NFL Nation: Jon Runyan
Fred Miller wasn’t as good as Jon Runyan at right tackle, but Randall Godfrey was a significant upgrade over Barron Wortham at middle linebacker. The defense allowed 133 fewer regular-season points than the year before. The addition of offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger also qualified as an improvement. These Titans weren’t discovering they were good, they knew they were good, rolling to a 13-3 season.
An opening-night loss at Buffalo was a grudge match over the Music City Miracle, but Tennessee responded with an eight-game winning streak. The Titans won in a variety of ways. They beat the Giants 28-14 and the Steelers 9-7, adapting to what a certain Sunday may have demanded.
They also lost close games to Baltimore and at Jacksonville. The total margin of their three losses was seven points.
With the NFL’s best record and as the No. 1 seed, the Titans felt primed to return to the Super Bowl and win it. But they were undone by the rival Ravens, who upset the Titans in Nashville with big defensive and special-teams performances that sparked a run to a championship. Jeff Fisher says the 2000 Titans are the best team he’s coached, which made the loss to the Ravens all the harder to swallow.
Most impressive win: The Giants were ranked as the NFC’s best team in 2000, and the Titans beat them by two touchdowns on Oct. 1.
Research room: While it was the Ravens’ year, and they are regarded as an all-time defense, it was the Titans who finished the year as the NFL’s No. 1-rated defense.
1993: This edition of the Houston Oilers, which had two Hall of Fame offensive linemen in Mike Munchak and Matthews and a Hall of Fame quarterback in Warren Moon, rattled off 11 consecutive wins to conclude the regular season and finished 12-4. But they lost their first playoff game to Kansas City.
1961: The Houston Oilers were 10-3-1 and won their second AFL championship in a row with 13 players who were in the AFL All-Star Game.
1999: The Music City Miracle came to define a gritty, prepared, never-say-die team. They won their first playoff game thanks to the last-second trick play and came a yard short of forcing overtime on the final play of the franchise’s lone Super Bowl appearance.
Sorry, but I'm not there yet. Clayton points out that the addition of Brett Favre to the Vikings added 5.7 points per game and took them from 10 to 12 wins (and an NFC title game appearance).
My issue with that comparison is that McNabb won't have anywhere near the talent surrounding him Favre enjoyed. The Vikings had the best running back in the league heading into the 2009 season. The Redskins counter with a stable of running backs who each peaked about four years ago. I realize Clinton Portis was good in 2008 but he faded late.
Let's not act like drafting Oklahoma State left tackle Russell Okung in this month's draft is going to completely fix one of the worst offensive lines in the league. What, did you guys get excited about that Artis Hicks signing? He couldn't start for the Vikings last season but I guess he'll get the Redskins to the next level.
By trading for McNabb, Shanahan is acting as if the Redskins are prepared to win now. You don't pay an aging quarterback $11.2 million in 2010 to be a stopgap player. To me, this smacks of the old Dan Snyder way of doing business. McNabb is a blockbuster name like, say, Deion Sanders or Bruce Smith. It sounds like another expensive shortcut, albeit a highly-intriguing one.
But let's not forget McNabb finished his 2009 campaign by playing miserably in back-to-back losses to the Cowboys. Are the Redskins a better team with McNabb at quarterback? Of course they are. But it's hard to imagine him making a seven-win difference -- and that's what it would probably take to challenge for a division title. Clayton immediately has the Redskins passing the Eagles with this move.
"As for the Eagles, who were 11-5 last season, the pressure falls on the unproven quarterback Kevin Kolb," writes Clayton. "With this being his first year as the full-time starter, we can expect a two- or three-win drop in the Eagles' record because first-year starters have difficulty winning close games. The Packers experienced that after they traded Favre to the New York Jets for a second-round choice in 2008. Even though Aaron Rodgers threw for more than 4,000 yards in 2008, he struggled in the fourth quarter of close games, and the Packers dropped from 13-3 to 6-10."
Again, the good news for Eagles fans is that McNabb isn't exactly inheriting the Fun Bunch. Santana Moss still has breakaway speed, but he needs time to get open. And let's not act like McNabb is the same guy who once kept a play alive for 14 seconds on "Monday Night Football" against the Cowboys. In Philadelphia, McNabb played the majority of his career with offensive tackles Tra Thomas and Jon Runyan. He'll likely be breaking in a rookie on his blindside in 2010 and the pedestrian Stephon Heyer will man the right side.
This is certainly a fascinating trade in terms of its impact on two franchises, but to say that Washington and Dallas are the co-favorites in the division is a pretty big stretch.
Potential unrestricted free agents: P Mitch Berger, S Vernon Fox, T Brandon Gorin, Nick Greisen, G Ben Hamilton, G Russ Hochstein, DE Vonnie Holliday, CB Ty Law, WR Brandon Lloyd
Potential restricted free agents: LB Elvis Dumervil, OL Chris Kuper, WR Brandon Marshall, QB Kyle Orton, TE Tony Scheffler, DT Le Kevin Smith
Franchise player: None.
What to expect: The Broncos’ restricted class is talented. That will be the focus. It has been reported that Marshall, Orton, Dumervil, Scheffler and Kuper will all get one-year tenders. Marshall very well could be traded. It wouldn’t be a shock if Dumervil gets some action on the restricted market. Miami could be interested.
Potential unrestricted free agents: OL Andy Alleman, S Mike Brown, WR Chris Chambers, WR Terrance Copper, TE Sean Ryan, C Wade Smith, LB Mike Vrabel, WR Bobby Wade
Potential restricted free agents: RB Jackie Battle, QB Brodie Croyle, LB Derrick Johnson, LB Corey Mays, OL Ikechuku Ndukwe, OL Rudy Niswanger, OL Ryan O'Callaghan, S Jarrad Page
Franchise player: None.
What to expect: The Chiefs are interested in keeping some of their unrestricted free agents. General manager Scott Pioli said at the combine the team has been in contact with several of their free agents. Chambers is the focus. The team is trying to keep him. Brown and Vrabel could also return with new deals.
Potential unrestricted free agents: S Hiram Eugene, G Cornell Green, T Langston Walker, LB Sam Williams
Potential restricted free agents: LB Jon Alston, OL Khalif Barnes, LB Ricky Brown, LB Jon Condo, QB Charlie Frye, QB Bruce Gradkowski, LB Thomas Howard, RB Luke Lawton, OL Chris Morris, LB Kirk Morrison, CB Stanford Routt, RB Gary Russell
Franchise player: DE Richard Seymour.
What to expect: The Raiders franchised Seymour and signed kicker Sebastian Janikowski to a record deal, so they’ve already been busy. It will be interesting to see how they tender Howard and Morrison. The Raiders could use some new life at linebacker and this could be the start of it.
Potential unrestricted free agents: DT Alfonso Boone, TE Brandon Manumaleuna, C Dennis Norman, WR Kassim Osgood. T Jon Runyan, DT Ian Scott, TE Kris Wilson
Potential restricted free agents: OL Jeromey Clary, LB Tim Dobbins, WR Malcom Floyd, DT Antonio Garay, OL Eric Ghiaciuc, LB Marques Harris, WR Vincent Jackson, DT Travis Johnson, OL Marcus McNeill, LB Shawne Merriman, RB Darren Sproles, QB Charlie Whitehurst
Franchise player: None
What to expect: The Chargers have their hands full. It’s been reported they will give high tenders to Jackson, Merriman, McNeill and Floyd. Jackson and McNeill could still attract some interest on the restricted market. Sproles is not expected to be tendered, making him a free agent. The Chargers want him back. But if Sproles hits the open market, the multifaceted weapon could be scooped up quickly.
An early look at the free-agent situation in the AFC West.
Note: These projected lists reflect notable unrestricted free agents for each team. The NFL will not issue an official list of free agents until the signing period begins March 5.
Unrestricted free agents: P Mitch Berger, S Vernon Fox, T Brandon Gorin, Nick Greisen, G Ben Hamilton, G Russ Hochstein, DE Vonnie Holliday, CB Ty Law, WR Brandon Lloyd.
Key figures: There isn’t much here. The team could bring back Hochstein, Holliday and Law, but they are all complementary pieces. It’s all about the restricted free-agent class in Denver. The Broncos have to figure out what they are going to do with receiver Brandon Marshall, defensive end Elvis Dumervil, quarterback Kyle Orton and tight end Tony Scheffler.
Kansas City Chiefs
Unrestricted free agents: S Mike Brown, WR Chris Chambers, WR Terrance Copper, TE Sean Ryan, C Wade Smith, LB Mike Vrabel, WR Bobby Wade,
Key figures: Chambers will be Kansas City's priority. He gave the Chiefs’ offense a big spark after he was claimed off waivers in November. The team’s brass really likes what Brown and Vrabel bring to the team and both could be back in Kansas City at the right price. Wade also could be brought back.
Unrestricted free agents: Hiram Eugene, G Cornell Green, K Sebastian Janikowski, DE Richard Seymour, T Langston Walker, LB Sam Williams
Key figures: It’s all about Seymour and Janikowski. The Raiders are trying to get long-term deals with both players done. If new deals aren’t struck, watch for Oakland to put the franchise and transition tags on them. Oakland will do anything it can not to lose either player.
San Diego Chargers
Unrestricted free agents: DT Alfonso Boone, TE Brandon Manumaleuna, C Dennis Norman, WR Kassim Osgood. T Jon Runyan, DT Ian Scott, TE Kris Wilson
Key figures: The team would like to bring back Osgood, one of the best special-teams players in the NFL. But Osgood wants a chance to be a receiver and the opportunity might not be in San Diego. The Chargers will spend most of their energy on their restricted class. The priorities are receiver Vincent Jackson, tackle Marcus McNeill, linebacker Shawne Merriman, running back Darren Sproles and receiver Malcom Floyd.
On the surface, a 5-3 record puts a team in the thick of the NFC playoff race. But it's safe to say the Eagles are at a critical juncture in the season.
In the decade since Andy Reid took over, the Eagles have been notoriously slow starters. Even when they were making annual visits to the NFC title game, there were slow starts. In 2003, the Eagles began the season 2-3 before finishing 12-4 and losing to the Panthers in the NFC Championship Game.
The 2004 Super Bowl team was the exception with a 7-0 start, and that may have been the most talented roster top to bottom in the organization's history. (Joe Banner prefers the '09 team).
A lot of us predicted great things for the '09 Eagles based on the arrival of Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters and rookies Jeremy Maclin and LeSean McCoy. But our point of reference -- an improbable trip to the '08 NFC title game -- is faulty at best. It's easy to forget that the '08 team dropped a road game to a bad Bears team and then had an embarrassing tie with the Bengals in November.
Controlling their destiny last December, the Eagles recorded a shameful loss to a Redskins team that had already imploded. That team needed a miracle on the final Sunday of the season, and that's exactly what the Raiders delivered with a win at Tampa Bay that put the Eagles back in playoff contention.
You think the Eagles might someday realize that wins in October and November might actually make life easier, but there are clear signs they haven't gotten the message. There's not a single excuse for how a team with this much talent can go on the road and lose to Tom Cable's Raiders.
Reid will finish his career as one of the winningest coaches in league history, but that doesn't cancel out the fact that his teams play with a remarkable lack of focus at times. Even with all of his West Coast genius, Reid still makes stunningly poor decisions in managing games. After losses, he always mutters something about needing to put his team in better positions to succeed. But he almost never offers actual explanations for why his teams seem to have at least one or two disastrous losses in the first three months of the season.
And because you can only beat your head against the wall so many times after Reid news conferences, let me float a theory that may or may not hold water. During all those runs to NFC title games earlier this decade, Reid had enough veteran leaders in the locker room who could seemingly flip a switch at the midway point and help lead the Eagles to NFC titles.
Players such as Bobby Taylor, Troy Vincent, Brian Dawkins and Jon Runyan helped Reid create an atmosphere devoid of panic. But you'll notice that two names from that list -- Dawkins and Runyan -- played their final seasons with the Eagles in '08. And longtime left tackle Tra Thomas was allowed to enter free agency, making room for the celebrated trade for Peters. A former team leader, Jeremiah Trotter, has returned to the team but a lot players in the locker room aren't familiar with his previous work.
The current leaders of this team -- Donovan McNabb, Brian Westbrook, Quintin Mikell -- are doing the best they can, but they find themselves surrounded by youngsters. Some of that's a good thing because it's obvious that DeSean Jackson, Maclin and McCoy are the future of this team. But because of injuries at some key spots, the Eagles are being forced to get even younger. We haven't seen cornerback Dimitri Patterson in weeks because of injuries, but he's probably about to become the nickel cornerback in the absence of the suspended Joselio Hanson.
The Eagles have had an abundance of injuries along the offensive line and at linebacker, but other teams are dealing with similar situations. I think, more than ever, the Eagles need a coach who constantly stays on top of his players. Is Reid that guy? Well, I don't think he has much choice right now.
I've heard former Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson say that there are a handful of players in every NFL locker room who are capable of motivating themselves. Johnson says that coaches have to take care of the other 48 players on the roster each week.
It's not too late for the Eagles to make one of their patented runs toward the playoffs. But they can't afford to wait as long as they usually do.
Defensive ends Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora get a lot of attention, but the mainstay of the Giants' defensive line since '06 has been defensive tackle Barry Cofield. He was taken in the fourth round out of Northwestern in '06 and he immediately became a starter. In his four years with the club, he's started all but one game. On Friday, the Beast had an opportunity to spend about 15 minutes on the phone with Cofield.
Barry, you guys aren't used to two-game losing streaks. What's this feel like?
Cofield: There are certain expectations around here and we don't handle losing too well. It's not a normal thing to be dealing with, and on top of that, we're going to Philly. I know you've written about last season's phone incident [with Donovan McNabb] and it's not like that's the most respectable thing a guy can do. But it's not like we need that for motivation. We're always going to want to kill Donovan McNabb -- even if he's the nicest guy in the world.
|Larry French/Getty Images|
|Barry Cofield is looking forward to Sunday’s matchup with the Eagles in Philadelphia.|
Cofield: I think [the defensive line] puts the Cowboys and the Eagles in the same category. I've played against the Eagles eight times in three years, so I'm pretty familiar with them. We know each other's schemes really well so you can just go out and play.
The Eagles have added some weapons to their offense. Do you see Andy Reid doing anything different than in the past?
Cofield: Andy Reid's still the braintrust. We'll see a lot of different formations and it's a team that has a lot of gadgets. But you're right, they have some new faces. They're exceptionally fast and they've also made a lot of changes up front. Jon Runyan and Tra Thomas were nasty guys. They were the cornerstones of that offense. Runyan was a mauler and some people thought he was dirty. Now they have a smaller guy in [Winston] Justice and converted tight end in Jason Peters on the left side.
How important will it be to get Chris Canty and Michael Boley back on the field?
Cofield: We look really forward to getting those guys back, but I really don't know when it will happen. [Tom] Coughlin doesn't tell us because he probably doesn't want me to leak it to guys like you.
Have you spent a lot of time preparing for the Eagles' Wildcat formation?
Cofield: They ran it with [Brian] Westbrook last year, so we've seen some of it before. We've gone back and studies some of the plays they ran in the preseason. If they don't use [the Wildcat] this week, they're not saving it for anyone else. This is the game you'd want to do it all.
What's the most important thing in mind when facing a quarterback like Donovan McNabb?
Cofield: With McNabb, you have to get him to the ground. You pretty much have to treat him like a running back and it's important to wrap up his legs and drag him to the ground. If you don't, he's strong enough to shake tackles.
Have you guys gone back and looked at that '07 game where Winston Justice had so much trouble against Umenyiora?
Cofield: Definitely. Our position coach Mike Waufle had breakdowns that go all the way back to '04. They have a new wrinkle here and there, but they still have their bread and butter. We don't focus so much on entire games. We look back at a lot of plays. But to get back to Justice, he's definitely come into his own since that '07 game.
What do you make of the Eagles' fans?
Cofield: They are some of the rudest fans that you'll meet. But they're almost some of the most passionate. We've had our team bus egged, we've been flipped off and we've seen some bare [rears]. It's a different kind of atmosphere, that's for sure.
Mosley: I know you think the Beast spends too much time praising Tuck, so I'm glad you were able to join us for a few minutes.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
Hope this one didn't catch you by surprise: Eagles right tackle Shawn Andrews has been placed on injured reserve and will miss the season, according to the Inquirer's blog. After missing most of the '08 season with a back injury, the Eagles had expected Andrews to return to his Pro Bowl form in '09. But he tweaked his back early in training camp and only briefly returned to the lineup before being sidelined before the first game.
Andrews' release will clear up a roster spot for the newly signed backup quarterback Jeff Garcia. Winston Justice becomes the full-time starter at right tackle and don't be surprised if Andy Reid signs veteran Jon Runyan in the next day or so. Runyan has worked out with the Chiefs, Eagles and Bills in the past week. His preference would obviously be to sign with the Eagles.
Andrews has been a huge disappointment to the club since he missed training camp last year while dealing with depression. He's a talented player, but his commitment to football has been in question for a while now.
Last year, Reid kept a spot open for Andrews after he underwent back surgery. But at this point, the coach has had enough. I think it's the right move for the team. Better to cut your losses now than have the Andrews roller coaster going the entire season. You try to see if Justice is the real deal and bring in Runyan to provide insurance.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham
Five nuggets of knowledge about this weekend's games:
|Doug Benc/Getty Images|
|Jake Long will have his hands full with All-Pro defensive end John Abraham.|
Miami Dolphins left tackle Jake Long will have his hands full against the Atlanta Falcons. Long, last year's No. 1 draft pick, was a Pro Bowl rookie. His preseason performances, however, haven't been up to par. Now he gets to rumble with All-Pro right defensive end John Abraham in the Georgia Dome. Long gave up only a couple of sacks last year, but Abraham set a Falcons record with 16.5 sacks and has the ability to make linemen look foolish on any play.
Can Shawn Springs and Jonathan Wilhite contain Terrell Owens? With the Buffalo Bills' offensive line in tatters, the only fathomable way they can outscore the New England Patriots on Monday night is through the air.
Owens, making his Bills debut, will be a chief concern. Springs has missed significant preseason time with an undisclosed injury, but he and Owens have engaged in some great battles over the years. (Owens' infamous Sharpie touchdown came against Springs.) They've been in the same division since 2002. If Springs isn't ready, then the job will fall on Wilhite, who started four games as a rookie last year. Wilhite would be overmatched.
Mark Sanchez will have a better performance than Trent Edwards. While Edwards has the receivers for the bigger stats, Sanchez has two significant edges: a cement wall in front of him and Brian Schottenheimer talking into his headset. Schottenheimer will be an NFL coach within the next couple of years. Bills offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt hasn't called a play since 2005 for the Frankfurt Galaxy. The Jets probably won't win in Reliant Stadium, but I'm predicting the rookie will look better than Edwards.
Don't expect Jon Runyan to play for the Bills on Monday -- and probably not ever. The veteran right tackle visited the Bills for a workout Friday. But there's a belief his interest in playing for them is limited, that he's making the rounds in hopes of motivating his old team, the Philadelphia Eagles, to bring him back in light of right tackle Shawn Andrews' injury. Runyan has started 144 straight games for Philly, not counting playoffs, and could play in Andy Reid's offense without much adjustment.
Runyan is said to be in great shape, but even if he does sign with the Bills, inserting him in their no-huddle offense Monday night with one practice to prepare would be too much to ask. Plus, the Bills would be wise to wait until after Week 1 to sign him. Players on the active roster for opening day have their contracts guaranteed. Those signed after do not.
Five nuggets of knowledge about this weekend's games:
The Eagles appear to be in disarray heading into Week 1: And this has nothing to do with Michael Vick. Shawn Andrews missed Thursday's practice and Andy Reid ducked out a back exit to avoid reporters. And on Friday, Reid ruled Andrews out of Sunday's game. Oh, and Brian Westbrook's name showed up on the injury list with a knee issue. So let's get this thing started. Until he proves otherwise, Winston Justice is a huge question mark at right tackle. I wouldn't trust him over there for a second. After the game, Reid won't be able to sign veteran free-agent right tackle Jon Runyan quickly enough. This is not a good way to start the season -- especially against a pretty solid Panthers pass rush. Can the Eagles slow down DeAngelo Williams on defense? That's the other big question I have. He's a phenomenal running back. This is feeling more and more like a loss.
|Rich Kane/US Presswire|
|Time for Eli Manning to show he deserves the rich contract extension he received in August.|
Can the Cowboys win with a strong defense and running game? We're about to find out. Surely Jason Garrett will lean on Marion Barber and Felix Jones in the running game. It just makes too much sense. I think early success in the running game will inspire this offensive line. Leonard Davis and Marc Colombo can be dominant at times. Garrett needs to let that happen. It will also be interesting to see the unveiling of the two-tight end package with Jason Witten and Martellus Bennett. I think it will be a focal point for the offense, and the Bucs don't have enough personnel to account for both Witten and Marty B.
Eli Manning's about to earn that enormous paycheck: I think we've overblown the whole situation at wide receiver. The Giants are deep at running back and they have a very talented young tight end in Kevin Boss. Steve Smith and Domenik Hixon will do the job until Hakeem Nicks and Ramses Barden are ready to take over. I think Nicks could be starting before we make it to October -- especially if Smith and Hixon sputter out of the gate. But Manning's going to be very accurate this season, and he'll show why he deserves to be called an elite quarterback.
Here's a little secret about Eagles-Panthers: The Panthers won't be able to cover DeSean Jackson and Brent Celek. If the offensive line can give Donovan McNabb just a little time, Jackson and Celek will have big games. Celek's sort of the guy no one's talking about. He's quietly becoming a lot more like Chris Cooley and Jason Witten than people think. He's improved his route running and he's going to make tough catches. The playoff experience was huge for him. Look for big things. Have a wonderful NFL weekend. Compliments of the Beast!
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
The 49ers confirmed tackle Marvel Smith's retirement Saturday morning. What now?
Adam Snyder is still the starter on the right side. That was not going to change even if Smith tried to continue playing despite back trouble.
Depth is the problem and this situation was predictable, even likely, given what we knew about Smith's health and how the 49ers' neglected to draft a tackle or sign a younger veteran in free agency (as someone suggested they should).
None of this will matter much if Snyder returns from his knee injury to start most of the games. The 49ers could then try to develop Alex Boone and/or target a tackle in the draft. Their thinking in drafting Michael Crabtree with the 10th overall selection hasn't worked out as anticipated so far, but I think the reasoning was sound and No. 10 was too early to select one of the remaining tackles. Right tackle is not a premium position.
Some have asked why I suggested former Eagles tackle Jon Runyan as a possibility for the 49ers without mentioning the Seahawks as a logical destination as well. Runyan is strictly a right tackle. Seattle has two players able to start at right tackle (Sean Locklear and Ray Willis) but only one player (Locklear) able to start at left tackle. Adding Runyan would not improve the Seahawks' depth at left tackle, which is their position of need while Jones is unavailable.
The 49ers need a right tackle for insurance. Runyan is coming off knee surgery. He might not be ready right away. The 49ers do not need him right away. They need insurance. I have no idea if Runyan would even consider moving across the country. But when I think of tough, physical tackles in the 49ers' mold, Runyan comes to mind.
|AP Photo/Mark Humphrey|
|Eddie George, right, and Craig Hentrich were among the former teammates to attend Steve McNair's memorial.|
WHITES CREEK, Tenn. -- Lance Schulters arrived at Steve McNair's memorial with another former teammate of the fallen Titans quarterback, Robaire Smith.
The two also saw Samari Rolle and Eddie George.
Those four friends always thought they'd be reunited with McNair for happier times.
"That's our seats right there, playing cards all day on the plane," Schulters said, gesturing the circle they'd comprise. "Steve always won the big hands. All the big pots he won. We just joked about that, like 'Man, this is crazy.'"
Instead, they gathered in this suburb north of Nashville, not to shuffle and deal, but to join more than 5,000 others to mourn McNair, who was shot and killed Saturday in a murder-suicide.
"We might feel indestructible and indispensable on the field, but the reality of it is we're all human, and we all have an end," said Kevin Mawae, Titans center and president of the NFL Players Association. "We just don't know when that end is going to come.
"It's a difficult thing to be here. But we're all NFL players and there are not very many of us and when one of us passes under these circumstances or any circumstances, you mourn the loss of that guy. He was a brother in the locker room to many of us."
More than 30 teammates -- Titans past and present -- attended the memorial, as did the franchise's owner, Bud Adams, Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen and Nashville Mayor Karl Dean.
The list of current and former players also includes Derrick Mason, Samari Rolle, Jevon Kearse, Kevin Carter, Frank Wycheck, Yancey Thigpen, Benji Olson, Blaine Bishop, Kyle Vanden Bosch, Jon Runyan, Josh Evans, Justin Hartwig, Al Del Greco, Erron Kinney, Zach Piller, Craig Hentrich, Gary Walker, Joe Nedney, Chris Sanders, Al Smith, Chris Hope and Vincent Fuller.
Current Titans assistant coaches Dave McGinnis, Mike Munchak and Marcus Robertson (who was also a teammate) are also here, as is the team's starting quarterback, Kerry Collins. McNair was drafted third by the Oilers in 1995; Collins fifth by Carolina.
Jeff Fisher will speak during the memorial and is set to talk with the media after it's over.
George said he gathered with 15 or 20 former teammates to remember McNair Wednesday night at The Palm in downtown Nashville
McNair was killed on July 4, which led different players to different thoughts of future Independence Days.
"Here's an opportunity for us to get together every Fourth of July and celebrate his life," George said.
"I know from this point on, my July 4 will never be the same," Kearse said. "I may not even celebrate July 4 from this point on. Instead it will be on July 9 or something like that."
George wrote a poem -- entitled "Where Do Warriors Go?" -- in recent days as he tried to sort through his feelings about McNair's death.
"It was a great question, and based off of that question, these words just started coming out of me and I tried to put it into form," said George, who read the poem at the memorial service. "It was something that I wanted to send off to him, directly speak to him and send him off in the right way. Maybe one day I can recite it for you.
"It's a special place they go to. I don't know the exact place, and that was the question. In it all, he's done his best, right or wrong, and basically it was a message to say, 'You know what, you're free to go into that life, without any judgment. You've done the best you can do and we're going to hold it down here for you.'"
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
In his 10 most intriguing moves of the offseason, Rick Gosselin includes Connor Barwin, Torry Holt and Donald Brown.
- Battle Red Blog wonders what Dunta Robinson would be worth in a trade. (I expect he ultimately signs the franchise offer of nearly $10 million and plays for the Texans this year.)
- DeMeco Ryans talks with texans.com.
- An examination of the Colts at the safety positions, from John Oehser.
- Oehser's breakdown of Robert Mathis.
- The 10 most valuable Colts according to Greg Trippiedi.
- Vic Ketchman of jaguars.com assesses the state of the rest of the division as part of his newest mailbag.
- Steve McNair's jealous girlfriend, Sahel Kazemi, shot him while he slept before killing herself, according to police. Kate Howard's story.
- Audio of the 911 call, courtesy of The Tennessean.
- Details of Thursday's memorial in Nashville, from Janell Ross.
- A slideshow of fans paying tribute to McNair at LP Field, from George Walker IV.
- McNair had recently filmed a suicide prevention public service announcement, reports Ken Whitehouse.
- McNair's larger than life persona brought the case into our homes, writes Joe Biddle.
- "The great thing about Mac was if I called something bad, he'd make me look good,'' offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger told Jim Wyatt."The thing is, for years around here we handed it off to Eddie (George), handed it off to Eddie, handed it off to Eddie and played it close, and then in the last 2 minutes we said, "Steve, go win this game for us.' And he would."
- Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler recalls some work he did with McNair, writes Wyatt.
- Why is infidelity a part of the pro-sports lifestyle for so many, asks David Boclair.
- The arresting officer in Kazemi's DUI told her McNair was not happy with her.
- McNair never laid claim to personal perfection, says Tom Curran.
- We don't know the athletes we worship, writes Mike Freeman.
- McNair's top moments as a Titan, from Terry McCormick.
- Larry Stone recalls how McNair could have been a Seattle Mariner. (Hat tip to USA Today's Game On blog.)
- Jon Runyan reflects on McNair, linked from sportsradiointerviews.com.
- Favorite McNair moments from Phil Simms and Clifton Brown, via Wyatt.
- Jason Lisk ponders Chris Johnson heading into his second year.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
I was in the middle of eating beer-battered biscuits at one of my favorite breakfast spots in Dallas (Barbec's) this morning when former Eagles right tackle Jon Runyan's name popped up on caller ID. He's always been a fun guy to cover because of his brutal honesty and wry sense of humor.
Runyan reminded me that it will be two months since he underwent microfracture surgery on his right knee this Thursday. He's getting a kick out of reading reports that he might retire because that's the last thing on his mind.
"I'm playing next season," he said. "I just don't know where it will be. But I'll be with somebody."
Runyan said the Eagles (and other teams around the league) are taking a "wait-and-see approach" with him. He will take another trip to Birmingham, Ala., in six weeks to visit with famed surgeon Dr. James Andrews and see how his knee is responding. Dr. Andrews said the recovery would take 4-6 months, so Runyan anticipates being ready for training camp in late July.
And it wouldn't be wise to count him out. His 192 consecutive games played is third among current players and Eagles fans won't forget that Runyan played most of the 2007 season with a broken tailbone. He hasn't had any dialogue with the Eagles, but his close relationship with Andy Reid will at least keep him in the conversation. He called the departures of Brian Dawkins and Tra Thomas "unfortunate," but he didn't necessarily hold management responsible for what happened.
When I asked him about Donovan McNabb's offseason drama, he was pretty blunt.
"I've always thought if players sign a contract, they should go ahead and honor it," he said.
I'll stay in touch with Runyan throughout the offseason and try to bring you periodic updates on his rehabilitation. OK, go about your Saturday in peace.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
The NFL's free-agency period hasn't officially ended, but for the purposes of this column, let's pretend it has. We're still waiting for the Philadelphia Eagles and their millions in cap space to join the party -- unless you're hanging your hat on the Andrews brothers.
Anyway, we're handing out grades this afternoon based on the first two weeks of free agency in the NFC East. The Washington Redskins have spent the most money (shocker), but you can't buy this blog's love. Now brace yourself for this year's NFC East premature free-agency report card.
New York Giants: A-
The Giants have been the most efficient team in the division during free agency. General manager Jerry Reese calmed down a lot of folks about the wide receiver position by continuing to hold out hope for Plaxico Burress. If you read between the lines, it sounds like the Giants are feeling pretty good about Burress' chances of avoiding jail time -- and I don't think an NFL suspension will be more than four games.
With that in mind, Reese set out to address some key areas in the Giants' defense. Former Falcons linebacker Michael Boley will immediately become a starter, and his coverage skills will put the Giants in a much better position against running backs such as Brian Westbrook and Felix Jones. When the Eagles isolated Westbrook on Antonio Pierce during a December win, the results were devastating.
The Giants also stepped back and watched film of how the defensive line wore down in the second half of the season. Pro Bowl defensive end Justin Tuck had an outstanding season, but he was carrying too heavy a load in December and January. By signing former Seahawks defensive tackle Rocky Bernard and former Cowboys defensive end Chris Canty, the Giants bolstered their defensive line to the point where Fred Robbins could be used as trade bait. Paying Canty $7 million a year seems like a steep price, but Coughlin -- and his buddy Bill Parcells -- are convinced that he will become a force inside. In the Cowboys' 3-4 scheme, Canty was often an afterthought as a pass-rusher. After playing against Canty for several seasons, the Giants thought his height (6 feet 7) and power would allow him to collapse the pocket.
Former Texans safety C.C. Brown (the Giants love ex-Texans) should provide depth behind Michael Johnson and Kenny Phillips. Coughlin and Reese love creating competitive situations in training camp -- and they've done that at linebacker, safety and on the defensive line. Don't you think most teams would like to have Mathias Kiwanuka coming off the bench? Same goes for Jay Alford and Robbins. Heading into the draft, the Giants are the best team on paper. Of course, some people thought the same thing about the Cowboys last season.
Washington Redskins: B
A lot of teams use free agency as a jumping-off spot for the draft. Under Dan Snyder's reign, the Redskins have used the draft as more of an offseason diversion.
First of all, let me say that Albert Haynesworth is one of the most dominant defensive tackles we've seen in years. When he was in the lineup, the Titans were an elite defense. When he was out because of injury, the defense was pedestrian.
My fear with Haynesworth is that he had the best two years of his career when the Titans (and the rest of the league) were dangling that lucrative carrot in front of him. How will Haynesworth perform with a full bank account?
Well, we're about to find out. But honestly, signing DeAngelo Hall to a long-term contract is the bigger risk. He was a divisive force in the Falcons' locker room and he obviously didn't make it with the Raiders. He performed well on a $500,000 deal in half a season -- and the Redskins guaranteed him $22.5 million. The Redskins have been down this road before -- and it never works.
Demetric Evans was actually a decent pass-rusher, but the Redskins let him get away. You better hit on a pass-rusher with that No. 13 pick, in part, because it will be Sunday afternoon before you make another selection.
Bringing in guard Derrick Dockery is a good move, but you still have holes to fill on the line. Jon Jansen, Randy Thomas and Pete Kendall aren't going to cut it. The injuries (and age) led to last season's downfall in the second half of the season. If the Redskins don't do more to address the line, the signings of Hall and Haynesworth won't mean that much.
Dallas Cowboys: B -
No matter how you got him (and the trade was weird), Jon Kitna's a smart addition. This team was held hostage by the backup spot last season. Now, the Cowboys' playoff chances aren't shot if Tony Romo suffers another injury. And don't underestimate the chemistry that Kitna had with Roy Williams in Detroit. I heard T.J. Houshmandzadeh say recently that Kitna was a tremendous leader in the Bengals' locker room, even when he was backing up Carson Palmer. Romo needs to become a better leader, so maybe Kitna can help him out.
For the money, bringing in Igor Olshansky to replace Canty at defensive end is a solid move. Canty's the more talented player, but the Cowboys got a nice deal on Olshansky. The guaranteed portion of the salary has been reported as $6 million, but a league source has told me it's closer to $8 million.
Bringing in Keith Brooking will be an upgrade over Zach Thomas at inside linebacker. Brooking played for Phillips in this exact same inside-weakside spot in Atlanta. At age 33, he's a declining player. But there's a chance the Cowboys could get two more productive seasons out of him. Now, the Cowboys have to either find a wide receiver or an offensive lineman in the second round of the draft.
Of course, the biggest move was releasing Terrell Owens. In my mind, that's addition by subtraction in terms of the locker room. In terms of what happens on the field, you could see a drop in production early in the season. But if Jason Garrett can build this offense around the three-headed monster at running back, the Cowboys will have a shot at the playoffs.
Philadelphia Eagles: C-
This may seem harsh to some of you, but is there anything that excites you about what the Eagles have accomplished so far? Stacy Andrews can replace Jon Runyan at right tackle, but this still leaves a gaping hole on the left side. The Eagles could package their two first-round picks and move up to draft someone like Jason Smith of Baylor, but that's not Andy Reid's style. It's more likely they trade down and acquire some additional picks.
Sean Jones is a serviceable replacement for Brian Dawkins, but the one-year deal tells you that the organization doesn't have a ton of faith in the guy. Former Raiders safety Rashad Baker is more of a special-teams guy.
But if the Eagles are biding their time to make a run at Cardinals wide receiver Anquan Boldin, all can be forgiven. They probably would have to part with one of their first-round picks and possibly a third-rounder. Does that seem like the type of thing Reid and Joe Banner would do? Right now, Donovan McNabb's scratching his head like the rest of us.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
Former Eagles Pro Bowl left tackle Tra Thomas has agreed to a three-year deal with the Jaguars, according to ESPN.com's John Clayton. Thomas went to four Pro Bowls with the Eagles and was a staple on the left side since the club took him in the first round of the '98 draft.
He wanted to stay in Philly, but the team didn't show a strong interest in re-signing him. The Eagles have shown once again that sentimentality doesn't mean much to them in terms of signing players. They didn't put up much of a fight (if any) to keep local hero Brian Dawkins and they weren't interested in paying an aging player to play left tackle.
So where does this leave Philly? Well, Andy Reid loves to talk about how he can turn guards into tackles. There's a chance the Eagles could move Shawn Andrews to left tackle and play his brother Stacy at right tackle, where Jon Runyan has played for years. I think that move could backfire. Shawn is trying to return after dealing with clinical depression and then a back injury last season. Is this really the best time to put him at the most important spot on the offensive line?
The Eagles have the Nos. 21 and 28 picks in next month's draft. You have to think they'll be thinking offensive line on at least one of those choices. But no matter what happens, the Jags ended up with a quality player. The only problem I could foresee is Thomas' adjustment to a more run-based offense. He's been used to playing in an offense that passes the ball about 65 percent of the time. At this point in his career, he's not an elite run blocker. And the Jags love to run the ball.
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