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One of the hardest things to handle about life in the NFL is the cruel reality of aging. The NBA can find jobs for past-their-prime veterans like Grant Hill, Juwan Howard and Kurt Thomas. The Colorado Rockies didn't see a problem with having 49-year-old Jamie Moyer on the mound last season.
Pro football, however, is an entirely different beast. Even productive players can have a hard time making a living once they've reached certain points in their respective careers.
That fact has never been truer than this offseason. This is the first year that owners have to abide by the salary cap rules hammered out in the most recent collective bargaining agreement -- most notably, franchises have to spend at least an average of 89 percent of the cap in contract dollars over the next four years -- and it's quite apparent where they aren't spending their money. There are plenty of seasoned, big-name free agents still sitting on the open market, hoping to find homes. Here's a look at the best of that bunch -- and their chances of staying in the league a little longer.
1. Charles Woodson, S: It's amazing that Woodson hasn't drawn more suitors. He's had a phenomenal career as a cornerback and he's talented enough to be as effective at safety as Hall of Famer Rod Woodson was in the final years of his career.
The problem is that Woodson's age (36) is working against him despite his lengthy list of accomplishments with Green Bay over the past seven seasons (four Pro Bowls and NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2009). The San Francisco 49ers were the only team to show serious interest in Woodson earlier this offseason. Now that they've used a first-round pick on LSU safety Eric Reid, it looks like they've found their replacement for departed free-agent safety Dashon Goldson.
Prediction: The best Woodson can hope for is a minor role on a team that could use a veteran presence in its secondary. He'd likely want to play for a contender, and every team with glaring needs in that category (including New England, Baltimore, San Francisco and Houston) addressed those issues through the draft or free agency. It's not hard to see Woodson retiring given the way his offseason is going. He has too much pride.
2. Brian Urlacher, MLB: You would've thought the Bears would've found a way to allow Urlacher to finish his career with the only team he'd ever known during 13 NFL seasons. The Baltimore Ravens made that happen with Ray Lewis, even though he clearly wasn't the same superstar he'd been for the last few years of his career.
Instead, Urlacher and the franchise couldn't agree on a deal, and now he's twisting in the wind. Bears general manager Phil Emery has implied that he wasn't closing the door on Urlacher's return, but Chicago already has signed middle linebackers D.J. Williams and James Anderson.
Prediction: The best place for Urlacher would've been in Chicago. The next-best spot would be Minnesota since it runs a similar 4-3 scheme and lost starting middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley to free agency. But the Vikings haven't done anything more than chat with Urlacher's agents (and they also appear ready to give the job to Erin Henderson, the team's weakside linebacker from last season). This doesn't look good for Urlacher at this stage. He may have played his last NFL game.
|Casey Hampton has manned the middle of the Steelers' defense since 2001.|
3. Casey Hampton, NT: Hampton would still be in Pittsburgh if the Steelers' salary cap problems weren't so massive. Instead, he was one of a handful of big names that vanished from the roster for financial reasons. The question is why more teams didn't jump on him as soon as he hit the open market.
Granted, Hampton will turn 36 this September. But he's also spent most of the past 13 years being a key factor in a Pittsburgh run defense that annually ranked among the best in the league. Given the number of teams still running 3-4 schemes -- and Hampton proving this past season that he has some gas left in his tank -- somebody should have signed him by now.
Prediction: New Orleans made sense until the Saints selected mammoth Georgia nose tackle John Jenkins in the third round of this year's draft. A return to Pittsburgh now seems more plausible, especially since the Steelers don't have great options at that position and Hampton remains jobless.
4. Dwight Freeney, DE: Freeney found himself in the wrong place at the worst possible time last season. For all the success the Indianapolis Colts enjoyed in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year, he suffered through arguably the lousiest season of his 12-year career (five sacks in 14 starts).
Freeney has a résumé that is impressive enough to generate curiosity (107.5 career sacks). What he also has is the same undersized frame that always fit best in the Colts' Cover 2 defense designed by former coach Tony Dungy. Freeney's quickness and explosiveness made him a star in that scheme. His age (33) make him a potential liability at this point in his career.
Prediction: Freeney is past the point of being an every-down player. If he can't convince teams that he's dangerous enough to be a situational pass-rusher, his market is nonexistent. Tennessee has shown interest and Denver has listened to the pleas of former Colts teammate and current Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning. The other big question is whether Freeney is willing to work for less than he thinks he's worth. If he can, Denver seems like the smart bet, especially with Elvis Dumervil now playing in Baltimore and the Broncos having the AFC's best team.
5. Brandon Lloyd, WR: The 31-year-old Lloyd had a solid season in New England this past year (74 receptions, 911 yards, four touchdowns) but salary cap issues forced the Patriots to dump him earlier this offseason. So where is the love? This is the same man who made the Pro Bowl in 2010 with Denver, when he led the NFL in receiving yards. Lloyd also has managed to turn his career around over the past few years after being such an underwhelming journeyman that he was checking into college football analyst jobs as recently as 2009. The Patriots liked his contributions, but the signings of Michael Jenkins (a 10-year veteran who caught 34 fewer passes last season) and Donald Jones essentially make his return a long shot.
Prediction: Lloyd is still young enough and productive enough to find a home. His days of being a No. 1 option are over, but he could be a dependable third or fourth receiver. The problem is that older receivers who fall into that category and don't play special teams look far less attractive to general managers. He'll need to find a contender who needs depth at receiver. With that in mind, Cincinnati and Minnesota would be smart to take a look.
6. John Abraham, DE: Abraham recently became so frustrated with his free-agent process that he indicated he might retire by tweeting "Retiring 13" and "Done" a few days ago. He has since deleted those tweets, but you get the picture. This is a 35-year-old man who expected to have a few more options after producing 10 sacks with Atlanta in 2012 (and 122 in 13 seasons). Abraham falls into the same category as Freeney -- a productive pass-rusher who will have to be a situational player going forward.
Prediction: It's clear that Abraham and Freeney are competing for work in the same places, and that Freeney is more attractive to suitors at this point. Despite meeting with a few contenders (including Denver, Seattle and New England), it looks like Abraham should stay off Twitter a little longer. There is no good news coming his way until Freeney makes his decision.
7. Kyle Vanden Bosch, DE: When Detroit released the 34-year-old Vanden Bosch earlier this offseason, the impact of that move was most felt within the Lions' locker room. The Lions signed him in 2010 to help change their losing culture and he showed his younger teammates what professionalism and accountability can do for a career. Vanden Bosch essentially made about $20 million with the Lions by being a good guy who could still play. Don't expect him to be so lucky going forward.
Prediction: Vanden Bosch had just 3.5 sacks in 2012 and wasn't nearly as effective off the edge. It's time to call it a career.
|Karlos Dansby had 134 tackles in 2012, yet is still without a team.|
8. Karlos Dansby, ILB: At 31, Dansby is still young enough to help somebody's defense. The issue is whether he's humble enough to accept much less money than he's been making lately. His last team, Miami, gave him a five-year deal worth $43 million in 2010, and they just released him in March. The Buffalo Bills were talking to him before the draft, but then they used a second-round pick on linebacker Kiko Alonso.
Prediction: Dansby will be a player somewhere this coming season. It's just a matter of how much a team will offer him.
9. Quentin Jammer, CB: With 11 seasons behind him, Jammer will have a hard time finding work as a cornerback. He struggled in coverage with San Diego last season and he's never become the star some expected when he was selected fifth overall in the 2002 draft. The likeliest scenario has him moving to safety -- he's always been physical enough to play that spot -- and helping a defense with his ability to handle tight ends from that position. He's basically a lesser version of Charles Woodson at this stage.
Prediction: Jammer has met with the Washington Redskins, but nothing appears imminent there. Still, his versatility -- especially at a time when teams need cover safeties more than ever -- should land him a job. That said, the Redskins actually look like the best option for Jammer, solely because neither party has better alternatives.
10. Daryl Smith, OLB: Here's another player who should have more of a market. Smith is only 31 and he had been a standout in Jacksonville for most of his nine years with the Jaguars. The most appealing quality for him is his versatility; he can play all three linebacker spots in a 4-3 scheme. The downside: He's coming off a groin injury that limited him to 10 games in 2012.
Prediction: Smith met with St. Louis prior to the draft, but the Rams ultimately used a first-round pick on Georgia linebacker Alec Ogletree. There will be more teams who come forward in the coming weeks, but like other players on this list, Smith will have to accept less money to keep working.