Monday, January 5, 2009
Chiefs' Johnson will be back next season, but not in Kansas City
By Jeffri Chadiha ESPN.com
Running backs Larry Johnson of the Chiefs and Edgerrin James of the Cardinals have made it clear to their teams that they don't want to return next season.
Even though the postseason is heating up, it's never too early to start thinking about what might happen when this season actually ends. There are some high-profile players who could be either traded or looking for a new employer once free agency begins. Other veterans have to ponder the question of whether to retire or keep pushing on for another year. And let's not forget those players who have made life so difficult for their respective teams that it's hard to imagine they'll be around for another season. Their fates are just as hard to determine.
So that's exactly why today is going to be about predictions. There are plenty of potential free agents who probably will stay with their current teams this offseason -- such as Carolina Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers, Tennessee Titans defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth and Baltimore Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis -- but they aren't the ones who will be the focus of this column. Instead, we want to target the players who are far more likely to be living in different cities next fall. Before things get too serious with their situations, it can't hurt to have a little fun guessing where they'll land.
Here are the 10 best scenarios worth considering:
Why he could be gone: He tried retirement last spring and wound up in a summer-long soap opera with the Green Bay Packers. He was traded to the Jets in August, then finished the season with 22 interceptions and left skeptics wondering how good a fit he actually was with that team. At some point, Favre has to realize that he has had too great a career to be dealing with so much turmoil.
Where he will end up: Right back on the living-room sofa that he should've stayed on this fall. Sure, Favre deserves credit for still wanting to compete. But let's also be honest: This season was a perfect example of what happens when a past-his-prime star can't make up his mind and lets ego drive him into a shaky marriage.
Why he could be gone: Because we're tired of hearing about McNabb's future in that city. The Eagles already have his successor -- second-year quarterback Kevin Kolb -- waiting in the wings. McNabb also had to face the humiliation of being benched by coach Andy Reid in a 36-7 loss to Baltimore on Nov. 23. True, McNabb has been playing lights-out since that day, but that's also another reason to part ways with him. If the Eagles really want to give Kolb a shot, it's best to deal McNabb while his stock is still high.
Where he will end up: Minnesota could be a likely destination, especially since Vikings coach Brad Childress used to be McNabb's offensive coordinator in Philadelphia. But the Bears also make plenty of sense. Chicago's feeble offense hurt their postseason hopes and McNabb grew up in that city as well. That being said, the safe bet has McNabb staying in Philadelphia, where he has already openly talked about wanting a new extension.
Why he could be gone: He's had problems off the field (four alleged altercations with women during his career, none of which have led to convictions). He has had problems in the locker room: Missed meetings led the Chiefs to bench him for three games this season (to go along with a one-game suspension Johnson earned for two charges of simple assault). In fact, he's had so many problems that it's easy to forget he was one of the best running backs in the NFL when the Chiefs signed him to a five-year extension in 2007. Oh yeah, Johnson also has said publicly that he wants out of Kansas City.
Where he will end up: Normally, this would be a player who has silver and black written all over him. But Raiders owner Al Davis already has three running backs (Darren McFadden, Justin Fargas and Michael Bush) who are younger than the 29-year-old Johnson. So we'll say New England is the next best destination for LJ. Coach Bill Belichick has gambled on problem children in the past (Randy Moss, Corey Dillon), and Johnson could easily be playing under an incentive-laden deal next year. On top of all that, he's better than any back the Patriots have on their roster.
Why he could be gone: Because he easily beat out Johnson for the title of NFL's Biggest Idiot this season. Burress has had so many off-the-field problems -- from a slew of missed meetings to charges of carrying an unregistered handgun in a New York City nightclub -- that the Giants eventually suspended him for the season in late November. It was bad enough that Burress shot himself in the leg when he was fumbling with the gun on that ill-fated night. But he also torched a career with the Giants that should've ended in a more positive fashion, especially after he signed a $35 million extension in September.
Where he will end up: Jail, unless his lawyer comes up with a great defense.
Why he could be gone: Since when do the Eagles care about sentimentality? They've cut ties with every aging star they've had during the Andy Reid era, and Dawkins knows this as well as anybody. He has watched friends like Troy Vincent, Bobby Taylor and Jeremiah Trotter all leave town once they got older. Now that Dawkins is 35, he should realize he'll be next now that his contract is expiring.
Where he will end up: Two places come to mind: Washington and Chicago. The Redskins' secondary hasn't been nearly as threatening since Pro Bowl safety Sean Taylor was murdered in 2007, and Bears free safety Mike Brown has finished the past five seasons on injured reserve. But because a choice has to be made, we'll go with Washington. We all know Redskins owner Daniel Snyder loves to pay for aging, high-priced talent.
Why he could be gone: That's a silly question to ask once you realize James gained a career-low 514 yards in 2008. He lost his job earlier this season, and not even a solid showing lately (he has gained 173 yards in his past two games) can save his future in Arizona. Remember, James is a player who didn't want to be with the Cardinals when this season began. This offseason, Arizona might grant his wish by releasing him.
Where he will end up: James' days as a starter are over, especially now that he'll be 31 when next season begins. His best chance to land a job would be as a backup, and it's unlikely that he's interested in going out like that. So the smart money has his career path resembling that of former Seattle Seahawks running back Shaun Alexander. James may want to keep working, but it's more likely that he'll wind up out of the league.
Why he could be gone: Scott couldn't have asked for worse timing. He's becoming an unrestricted free agent at the same time that the Ravens have to negotiate new deals for fellow linebackers Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs. As talented as Scott is -- he nearly accepted a free-agent offer from Cleveland in 2006 before making his first Pro Bowl later that year -- it's hard to see the Ravens dropping big money on all three of those players this offseason.
Where he will end up: Even though his numbers have dropped since that Pro Bowl season -- mostly because he has been asked to drop into pass coverage more often --- Scott is a playmaker who should be attractive to several defense-challenged teams. That's why the Denver Broncos make sense here. They're about as bad as it gets on that side of the football.
Why he could be gone: The Bengals have decided against slapping the franchise tag on Houshmandzadeh, meaning he'll have a chance to flee all that dysfunction. And why wouldn't he get out? He has gone from a seventh-round draft pick to a player who made the Pro Bowl in 2007. He should cash in on that type of success.
Where he will end up: At 31, Houshmandzadeh has enjoyed one winning season in his eight-year career, so you can bet he'll be looking to join a team that is at least promising. Because he has 204 receptions over the past two seasons, we also should stick him with a team that needs a crafty possession receiver. Hey, Jon Gruden loves older pass-catchers. So it says here that Tampa Bay is where Houshmandzadeh will land next.
Why he could be gone: It's a simple numbers game. The Giants have two running backs entering unrestricted free agency -- Ward and Brandon Jacobs -- and one of them is listed at 6-foot-4 and 264 pounds. Unfortunately for Ward, he's not that guy. You also have to consider that the Giants still have second-year back Ahmad Bradshaw to be a change-of-pace back to Jacobs. Hey, the real Earth, Wind & Fire didn't stay together forever, either.
Where he will end up: Ward should have a nice selection of suitors when the offseason arrives. He gained 1,025 rushing yards and caught 41 passes this season, and there are plenty of teams that could use that kind of versatility. Arizona is one, but the Denver Broncos -- a team that suffered through several injuries at the running back position this year -- make more sense. Ward could be the last major component in an offense stocked with young talent at critical positions.
Why he could be gone: At some point, the Cardinals need to decide what they'll do with Matt Leinart. Plus, Warner turns 38 in June and his contract expires after this season. So even though Warner just made his first Pro Bowl since 2001, the Cardinals have to decide how long they're going to let him stand in the way of their future.
Where he will end up: Warner would want the chance to start somewhere in the NFL next season if it can't be in Arizona. The only problem is that there aren't any better available gigs than the one he has right now. So the best guess here is that he tests the market and then returns to Arizona. There's still no guarantee that Leinart has what it takes to succeed in this league.
Senior writer Jeffri Chadiha covers the NFL for ESPN.com.