Top Available Free Agents for 2009 NFL Training Camps

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 (Seven to Nine Year Veteran – $720,000 but only counts around $445, 000 on the salary cap), the National Football League 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 “Not 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 Benglas – 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 Jerry Porter, Jacksonville Jaguars

WR Amani Toomer, New York Giants

WR Reggie Williams, Jacksonville Jaguars

WR/TE/H-Back Mike Williams, Tennessee Titans

OL Kwame Harris, Oakland Raiders

OL Edwin Mulitalo, Detroit Lions

DL DeWayne Robertson, 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 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 Matt Stover, Baltimore Ravens

 

 

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

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2009 NFL Training Camp Dates

Hang-in there, the longest break on the yearly NFL Calendar will be coming to an end soon in late July.  The first NFL training camp will open on July 24th as Cleveland Browns’ rookies will report to the team’s facilities in Berea, OH.                                                           

2009 NFL Training Camp Dates & Locations
TEAM SITE LOCATION ROOKIES    VETERANS
Arizona Northern Arizona University Flagstaff, AZ 29-Jul 29-Jul
Atlanta Atlanta Falcons Training Facility Flowery Branch, GA 31-Jul 31-Jul
Baltimore McDaniel College Westminster, MD 27-Jul 29-Jul
Buffalo St. John Fisher College Pittsford, NY 25-Jul 25-Jul
Carolina Wofford College Spartanburg, SC 2-Aug 2-Aug
Chicago Olivet Nazarene University Bourbonnais, IL 31-Jul 31-Jul
Cincinnati Georgetown College Georgetown, KY 30-Jul 30-Jul
Cleveland Cleveland Browns Training Facility Berea, OH 24-Jul 31-Jul
Dallas Alamodome San Antonio, TX 29-Jul 29-Jul
Denver Paul D. Bowlen Memorial Broncos Centre Englewood, CO 30-Jul 30-Jul
Detroit Detroit Lions Training Facility Allen Park, MI 31-Jul 31-Jul
Green Bay St. Norbert College De Pere, WI 31-Jul 31-Jul
Houston Methodist Training Center Houston, TX 26-Jul 31-Jul
Indianapolis Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology Terre Haute, IN 2-Aug 2-Aug
Jacksonville Jacksonville Municipal Stadium Jacksonville, FL 2-Aug 2-Aug
Kansas City University of Wisconsin-River Falls River Falls, WI 31-Jul 31-Jul
Miami Miami Dolphins Training Facility Davie, FL 1-Aug 1-Aug
Minnesota Minnesota State University, Mankato Mankato, MN 30-Jul 30-Jul
New England Gillette Stadium Foxboro, MA 26-Jul 29-Jul
New Orleans New Orleans Saints Training Facility Metairie, LA 30-Jul 30-Jul
NY Giants University at Albany Albany, NY 3-Aug 3-Aug
NY Jets SUNY Cortland Cortland, NY 27-Jul 30-Jul
Oakland Napa Valley Marriott Napa Valley, CA 29-Jul 29-Jul
Philadelphia Lehigh University Bethlehem, PA 26-Jul 29-Jul
Pittsburgh Saint Vincent College Latrobe, PA 31-Jul 31-Jul
San Diego Chargers Park San Diego, CA 26-Jul 31-Jul
San Francisco Marie P. DeBartolo Sports Center Santa Clara, CA 28-Jul 30-Jul
Seattle Virginia Mason Athletic Center Renton, WA 30-Jul 31-Jul
St. Louis Russell Training Center Earth City, MO 30-Jul 31-Jul
Tampa Bay One Buccaneer Place Tampa, FL 31-Jul 31-Jul
Tennessee Baptist Sports Park Nashville, TN 30-Jul 30-Jul
Washington Redskins Park Ashburn, VA 29-Jul 29-Jul

UFL Draft yields some interesting names

Even in the wake of these uncertain economic times and past National Football League defeated rivals the World Football League, the United States Football League and the XFL going by the wayside of the older more established league that has become an American Institution over almost 90 years of play.  The United Football League (UFL) led by Commissioner Michael Huyghue, a former NFL team executive, will try to provide a professional football alternative this fall.  The upstart league composed of four initial teams (New York/Hartford, Connecticut; Las Vegas/Los Angeles; San Francisco/Sacramento; and Orlando, Florida) will play a 16-game schedule on Thursday and Friday evenings starting in October 2009 with a championship game on Thanksgiving weekend at Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas, NV.

The league billing itself with the motto, “Where the future stars come to play!” wants to provide some competition for NFL — I believe a more realistic goal is to serve as the NFL’s minor league.  The UFL has already secured a television contract with Versus network — the most important thing I believe in their survival — and signed former NFL head coaches Jim Haslett (Orlando), Dennis Green (San Francisco), and Jim Fassel (Las Vegas) along with veteran NFL coordinator Ted Cotrell (New York) to lead their teams for the 2009 season.    Plus investors including former investment banker Bill Hambrecht, Google Inc executive Tim Armstrong and Paul Pelosi, the husband of Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives have put up a combined $30 million into the league.  The UFL’s aggressive business plan calls for the league to turn a profit after 3 years and even though I believe it is much too premature, there has even been talk of the league expanding by at least two to four teams in 2010 with possibly Dallas Mavericks’ (NBA) owner Mark Cuban joining as an expansion owner.

Before moving ahead with all of its grandiose plans, the first order of business for the UFL was to find players to stock their four teams.  With that thought in mind, the UFL held its first player draft on June 19th as each team selected 24 players.  Of course everyone was hoping to hear the name “Michael Vick” called as recently league founder Bill Hambrecht had intimated that the suspended NFL quarterback was more than welcome to comeback in the UFL.  Hambrecht in trying to lure the former three-time Pro Bowl quarterback definitely went a little overboard by calling Vick, “probably the best football player in America” and then adding “(Vick) deserves a spot back in football”.  Unfortunately for the league trying to make a big media splash, no team called Vick’s name on Friday – perhaps maybe after we learn his NFL fate some time in late July after he meets with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. 

Overall there were 96 players selected many of whom made even this hardcore NFL writer reach for an old media guide.  However in a hodgepodge of faceless players drafted there were a few former NFL players who I wouldn’t necessarily call  “Future Stars” selected.  This fall players like former Bengals RB Chris Perry (selected by Orlando), former Redskins “big ticket” free agent Safety Adam Archuleta (Las Vegas), former Patriots Super Bowl winning TE Jermaine Wiggins (Las Vegas), former Colts Safety Mike Doss (Orlando), former Jaguars RB LaBrandon Toefield (New York), and former Steelers QB Shane Boyd (San Francisco) – I guess Curtis Enis, Freddie Mitchell and Tim Couch were unavailable — could quite possibly be trying to resurrect their playing careers in the UFL.  Friday’s draft also yielded the names of players with famous relatives like RB John David Washington (Denzel’s son was selected by San Francisco), RB Quincy Wilson (son of former Chicago Bears LB Otis Wilson was selected by Orlando), DB David Lofton (son of Hall of Fame WR James Lofton was selected by New York) and WR Marcus Fitzgerald (brother of Pro Bowl WR Larry Fitzgerald was taken by San Francisco).

It will be interesting to see if the UFL can sign any of the players whose right they now hold or if the selected players will holdout hope for another shot in the NFL or play in the Canadian Football League (CFL) or the soon to be re-launched Arena Football League (AFL).  The remaining UFL roster spots on each of the four teams will be filled in July with players that coaches had previously identified, but were unable to attend UFL workouts.  If were a UFL official, I would make sure to try to scoop up former NFL players in mid-August that had just been visited by the “Turk”.

The complete list of players drafted by the UFL is below:

LAS VEGAS

DB   ARCHULETA, ADAM (ARIZONA STATE)

DE   AWASOM, ADRIAN (NORTH TEXAS)

P   BAUGHER, DANNY (ARIZONA)

OG   BOONE, JASON (UTAH)

NT   BRYANT, WENDELL (WISCONSIN-MADISON)

LB   BUTLER, EZRA (NEVADA)

DB   DADA, WALE (WASHINGTON STATE)

T   GAUSE, GEORGE (SOUTH CAROLINA)

DB   GAUSE, PAUL (SETON HALL)

K   JACAS, ANDREW (FORT VALLEY STATE)

TE   JACKSON, NATE (MENLO COLLEGE)

T   JOYCE, BRANDON (ILLINOIS STATE)

WR   KIRCUS, DAVID (GRAND VALLEY STATE)

TE   KUHN, SCOTT (LOUISVILLE)

NT   LONG, GABE (UTAH)

LB   MOORE, BRANDON (OKLAHOMA)

RB   PALMER, RONNIE (ARIZONA)

LB   STILLS, GARY (WEST VIRGINIA)

RB   THOMPSON, TYSON (SAN JOSE STATE)

WR   THURMAN, ANDRAE (SOUTHERN OREGON)

LB   TOAL, BRIAN (BOSTON COLLEGE)

DB   TURNBULL, NICK (FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL)

DB   WILLIAMS, CHAZ (OREGON)

RB   WHITEHEAD, TERRENCE (OREGON)

NEW YORK

QB   BACHER, CJ (NORTHWESTERN)

DB   BROWN, TREY (UCLA)

DB   CELESTIN, OLIVER (TEXAS SOUTHERN)

NT   CLEBERT, RICHARD (SOUTH FLORIDA)

DE   FOUNTAIN, MAURICE (CLEMSON)

TE   GHENT, RONNIE (LOUISVILLE)

RB   GROSS, TYRONNE (EASTERN OREGON)

T   GUTEKUNST, SAM (GERMANY)

C   HARVEY, JASPER (SAN DIEGO STATE)

QB   JOHNSON, BRIAN (UTAH)

WR   KINOSHITA, NORIAKI (JAPAN)

DB   LOFTON, DAVID (STANFORD)

LB   MAGRO, MARC (WEST VIRGINIA)

DB   MAZE, TERELL (SAN DIEGO STATE)

T   NORELL, RAY (BUFFALO)

T   PRUNEDA, RAMIRO (MONTEREY TECH)

RB   RUBIN, JOE (PORTLAND STATE)

WR   SANDERS, STEVE (BOWLING GREEN)

RB   SAPP, CECIL (COLORADO STATE)

NT   SAVE, BRYAN (COLORADO STATE)

DE   SPICER, MICHALE (WESTERN CAROLINA)

RB   TOEFIELD, LABRANDON (LSU)

LB   WILLIAMS, NATHAN (MURRAY STATE)

RB   WOODS, SHANNON (TEXAS TECH)

ORLANDO

NT   BLEDSOE, FRED (ARKANSAS)

QB   BOLLINGER, BROOKS (WISCONSIN)

FB   CRUZ, RONNIE (NORTHERN STATE-SD)

DB   DOSS, MIKE (OHIO STATE)

DB   FASSITT, GREG (GRAMBLING)

WR   GESSNER, CHAS (BROWN)

TE   HEINRICH, KEITH (SAM HOUSTON STATE)

NT   LONG, RIEN (WASHINGTON STATE)

DB   MASON, GRANT (MICHIGAN)

LB   MCGARIGLE, TIM (NORTHWESTERN)

RB   PERRY, CHRIS (MICHIGAN)

T   PETITTI, ROB (PITTSBURGH)

OG   PILLAR, ZACK (FLORIDA)

DE   POWELL, ERIC (FLORIDA STATE)

LB   SCHLEGEL, ANTHONY (OHIO STATE)

DE   SCHOBEL, BO (TCU)

WR   THOMPSON, DOMINIQUE (WILLIAM & MARY)

CB   TRIBBLE, DEJUAN (BOSTON COLLEGE)

NT   TRIPPLETT, LARRY (WASHINGTON)

DB   VINNETT, DARIUS (ARKANSAS)

T   WAND, SETH (NORTHWEST MISSOURI ST)

TE   WIGGINS, JERMAINE (GEORGIA)

RB   WILSON, QUINCY (WEST VIRGINIA)

DB   WRIGHT, TJ (OHIO UNIVERSITY)

SAN FRANCISCO

FB   ARMSTRONG, ODIE (NW OKLAHOMA ST)

RB   AYANBADEJO, FEMI (SAN DIEGO STATE)

QB   BOYD, SHANE (KENTUCKY)

WR   BRACKINS, LARRY (PEARL RIVER CC)

LS   BROWN, KAI (BROWN)

QB   DIETZ, BRETT (HANOVER)

WR   FITZGERALD, MARCUS (MARSHALL)

DE   GUNN, MARQUIES (AUBURN)

RB   HUTSONA, DARRELL (WASHINGTON STATE)

LB   KWATENG, PRINCE (NORTHWESTERN)

TE   LEDBETTER, BRANDEN (WESTERN MICHIGAN)

T   LEKKERKERKER, CORY (CALIFORNIA-DAVIS)

LB   MARTIN, JOE (SAN DIEGO STATE)

QB   O’HAGAN, LIAM (HARVARD)

T   RIMPF, BRIAN (EAST CAROLINA)

WR   SAMS, BJ (MCNEESE STATE)

T   STAMPER, BRIAN (VANDERBILT)

NT   STEWART, JASON (FRESNO STATE)

DE   SUGGS, DAMON (GEORGIA SOUTHERN)

DB   TREAUDO, AHMAD (SOUTHERN UNIVERSITY)

DB   UNDERWOOD, MARVIEL (SAN DIEGO STATE)

DB   UNERTL, JEREMY (WISCONSIN-LA CROSSE)

RB   WASHINGTON, JOHN DAVID (MOREHOUSE)

WR   WEST, JOE (TEXAS EL-PASO)

 

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

Benefit for DR. Z Helps Him Fight On

Within the pro football community, competition and outworking your opponent are usually the norm including within the media.  It seems 365 days a year football media types are competing for scoops, news, and inside information.  But there are times when differences and allegiances are put aside to bring the football world closer together.  No I am not talking about the over-glamorized Super Bowl week festivities that serve as the unofficial NFL convention each year.  The perfect setting for all walks of professional football to meld recently was in West Orange, NJ of all places on the evening of Thursday May18th.

In an event at Mayfair Farms organized by veteran NFL Senior Writer Peter King over $150,000 dollars was raised in efforts to help support pro football writers’ grandfather Paul “Dr. Z” Zimmerman in his battle to recover from three strokes.  As many of you know Dr. Z is a Hall of Fame football writer of over three decades, who brought the game to the masses with his eloquent and sometimes quirky writing in Sports Illustrated.  Zimmerman made football writing not just bone-jarring hits, Collective Bargaining Agreements, formations, injuries, and other Sunday Morning gridiron staples, but through his passion and dedication to the sport he turned football into Hemmingway – BTW: DR Z as a young lad sparred with Ernest Hemingway in a Manhattan gym.  Unfortunately the strokes have left Dr. Z unable to speak or write at this time, but the football community from Top Television Executives to Bloggers wanted to help the Zimmerman Family battle their ever-growing bills related to Paul’s recovery.

I always liked football growing-up while being regaled of old-time football stories from my grandfather, who was a former player himself. But it was Dr. Z through my many years of reading his Sports Illustrated pieces that made the sport I loved jumped off the pages of the weekly magazine and into my heart.  I was even lucky enough later on in my writing career to meet my fellow Pro Football Writers of America (PWFA) member in of all places the food line at the NFL Draft where we shared our thoughts on the 2006 Draft Class and discussed why there were not enough sandwiches and cold drinks in the media breakroom.  It is sad to think Dr. Z may not be able to continue to provide the verbal and written sparring on the NFL that so many have embraced over the years.  Zimmerman saw the game grow from being college football’s dirty cousin into today’s America’s Game where millions revolve their weekends around the NFL.  With his pen, typewriter, and later computer – we all probably have a strong sense of “how” much an old school scribe like “Z” loved laptops, not – Dr. Z made the violent world of the NFL into an art. 

Hopefully Dr. Z has much more writing left in him and he will be able to add to his celebrated seven books on the NFL, including the quintessential The Thinking Man’s Guide to Pro Football, will not be his last.  I know the entire NFL community including the many (Yogi Berra, NBC Sports head Dick Ebersol, Dick Vermeil, Sal Paolantonio, Adam Schefter, NY Times’ K.C. Joyner, Football Outsiders’ Aaron Schatz and many others) that donated their time and money on May 18th are pulling for one of the NFL’s toughest scribes to write about one more comeback. 

NFL Films head Steve Sabol recently remarked about the benefit, “It’s nights like this that make me proud to have anything to do with the National Football League”.  Sabol will also try to continue raising funds to help Dr. Z by making the gracious donation of selling off some of his personal artwork – http://www.stevesabolart.com/

Others wanting to contribute to Dr. Z’s recovery and/or wish him well can send checks/notes to:

Dr. Z/Nothing is Impossible Foundation

21 Pine St.

Suite 202

Rockaway, N.J. 07866

 June 25th Update on Dr. Z from Peter King

Dr. Z: Paul Zimmerman had a setback two weeks ago, suffering a seizure at the breakfast table. He had to spend some time in the hospital near his Mountain Lakes, N.J., house, and he is now back home, continuing rehab and experimenting with some new medication to try to find the right balance, as stroke patients often have to do. It’s a battle for him right now, and your warm wishes are appreciated. I’ll be visiting him next week, and if you’d like me to bring along your wishes, send them to me via Twitter, and I’ll print them out and take them to Zim. If you know people who love Zim, please encourage them to send along a Tweet. Thanks. As of now, he’s still rehabbing hard, concentrating on his speech, studying the morning papers and trying to decipher them, and planning a trip for concentrated therapy later this year at a special program at the University of Michigan — a program the generosity of fans like you made possible

 Keep up the fight Dr. Z our thoughts and prayers are with you.

 

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

Lloyd’s Leftovers Email Bag

I reached into my email bag and pulled put one of my favorites.

Greg from Downingtown, PA asked some great questions and I wanted to share my answers on the potpourri of topics:

Greg wrote: What was up with the McNabb’s restructuring and What do you think of the Eagles chances in 2009?

LV’s response: The Birds have had a very good off-season, but I have to wonder how them talking out of both sides of their mouths in terms of business — giving McNabb his restructuring, but no new deals for long term signees like CB Sheldon Brown, DE Trent Cole, DT Mike Patterson, and others —  will affect team chemistry.  They didn’t change McNabb’s years (will still have 2 years to “win” a Super Bowl”), but if he fails after the time both sides can choose to walk.  Remember the Birds will probably not “franchise” a 34 to 35 year old QB in 2011.  I think impending problems with the salary cap (uncapped year in 2010 with the CBA expiring after the 2010 season) had a lot to do with them not extending Big 5.  At least McNabb is happy now and has an extra $6 Million to be paid in Ben Roethlisberger and Matthew Stafford’s neighborhood (BTW: Watchout for the money the NYG QB Eli Manning will get — over 40 Million Guaranteed).

There are a few question marks with the Birds going into Lehigh (Westbrook’s ankle, Team Chemistry over McNabb’s Signing, OT/OG Stacy Andrews knee, Can Sean Jones/Quintin Demps replace Dawkins, How is Kevin Curtis’ groin, and the rookies’ learning curve especially RB LeSean McCoy). But early indications are that the Eagles and Giants will be fighting it out for the top spot in the NFC East.  At least 10-6, but let me see more in training camp.

Greg wrote: Where is Cardinals WR Anquan Boldin going to be playing in 2009?

LV’s response: The Cardinals were never going to trade Boldin during the 2009 NFL Draft unless they got a 1st, 2nd, and possibly another 1st in another year (i.e. Ridiculous Offer).  Boldin will definitely be back now that he got rid of Rosenhaus, who the Cardinals didn’t like plus he is already under contract for 2 more years minimum.  Look for a possible restructuring/extension around mid-training camp if all goes well, but he better not be expecting Larry Fitzgerald type money.

Greg wrote: Is Brett Favre really coming back in 2009 with the Vikings and how will they fare?

LV’s response: Don’t believe any of the hype that Favre is not coming back.  The soon to be 40-year old already has ties to Vikings OC Darrell Bevel and the Vikes have bent over backwards for him.  The only thing is, which player the Vikings are getting at this point, the guy who looked like an MVP in 2007 for Green Bay or the NY Jets quarterback that threw an NFL-high 22 INTs and allowed his team to go 1-4 down the stretch in 2008.  I see Favre playing for the Vikings by training camp, but I am predicting a disaster in terms of team chemistry (see DE Ray Edwards comments) and the old graybeard wanting to mostly play for the Vikings for the wrong reasons (Ego plus revenge against the Packers and GM Ted Thompson).  Look for the Vikings to be 7-9 in 2009 with the Bears winning the NFC North.

Greg wrote: Will Michael Vick be back in the NFL and if so, will he be a “Wildcat” only in his return?

LV’s response: Michael Vick will be back in the NFL as a quarterback.  Of course he will take any opportunity he gets to comeback including playing Wildcat, slot receiver, returner, back-up quarterback, etc.  But if quarterbacks like SF 49ers Damon Huard, Bears Brett Basanez , Chargers Charlie Whitehurst, and other also-rans can have a job in the NFL then I know there is a place for a three-time Pro Bowl player.  The key will be whether Roger Goodell reinstates and/or possibly suspends Vick after he is released from his federal sentence on July 20th.  I see Goodell handing down probably a 4-game suspension with some caveats thrown like Vick can practice with the team during his suspension.

I believe Vick will definitely get his chance again — enough with the protests… we just saw WR Donte Stallworth kill a man and he maybe back in the NFL after only 30 days in jail and meeting with Goodell to talk about his current indefinite NFL suspension.  Look for the St Louis Rams (former ties to GM Bill Devaney during Falcons Days), Oakland Raiders (Al Davis likes 2nd chances), Dallas Cowboys (Jerry Jones needs Romo Insurance), and Jacksonville Jaguars (need a better backup than Todd Bouman) to be in the mix for Vick

Thanks for the great email, Greg

I am asking my other loyal readers to please send over their questions/comments via an email me at lloyd@takingit2thehouse.com … Maybe your email will be answered in my column too.

 

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

The Falcons release Michael Vick

The NFL is full of stories that constantly fuel water cooler talks and just won’t seem to go away (Brett Favre’s Return, Michael Vick’s release from prison, Plaxico Burress’ shooting case, etc).  The possible summer return of formerly imprisoned quarterback Michael Vick to the NFL took another turn on June 12th as his former team, the Atlanta Falcons, finally pulled the plug on the Vick Era in the Atlanta, Georgia.  The former face of the Falcons franchise, who once received a 10-year, $130 million contract extension with $37 million in guaranteed bonuses in December of 2004, was quickly put on the market via a less than 100-word prepared team statement from Falcons GM Tom Dimitroff. 

Even though the release of Vick was no surprise, after the Falcons vainly tried to trade him during the 2009 NFL Draft without any willing takers, Dimitroff was not critical of the deposed passer in his statement.  Even though the team didn’t badmouth Vick out the door, you couldn’t have blamed them if they did as their former star put a huge black-eye on the organization from his dogfighting case and lying about his actions including to team officials. But the young GM said of Vick, who has missed the last two seasons while serving a prison sentence, that their brief conversation “was upbeat” and that both sides were looking forward to moving on.   Dimitroff added, “Respect him as an individual and as an athlete in this profession. It was the right thing to do and I’m happy that we had a conversation today…it was about being positive. It was about moving forward “.

Releasing their former superstar allows the Falcons, Vick, and the Atlanta region, which still has many ardent Vick supporters “to have a clean slate going into the summer”.   Vick is now free to immediately sign with any NFL team even though NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has not reinstated him.  But unfortunately for the Falcons, they now have $7 million in dead money on their salary cap for the 2009 NFL Season.   In a side note, the parting of the former 3-time Pro Bowl quarterback from the Falcons will net the team $6.5-$7.5 million from a deal struck related to former guaranteed money and Vick’s suspension violating his contract with the team.

Now that Vick — career passing numbers of 930-1730, 11505 yards, 71 TDs, 52 INTs, and a 75.7 rating in six years w/ the Falcons — is free to talk to any of the NFL’s remaining 31 teams.  And with his expected July 20th release from house arrest quickly approaching, the subject of his reinstatement is on the tip of everyone’s tongue.  Sure Commissioner Goodell has vehemently said he will not talk about Vick’s situation until his impending release, however you know a face-to-face meeting at the league’s offices in New York City is soon to come.  Goodell has always said the right things regarding Vick’s case including recently saying, “Does he regret what happened?, Does he feel he’s going to be a positive influence going forward?…those are the questions I would like to (ask) when I sit with him.”   Goodell has always been a stickler when it comes to player conduct, but he seems to also have a “second chance” mentality too as shown in his treatment of problem players like Adam “Pacman” Jones, Matt Jones, Tank Johnson, Chris Henry and others.

I had one of my loyal emailers, Greg from PA, ask me if the Vick case will be viewed any differently in light of the recent events surrounding Cleveland Browns receiver Donte Stallworth’s situation.  In case you have been on a deserted island, Stallworth recently copped a plea in Florida where he will be required to serve 30 days in jail for fatally striking Mario Reyes, 59, with his vehicle in a drunk-driving accident.  Even though Stallworth will have to pay the family in a settlement, he was suspended indefinitely by Goodell.  So you have to think the court of public opinion will definitely be weighing-in on Vick’s case versus the Stallworth case.  I know a large portion of the American populace are dog lovers, but I cannot fathom “how” many can vilify Michael Vick — received nearly two yeas in jail and an indefinite suspension from the NFL for his dogfighting acts — yet not be as passionate regarding the cases/punishments given Stallworth and Rams DE Leonard Little (90 days in jail for killing a St. Louis woman in 1998 while drunk driving).  No matter how heinous Vick’s acts were against his fighting dogs, and let’s not fool ourselves they were despicable, there were no dead human beings left in his wake.  I know Stallworth and Little do not stand alone as NFLers who have crossed the judicial line, but the Commissioner and the court of public opinion need to give Vick another chance.

Already former Super Bowl winning head coach Tony Dungy and others in NFL circles have echoed sentiments that Vick deserves his chance at redemption after serving his debt to society.  I say let the NFL teams and their owners decide on their own if the former first overall selection from the 2001 NFL Draft is worth the headache that he brings.  It won’t take long to figure out who is looking at Vick to play as the Jets, Browns, Saints, Colts, Seahawks, and Niners having already said they will not bring him in which is their prerogative.  Browns head coach Eric Mangini said of any interest in Vick, “I wish him well, but really I’m focusing on the guys we have here.” 

But there still is interest in Vick as shown by comments by Dimitroff upon the release of the NFL single season leading rushing quarterback, “As we all know, Mike is an exceptional athlete and he has the ability to play in this league again and I’m sure he probably will”.   I truly believe if his anticipated meeting with Goodell goes well, that an NFL team will give Vick another shot, picketers or not.  Of course Vick will have to take any opportunity he gets to return to the NFL which could include duties as a Wildcat QB, slot receiver, returner, and back-up quarterback. 

Look for the following teams to be to be in the mix to sign Vick: St. Louis Rams (GM Bill Devaney has former ties to Vick from their Falcons days and current starting quarterback Marc Bulger has not been playing at a Pro Bowl level lately); Oakland Raiders (Owner Al Davis, a maverick himself, believes in 2nd chances); Dallas Cowboys (Owner Jerry Jones seems to be running the NFL’s version of a reform school lately and the charismatic leader of the Cowboys also needs better “Romo Insurance” than current back-up Jon Kitna) and Jaguars (need a better backup than Todd Bouman).

 

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

Former NFL Running Back Maurice Clarett is Back in the Public Eye

 

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Imprisoned former NFL running back Maurice Clarett is back in the news this time for his writing on his up-and-coming blog

As I was surfing the web like I often do looking for new ideas, I stumbled onto an intriguing blog/website called The Mind of Maurice ClarettWhen I first saw the site’s name I thought it was either a farce or a fan-dedicated Ohio State lovefest via the web.  However I soon learned that the site is a deep personal look into the psyche of a player, who once almost changed the history of the National Football League.  But ended up as a footnote in sports annals while experiencing a trepidous journey that made sports fans question big time college athletics and wonder how a promising freshman phemon ended up falling to the depths of prison.

Think back to 2003, I know it is hard but remember the 2003 Fiesta Bowl. In a double-overtime thriller the Ohio State Buckeyes defeated the vaunted Miami Hurricanes by a score of 31-24.  The win brought the Buckeyes the 2002 BCS National Championship and even though there was a multitude of future NFL stars on the field that night including RB Willis McGahee, WR Andre Johnson, TE Kellen Winslow Jr, Safety Sean Taylor, DB Chris Gamble, and others.  No star shined brighter on national television that night than Ohio State stocky freshman running back Maurice Clarett.  Though he only ran 23 times for 47 yards in the Fiesta Bowl victory, Clarett defied the odds of a freshman making an impact in a National Championship Game by scoring two touchdowns including the game-winning score on a five-yard diving run in the second overtime. The Youngstown, Ohio native also made possibly the game’s biggest defensive play too when he stole the ball from Hurricanes All-American safety Sean Taylor after he had just intercepted a Craig Krenzel pass in the end zone. The former 2001 Mr. Ohio in football ended his one magical season for Ohio State with 1,237 rushing yards (a school record for a freshman) and scoring 18 touchdowns while leading the undefeated Buckeyes (14-0) to the National Championship.

If only time could have been frozen for Clarett at that very moment as he held the National Championship crystal football, because over the next few years the once promising star would sink to new depths.  After several missteps academically and off the field incidents, Clarett was suspended in 2003 by Ohio State.  Looking to get back in the spotlight and without any takers in major college football, Clarett set his sights on challenging the NFL’s underclassman rule of a player having to be at least three years removed from high school to participate in the NFL Draft.  Though at first Clarett won a decision by Federal Judge Shira Scheindlin allowing him to participate in the 2004 NFL Draft – I still agree with her decision as a player should be allowed to apply to the NFL Draft even if they are just out of high school, but Clarett was the wrong player to challenge the NFL’s rule.  A later appelate court ruling by higher ranking Judge and current Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor overturned the decision in favor of the NFL due to the league’s and player union’s collective bargaining agreement.  With the U.S Supreme Court basically upholding the decision by refusing to hear an appeal, Clarett along with future NFL flameout former USC receiver Mike Williams were forced to the sidelines for the 2004 NFL Draft.

After being out of football for over a year, Clarett – despite looking like SlowMo at the 2005 NFL Combine running in the 4.7 range — received a surprsing second lifeline from the NFL when the Denver Broncs selected him in the 3rd round with last pick (101) of that round.  Vindication seemed to be the former Buckeye star’s, but once again his immaturity shined through as he showed up to training camp at close to 250 pounds, was surly to everyone from team staff to teammates, and was alledgely caught often sipping Grey Goose vodka out of a squirt bottle between practices.  Former Broncos head coach Mike Shanahan realizing his error in bringing in the not ready for primetime malcontent, did not play Clarett at all in the preseason and cut ties with the troubled player in late August of 2005.  With legal costs from his ill-fated court case against the NFL mounting, Clarett returned to Ohio and “real” trouble – not the kind a university can get you out of – soon followed. 

Clarett’s life was forever changed around New Year’s Day 2006 when he reportedly robbed two people at gunpoint with only a cell phone to show for his actions.  After the police issued a manhunt advisory on him, Clarett turned himself into police on January 2, 2006 just as his former Ohio State teammates were about to take the field in the Fiesta Bowl again.  Any doubts regarding Clarett’s strange criminal behavior were confirmed when the troubled former college football star was arrrest for a second time in August of 2006.  This time while free on bail and awaiting trial from his earlier run-in, Clarett led police on a high-speed alcohol induced chase where police found an arsenal of weapons and a bottle of Grey Goose vodka in the car he was driving.  The bizarre cases ended with Clarett accepting a plea deal in September 2006, which included a sentence of 7 ½ years in prison with eligibilty after three years for parole.

After going through Clarett’s lenghty history since his rise to fame in 2002, today he is sort of back in the news as his blog from the Toledo Correctional Institution has put him back on the sports page.  The surprisingly well-written daily blog of ramblings, almost rap lyrics, and personal thoughts is a fascinating portrait of someone trying to get their life together.  Though Clarett does not have computer access, he is able to send his messages via phone to family members who post them on the site.   For a player once known for saying incoherent things like, “It’s a humbling thing being humble” at the 2005 NFL Combine.  Clarett, who is also taking classes at Ohio University, waxes poetically on a variety of topics from an encouragement open-letter to one-time friend LeBron James to religion to speaking on a Mother’s Love to a potential return to the football field to provoking sociological debate/discussions on topics like “Why African Americans don’t trust one another?’

One of my favorite blog entries from Clarett’s site is from May 25, 2009 called “How Am I Feeling”.  Clarett wrote:

“I can’t hold these feelings in anymore. I want to play football again. I have a deep desire to play. I love the game. I have so much penitentiary aggression pinned up inside of me. I want to hit someone. I want to run the ball. I want to tackle someone. I want to play. I am going to play somewhere. I cannot accept how things ended. I won’t accept how they ended. I am 220, rock solid. I am moving swift, running fast, and jumping high. My mind is right and my life is in order. I am 25 but I feel like I am 18. I am still young. Those who do support me deserve and want to see me out there playing again. I play with some pretty good athletes back here. In the penitentiary you could say basketball is football. Back here everything is aggressive. Everything is intense. I know I am an asset to someone’s locker room on so many levels. I’ve survived some of life’s worst struggles. I am not a statistic. I am still here and I am still living. I didn’t and won’t give up. I am a winner. I am optimistic. I am inspirational. I am alive. I want to play for the love and the respect. I want to play for the underdogs. I want to play because I know how to really well. Hopefully, they’ll open these gates soon and I’ll be able to get out on the field again. I am healthy mentally and physically. I am rock solid. I train hard. I go hard. I’m HERE”.

There is no question after many years away from picking up a football that a return to the NFL let alone organized football is a longshot for Clarett.  But much like maligned NFL suspended quarterback Michael Vick, Clarett deserves a chance at redemption too.  The former Buckeyes freshman sensation still seems to have the desire to play the game of football and at age 26 (upon his expected parole) with a new sense on life, maybe the NFL will see yet another comeback story.  Even if football doesn’t work out, Clarett could have a future as a writer or public relations wordsmith or even as the next Chuck D putting his words into hip-hop lyrics.

 

 Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)