|ESPN.com: NFC South||[Print without images]|
Some numbers (courtesy of ESPN Stats & Information) to ponder as we approach the start of free agency.
First, let's look at who were the hottest running backs at the end of the regular season.
Rushing yards in Weeks 16-17 of 2008 Season
Kind of interesting that Ward, who is about to be free, was the leader in this category. There's been a lot of talk about the Bucs pursuing defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth, a quarterback or a high-profile wide receiver. All that's more than possible, but don't be surprised if the Bucs are at least in the running for Ward. The closest thing they have to a sure thing at running back is Earnest Graham, who is very good, but he's coming off an injury and hasn't always been the most durable guy. Ward would be a very nice fit in Tampa Bay.
Next, let's take a look at defensive ends from a durability standpoint.
Most Consecutive Regular Season Starts, Active Defensive Ends
Hmm, just a thought here, but keep an eye on the Carolina Panthers and Canty. Yeah, I know the Panthers are pretty tight against the salary cap and that may prevent them from signing big-money guys and Canty is looking for money. But let's not forget that there's at least a good chance that disgruntled franchise player Julius Peppers wants out of town and he's costing $17 million against the cap. The Peppers situation is far from over, but the Panthers may need a replacement. There are always creative ways to structure deals to be cap friendly and there always are ways to clear more cap room -- especially if there's the possibility that $17 million hit for Peppers goes away. Oh, and keep in mind, Canty's from Charlotte and went to high school there. The Panthers have a history of bringing players from the Carolinas home. I'm not saying this is going to happen with Canty, but just keep an eye on this one.
Like Hilliard, Joey Galloway was part of Tampa Bay's purge of old guys this week. Galloway, 37, is the oldest of the bunch and there are some that think he might be done. But Galloway has said he fully intends to keep playing. Yeah, last season was hugely disappointing by Galloway's standards, but some teams (although I don't foresee any NFC teams in this race) are likely to look at Galloway and rationalize that last season was an exception. Galloway was hurt from training camp on and fell into former coach Jon Gruden's doghouse. But the guy has always taken great care of himself and claims he's healthier than he's been in years. Just erase 2008 and look at where Galloway ranked among the league's top receivers from 2005 through 2007. He was well into his 30s then. He might still be worth a shot.
Between 2005 and 2007, Galloway ranked in the top 10 in receiving yards (8th with 3,358 yards), yards per reception (2nd with 16.6 -- minimum 100 receptions) and receptions over over 30 yards (tied for second with 29). He also ranked 14th in receiving touchdowns with 23.