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Jersey Numbers: Linebackers

This is our next to last post choosing the best players at each position by jersey number. If you have quibbles, leave a comment and we’ll update this post. And please have patience – this is a big job.

We started this project with wide receivers in this post and then with tight ends in this post and quarterbacks in this post and running backs in this post and offensive linemen in this post and kickers/punters in this post and defensive linemen in this post. Now we move to linebackers, who can wear numbers in the 50s and the 90s with a few exceptions. If a number is omitted, it’s because no linebacker who has played this season wears those digits.

46 – Vinny Ciurciu, Lions – Ciurciu is the only linebacker currently wearing 46. He has played in six games this year, seeing most of his action on special teams. Now with his fourth team, Ciurciu also has a good locker-room nickname (see the bottom of the linked post).

47 – Brit Miller, 49ers – Miller is the only linebacker currently wearing 47. The rookie out of Illinois has played in two games this season.

49 – Zack Follett, Lions – Follett is the only linebacker currently wearing 49. The rookie out of Cal has played in nine games this year, mostly on special teams.

50 – Curtis Lofton, Falcons – Lofton, a second-year middle linebacker, has emerged as a tackle machine for the Falcons. His growth allowed the Dirty Birds to let stalwart Keith Brooking leave via free agency, and now it’s Lofton who will lead Atlanta’s defense for years to come. Lofton is tied for second in the NFL with 118 tackles. We give him the nod over OLB Mike Vrabel, who had great years in New England and is now a veteran leader in Kansas City. Other notable 50s: Russell Allen, Jaguars; James Anderson, Panthers; K.C. Asiodu, Rams; Antwan Barnes, Ravens; Eric Barton, Browns; Monty Beisel, Cardinals; Rocky Boiman, Steelers; Diyral Briggs, 49ers; Isaiah Ekejiuba, Raiders; Vernon Gholston, Jets; A.J. Hawk, Packers; Erin Henderson, Vikings; Lance Laury, Seahawks; Matt McCoy, Buccaneers; Marvin Mitchell, Saints; Rob Ninkovich, Patriots; Ernie Sims, Lions; David Thornton, Titans; Erik Walden, Dolphins; Philip Wheeler, Colts; Will Witherspoon, Eagles

51 – Barrett Ruud, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Ruud has emerged as a do-everything middle linebacker for the Buccaneers, and he’s one of the few bright spots on the team’s defense. He’s fifth in the league with 113 tackles and also has six passes defensed. He gets the nod over Jonathan Vilma of New Orleans, who may be better in pass coverage. Also worth mentioning are long-time veterans Keith Brooking of Dallas, James Farrior of Pittsburgh, and Takeo Spikes of the 49ers; youngsters Jerod Mayo of the Patriots and Paul Posluszny of Buffalo; and injured Seahawks MLB Lofa Tatupu. Other notable 51s: Brendon Ayanbadejo, Ravens; Akin Ayodele, Dolphins; Tim Diles, Chargers; Ryan Fowler, Jets; Tony Gilbert, Falcons; Alex Hall, Browns; Clint Ingram, Colts; Ben Leber, Vikings; Corey Mays, Chiefs; Joe Mays, Eagles; Gerald McRath, Titans; Brady Poppinga, Packers; Dan Skuta, Bengals; Chaun Thompson, Texans

52 – Ray Lewis, Ravens – This is a loaded number that features Pro Bowl-caliber linebackers in Carolina MLB Jon Beason, San Francisco MLB Patrick Willis, and Jets ILB David Harris, but Lewis gets the nod for his long, productive career that continues at a very high level. Other notable youngsters include rookie Clay Matthews of Green Bay, Kirk Morrison of Oakland, Daryl Smith of Jacksonville, and injured Browns ILB D’Qwell Jackson. Other notable 52s: Xavier Adibi, Texans; Eric Alexander, Patriots;  Michael Boley, Giants; Cody Brown, Cardinals; Jonathan Casillas, Saints; Channing Crowder, Dolphins; Chris Draft, Bills; Larry English, Chargers; Cody Glenn, Colts; Chad Greenway, Vikings; David Herron, Chiefs; Abdul Hodge, Bengals; D.D. Lewis, Seahawks;  Rocky McIntosh, Redskins; Jamar Williams, Bears; Coy Wire, Falcons

53 – Keith Bulluck, Titans – Bulluck has long been the emotional leader of the Titans’ defense, and he remains a solid sideline-to-sideline player. His three interceptions tie him for the lead among linebackers, and his 10 passes defensed place him second at the position. He’s also among the top 10 in tackles for linebackers. That’s enough to give him the nod over Atlanta’s Mike Peterson, another long-time, solid performer. Other notable 53s: Marcus Buggs, Bills; Derrick Burgess, Patriots; Khary Campbell, Texans; Na’il Diggs, Panthers; Moise Fokou, Eagles; Clark Haggans, Cardinals; James Holt, Chargers; Thomas Howard, Raiders; Larry Izzo, Jets; Rashad Jeanty, Bengals; Bryan Kehl, Giants; Niko Koutouvides, Buccaneers; Paris Lenon, Rams; Jameel McClain, Ravens; Tyrone McKenzie, Patriots; Steve Octavien, Cowboys; Nick Roach, Bears; Matt Roth, Browns; Mark Simoneau, Saints; Bryan Smith, Jaguars; Reggie Torbor, Dolphins; Jeff Ulbrich, 49ers; Demorrio Williams, Chiefs

54 – Andra Davis, Broncos – This number lost its stalwart when Brian Urlacher of Chicago was knocked out for the season. So among a group of solid if unspectacular inside linebackers, we’ll give Davis the nod for his contributions (72 tackles, 3.5 sacks) in reinvigorating the Denver defense. Other contenders were Chargers ILB Stephen Cooper and Titans MLB Stephen Tulloch. Other notable 54s: H.B. Blades, Redskins; Jasper Brinkley, Vikings; Prescott Burgess, Ravens; Bobby Carpenter, Cowboys; Brandon Chillar, Packers; Blake Costanzo, Browns; Kenwin Cummings, Jets; Zac Diles, Texans; Troy Evans, Saints; Andre Frazier, Steelers; Jonathan Goff, Giants; Nic Harris, Bills; Geno Hayes, Buccaneers; Gerald Hayes, Cardinals; Will Herring, Seahawks; Freddie Keiaho, Colts; DeAndre Levy, Lions; Stephen Nicholas, Falcons; Jeremiah Trotter, Eagles; Tracy White, Eagles; Sam Williams, Raiders

55 – Terrell Suggs, Ravens – This is a tough call, because Suggs has just 3.5 sacks this season and has missed three games. But on the whole, he’s the most complete linebacker at this position, because he can be a dynamite pass rusher and also do well against the run and in coverage. I’d rather have Suggs that Miami OLB Joey Porter, who has eight sacks thus far this season, or Chicago’s playmaking WLB Lance Briggs, who stars in the featured position in the old Tampa 2 defense the Bears run. Other solid vets wearing 55 include Detroit’s Larry Foote and Denver’s D.J. Williams, while youngsters Clint Session of Indianapolis and James Laurinaitis of St. Louis deserve mention as well. Other notable 55s: Jon Alston, Raiders; Patrick Bailey, Steelers; Desmond Bishop, Packers; Alvin Bowen, Redskins; Stewart Bradley, Eagles; Ahmad Brooks, 49ers; Danny Clark, Giants; Dan Connor, Panthers; Scott Fujita, Saints; Stephen Hodge, Cowboys; Kawika Mitchell, Bills; Kenny Onatolu, Vikings; Keith Rivers, Bengals; Justin Rogers, Chiefs; Junior Seau, Patriots; Reggie Walker, Cardinals; Jamaal Westerman, Jets

56 – Brian Cushing, Texans – It’s hard to imagine giving a rookie like Cushing the honor at a highly populated number like this one, but Cushing has earned it. He’s sixth among linebackers with 116 tackles and also has 2.5 sacks, 3 interceptions, 12 passes defensed, 2 forced fumbles, and a safety. That’s huge impact that earns him the nod over Shawne Merriman of San Diego, who isn’t the same after last season’s knee injury, pass-rushing stud LaMarr Woodley of Pittsburgh, and solid all-around players Nick Barnett of Green Bay and Bradie James of Dallas. Other notable 56s: Colin Allred, Titans; Charlie Anderson, Dolphins; Robert Ayers, Broncos; Quinton Culbertson, Panthers; Jo-Lonn Dunbar, Saints; Justin Durant, Jaguars; Keith Ellison, Bills; Tavares Gooden, Ravens; Tyjuan Hagler, Colts; E.J. Henderson, Vikings; Leroy Hill, Seahawks; Derrick Johnson, Chiefs; Akeem Jordan, Eagles; Kaluka Maiava, Browns; Scott McKillop, 49ers; David Nixon, Raiders; Chike Okeafor, Cardinals; Rod Wilson, Buccaneers

57 – Bart Scott, Jets – New Jets head coach Rex Ryan brought Scott with him from Baltimore as a high-dollar free agent to be the emotional leader and scheme expert in the middle of Gang Green’s defense. Scott has played fine for the Jets, but over the year it’s been fellow ILB David Harris who has emerged as a top-tier player. Still, Scott gets the nod over veteran Dhani Jones of Cincinnati and David Hawthorne, who’s having a terrific season as a fill-in starter at middle linebacker for Seattle. Other notable 57s: Stanley Arnoux, Saints; Kevin Bentley, Texans; Chase Blackburn, Giants; Ricky Brown, Raiders; Victor Butler, Cowboys; Chris Chamberlain, Saints; Jon Corto, Bills; Jordon Dizon, Lions; Keyaron Fox, Steelers; Chris Gocong, Eagles; Mario Haggan, Broncos; Adam Hayward, Buccaneers; Jordan Senn, Panthers; David Veikune, Browns; Matt Wilhelm, 49ers

58 – Karlos Dansby, Cardinals – It’s hard to imagine a better physical specimen at outside linebacker than Dansby, who is a leader on a strong Cardinals defense. He gets the nod over Gary Brackett, an undersized middle linebacker at the heart of the Colts defense. Other notable 58s: Marcus Benard, Browns; Quincy Black, Buccaneers; Thomas Davis, Panthers; Marques Harris, Chargers; Robert Henson, Redskins; Rey Maualuga, Bengals; Slade Norris, Raiders; Antonio Pierce, Giants; Scott Shanle, Saints; Tim Shaw, Bears; David Vobora, Rams; Jason Williams, Cowboys; Pierre Woods, Patriots

59 – London Fletcher, Redskins – Fletcher doesn’t have ideal size, but year after year he is a leader, a reliable tackler, and a playmaker, no matter what team he’s playing for. He’s a great success story as an undrafted player. He gets the nod over Julian Peterson of Detroit and DeMeco Ryans of Houston. Other notable 59s: Spencer Adkins, Falcons; Jovan Belcher, Chiefs; Angelo Crowell, Buccaneers; Aaron Curry, Seahawks; Dannell Ellerbe, Ravens; Heath Farwell, Vikings; Larry Grant, Rams; Gary Guyton, Patriots; Ramon Humber, Colts; Brian Iwuh, Jaguars; Brandon Johnson, Bengals; Landon Johnson, Panthers; Brad Jones, Packers; Cato June, Bears; Stanford Keglar, Titans; Ashlee Palmer, Bills; Brandon Siler, Chargers; Pisa Tinoisamoa, Bears; Gerris Wilkerson, Giants; Brandon Williams, Cowboys; Wesley Woodyard, Broncos

74 – Aaron Kampman, Packers – Kampman, who moved from defensive end to outside ‘backer this season as Green Bay implemented a 3-4 defense, kept his old D-lineman number. Kampman didn’t have a great transition season, with just 3.5 sacks in nine games before suffering a season-ending injury. But he’s still a good player, and he’s the only linebacker wearing 74, so he merits a mention.

90 – No linebackers wearing 90 have played a game this season.

91 – Tamba Hali, Chiefs – Hali is emerging as a solid pass rusher in Kansas City, with 7.5 sacks thus far this season. He gets the nod at this number over Cameron Wake, Miami’s CFL import who has 5.5 sacks in his first NFL season.

92 – Elvis Dumervil, Broncos – In one of the toughest calls of this whole project, we’re going with Dumervil, the NFL leader with 15 sacks, over 2008 Defensive Player of the Year James Harrison of Pittsburgh. Both guys play outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense, and both add the fright factor to their respective defenses. But while Harrison may be a better player in pass coverage, Dumervil is having a defensive player of the year caliber campaign in Denver, and so for 2009 we have to opt for him. Other notable 92s: Bertrand Berry, Cardinals; Hunter Hillenmeyer, Bears

93 – Anthony Spencer, Cowboys – Spencer has been a disappointment at outside ‘backer since the Cowboys made him a first-round pick three years ago, but as a full-time player he gets the nod over Jason Trusnik, who has moved into the starting lineup in Cleveland after a midseason trade from the Jets.

94 – DeMarcus Ware, Cowboys – Ware is a preeminent pass rusher with nine sacks this year and 62.5 in five seasons so far. Also deserving mention is Lawrence Timmons, an emerging inside ‘backer for the Steelers. Other notable 94s: Arnold Harrison, Browns; Marques Murrell, Jets; Jyles Tucker, Chargers

95 – Shaun Phillips, Chargers – In a close call, the nod here goes to Phillips, a pass-rushing outside ‘backer who has seven sacks for San Diego, over Cleveland OLB Kamerion Wimbley, who has 6.5 sacks. The six fumbles Phillips has forced was the determining factor. We’ll also shout out to Baltimore’s Jarret Johnson, another emerging pass-rusher. Other notable 95s: Tully Banta-Cain, Patriots; Ali Highsmith, Cardinals

96 – David Bowens, Browns – Bowens came with Eric Mangini from the Jets to Cleveland. He has long been an above-average pass-rushing outside ‘backer, and he has five sacks in that role this season. He gets the nod over declining Patriot Adalius Thomas. Other notable 96s: Omar Gaither, Eagles; Andy Studebaker, Chiefs

97 – Calvin Pace, Jets – Pace missed the first four games of the season due to a performance-enhancing drug suspension, but since returning he has continued to provide pass rush off the edge with six sacks. Other notable 97s: Clint Sintim, Giants; Pierre Walters, Chiefs

98 – Brian Orakpo, Redskins – Orakpo, Washington’s first-round pick, has 11 sacks in his rookie season, including four last week against Oakland. That’s the kind of defensive jolt Washington was hoping for when it drafted him. Other notable 98s: Shawn Crable, Patriots; Parys Haralson, 49ers; Darrell McClover, Bears

99 – Jason Taylor, Dolphins – Taylor spent most of his career as a 4-3 defensive end, but he has seamlessly made the transition to a 3-4 outside linebacker over the last few years. After a slow season in his one campaign in Washington, Taylor has six sacks this year for Miami, giving him 126.5 in his 13-year career. Other notable 99s: Kevin Burnett, Chargers; Paul Kruger, Ravens; Manny Lawson, 49ers; Bryan Thomas, Jets; Jeremy Thompson, Packers

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FR: Training Camp Injuries

As happens most year, there have been several notable injuries in training camps this year. Here is a comparison of the players who have suffered significant injuries in training camps this summer, with the 10 level being the most significant injuries and 1 being the least significant. This post does not include minicamp injuries; you can find a comparison of those losses here.

A few notes: We’ve only included injuries that could affect regular-season play. And we’ll continue to update this post through the fourth preseason game; we’ll do invidiual posts of major injuries and link back here.

10 – Panthers DT Maake Kemeoatu – Kemeoatu is the Panthers’ anchor on the defensive line. He has used his tremendous size to clog the middle and keep blockers off of MLB Jon Beason. His presence also allows fellow DT Damione Lewis to slash through the line and rush the passer more often, which maximizes Lewis’ value. The Panthers don’t have any backup DTs with any experience, so they’re likely going to have to add some depth via free agency or the waiver wire just to set up a four-man DT rotation. Regardless, this injury could make Carolina much more susceptible to the run.

9 – Eagles MLB Stewart Bradley – Bradley suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Bradley emerged as a starter in Philly last year, totalling 108 tackles, 86 of them solos. He’s a big thumper who provides the kind of stability that a 4-3 defense needs inside. With Bradley now almost certainly out for the year, the Eagles will turn to Omar Gaither or Joe Mays or recent addition Matt Wilhelm to fill in. Regardless of who steps in, it’s going to be a drop-off from what Bradley could do.

8 – Seahawks OLT Walter Jones – Jones, who quietly has been an all-time great at offensive tackle, was trying to come back from microfracture knee surgery, but he suffered a setback and had to have a follow-up surgery during training camp. The Seahawks are saying he’s out indefinitely, which could mean anything from a return at the beginning of the season to the end of Jones’ Hall-of-Fame-caliber career. The Seahawks don’t have a successor in place, so losing Jones for any amount of time is a monster problem for them.

7 – Panthers LB Jon Beason – Beason, the Panthers’ Pro Bowl middle linebacker, suffered a torn MCL in the second preseason game. That’s usually a 4-to-6 week injury, which would indicate that Beason could miss up to the first month of the regular season. Reports indicate that the Panthers hope it’s a mild enough sprain that Beason will be able to play before that, which would be a huge boon to the Panthers. Remember that Carolina already lost DT Maake Kemeoatu, and consider that the Panthers don’t have enough of a depth of defensive playmakers to replace another key starter.

7 (con’t) – Saints OLT Jammal Brown – Brown, an emerging star at left tackle, had surgery to repair a sports hernia in late August. The Saints still hope he can return to open the regular season, but that would be an especially optimistic timetable. A more normal recovery is 1-2 months, which would cost Brown the first 4-6 games of the regular season. The fact that Brown’s backup has also been dinged up in the preseason makes Brown’s speedy return even more possibly.

6 – TE Cornelius Ingram, Eagles – Ingram was a fifth-round pick who looked like a steal because his athletic ability merited a higher pick but a college knee injury depressed his draft stock. But that potential went bust when Ingram tore the ACL in his left knee during training camp. It’s the second time Ingram has done that, and that makes the chance that Ingram will ever contribute pretty remote. It’s a shame, because Ingram was a nice prospect. Now the Eagles must rely heavily on Brent Celek to bring them some offense over the middle.

6 (con’t) – WR Harry Douglas, Falcons – Douglas emerged as a big-play threat (actually a triple threat) as a rookie last year for Atlanta, and he added a pretty interesting dynamic to the Falcons’s offense. But he tore an ACL in training camp and now will miss the season. That’ll hurt the Falcons’ ability to threaten defenses out of multi-receiver sets, and with Roddy White holding out, it could quickly become an even more significant blow.

6 (con’t) – Bengals TE Reggie Kelly – Kelly is a starting tight end who doesn’t catch many balls but still makes an impact by being a fantastic blocker. His absence will likely cause the Bengals to change the way they approach offense, but it could actually open up snaps for rookie Chase Coffman, who has a lot of potential as a pass-catcher.

6  (con’t) – TE Ben Utecht, Bengals – Utecht, who was probably going to start for the Bengals at tight end, suffered a nasty concussion that will cost him the season. With Utecht and Reggie Kelly out, the Bengals are counting on rookie Chase Coffman pretty signficantly.

6 (con’t) – Giants DT-LS Jay Alford – Alford is a key member of the Giants’ defensive line rotation, and he also serves as the team’s long-snapper. But in the team’s second preseason game, he suffered a knee injury that tore his MCL and partially tore his ACL. He’ll be out for the year. This injury hurts on two fronts – the Giants’ defense, which attacks so much that depth is vital, and on special teams as well. Alford’s potential as a penetrating pass rusher will be missed.

5 – Lions DE Jared DeVries – DeVries, a usual starter over the past three years in Detroit, ruptured his Achilles tendon and will miss the year. DeVries isn’t wonderful, but he’s a legitimate rotation guy and an average starter in the NFL. For a team as devoid of depth as Detroit still is, losing that kind of guy is a big blow.

5 (con’t) – Ravens OT Adam Terry – Terry, who was slated to compete with Michael Oher for the starting right tackle job and then settle into a role as the primary backup at both tackle spots, had a knee injury that just wasn’t getting better, so during the first week of camp he had a surgery that will cost him the entire ’09 season. His absence limits the Ravens’ experience but shouldn’t be a deathknell because Baltimore has done a good job of accumulating depth.

5 (con’t) – Buccaneers LB Angelo Crowell – Crowell, a former standout in Buffalo, signed with the Buccaneers in the offseason to be a starter after missing the entire ’08 season. But a torn biceps muscle will bench Crowell for the entire ’09 season as well. That hurts a Bucs defense that let a lot more talent go in the offseason than what they brought in. Crowell’s veteran wile will be missed in what looks like a rebuilding season in Tampa Bay.

5 (con’t) – QB Matt Cassel, Chiefs – Cassel, the Chiefs’ starting quarterback, suffered a sprained MCL and an ankle injury in the third preseason game, and it could cost him up to two regular-season games. That’s a huge blow to the Chiefs, who are counting on Cassel to provide QB stability for the franchise over the long term. This injury could also inhibit K.C.’s ability to trade QB Tyler Thigpen for a draft pick, as it had hoped.

5 (con’t) – Bears RB Kevin Jones – Jones, who was slated to be Matt Forte’s primary backup this season, tore an ankle ligament and will miss the entire season. Jones, who had a major knee injury in Detroit that cost him an entire season, now must rehab again. That’s a bad break for him and a blow to the Bears, who thought Jones was a higher-quality backup than Adrian Peterson (the other one) or Garrett Wolfe.

4 – WR Brandon Jones, 49ers – Jones, whom the Niners signed in the offseason to bolster their receiving corps, could miss up to four regular-season games with a broken shoulder. That’s a big blow, because aside from Isaac Bruce, Jones is probably the most experienced wideout San Fran has. Jones and Josh Morgan will still be fighting for a starting job, but this injury gives Morgan an edge in that battle. And Michael Crabtree (in the midst of an acrimonious holdout) could figure in later this offseason as well. But the Niners probably need all four receivers to contribute, and this injury limits the chance of that happening.

4 (con’t) – RB Andre Brown, Giants – Brown, a rookie out N.C. State, was the guy the Giants drafted as they tried to replace Derrick Ward in their Earth, Wind, and Fire running back corps. But Brown ruptured the Achilles tendon in his left leg in the opening preseason game and will miss the season. That’s a blow both to the Giants and to this promising runner, because he is good enough that he could have helped in a complementary role this season.

4 (con’t) – WR Chaz Schilens, Raiders – Schilens isn’t a household name, but he was actually slated to be the Raiders’ No. 1 wideout this season before he broke a bone in his left foot in mid-August. If the injury follows the normal course of healing, it will sideline Schilens until early-to-mid October. That’s a shame, not just because Schilens showed so much promsie as a rookie but also because we all need more guys named Chaz in our lives.

4 (con’t) – S Daniel Bullocks, Lions – Bullocks started 15 games last season, and as a former second-round pick he still has some potential. But he’s also dealing with a lingering knee injury that will end up costing him the entire 2009 season.

4 (con’t) – Seahawks C Chris Spencer – Walter Jones isn’t the only Seahawk lineman who’s hurting. Spencer, the starting center, has an injured left quadriceps, and the team has yet to figure out how many regular-season games he’ll miss, although it will be at least a couple. At least rookie Max Unger could step in for Spencer, a former first-round pick who has turned into a decent center. But losing two offensive line starters, even if it’s just for a handful of games, will most likely put a significant crimp in Seattle’s offensive style.

4 (con’t) – Bears DT Dusty Dvoracek – Dvoracek, once a second-round pick, now sees his season ended early by injury for the fourth time in four years, this time with a torn ACL. That’s a blow to the Bears, who are going to have to limit stud DT Tommie Harris’ snaps to keep his aching knees as healthy as possible. This injury probably will spell the end of Dvoracek’s Bears tenure as well, because it’s hard to see a team counting on a guy who has been injured so often once again next season.

4 (con’t) – Cardinals OLB Cody Brown – Brown, the Cardinals’ second-round pick this year, is a pass-rushing linebacker from Connecticut who was expected to find a rotation role for Arizona this year. He and Calais Campbell were slated to help replace the potent rush of Antonio Smith, who moved to Houston via free agency. But Brown broke his wrist and will miss the entire season. That hurts his development and takes a defensive weapon away for a defense that could use him.

3 – LB Nick Griesen, Broncos – Griesen was one of the myriad veteran free agents Denver brought in during the offseason to create depth. However, he suffered a knee injury on Aug. 3 that will cost him the season. His intelligence and experience in a 3-4 defense would have helped, but he looked to be more of a backup than a starter, so this loss doesn’t look to hamper Denver too much in the long run.

3 (con’t) – WR Syndric Steptoe, Browns – Steptoe had 19 catches as a rookie last year, but he’ll miss his second year with a shoulder injury. The most interesting thing about this injury is that Steptoe’s agent blames Browns head coach Eric Mangini for it. Steptoe was hurt in a practice conducted at full speed in a driving rain. Maybe this lends a little more credibility to our argument against Bill Belichick lieutenants succeeding as NFL head coaches. It’s a shame for Steptoe, who actually had some promise.

3 (con’t) – TE Tory Humphrey, Packers – Humphrey broke his forearm in training camp and will miss the entire season for the second time in three years. He has showed promise as a receiving tight end, but given his injury history it’s unlikely Green Bay will rely on him again.

3 (con’t) – LB Mark Simoneau, Saints – Simoneau was once a starter in New Orleans, but a right triceps injury will force him to miss the entire season for the second straight year. That limits New Orleans’ LB depth, which is already short because of Stanley Arnoux’s minicamp injury, and it caused the Saints to start looking at veteran ‘backers like Derrick Brooks.

3 (con’t) – P Josh Bidwell, Buccaneers – Bidwell had so much soreness in his hip that the Buccaneers opted to sideline him for the year and replace him with Dirk Johnson. The one-time Pro Bowl pick is a consistent punter, if not the biggest leg in the league, so losing him will sting – especially if Johnson struggles as much as he has in recent years.

3 (con’t) – LB Cato June, Texans – June was a starter with Indy and Tampa Bay, but at age 28 he was trying to start over and find a role in Houston. While he had the look of a future starter, he was running with the third team when he broke his arm just before the second preseason game. It will cost him the season.

3 (con’t) – Cowboys OT Robert Brewster – Brewster, a third-round pick, was projected as a backup tackle for the Cowboys. Instead, he’s going to be on injured reserve and miss the season after tearing a pectoral muscle. Given the age of Dallas’ tackles, this move could end up hurting more than it would appear at first glance.

3 (con’t) Broncos QB Chris Simms – So much for a quarterback competition in Denver. Simms, who had an opening to try to seize the starting job from Kyle Orton after Orton’s up-and-down performance in the first two preseason games, suffered a high ankle sprain that will cost him the last two preseason games and could hinder him in the first few weeks of the season. It’s another in a long list of injuries for Simms in his career.

3 (con’t) – WR Jabar Gaffney, Broncos – Gaffney, brought over from New England to be Denver’s reliable outside receiver, suffered a broken thumb that will cost him a few regular-season games.

3 (con’t) – OG Darnell Stapleton, Steelers – Stapleton started 12 games for the Steelers last year, and helped to stabilize an offensive line that struggled much of the year. But he suffered a knee injury early in training camp and will miss the whole season.

2- WR Donnie Avery, Rams – Avery hurt his leg in training camp and could miss the season opener. He’s vital to the Rams’ offensive plans this year, because he’s their No. 1 receiver. In fact, Avery is the only receiver for the Rams who’s even semi-proven in the NFL. So missing him for any games is a huge deal for St. Louis.

2 (con’t) – CB Jacque Reeves, Texans – Reeves broke a leg early in training camp and should miss at least a couple of games in the regular season, if not more. Reeves was a starter, and his absence could be compounded by the holdout of Dunta Robinson. Missing both of those players to start the season would really inhibit Houston’s ability to defend the pass, which is why the Texans added Deltha O’Neal after Reeves was hurt.

2 (con’t) – OT Khalif Barnes, Raiders – Barnes broke a leg in the first week of August and should miss some early regular-season action. He was slated to be the team’s starting left tackle after signing a one-year deal in the offseason, and so his absence will hurt the Raiders. But this falls to the bottom of this list because the Raiders don’t appear to be much of a contender even in the mediocre AFC West.

2 (con’t) – TE Dan Campbell, Saints – Campbell had only played three games over the past two seasons because of a knee injury, and it just didn’t get better. He’s a good blocking tight end, but given this chronic knee injury, his 11-year career looks to be nearing the end.

2 (con’t) – WR Marcus Smith, Ravens – Smith, a fourth-round pick in 2008, was slated to perhaps become the Ravens’ No. 4 receiver after a rookie season in which he played seven games without a catch. Instead, he tore an ACL and will miss the season.  The significance of this injury is about Smith’s potential but also about the lack of depth the Ravens have at receiver.

2 (con’t) – Cowboys LB Brandon Williams – Like fellow rookie Brewster, Williams will miss the season. He has a torn ACL. Williams, a fourth-round pick, was slated to be a backup linebacker and likely a special-teams contributor.

2 (con’t) – Rams WR Brooks Foster – Foster, one of myriad young receivers who are trying to find playing time in a rebuilt corps, suffered a high ankle sprain in the first preseason game and had surgery two weeks later. The fifth-round pick will be out 4-6 games, but that might be long enough for the Rams to put him on IR and save him for 2010.

2 (con’t) – OLG Todd Herremans, Eagles – Philly’s starting left guard will miss the first regular-season game with a left foot injury.

2 (con’t) – CB Brandon Hughes, Chargers – Hughes, a fifth-round pick, will miss the entire season with a knee injury he suffered late in training camp.

2 (con’t) – OLs Ryan Tucker and Fred Weary, Browns – As they tried to stabilize their offensive line, the Browns signed Weary and kept veteran Tucker around. But both suffered knee injuries in training camp, and both are now on injured reserve.

2 (con’t) – WR Devard Darling, Chiefs – Darling, once a promising prospect in Baltimore, suffered a knee injury and will miss the season. The Chiefs had Darling as a starter on the depth chart, and while that wasn’t going to last, Darling would have made the team and contributed.

2 (con’t) – CB Don Carey, Jaguars – Carey was a sixth-round pick in Cleveland, and when he injured his shoulder, the Browns tried to stash him on injured reserve. But because he had to clear waivers first, he was available, and the Jaguars grabbed him. Jacksonville will stash Carey on injured reserve this season and then see if they can develop him in 2010.

1 – OT Damion Scott, Lions – Scott was an occasional starter in Detroit last year, but as the Lions added depth this offseason, Scott’s roster spot began looking precarious. But that’s moot now, because Scott tore a triceps muscle and will miss the season.

1 (con’t) – LB Cody Spencer, Lions – Spencer was brought over from the Jets to provide depth at linebacker, but he’ll miss the season with a knee injury. For a team as thin as Detroit is, any loss like this stings.

1 (con’t) – WR Roy Hall, Colts – Hall was competing for the Colts’ No. 3 receiver job with rookie Austin Collie and Pierre Garcon, but injuries plagued him throughout his three-year career and knocked him out for the season this year. At this point, it’s hard to see Hall getting another shot in Indy, which is a shame because the Colts could use a young wideout as promising as him.

1 (con’t) – WR Chris Davis, Titans – Davis was fighting a hamstring injury, but the fact that he got arrested during his rehab doomed him. That’s why Tennessee waived/injured him, which should land him on injured reserve for the year.

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FR: Free agency (tri)weekly review pt. 4

The big moves on the free agent market are winding down, but as they do there are a couple worth noting. So we’ll compare the moves from the last 3 weeks (March 21-April 10) to each other, with 10 being the most significant of the week and 1 being the merely mentionable. For looks at previous moves, click on the part 3 post and then follow the links there for opening weekend, week 1, and week 2 relativity comparisons.

10 – Bears (add OTs Orlando Pace and Kevin Shaffer and S Glenn Earl) – The Bears had a huge need at offensive tackle after the retirement of John Tait and the departure of John St. Clair via free agency. Pace has battled injuries in recent years, but he stayed on the field for most of last season for the Rams. But St. Louis lurched into full rebuilding mode, and so Pace was cut. He lands in Chicago, where he will likely start at left tackle unless ‘08 first-rounder Chris Williams has taken 2 or 3 quantum leaps forward. With Pace, Williams, she Kevin Shaffer now on board, the Bears should be OK at tackle this year even given the injury histories of all three guys. It makes sense for the Bears to spend on Pace since so much is riding on Cutler’s performance and thus his protection. Shaffer can be a solid right tackle. His addition gives the Bears the flexibility  to put signee Frank Omiyale inside at guard, which would strengthen that spot as well. Shaffer, who was cut by Cleveland, could take the place of St. Clair, the guy who took his spot with the Browns. Earl once had promise, but he missed the last two years with injury. He’s worth a flier on a one-year deal to see if he’s healthy.

9 – Texans (add DT Shaun Cody and LBs Cato June and Buster Davis) – Cody, a former second-round pick, comes to Houston from Detroit as the second key defensive line addition of the offseason for the Texans (along with DE Antonio Smith). Cody will be more of a run-stuffer, but with Smith, Mario Williams, and Amobi Okoye, that’s precisely what the Texans need. Don’t be shocked if Cody isn’t part of the most improved defensive line in the league next year. He won’t be the most important part, but there’s definitely a role for him to play there. June, who has started in Indianapolis and Tampa Bay, is a classic weak-side linebacker in a 4-3 set. He’ll fit in as a likely starter in Houston and should be a minor step up. Davis is from that same system, so he should provide depth as well.

8 – none

7 – Ravens (kept CB Samari Rolle and QB Todd Bouman) – The Ravens had cut Rolle in a salary-cap move earlier this offseason, and they replaced him (and Chris McAlister) by signing Dominique Foxworth and Chris Carr to join Fabian Washington. Rolle isn’t the lockdown guy he used to be, but he’s a veteran hand who can still fit in as a contributor.  Bouman has started in the league, but his value is as a veteran third-stringer who lends some advice and experience to youngsters Joe Flacco and Troy Smith.

7 – Raiders (add QB Jeff Garcia and OT Marcus Johnson) – We’ve seen a lot of backup quarterback moves this offseason (including Kyle Boller to St. Louis and Patrick Ramsey to Tennessee this week), but this is the strangest. First of all, Garcia’s West Coast, dink-and-dunk style is a polar opposite to big-armed starter JaMarcus Russell. And while it might seem on the surface that Garcia could help mentor Russell, that’s never really been Garcia’s deal. He’s a good quarterback who wants to play and play well, and so his own play is his biggest concern. Maybe Garcia, now 39, has had a change of heart, but I doubt it. The temptation for the Raiders is going to be to play Garcia, because he will give them a better chance to win right away. Garcia is apt to fall into that tempting mindset too, which could cause a quarterback controversy. But Oakland must develop Russell if they are going anywhere anytime soon. So this move is just as likely to blow up in the Raiders’ faces as it is to work. But the impact of it keeps it high in this comparison.

6 – 49ers (add OT Marvel Smith) – Smith was a starter in Pittsburgh, but injuries limited him to just 17 games over the past two years. He now returns home to the Bay Area to replace Jonas Jennings as the 49ers’ right tackle. If Smith can stay healthy, this will be an upgrade for Frisco – bu that’s a big if.

6 (con’t) – Saints (add S Pierson Prioleau and DT Rod Coleman; kept QB Joey Harrington) – Prioleau is a borderline starting safetywho will replace Kevin Kaesviharn. That’s a minor upgrade, but with S Darren Sharper and CB Jabari Greer now in town, the Saints believed continuing the secondary overhaul would help in the long run. Coleman sat out last year, but he is a former Pro Bowler who is reunited with his Atlanta DL coach Bill Kollar. If he’s healthy, he’ll help a lot, but even becoming a situational pass rusher from the inside would be a benefit for the Saints. Harrington is nothing more than a third-string quarterback at this point.

5 – Redskins (kept DE Phillip Daniels; add LB Robert Thomas) – Washington cut Daniels earlier this offseason in a cap-related move but brought him back at a minimum salary. Daniels and fellow graybeard Renaldo Wynn will provide experienced depth at defensive end, and both are still good for 10-15 plays a game. Thomas is a vet who fits in as a backup.

5 (con’t) – Bengals (add DT Tank Johnson) – Johnson’s time in Dallas was fairly calm after his tumultous tenure in Chicago. While off-the-field problems have plagued Johnson, he’s a good rotation defensive tackle with a little bit of pass rushing upside. His talent is an upgrade for Cincy if he can stay on the field.

4- Rams (add QB Kyle Boller and TE Billy Bajema; kept OL Adam Goldberg) – Boller got a horrible rap in Baltimore, and he was far from consistent, but the former first-round pick also showed moments of promise. He comes in as the backup for Marc Bulger, and some teams still think Boller’s upside is worth a shot. I tend to agree. Bajema is a block-first tight end who the Rams want to use as a complement to Randy McMichael. Goldberg isn’t a starter, but he’s a valuable backup who actually started games at four different positions on the line for the Rams last year. He’ll be around as an insurance swingman for the next two years with his new deal.

4 (con’t) – Packers (add C-OG Duke Preston) – The Packers never seem to spend on free agents, so when they sign one it sticks out like a sore thumb. Preston started 11 games at center for the Bills last year, and the Packers think he can contribute at either center or guard. Expect him to be a starter next season.

4 (con’t) – Jets (add CB Donald Strickland) – Strickland, who was in San Francisco last year, has bounced around quite a bit. He’s probably a fourth corner who can move up to nickelback in a pinch. Thankfully, that’s what the Jets have planned for him, as Strickland will be behind Darrelle Revis and Lito Sheppard in the pecking order.

4 (con’t) – Chiefs (add OL Mike Goff) – Goff has been a starter his entire 11-year career, but his play has begun falling off to the point where it might be better for him to come off the bench. He’s proficient at playing guard or center, so he should fit in well as a swingman in K.C.

3 – Lions (keep OT George Foster; add C Dylan Gandy) – Foster, a former first-round pick, lost his starting job last year but is still an OK backup tackle.

3 (con’t) – Browns (add WR David Patten) – Patten won’t replace Joe Jurevicius, who was cut, much less Donte Stallworth, who faces charges after a lethal traffic accident. But this 13-year veteran, who played in Cleveland back in 2000, can be an adequate fourth receiver. This move will help as long as Patten isn’t asked to do much more.

3 (con’t) – Colts (keep LB Tyjuan Hagler, add LB Adam Seward) – Hagler returns to back up at all three linebacker positions, but don’t be surprised if he ends up starting outside. In a year with a lot of change on defense, having Hagler around is a bit of a security blanket for the Colts. Seward is a sturdy inside ‘backer who never broke through in Carolina. He’s slated to back up Gary Brackett in Indy. These moves help, but the Colts still have work to do before their linebacker corps is ready for action.

2 – Titans (add QB Patrick Ramsey) – Ramsey, a former first-rounder in Washington who settled in as a backup in Denver, comes to Tennessee to replace Chris Simms. He’s a favorite of returning Titans offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger, who spent time with him in Denver. Ramsey is certainly good enough to back up Kerry Collins, and so his presence will put a lot of pressure on Vince Young to get better. If Young doesn’t, he could be a third quarterback with no chance of seeing the field in ’09.

2 (con’t) – Cardinals (add FB Dan Kreider; kept CB Ralph Brown) – Kreider, a Ram last year, spent most of his career with the Steelers, and so he knows Cards head coach Ken Whisenhunt. He’s a useful role player. Brown is another vet who the Cards are keeping around on a one-year deal. He doesn’t need to start now that Arizona added Bryant McFadden to ’08 rookie sensation Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, but Brown can fill in as a nickelback in a pinch.

1- Vikings (kept FB Naufahu Tahi and DE Otis Grigsby) – The Vikings matched Cincinnati’s offer sheet for Tahi, a block-first fullback who stepped into the lineup the second half of last year. He allows the Vikings flexibility with their sets and can help pave the way for Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor. Grisby was non-tendered as a free agent, but the Vikings were willing to bring him back for less money to be a backup.

1 (con’t) – Steelers (kept LB Keyaron Fox) – Fox got a two-year deal to hang around as a backup in Pittsburgh. He’s an asset on special teams, but he’s not special on defense.

1 (con’t) – Bills (add OG Seth McKinney) – McKinney shouldn’t start, but he’s a versatile interior lineman who won’ t kill you in a pinch.

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FR: Most impactful cutbacks

 This is part 3 of our free agency preview. We’ve already done a more than full workup on the 14 franchise players, and we’ve been updating our post on key re-signings clubs made so far. (That post was updated through the opening of free agency.) Now, we’re going to break down the most impactful cutbacks teams have made. We’re comparing them on the football relativity scale, with 10 being the teams that lost the most, and 1 being teams that didn’t lose much. We’ve listed only teams that have made salary-cap-related cutbacks, so all 32 are not listed. And this post will also be updated up through the beginning of the new league year tomorrow.

 10 – Buccaneers  (key cuts: LBs Derrick Brooks and Cato June, RB Warrick Dunn, WRs Joey Galloway and Ike Hilliard) – This cut list reads like a Tampa Bay’s all-pro ballot from just a few years ago. Brooks is arguably the greatest Buccaneer of all time (only Lee Roy Selmon really has an argument), and he has remained productive even as he has aged. Galloway went into last year as Tampa’s No. 1 wide receiver, and Hilliard and Dunn played bit roles but key roles last year. With the change of head coaches, Tampa Bay is obviously trying to turn a page, but they’re losing a lot of quality players and leadership in the process. These cuts hurt a lot.

9 – Colts (key cut: WR Marvin Harrison) – Indy’s list of cuts isn’t as long as Tampa’s, but the name on the list is as big as Brooks. Harrison’s huge salary-cap number (more than $13 million) meant a cut was necessary, but he’s a loss. Harrison had been passed by Reggie Wayne as the Colts’ No. 1 receiver, but he still was a key part of Indy’s frequently used three-wideout set. The onus is on Anthony Gonzalez to step up for the Colts, and they’ll have to find a third receiver to keep the offense moving. This is another loss (head coach Tony Dungy, defensive coordinator Ron Meeks) that makes me think the arrow is pointed down on the Colts going forward.

8 – Jaguars (key cuts: RB Fred Taylor, WR Jerry Porter, CB Drayton Florence, DE Paul Spicer) – The Jaguars, like Tampa Bay and Indy, had to cut a franchise icon. Taylor has been a productive running back for 11 years in Jacksonville, and although he was clearly No. 2 to Maurice Jones-Drew last season, he was still productive. Spicer spent nine years with the Jags, but he was being slowed by injuries, and Jacksonville had to give ’08 draft picks Derrick Harvey and Quentin Groves a chance to sail or sink. The other two cuts, Porter and Florence, were 2 of Jacksonville’s big free agent signings last year. Both were huge, huge busts. After changing general managers, Jacksonville decided to cut their losses on both big deals.

7 – Saints (key cut: RB Deuce McAlister) – We continue the team icon hit list in New Orleans, where McAlister got the axe after eight productive years. This cut is lower on the relativity scale because injuries have left McAlister with less ability to contribute than either Taylor or Harrison have. McAlister doesn’t look to be more than a bit player anywhere else, but the emotional loss that Saints fans will have in not seeing their native son out there is still significant.

7 (con’t) –  Broncos (key cuts: CB Dre Bly, DT Dewayne Robertson, DE John Engelberger, TE Nate Jackson, LB Niko Koutovides, S Marquand Manuel, LB Jamie Winborn) – This list is significant because of its length and because of Bly and Robertson. Robertson was a top-5 draft pick with the Jets who got a second chance in Denver and didn’t capitalize. Bly was a borderline Pro Bowl player in Detroit and St. Louis, but his time in Denver across from Champ Bailey showed that Bly was no longer an elite corner. This is another organization turning the page, and you can tell from the cut list that the new management feels like ex-grand poobah Mike Shanahan left a lot of pages on the roster that needed to be turned.

7 (con’t) – Ravens (key cuts: CB Chris McAlister, DE Marques Douglas) – This McAlister isn’t quite a franchise icon, but he was a key part of the Ravens’ dominating defenses this decade. The question is what McAlister has left. He’ s no longer a true shutdown corner, but can he still be an effective starter? My guess is some team will be willing to invest to see if that’s the case. Douglas was a rotation defensive end but not a huge loss.

6 – Raiders (key cuts: WR Ronald Curry, S Gibril Wilson, FB Justin Griffith, OT Kwame Harris, DE Kalimba Edwards) – The Raiders, like the Jaguars, cut the cord on many of their top free agent signings of last offseason. DeAngelo Hall got the axe during the season, and Wilson and Harris are now gone as well. (Many in the league had chuckled at the Wilson contract and laughed out loud at the Harris contract.) The Raiders are still talent thin, so cutting guys who can play, even if their contracts are way out of whack, still hurts.

5 – Jets (key cuts: WR Laveranues Coles, OG Brandon Moore, CB David Barrett, LBs David Bowens and Brad Kassell, TE Chris Baker) – The Jets had a bounce-back year last season, so it’s a bit surprising to see them cutting contributors like Moore, Baker, and Barrett. But while there’s some volume of cuts here, there’s not a devastating impact – if the Jets can get some young players through the draft to replace the depth. Coles was cut later in what was termed as the Jets “letting him be a free agent.” Don’t be fooled – that’s nothing but a requested release. Coles is decent but not worth the money he thinks he is. The Jets are probably better off just moving on.

4 -Texans (key cuts: RB Ahman Green, LB Morlon Greenwood, DE Anthony Weaver, S Will Demps, OT Ephriam Salaam) – This list is long enough that it’s worth putting on this level. While Green used to be good, injuries have robbed him of effectiveness. No big losses here, but this is another team that must be strategic in replacing depth.

4 (con’t) – Lions (key cuts: CB Leigh Bodden, TE Dan Campbell, WR Mike Furrey, S Dwight Smith) – Another team changing regimes that cut some guys who have been productive. Bodden is notable because he was a key part of the Shaun Rogers trade last offseason. But given the Lions’ utter failure last year, these guys were probably all in roles (and at salaries) that are above their current water level.

4 (con’t) – Bills (key cuts: OG Derrick Dockery, TE Robert Royal) – Dockery was a big-ticket free-agent signing two years ago, getting Steve Hutchinson money (7 years, $49M) even though he wasn’t a Pro Bowl-caliber player. Dockery has started 93 straight games, and so he should hook on elsewhere, but it should happen at a much lower pay rate.

3 – Panthers (key cuts: WR D.J. Hackett, RB Nick Goings, OT Jeremy Bridges) – Hackett was a key signing in Carolina last offseason, but he made little impact and got passed on the depth chart by Dwayne Jarrett. Bridges has played well over the last couple of years but his multiple off-field problems made him dispensible. Goings is a key special-teams guy, but his moment as an NFL-quality running back is gone.

3 (con’t) – Chiefs (key cuts: CB Patrick Surtain, LB Donnie Edwards, QB Damon Huard) – Surtain and Edwards were once stars, but they’ve lost effectiveness, and so in a regime change their cuts are expected. Damon Huard played OK as a starter 2 years ago, but he’s really just a backup, and Tyler Thigpen showed last year that he’s good enough to at least be a No. 2 quarterback.

3 (con’t) – Rams (key cuts QB Trent Green, WR Drew Bennett) – Bennett’s another free-agent bust on this list. He never was able to become Torry Holt’s sidekick for the Rams. Green has been a good player, but his time in the NFL is over. He should go to the broadcast booth next season, because he’ll be good at that, and he’s not a good quarterback anymore.

3 (con’t) Redskins (key cuts: CB Shawn Springs, LB Marcus Washington) – It’s a theme of this list – another free agent bust. Washington left the Colts as a big signing with the Redskins, but he didn’t deliver equal to his contract value. When Springs was cut, he moved the Redskins up a level in this comparison, but not more. Springs was once an elite quarterback, but injuries hampered him severely last season, and had he stayed he probably would have had to move to safety. The emergence of DeAngelo Hall in Washington made Springs expendable, especially at his $8 million price tag.

2 – Giants (key cuts: RB Reuben Droughns, CB Sam Madison, S Sammy Knight) – Droughns was only the fifth-best back on the Giants’ roster, so he’s expendable. Madison and Knight once were good players, but age has taken its toll. They have to hope to catch on for the minimum elsewhere if they want to keep playing.

2 (con’t) Steelers (key cut: OG Kendall Simmons) – The most amazing thing about the Steelers’ Super Bowl run was how ineffective their offensive line was most of the year. An overhaul is due, and Simmons, a former first-round pick, is being jettisoned as part of it.

1 – Bears (key cuts: WR Marty Booker, LB Gilbert Gardner) – Booker was brought into Chicago last year to contribute as a wideout, but he’s no longer effective. Gardner is merely a backup.

1 (con’t) – Cardinals (key cut: LS Nathan Hodel) – This is only notable because Hodel was a college teammate of PK Neil Rackers, and the Cardinals had promoted the fact that Hodel’s snaps helped Rackers succeed.

1 (con’t) – Cowboys (key cuts CB Adam “Pacman” Jones, QB Brad Johnson) – Dallas signed Johnson to be a safe, reliable backup, but when Tony Romo got hurt Johnson showed he just didn’t have it anymore. As for Jones, he got more attention than anyone else on this list last year, but he didn’t play very well at all. This move proves that the Pacman-in-Dallas experiment was sound and fury signifying nothing.

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