell. Let’s say that Goodell reinstates Vick with a 4-game or less suspension, at that time I believe there will be at least four teams (Rams, Cowboys, Raiders, and Jaguars) entering the race for the former Falcons star quarterback. I know there are issues around protests, but I believe this man has been persecuted enough, so let him be. As for those who believe that the 29-year old is done in the NFL…C’mon also-rans like SF 49ers Damon Huard, Bears Brett Basanez , Bengals JT O’Sullivan, Chargers Charlie Whitehurst, and others have jobs in the NFL. Even after not throwing an NFL pass since December 2006, Vick is still a much better player than those quarterbacks and others too — career passing numbers of 930-1730, 11505 yards, 71 TDs, 52 INTs, and a 75.7 rating in six years w/ the Falcons. I know some NFL offensive coordinators cannot wait to get their hands on a player with Vick’s mobility in multiple offensive sets including the Wildcat — established quarterback records of 1039 rushing yards and an 8.4 ypr average in 2006. After his release expect Vick to work with his former high school coach Tommy Reamon and his son Tommy Reamon Jr (Old Dominion QB) to get back into NFL shape.
DE Travis LaBoy, formerly of Arizona Cardinals – It is only a matter of time before this 27-year old pass rusher is picked up. LaBoy can play as a 3-4 outside linebacker or a hand-in-the-dirt 4-3 defensive end. When healthy, this former 2nd Rd pick by the Titans in 2004 from Hawaii terrorizes quarterbacks playing with get speed. Right now the former Cardinals high-motor end is recovering from torn biceps surgery earlier this offseason. Laboy (6-4, 250) was released on April 2009 by Cardinals, but his ability to rush the passer — 23.5 career sacks with four sacks in ’08 — will find him a new home. Even if there are not any injuries in camp, expect the Packers, Patriots, and possibly the Niners to take a look at Laboy.
Other Free Agents
QB Cleo Lemon, Jacksonville Jaguars
QB J.P. Losman, Buffalo Bills
QB Marques Tuiasosopo, Oakland Raiders
RB J.J. Arrington, Denver Broncos
RB Ron Dayne, Houston Texans
RB Reuben Droughns, NY Giants
RB Warrick Dunn, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
RB DeShaun Foster, San Francisco 49ers
RB Ahmad Green, Houston Texans
RB Rudi Johnson, Detroit
RB Deuce McAllister, New Orleans Saints
RB Chris Perry, Cincinnati Bengals
WR Drew Bennett, St. Louis Rams
WR Marty Booker, Chicago Bears
WR Joe Jurevicius, Cleveland Browns
WR Justin McCareins, Tennessee Titans
WR Shaun McDonald, Detroit Lions
WR Jerry Porter, Jacksonville Jaguars
WR Amani Toomer, New York Giants
WR Reggie Williams, Jacksonville Jaguars
WR/TE/H-Back Mike Williams, Tennessee Titans
TE Dan Campbell, Detroit Lions
OL Derrick Dockery, Buffalo Bills
OT Wayne Gandy, Baltimore Ravens
OL Kwame Harris, Oakland Raiders
OT Fred Miller, Chicago Bears
OL Edwin Mulitalo, Detroit Lions
OT John St. Clair, Chicago Bears
DL DeWayne Robertson, Denver Broncos
DL Kenny Peterson, Denver Broncos
LB Donnie Edwards, Kansas City Chiefs
LB Kalimba Edwards, Oakland Raiders
LB Morlon Greenwood, Houston Texans
LB Willie McGinest, Cleveland Browns
LB/ST Gary Stills, St. Louis Rams
DB Dre’ Bly, Denver Broncos
DB Adam “Pacman” Jones, Dallas Cowboys
DB Sammy Knight, NY Giants
DB Ty Law, New York Jets
DB Sam Madison, NY Giants
DB Ricky Manning, Tennessee Titans
DB Chris McAlister, Baltimore Ravens
DB Lawyer Milloy, Atlanta Falcons
DB Dwight Smith, Detroit Lions
CB Patrick Surtain, Kansas City Chiefs
DB Jimmy Williams, Houston Texans
PK Justin Medlock, St. Louis Rams
PK Matt Stover, Baltimore Ravens