Recently, Heath Evans decided to retire as a fullback and join the NFL Network (as recorded in this post: http://wp.me/ppN7T-1Bv). We interviewed the ex-Saint, Patriot, Dolphin and Patriot for National Football Authority and discussed his retirement, his foundation, and also the commonalities between the Saints’ and Patriots’ success. Click here to read all about it: http://www.nationalfootballauthority.com/2011/08/nfa-exclusive-interview-with-nfl.html
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Each year, we use our Football Relativity tool to compare the careers of NFL players who retire. So in this post, we’re comparing 2011 retirees on a 10-point scale, with 10 being the most important retirement and 1 being the least notable. We’ll update this post until the beginning of the 2011 season. (This version is as of August 10.)
10 – WR Randy Moss, Titans – Moss had a 13-year career with incredible highs. He burst onto the scene as a rookie with the Vikings, earning All-Pro accolades as a rookie. He had five Pro Bowls in his first six season with the Vikings, along with three first-team All-Pro nods, but he grew unhappy in Minnesota and his play slumped in 2004. He moved to Oakland, where he had a mid-career lull and seemed to be on his last legs. The Raiders gave up, and Moss went to New England and exploded once again, catching 23 touchdown passes and returning to first-team All-Pro status during the Patriots’ undefeated regular season in 2007. Moss had three 1,000-yard seasons in New England and made two Pro Bowls, but in 2010 the team traded him back to the Vikings. As had happened too often in his career, off-field issues affected Moss in Minnesota, and he was released to land with Tennessee via waivers. Despite the infamous ending to his career, Moss is in the top 10 all time in catches (8th), receiving yards (5th), and receiving touchdowns (2nd). Moss had some lows in his career (as did other prominent receivers of his era), but his highs were as good as any receiver in the post-Rice era. Ultimately, the off-field issues will fade, and Moss will be remembered as a Hall of Fame receiver.
9 – OG Alan Faneca, Cardinals – Faneca has been perhaps the most respected guard in the league over the past 10 years, as proven by his nine Pro Bowl berths and equal number of All-Pro nods. Faneca was a first-round pick by the Steelers, and for a decade he was the earth-mover for Pittsburgh’s run-first offense. For those efforts, Faneca was named to the Steelers’ all-time team. He then moved to the Jets with an incredible contract for a mid-30s guard, andfor two years he continued as an effective run-blocker. He then spent one final season with the Cardinals. Throughout his career, Faneca was durable – missing just two games in 13 seasons – and he proved to be a terrific leader as a veteran. Faneca and Steve Hutchinson are clearly the best guards of their era, and they will be the only two at that position to merit Hall of Fame consideration. Faneca will be a borderline case, but the fact that he is in the conversation speaks to just how fine a career he had.
8 – RB Fred Taylor, Jaguars – Taylor, a longtime Jaguar who had an end-of-career cameo with the Patriots, signed a ceremonial contract to retire in Jacksonville. He had a fine 11-year career, running for 11,695 yards with seven 1,000-yard seasons. For a long time, he was known as the best player never to make a Pro Bowl, but he finally got the Hawaii trip in 2007, his last thousand-yard campaign. He finishes his career at No. 15 on the all-time rushing list, which is quite an accomplishment, and he has a strong 4.6 yards per carry average in his career. He’s not a Hall of Famer, but he is probably the best Jaguar ever. That’s saying something.
7 – QB Kerry Collins, Titans –
When I was in college back in the mid-90s, my summer job was working for the Spartanburg Herald-Journal, and the biggest perk of that gig was covering Carolina Panthers training camp each year. So I got to see Collins’ career from the very beginning. Collins’ career with the Panthers started with promise, as he led the team to the NFC championship game in his second season. (Then living in Chicago, I went to Green Bay to cover that Packers/Panthers game and wrote a story about whether Collins was on the verge of becoming a great QB.) But then it all fell apart for Collins in Carolina. He got in a racially-charged fight with a teammate, and then asked out of the lineup, leading to his release. But to Collins’ great credit, he did not let the fact that he busted out of Charlotte make him a bust. He got a second chance with the Giants and led that team to the Super Bowl (where they lost to the Ravens). And after the Giants drafted Eli Manning, Collins had a couple of decent seasons in Oakland and then became a starter in Tennessee, making his second Pro Bowl in 2008 in leading the Titans to the playoffs. Collins’ 16-year career has left him high up the lists of all-time passers, which speaks to his longevity and his productivity. The fact that several teams – the Titans and Panthers included – viewed him as a worthy backup/mentor for young QBs in 2011 speaks to how he completely changed his legacy over the course of his career. He’s not a Hall of Famer, but he had a fine career after nearly losing everything just a few years in. So much for retirement; Collins signed with the Colts two weeks before the season.
7 (con’t) – DT Kris Jenkins, Jets – Jenkins had a terrific two-act career, starring as a 4-3 defensive tackle in Carolina and then making just as much of an impact as a 3-4 nose tackle with the Jets. The result was three All-Pro nods and four Pro Bowl berths in a 10-year career. Jenkins might have been the best defensive lineman in football during his prime in Carolina, at least before major injuries shortened his 2004 season and cost him nearly the entire 2005 campaign. Injuries also cost Jenkins in his last two years as a Jet, although he gave the team a terrific first-season performance after it gave up two draft picks to acquire him in 2008. (His New York star turn was also when we gave him one of our favorite nicknames ever – Jackpot.) Jenkins was hurt too much over his 10 years to make the Hall of Fame conversation, but he was a terrific, impactful player for two strong contenders. That’s a fine legacy to leave.
7 (con’t) – RB Ahman Green, Packers – Green didn’t play in the NFL last year, but over his 12-year career he piled up more than 12,000 yards from scrimmage and 74 touchdowns. After a sputtering start to his career in Seattle, Green was traded to the Packers, and in seven seasons he had six 1,000 yard campaigns for the Pack. He was a terrific West Coast back who could run the ball and catch it out of the backfield. He was recognized with four Pro Bowl berths, and in 2003 he ran for an eye-popping 1,883 yards. Green wasn’t the most dominant back of his era, but he fit his offense perfectly and performed remarkably well. He’s not a Hall of Famer in Canton, but chances are he’ll be recognized in Green Bay one day.
6 – LB Mike Vrabel, Chiefs -Vrabel was the ultimate Bill Belichick player. After four seasons in Pittsburgh in which he was primarily a backup, Vrabel was one of the 19 unrestricted free agents whom Belichick signed for the Patriots after his first season, and thus he became a part of the team-first group that upset the Rams and won the Super Bowl. Vrabel became a mainstay for the Pats, starting at outside linebacker for eight seasons and providing solid play against the run, the pass, and as a rusher. His versatility didn’t just apply to defense; he also played a little tight end in goal-line situations, recording 10 TD catches over the course of his career. When Scott Pioli left the Patriots to become the GM in Kansas City, he got Vrabel as part of the Matt Cassel trade, and Vrabel started for two more seasons as part of the Chiefs’ recent renaissance. Vrabel fit the Belichick wish list to a T – versatile, team-oriented, good but not overly talented, smart, and productive. Now he goes back to his alma mater to help the Buckeyes try to recover from the Jim Tressel mess. Vrabel left a bit of meat on the bone with his playing career, but if he takes to coaching he could become even more of a star in that arena than he was on the playing field.
6 (con’t) – ORT Damien Woody, Jets – Woody, a former first-round pick in New England, had a long career in which he played virtually everywhere on the offensive line. He started out as a center, making one Pro Bowl for the Pats and starting for the team’s 2001 Super Bowl champ. He then moved to left guard in 2003, starting for another Pats championship squad. He moved on to Detroit as a free agent, starting three seasons at right guard before moving to right tackle. He then spent three more years as a Jet, starting at right tackle. His versatility no doubt elongated his career, and to the end he remained an effective run blocker. He had good if not great athleticism for a lineman, which made him effective as well. After starting 166 games in 12 seasons, Woody can retire knowing that he made the most of his opportunities – no matter where on the offensive line they came. Now the Jets turn to Wayne Hunter, who got a four-year, $13 million contract the same day Woody retired, as their new right tackle.
6 (con’t) – QB Marc Bulger, Ravens – Bulger’s career started with a whimper, but before he was done he made some pretty significant impacts in the NFL. The sixth-round pick by the Saints in 2000 landed with the Rams and broke into the starting lineup in 2002. Before long, he had replaced Kurt Warner as a triggerman in Mike Martz’s Greatest Show on Turf offense, and Bulger wasn’t much of a drop-off. He made Pro Bowls in 2003 and 2006 as he completed 60-percent plus of his passes and had three 20-plus TD seasons. But Bulger also took a terrific beating, suffering at least 37 sacks in five different seasons (plus 26 in a half season in 2005). By 2007, Bulger’s performance in St. Louis started to decline, and he lost the starting job for good in St. Louis in 2009. Last season, Bulger didn’t play as Joe Flacco’s backup in Baltimore. And this season, he had the chance to return to Baltimore as a backup, or to fight for starting jobs in Arizona and Carolina, among other places. But Bulger’s heart wasn’t in it any more. Bulger leaves with a solid 10-year career that far outpaced his draft position. Leaving that kind of legacy – and leaving when you want – is a pretty fond way to say goodbye.
5 – OG Stephen Neal, Patriots – After a 10-year career, all with New England, Neal retired just after the 2011 season. He leaves as a major scouting success story. Neal never played college football, instead wrestling collegiately at Cal State-Bakersfield. But he developed into a starting guard for the Patriots, holding down a steady job at right guard from 2004 until this season. Neal started in one Super Bowl and claimed three rings overall. His career typifies the kind of player development and scouting acumen that contributed to the Patriots’ success, and he deserves credit for taking utmost advantage of his unusual opportunity.
5 (con’t) – S Donovin Darius, Jaguars – Darius, the Jaguars’ first-round pick in 1998, had a strong career for the team, playing nine seasons for the team, all as a starter. He was always a solid safety during his long Jacksonville tenure. Darius last played for the Dolphins in 2007, but he signed a one-day contract in February so he could retire with the team for which he started 105 games.
5 (con’t) – LB Dhani Jones, Bengals – Jones played 10 years for the Eagles, Giants, and Bengals, and he ended up as a starter in the last nine of those seasons. While he was never an impact player, he was always a smart and reliable center of the defense he was on. His last three years with the Bengals were at the level of his best, which speaks to his consistency. Jones had the ability to keep playing, but his varied media interests made it easier for him to walk away before his skills eroded.
4 – LB David Thornton, Titans – Thornton, who missed the 2010 because of a hip injury, decided to hang up his cleats instead of trying to rebound. The former fourth-round pick developed into an eight-year starter in the NFL with the Colts and Titans, and at his best he was a clean-up outside linebacker who occasionally made a big play with a pick or a sack. He had a nice career, both for the Colts who drafted him and for the Titans who inked him to a big deal as a free agent.
3 – CB Ellis Hobbs, Eagles – Two serious neck injuries forced Hobbs to retire after six seasons with the Patriots and Eagles. Hobbs was only a full-time starter for two years in New England, but he provided a ton of excitement as a kick returner and also notched 10 interceptions in 79 career games. Hobbs is still talented enough to at least play as a nickelback in Philadelphia, but neck injuries are nothing to mess with. So he ends his career early with some good plays but also some regret.
3 (con’t) – PK Matt Stover, Ravens – Stover broke into the NFL with the Browns in 1991, and for nearly 20 years he was the franchise’s kicker, first in Cleveland, then in Baltimore. He made two Pro Bowls and won a Super Bowl despite kicking in conditions that were often unfavorable. Stover After 18 years with the Browns/Ravens, Stover lost his job, getting a late-season cameo with the Colts to conclude his career. (Coincidentally, my wife and I visited Baltimore in 2009 during the week of a Ravens/Colts game. Stover was the center of all the coverage. I’ve never seen more game coverage focused on a kicker than that week.) In his two decades, Stover connected on an impressive 83 percent of his kicks – a number even more impressive because he was in the low 70s in each of his first three seasons. Stover isn’t a Hall of Fame kicker – the bar at the position is impossibly high – but he could end up in the Ravens Hall of Fame given his lengthy career there.
3 (con’t) – ILB Channing Crowder, Dolphins – After six years and 74 starts, the Dolphins cut Crowder this offseason and replaced him with Kevin Burnett. Crowder then said he would retire and pursue a media career instead of seeking to land with another team. Crowder still has something left in the tank as a run-down player, but he’s never had the athleticism to be an every-down linebacker. He’s a marginal inside 3-4 starter who ended up having a decent career.
2 – DE Paul Spicer, Jaguars – Spicer wasn’t drafted, and he had to bounce around and visit the CFL before getting his best shot to play in Jacksonville. He took advantage of the opportunity the Jaguars offered, playing nine years for the team and finally emerging as a starter over the last four. He finished his career with 28.5 sacks, including two 7.5-sack seasons. Spicer, who last played in 2009, signed a one-day contract to retire with Jacksonville in February.
2 (con’t) – OG Justin Smiley, Raiders – Smiley, who started 78 games over seven seasons with the 49ers, Dolphins, and Jaguars, retired during training camp after signing with the Raiders. His performance had slipped due to nagging injuries, but Smiley was once a decent starter.
2 (con’t) – FB Heath Evans, Saints – Evans, a 10-year veteran, retired when he didn’t find an offer to play in 2011. Instead, he got an offer to join the NFL Network as an analyst. Evans played 10 years for the Seahawks, Patriots, Dolphins, and Saints, starting a few games at fullback along the way. He leaves the NFL with a Super Bowl ring and a future gig – that’s not a bad way to go out.
1 – Ken Dorsey – Dorsey, who played six years in the NFL with Cleveland and San Francisco between 2003-2008, last played in the CFL in 2010. The former national championship quarterback at Miami started just 13 NFL games but was a quintessential backup. He appears headed down the Jason Garrett career path, as Dorsey is now coaching Cam Newton at IMG’s academy in Florida. A QB coach position somewhere is probably next for Dorsey, who could be a bright coaching prospect in a few short years.
1 (con’t) – TE Ben Patrick, Giants – After four years in Arizona, Patrick signed with the Giants. But once he got into training camp, he opted to retire instead of fighting for a roster spot. Patrick had 45 catches in 42 career games, and was known more for his blocking than his receiving.
1 (con’t) – OT Billy Yates, Browns – Yates bounced around the NFL for nine seasons, but he started just 11 games and played in just 25 in his career. Still, he earned a Super Bowl ring in New England and also played for the Dolphins and Browns. That’s not a bad career.
Each year, we compare the national TV announcers that enter the NFL business or find new gigs. We will do this using our Football Relativty scale, with 10 being the moves we like best, and 1 being the move that matters least. We’ll add to this comparison as more moves are announced.
10 – Mike Mayock and Brad Nessler, NFL Network’s Thursday Night Football – Once again, the NFL Network revamped its announcing duo, but this time the network got it right. Mayock is NFLN’s franchise player as a draft analyst, and he proved his game analyst chops last year doing Notre Dame games on NBC. Mayock then went on to do one NFL game, the playoff game between the Saints and Seahawks, and his serious approach and insight into game strategy and trends was enlightening. He’ll be a massive improvement over ex-NFLN analysts Joe Theismann, who tends to be a blowhard and falls victim to a disturbing inattention to detail, and Matt Millen, a good analyst who tended to be brought down by Theismann’s act. Mayock works with Brad Nessler, a play-by-play vet who has done mostly college football for ESPN (among other sports) but has had a couple of NFL cameos on the opening-week Monday night doubleheaders. Nessler has a more authoritative voice than former play-by-play man Bob Papa, who merited staying over but won’t get the chance. Still, the Nessler/Mayock pairing feels like a big-time booth, which is something the NFLN has never hit on because of massive weak spots like Theismann or, before him, Bryant Gumbel.
9 – Kurt Warner, NFL Network – Warner, who called a few lower-level games for Fox last season, is moving to NFL Network full time to be a part of GameDay Morning each Sunday, as well as the network’s pre- and post-game for Thursday night games. That job fits Warner better than game analyst, because it will allow him to speak to macro issues and express his thoughtfulness. Plus, Warner adds a new dimension to a pre-game show that doesn’t have a quarterback on it right now. Warner should become a long-time fixture on NFLN, and he gives the network a fourth Hall of Fame caliber player with Marshall Faulk and Michael Irvin (both already in) and Warren Sapp. It looks to be a great fit.
9 (con’t) – Bill Parcells, ESPN – Parcells has bounced between the NFL and broadcasting for nearly two decades now, and he’s proven that he’s an excellent analyst. Now he joins ESPN and jumps onto the Sunday NFL Countdown show. He’ll immediately become a key contributor, because his keen eye for talent and presentation makes him more valuable than fellow ex-coach Mike Ditka. Parcells will also get a draft confidential special and a Super Bowl confidential special, and he’s proven that such shows can be the equivalent of Jon Gruden’s QB camp in terms of insight. Parcells is a TV star, and he’ll be a huge asset to ESPN’s pregame show lineup.
8 – Marv Albert, CBS – Albert is best known for being the voice of the NBA for NBC, TNT, and also the Knicks and Nets, but he has a long legacy of calling NFL games. For nearly two decades, Albert was an NBC play-by-play announcer, spending most of them in the high-profile No. 2 position for the network. But his high-profile personal issues cost him that job in 1997. Albert returned to calling NFL games for Westwood One’s Monday Night Football and playoff radio broadcasts in 2002, and he has called 10 Super Bowls for that network. Now Albert returns to the NFL with CBS, whom he first worked for after the network teamed with TNT to broadcast the NCAA tournament this spring. Albert has a big-time and distinctive voice, and his long history calling games will immediately add depth to the CBS bench. The question is whether Albert will slip into the CBS lineup in Gus Johnson’s former No. 5 spot, or whether he’ll jump a younger voice like Kevin Harlan or Ian Eagle. Given how old CBS’s game-calling crews are as a whole, moving Albert up too high would be a mistake. CBS needs to develop and feature younger voices like Eagle and Spero Dedes more prominently. But if Albert stays in a mid-tier role, he’s certainly as good as a replacement for Johnson as was available.
7 – none
6 – Chad Pennington, Fox – Pennington, an 11-year veteran quarterback, never had great physical gifts, but he combined adequate arm strength with exceptional intelligence, instincts, and guile to become a first-round draft pick and a multi-year starter with the Jets. But injuries have sapped what little arm strength Pennington had, and so instead of fighting for a job in Miami or elsewhere, he’s going to take at least a year off to move to the NFL on Fox team. Pennington will be paired with Sam Rosen on Fox’s seventh team. Pennington’s New York experience and savvy are two promising signs; now he must live up to his broadcast potential. If he does, he adds more depth and recent experience to a Fox lineup that is light years younger and therefore significantly better than CBS’s slate. Rosen’s old teammate, Tim Ryan, is now with Chris Myers on the No. 5 team as Fox shuffles its lineup.
6 (con’t) – Gus Johnson and Charles Davis, Fox – Gus Johnson has become the internet’s favorite announcer with his emphatic and enthusiastic style. Despite his popularity, though, Johnson’s 15 years at CBS never featured him moving up the ladder all that much. He was always fighting to be on a top-four team for CBS’s NCAA basketball tournament coverage, and Johnson worked with Steve Tasker on CBS’s No. 5 NFL team. Maybe it was too many Bills or Jaguars or Bengals games for Johnson – even though he called crazy plays like this year’s Jaguars Hail Mary or the crazy Brandon Stokely touchdown in 2009’s Week One. Now Johnson moves to Fox, where he will team with Charles Davis to become the network’s top college football voice. Davis, who called BCS games for Fox as well as working on the network’s No. 3 team for the NFL the past two seasons, isn’t flashy, but he’s a terrific analyst who will be a nice counterbalance to Johnson’s enthusiasm (much like Len Elmore has been during March Madness). Johnson and Davis will spend most of 2011 on FX, the Big Ten Network, and other lesser networks, but starting in 2012 they will be the featured voices for Fox’s Pac-12 coverage. They’ll also draw Big 10 and Pac-12 championship games in football and Pac-12 basketball tournaments. That means Johnson and Davis will see less NFL action, filling in on eight-game weeks for Fox. On CBS youngster Spero Dedes could step into the regular rotation as a play-by-play guy. Johnson and Davis spending most of their time on campus is the NFL’s loss, but it’s probably a good career move.
5 – Jerry Rice, ESPN – ESPn hired Rice, perhaps the greatest player ever, to serve as an analyst for NFL Live, SportsCenter, and the Thursday night Audibles show. It’s an interesting move. Rice is one of the best players ever, but can he translate his expertise into succinct analysis? Many have tried and failed. Still, it’s worth the gamble for ESPN to add someone with Rice’s pedigree. If he works out, it’s a coup; if he doesn’t, he’s still Jerry Rice, which counts for something for the viewer. And since ESPN is easing him in, Rice will have the best opportunity to succeed.
4 – Hugh Douglas, ESPN – Since his retirement in 2004, the former pass-rush specialist has been an engaging and sometimes controversial commentator in the Philadelphia market. Now he moves to the national scene, joining ESPN as a studio analyst who’ll be used on SportsCenter, NFL Live, First Take, ESPN News, and other platforms. It’s not ESPN’s glamour job, but Douglas should get plenty of air time in the role. He’ll definitely make an impression, and his willingness to call out players and coaches will make him memorable. Don’t be surprised if Douglas earns a promotion at ESPN before too long.
4 – Josina Anderson, ESPN – Anderson made a splash as a reporter for the Fox affiliate in Denver, consistently breaking national stories from a local beat. That’s not easy to do, and it led her to a correspondent role on Showtime’s Inside the NFL. Now she moves to ESPN, where she’ll be an NFL reporter with chops. This is a deserved call-up to the national scene.
3 – Eric Mangini, ESPN – Mangini also joins the World Wide Leader as a studio analyst. He worked for ESPN during last year’s playoff run, bringing insight to the Jets/Patriots matchup since he is a Bill Belichick disciple and a former Jets head coach. We’re always all for hiring recently fired coaches, because they see the league in ways few others can. The question is whether Mangini can take that knowledge and communicate it in a way that fans understand and enjoy. Mangini won’t have the big personality of other former coaches turned broadcasters like Herman Edwards or Brian Billick, but like a Jim Mora, he should be able to make some keen insights. It’s a nice addition for ESPN.
3 (con’t) – Damien Woody, ESPN – Woody, who retired this offseason, also latches on with ESPN as an NFL studio analyst. The fact that Woody played all across the offensive line will add to his credibility, and being in the league up through last year helps as well. But Woody must establish his personality pretty quickly so that he’s not lost in the forest of ESPN’s uber-deep analyst roster (which did trim Derrick Brooks and Warrick Dunn).
3 (con’t) – Heath Evans, NFL Network – Evans retired during training camp and landed with NFL Network. He has experience playing for both the Saints and Patriots, which means he should bring good insight to two of this year’s contenders. He also has an outspoken personality that should help him make a mark. While he wasn’t a big name as a player, Evans has a nice future in television.
2 – Rodney Harrison, NFL Network – Harrison isn’t leaving his high-profile studio job at NBC; he’s merely adding midweek responsibilities with NFL Network. From our perspective, that’s a great thing – we always want to see more of Harrison.
1 – Michelle Tafoya, NBC’s Sunday Night Football – Tafoya has long been a fixture as a sideline reporter, most recently with ESPN’s Monday Night Football. Now she moves to Sunday nights to work with the crew that she did MNF with back in 2004-05. Tafoya is a professional, and she adds good information on the sidelines without devolving into the prepackaged stories that so many other sideliners do. As MNF lessened the duties of its sideline reporters, it makes sense for Tafoya to find a more prominent role. It’s unclear at this point whether Tafoya is joining or replacing current SNF sideliner Andrea Kramer.
1 (con’t) – Alex Flanagan, NFL Network – Flanagan replaces Tafoya as the sideline reporter on NFL Network’s Thursday night games. Flanagan has proven to be a terrific sideliner doing NBC Notre Dame games, as well an NBC playoff game last year, and she’s also a NFL Network host. That makes her a perfect fit for an enhanced role.
Over the next several weeks, we’re going to look at several different positions (I can’t yet promise all) to identify the best players wearing each jersey number at each position. If this goes as planned, we’ll then compile a list of the best player wearing each jersey number in the league.
If you have quibbles, or want to add someone I forgot, leave a comment and we’ll update this post. And please have patience – this is a big job.
20 – Thomas Jones, Jets – It was surprising to hear during this week’s Jets/Patriots game that Jones had moved into the top 30 of all-time NFL rushers. That’s an impressive accomplishment, especially for a guy who struggled as a top-10 overall pick in his first stop in Arizona. But in subsequent stops in Tampa Bay, Chicago, and now New York Jones has proven he can produce. He’s an easy choice here over young whippersnappers Steve Slaton of Houston and Darren McFadden of Oakland. Other notable 20: Justin Forsett, Seahawks
21 – LaDanian Tomlinson, Chargers – LDT is no longer the dominant force he was in his prime years, but if one of the top 10 backs of all time is playing in the league, we have to give him the number nod, even over a stud like Frank Gore of San Francisco or a long-time producer like Fred Taylor of the Patriots. Other notable 21s: Mike Bell, Saints; Ryan Moats, Texans; Javon Ringer, Titans; Melwede Moore, Steelers
22 – Matt Forte, Bears – Forte had an outstanding rookie year last year, but this year he’s been stymied by a subpar offensive line. Still, he gets the nod at this point over Julius Jones of the Seahawks and Fred Jackson of the Bills. Other notable 22s: Peyton Hillis, Broncos; Jacob Hester, Chargers; Chris Brown, Texans; Clifton Smith, Buccaneers
23 – Ronnie Brown, Dolphins – Before suffering a season-ending injury, Brown was continuing to prove himself as one of the league’s top-10 backs. Throw in the fact that he can throw it out of the Wildcat, and Brown gets the nod over Marshawn Lynch of the Bills and Pierre Thomas of the Saints. Other notable 23s: Willis McGahee, Ravens; Shonn Greene, Jets
24 – Marion Barber, Cowboys – Marion the Barbarian isn’t having a dominant year, but he’s still a really good back. We have no choice but to give him the nod over comeback story extraordinare Cadillac Williams of Tampa Bay.
25 – Ryan Grant, Packers – While Reggie Bush’s 25 is a best selling jersey not just in New Orleans but league wide, Grant has been the more consistently productive back over the past three years. So we’ll give Grant the nod over Bush. Other notable 25s: Justin Fargas, Raiders; LenDale White, Titans; Garrett Wolfe, Bears; Jamaal Charles, Chiefs
26 – Clinton Portis, Redskins – Although he’s sidelined by a concussion at the home, Portis’ long and productive career makes him an easy choice here over promising rookie Beanie Wells of Arizona.
27 – Ray Rice, Ravens – Brandon Jacobs of the Giants has a bigger profile, and Larry Johnson of the Bengals has a longer career, but Rice is the best back wearing this number right now. Rice is a threat running and receiving, and he can move the chains as well as bust the big play. So he gets the nod over Jacobs, Johnson, and rookie Knowshon Moreno of the Broncos.
28 – Adrian Peterson, Vikings – This is a close call, because Peterson and Chris Johnson of the Titans – probably the two best backs in the league – both wear the same number. We’ll stick to conventional wisdom and lean toward Peterson in this close call. Otehr notable 28s: Jonathan Stewart, Panthers, Correll Buckhalter, Broncos; Felix Jones, Cowboys; Derrick Ward, Buccaneers; Maurice Morris, Lions
29 – Joseph Addai, Colts – Addai isn’t a great back, but he’s good both as a runner and a receiver when he’s healthy. With Leon Washington of the Jets hurt, Addai is an easy choice at this number. Other notable 29s: LeSean McCoy, Eagles; Michael Bush, Raiders; Glen Coffee, 49ers, Chester Taylor, Vikings
30 – John Kuhn, Packers – Green Bay’s fullback is the only notable back currently wearing 30. Thankfully, he has gotten into the end zone often enough to make this selection look respectable.
31 – Jamal Lewis, Browns – Lewis isn’t the back he once was, but the former 2,000-yard rusher has had a terrific career. He’s the clear choice at this number over rookie Donald Brown of the Colts. Other notable 31s: Rock Cartwright, Redskins; Jason Wright, Cardinals
32 – Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars – Jones-Drew has moved seamlessly from being a part-time back to a full-time guy this year while still producing big numbers in terms of yardage and touchdowns. That gives him the nod over Cedric Benson, who is having a terrific season with the Bengals. Other notable 32: Jerious Norwood, Falcons
33 – Michael Turner, Falcons – The Burner has been incredibly productive since joining the Falcons in 2008, and that makes him the best back wearing 33 over pass-catching specialist Kevin Faulk of New England and short-yardage specialist LeRon McClain of Baltimore. Other notable 33: Justin Griffith, Seahawks
34 – Ricky Williams, Dolphins – Ricky wins the battle of the Williamses over DeAngelo Williams of Carolina based on Ricky’s longer career track record of production. Both are outstandingly talented backs. Other notable 34s: Rashard Mendenhall, Steelers; Kevin Smith, Lions; Tim Hightower, Cardinals; Ovie Mughelli, Falcons; Sammy Morris, Patriots
35 – Jerome Harrison, Browns – It’s slim pickings at this number, so we have to give the nod to Harrison, who has had a moment or two as Jamal Lewis’ backup. Other notable 35s: Owen Schmitt, Seahawks; Dan Kreider, Cardinals; Chad Simpson, Colts
36 – Brian Westbrook, Eagles – Westbrook, who has been a terrific multipurpose back for many years now, is the easy choice at this number. He’s a truly great player. Other notable 36: LaRod Stephens-Howling, Cardinals
37 – Jason McKie, Bears – McKie, the Bears’ fullback, gets the nod here over recent Bengals signee Fui Vakapuna, another fullback. Neither will make fans forget a great fullback wearing 37 – Larry Centers of the Cardinals.
38 – Samkon Gado, Rams – Gado has had a few moments in the league, so although he’s just a backup in St. Louis now, we opt for him over Vikings fullback Naufahu Tahi and injured Dolphins back Patrick Cobbs.
39 – Steven Jackson, Rams – Jackson plays for a terrible team, but he remains a terrific bellweather back for St. Louis. He gets the nod over the declining Willie Parker of Pittsburgh and the inconsistent Laurence Maroney of the Patriots. Other notable 39: Madison Hedgecock, Giants
40 – Brian Leonard, Bengals – As we get into the 40s, we’ll have a harder time finding backs wearing these numbers. Leonard, the Bengals’ do-everything back is the only notable runner wearing 40.
41 – Lorenzo Neal, Raiders – Neal has long been one of the league’s best blocking fullbacks, but his career is winding to a conclusion, which is why he’s bounced around in recent years.
42 – BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Patriots – The law firm, as Green-Ellis is called, has done a good job when called on by the Patriots. Other notable 42s: Tony Fiametta, Panthers; Mike Cox, Chiefs; DeShawn Wynn, Packers
43 – Darren Sproles, Chargers – Sproles, the mite-sized, dynamite-powered Chargers back, gets the nod here over underrated Eagles fullback Leonard Weaver.
44 – Ahmad Bradshaw, Giants – Bradshaw, once the speedy portion of the Giants’ RB trio, has emerged as the team’s best runner this season. He gets the nod over a batch of fullbacks here. Other notable 44s: Heath Evans, Saints; Luke Lawton, Raiders; Vonta Leach, Texans; Moran Norris, 49ers, Jason Snelling, Falcons; Mike Karney, Rams
45 – Mike Sellers, Redskins – In a batch of fullbacks, Washginton’s Sellers gets the nod because of his short-yardage acumen and special-teams impact. Other notable 45s: Ahmard Hall, Titans; Brad Hoover, Panthers; Jerome Felton, Lions
46 – Ladell Betts, Redskins – Betts is the only notable back wearing 46. Thankfully, he’s a solid player who has produced when he has gotten the chance to fill in for Clinton Portis.
47 – Lawrence Vickers, Browns – Vickers, a fullback, is the only notable NFL back wearing 47 right now.
48 – None – Poor Stephen Davis. (We went to the same high school.) No current back is making his former number 48 proud.
49 – Tony Richardson, Jets – Richardson has long been one of the league’s better fullbacks, and he now plies his trade with the Jets after stints in K.C. and Minnesota. He’s the only back currently wearing 49.
We do a weekly update on major NFL transactions. We include signings, releases, and also players who are put on injured reserve, because they are lost for the year. You can check out the Week 6 transactions here and work your way back through the season.
Broncos (add P Mitch Berger) – The Broncos made their first roster move of the regular season by cutting Brett Kern and replacing him with Berger, a veteran who is better at directional kicking than the strong-legged Kern was. Berger filled in for the Steelers last year and got a Super Bowl ring out of the deal, so he’s trying to cherry-pick again with a contender.
Titans (claim P Brett Kern off waivers from Denver, sign RB Alvin Pearman) – Kern wasn’t out of work long. He landed with the Titans, who dropped Reggie Hodges. Hodges had been brought in to replace the injured Craig Hentrich, but his gross average of 39.5 yards and his net average of 31.8 were both at the bottom of the league. Kern’s strong leg will be an upgrade, even if he’s not great directionally. Pearman’s signing was special-teams related as well. He’ll replace return specialist Mark Jones, who was placed on injured reserve after suffering a hamstring injury that would have sidelined him a month or more. Jones was brought in a few weeks back to stabilize the Titans’ return game after some costly fumbles, and Tennessee must hope Pearman can do the same. The Titans really miss Chris Carr, who left via free agency after last season to sign with Baltimore.
Jets (put RB Leon Washington on injured reserve) – Washington was a key part of the Jets’ attack as a returner, receiver, and runner, although his performance in ’09 didn’t match the standard he set in ’08. But Washington suffered a broken leg that will end his season. Rookie Shonn Greene replaces Washington on offense, and the Jets brought back CB Justin Miller to take Washington’s role as a returner. Miller, most recently with the Raiders, had some good moments in that role with the Jets especially in 2005 and 2006.
Dolphins (put CB Will Allen on injured reserve) – Allen suffered a torn ACL last week, and it will end his season. Now the Dolphins must rely on rookies Vontae Davis and Sean Smith to perform at cornerback if they are to have a solid pass defense.
Seahawks (put OT Walter Jones and LB Lofa Tatupu on injured reserve) – Jones hasn’t played this year because of a lingering knee injury, and the Seahawks finally gave up the ghost and put him on injured reserve. While the 2009 impact of this transaction isn’t significant, it is important because it could mark the end of a Hall of Fame career for Jones. Tatupu’s season-ending pectoral injury is far more important to the ’09 Seahawks. He is the playmaker and signal caller in the middle of the defense, and he’s now falling apart. With Tatupu and Leroy Hill out, the Seahawks LB corps has been gutted to the point that rookie Aaron Curry must become a big-time playmaker. This may speed Curry’s development a bit, but it won’t help the Hawks win this year.
49ers (put OT Tony Pashos on injured reserve) – Pashos joined the 49ers from Jacksonville in the offseason and became the team’s starting right tackle. But he suffered a fractured scapula and will have to miss the rest of the season. The 49ers can use Barry Sims to replace Pashos, or they can shuffle the line to move someone outside. They signed Chris Patrick off the Chiefs’ practice squad to take Pashos’ roster spot. The Niners also cut LB Marques Harris and promoted training-camp phenom Diyral Biggs from the practice squad.
Falcons (put rookie S William Moore on injured reserve) – Moore, the Falcons’ second-round pick, played in only two games before a hamstring injury ended his season. The Falcons’ top two draft picks, Moore and DT Peria Jerry, are now out for the season, limiting their development along with their ability to help a defense that was rebuilding. To replace Moore on the roster, Atlanta signed veteran RB Aaron Stecker, who will help provide depth with Jerious Norwood and Jason Snelling both banged up.
Eagles (put LB Omar Gaither on injured reserve) – Gaither started three games at middle linebacker for the Eagles early this season, but he got hurt two weeks ago vs. Oakland with a listfranc foot injury that will end his season. Will Witherspoon replaced him last week, and this week the Eagles put Gaither on IR. To replace Gaither on the roster, Philly signed RB P.J. Hill off the Saints’ practice squad as insurance against Brian Westbrook’s injury.
Saints (put FB Heath Evans on injured reserve) – Evans was a role player on the Saints’ offense at fullback, and he had three touchdowns in the first six games of the season. But a torn right ACL ends his season. To replace him, the Saints added journeyman fullback Kyle Eckel.
Buccaneers (cut OG Marcus Johnson) – Johnson, a backup guard for the Bucs, was released Tuesday after being arrested on charges of driving under the influence.
Last week, we dove into the stat sheets to find out which Week One performers we should applaud and which were frauds. We’re going to examine this week’s stat sheets to do the same. We’re trying to identify new players, so we’ll only repeat players from last week if their applaud or a fraud status has changed.
This week we’re posting the quarterbacks on our Most Valuable Network blog. You can find it (and other good blogs) on MVN’s Football Wire. We’ll cover Mark Sanchez, Matt Schaub, Jake Delhomme, Byron Leftwich, and Kevin Kolb over there, so check it out.
Mike Bell, Saints – Last week (over at MVN) we called Bell a fraud. Then he went out and had 65 yards and a TD against the Eagles. But note that he suffered what is believed to be a sprained MCL in his knee against the Eagles. That would sideline him for several weeks. If not for the injury, we’d be clapping, but Bell now falls down the chart in fantasy relevance. Verdict: A fraud
Correll Buckhalter, Broncos – Buckhalter only got nine carries against Cleveland, but he cashed them in for 76 yards and a touchdown. In the long run, Knowshon Moreno (who had 17 carries this week) is going to be the go-to guy in Denver, but in an effort to keep him healthy the Broncos will give Buckhalter 10-12 touches. He’s good enough to produce in that limited role. He’s definitely worth a roster spot in all leagues and could be a flex play against some of the weaker sisters in the AFC West. Verdict: Applaud
Heath Evans, Saints – Evans is the Saints’ fullback, and fullbacks aren’t usually fantasy relevant. But he’s going to show up on your leaders because he’s caught a TD pass from Drew Brees in each of the first two games. There’s a decent chance Evans ends up with 4-5 touchdowns this season because of the potency of the Saints’ offense, but it’s going to be so difficult to predict when those scores come that Evans still isn’t going to be a reliable fantasy football option. If you’re in a 16-team league or bigger, Evans might be worth a flier, but otherwise you’re going to be wiser just leaving him on the waiver wire. Verdict: A fraud
Tim Hightower, Cardinals – Last week (over at MVN) we also called Hightower a fantasy fraud. But after having a ridiculous receiving game in Week One, he had a solid rushing game against Jacksonville in Week 2 with 72 yards and a touchdown. At this point, you have to consider Hightower a top-30 running back, which makes him a starter in larger leagues and a flex play in 10-to-12 team leagues. He doesn’t get a standing ovation, but he’s worth a golf clap at this point. Verdict: Applaud
Willis McGahee, Ravens – Last week (over at MVN) we also called McGahee a fantasy fraud. Then he went out and scored two touchdowns against San Diego, giving him four for the year. Ray Rice might be a better back at this point, or if not at this point sometime soon. But McGahee still has ability – while our proclivity is to lump McGahee in with over-30 running backs, he’s only 28 – as he showed by averaging 5.3 yards per carry this week without breaking a long run. At this point, ride the hot streak and start McGahee if you’ve got him. It doesn’t make a ton of sense, but maybe this is a renaissance year for him. Verdict: Applaud
Jason Snelling, Falcons – We talked about Snelling’s fantasy value in our Panthers/Falcons post on Sunday. Verdict: A fraud
Johnny Knox, Bears – Knox, a raw rookie from Abilene Christian, was expected to simply be a return specialist this year, but he has been a big part of the passing game. He had a 68-yard catch in the opener and then had six catches for 70 yards and a touchdown against Pittsburgh in Week 2. With Jay Cutler now in place, the Bears are definitely more pass-happy, and the receiving corps is thin enough that a guy like Knox can jump up. I don’t know exactly what to expect from Knox going forward, but he’s shown enough so far that it’s worth stashing him on your roster and seeing how he develops in the next 2-3 weeks. Verdict: Applaud
Mario Manningham, Giants – After two weeks, it seems like we’re starting to get some clarity on the Giants’ receiving corps from a fantasy perspective. Steve Smith is the most reliable guy, and Manningham (who has a touchdown in each of the first two games) is the second option. Manningham was actually targeted 13 times against Dallas en route to a 10-catch, 150-yard game. He’s absolutely worth a pick-up and could even be a spot starter in 12-team and larger leagues right now. Verdict: Applaud
Mike Sims-Walker, Jaguars – Sims-Walker, who had a solid season last year for Jacksonville, had 106 yards and a touchdown against Arizona. He’s undoubtedly one of Jacksonville’s top two receivers along with Torry Holt, only Sims-Walker is more explosive. He didn’t have a single catch in the opener against Indy, though, which goes to show how sporadic Jacksonville’s passing game is. Sims-Walker is a name worth knowing, and if you’re looking to take a flier as you build receiver depth, he’s worth a shot at this point. He could put up decent fourth or even third fantasy wideout numbers in 10-to-12-team leagues by the end of the season. Verdict: Applaud
Kellen Davis, Bears – Davis scored a touchdown, but he’s getting playing time only while Desmond Clark is out. Greg Olsen will get far more looks than Davis while Clark is out for 6 weeks or so. If you’re in an incredibly deep league or a league that requires you to start two tight ends for some reason, Davis is worth a flier, but he’s no better than the 15th best fantasy tight end during Clark’s absence. Verdict: A fraud
Marcedes Lewis, Jaguars – Lewis is a gifted receiver who is often forgotten in fantasy terms because the Jaguars are kind of an anonymous team. But he had 62 yards and a TD against the Cardinals in Week 2, and he has three catches in each of the first two games. He’s not a top-10 tight end, but if you’re looking for a bye week fill-in soon he’s definitely worth consideration. Don’t expect too much, but Lewis can be a useful fantasy player. Verdict: Applaud
Dante Rosario, Panthers – We talked about Rosario’s fantasy value in our Panthers/Falcons post on Sunday. Verdict: A fraud
Here are some thoughts on this week’s free-agent moves. (You can read about the opening weekend moves relative to each other here.) Once the market slows down and the draft approaches, we’ll put everything together in a massive offseason moves relativity post that compares the entire movement of the market team-by-team. (And if this post is 2000-plus words, then that post really will be massive.)
The following moves are compared relative to each other, with 10 as the most significant and 1 as mere drops in the bucket. Only the moves listed below are considered in this particular ranking.
10 – Cardinals (kept QB Kurt Warner and P Ben Graham; added FS Keith Lewis) – After some tense and contentious moments, the Cardinals were able to come to terms on a two-year deal with Warner (with $19 million of the $23 million guaranteed). The Cardinals simply had to get this deal done to have any shot of maintaining their momentum from their Super Bowl appearance, especially considering all of the coaching-staff changes they’ve had. Warner is a tone-setter in the locker room and still a very good player to boot. Now he has the chance to conclude his career in an ideal situation for his talents.
9 – Ravens (kept LB Ray Lewis; added C Matt Birk) – After losing Bart Scott, the Ravens needed to keep Lewis to maintain continuity on their defense. The fact that Lewis gets to retire as the greatest Raven ever is icing on the cake. Lewis had a great season last year after struggling for a couple of campaigns. He doesn’t have to be at the all-time-great level anymore, but the Ravens still need him to play at a high level to help the other defensive stars (Terrell Suggs, Ed Reed, and Haloti Ngata) do what they do best. Birk replaces Jason Brown. Brown is younger and more physical, but Birk is a solid pro who will do his job effectively.
8 – Seahawks (added WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh and TE John Owens) – Houshmandzadeh, who got $40 million total and $15 million guaranteed in a five-year contract, was the best wide receiver to become a free agent. He’s been productive despite being across from the more highly touted Chad Johnson/Ocho Cinco. Even with below-mediocre quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick playing most of last year, Houshmandzadeh still posted decent numbers. Now he moves to Seattle, where he and Deion Branch will try to reinvigorate an offense that sputtered last year. Neither is a great deep threat, but the West Coast scheme that the Seahawks continue to run doesn’t really require that. We’ll discover if Houshmandzadeh is a true No. 1 as this move plays out; I tend to believe that he’s not quite at that dominant level but will still be very good. Owens is a block-first tight end who will help in short-yardage situations.
7 – Eagles (added S Sean Jones) – After losing Brian Dawkins (as well as Sean Considine), the Eagles needed some safety help, and they got an impact player in Jones. Jones has 14 interceptions since 2006 and is thought of in some circles as a borderline Pro Bowl player. The deal is only for one year, so it’s a make good for Jones, which should encourage strong performance even more. If Jones reaches his potential and gels in the Philly defense, he’ll be a standout, and this deal will go down as one of the underrated steals of this year’s free agent market.
6 – Titans (added WR Nate Washington and DT Jovan Haye; kept P Craig Hentrich) – These two moves are designed to replace losses (WR Brandon Jones and DT Albert Haynesworth). Washington may be better than Jones. He can get deep consistently, but the question is whether he is consistent enough to be a top receiver. The Titans need him to be at least a 60-catch guy, and that might be asking too much. But of all the receivers on the open market, Washington (6 years, $27M) is the best bet to take a step up. Haye (4 years, $16M) isn’t anywhere close to Haynesworth, but he will fit comfortably into the Titans’ DT rotation. Tennessee will need several players to step up to replace Haynesworth, and Haye can be part of that – but only part. It’ll be interesting to see if the Titans can retain their scary factor on defense without their best player from ’08.
6 (con’t) – Buccaneers (added RB Derrick Ward, LB Niko Koutouvides, and PK Mike Nugent; kept safeties Will Allen and Jermaine Phillips, TE Jerramy Stevens, and WR Cortez Hankton) – This offseason, the Bucs have added TE Kellen Winslow and re-signed WRs Antonio Bryant and Michael Clayton. Now they add Ward, a solid running back who had his best success in a rotation with the Giants. Ward, who gets a 4-year deal worth $17 million, moves from partnering with Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw to teaming with Earnest Graham and Cadillac Williams. Those are 3 talented backs, so the question will be finding the right way to divide carries. It’s clear from the moves so far that the Bucs are trying to upgrade their offensive skill positions, which were never eye-popping under Jon Gruden despite Gruden’s play-calling prowess. Meanwhile, Nugent could replace Matt Bryant as the Bucs’ placekicker. Allen and Phillips should be starters at safety – Phillips was sought after elsewhere but opted to stay. Stevens is a curious retention given Winslow’s arrival, but Stevens is a talented pass catcher as well.
5 – Bengals (added WR Laveranues Coles and QB J.T. O’Sullivan; kept RB Cedric Benson and OLB Darryl Blackstock) – Coles worked his way out of New York even though the Jets owed him $6 million guaranteed, and the gambit worked. He moves to Cincinnati to replace T.J. Houshmandzadeh (and perhaps even WR Chad Johnson/Ocho Cinco) as a primary target. Coles isn’t as big as Houshmandzadeh, but he has a little more speed, and he’s still a legitimate starting receiver. This is a pretty good fallback option for the Bengals. On the retention side, Benson isn’t great, but he was better than the other options Cincinnati had last year. If he starts and produces a 1,000-yard season, which isn’t asking a ton, this deal (2 years, $7 million) is probably at a fair market price. And if Benson can like up to his talent, this deal has a chance of being a steal. (A small chance, admittedly, but still worth noting.)
4 – Dolphins (added C Jake Grove) – The Dolphins have spent big to keep their own good players, but Grove (5 years, $30 million) is one of the first big outside additions. Grove, who was in Oakland, will replace Samson Satele and try to help control the massive 3-4 nose tackles like Vince Wilfork, Kris Jenkins, and Marcus Stroud in the AFC East.
3 – Broncos (added RB Lamont Jordan, QB Chris Simms, and DT Ronald Fields; kept DE Kenny Peterson) – More moves from the Broncos as they add seemingly every other mid-level free agent on the market. Jordan is the third running back Denver has signed this offseason. He’s most likely to take on a short-yardage role, with Correll Buckhalter carrying the load regularly and J.J. Arrington serving as a third-down receiver out of the backfield as well as a returner. Fields got a minor deal (2 years, $5 million), but he should start at defensive tackle. He’s a solid part of a 4-man DT rotation. Simms is at least a quality backup, and if the Jay Cutler situation ultimately blows up, Simms is a decent fallback option as a starter. His addition means the Cutler situation still bears watching.
3 (con’t) – Saints (added CB Jabari Greer and FB Heath Evans; kept WR Devery Henderson) – The Saints are constantly looking for secondary help, and Greer should provide at least some. But Greer is not a No. 1 cornerback, and if the Saints put him in that role, he could suffer a similar collapse to what Jason David endured in the Big Easy. Despite that risk, though, this is a move the Saints had to make, and Greer was the best of what was left on the market at corner. Henderson is a speedy wide receiver who isn’t consistent enough to be a starter but is dangerous in short bursts. With Marques Colston and Lance Moore on hand, the Saints don’t need to rely on Henderson consistently. That allows them to put him in the best possible positions for his talents. he’s a highly paid No. 3 receiver now, but he fits the Saints’ roster and scheme well. Evans replaces Mike Karney as a blocking fullback and is an upgrade because he’s better with the ball in his hands.
2 – Jets (added S Jim Leonhard; kept PK Jay Feely) – Feely beat out Mike Nugent last year, and so the Jets kept him and let the former second-round pick leave as a free agent. Feely has bounced around a bit, but he’s a quality kicker.) – After taking LB Bart Scott from the Ravens, the Jets raided Baltimore again to get Leonhard. While Leonhard isn’t the most physically gifted player, he’s always fought his way into the lineup and been productive. When Dawan Landry went down last year, Leonhard played really well. He’s a heady player who will help new head coach Rex Ryan install his defense. With Kerry Rhodes in place, Leonhard doesn’t have to be the play-making safety, but Leonhard’s dependability will allow Rhodes more freedom to do what he does best. This is a solid addition for the Jets. Meanwhile, Feely beat out Mike Nugent last year, and so the Jets kept him and let the former second-round pick leave as a free agent. Feely has bounced around a bit, but he’s a quality kicker.
2 (con’t) – Bills (added CB Drayton Florence; kept OT Kirk Chambers) – Florence busted out after signing a big contract in Jacksonville last season, but his new deal with Buffalo (2 years, $6.6 million) befits his talents much better. With Jabari Greer likely leaving, the Bills had to add cornerback help, but they have ’08 first-rounder Leodis McKelvin and Terrence McGee in primary roles there. Florence is paid like a nickelback, and he can probably fill that role sufficiently.
2 (con’t) – Lions (added DT Grady Jackson and CB Philip Buchanon; kept OG Damion Cook) – Jackson is a run-stuffer personified at 375 pounds (or more, depending on the year). He’s a two-down player at most, but when he’s in the game the middle is completely clogged up. It’s hard to say whether he’ll play all three years on his new $8 million contract, but if he stays in somewhat reasonable shape, he’s an asset to any roster. Buchanon busted out as a first-round pick in Oakland but resuscitated his career in Tampa. He’s not a shut-down corner, but as a starter he’s a little above average.
2 (con’t) – Patriots (added CB Shawn Springs; kept OL Russ Hochstein, P Chris Hanson, and LB Eric Alexander) – Springs was cut in Washington after an injury-plagued year, but he’s still a useful guy. He might end up at safety instead of cornerback, but the Patriots more than most teams seem willing to use a veteran who may have lost a step on the outside. This, like the addition of RB Fred Taylor, just feels like a natural Patriots type of move.
2 (con’t) – Browns (added TE Robert Royal; kept S Mike Adams) – After trading Kellen Winslow, the Browns needed tight end help. Royal (who got a 4-year, $10 million contract) is starting caliber, so he’s a good worst-case scenario for the Browns. They also have Steve Heiden, like Royal a solid NFL starter at the position. But my guess is that Cleveland wants second-year TE Martin Rucker to emerge as the pass-catching threat at the position. If he develops, Rucker could end up replacing a lot of what Winslow contributed in the passing game. Adams chose to stay in Cleveland instead of moving to Green Bay. With fellow safety Sean Jones still sans contract, it was important for the Browns to keep Adams for continuity’s sake.
2 (con’t) – Vikings (kept LB Heath Farwell) – Several teams wanted Farwell, a solid linebacker and special-teams contributor, but the Vikings were able to fight them off and keep him.
1 – Falcons (kept DE Chauncey Davis) – Davis isn’t a starter, but he’s an important player because Atlanta knows that sackmeister John Abraham is better in shorter bursts. Davis can rotate with Abraham and plays well when he’s in there. So while a 4-year, $14 million deal with $8 million guaranteed looks too rich, it makes some sense.
1 (con’t) – Raiders (kept OL Cooper Carlisle and TE Tony Stewart) – Carlisle is important to Oakland because of his versatility. He can start effectively but can also move inside if necessary.
1 (con’t) – Giants (added S C.C. Brown) – Brown is the fourth veteran the Giants have brought in to supplement their defense. He’ll help to take over for James Butler, who left via free agency. Brown isn’t special, but he’s solid, which is all the Giants need given their other playmakers defensively.
1 (con’t) – Texans (kept WR David Anderson) – Anderson had signed a contract tender with Denver, but the Texans chose to match it and keep the former seventh-round pick. Anderson emerged as a No. 3 receiver last year behind Andre Johnson and Kevin Walter, and he’s the perfect size to make plays out of the slot position.
1 (con’t) – 49ers (added DE Demetric Evans and QB Damon Huard) – Evans got a decent deal (2 years, $8.5 million) to come from Washington and serve as a starter. Huard is a professional backup who can help to mentor Shaun Hill and Alex Smith as they compete for the starting quarterback job.
1 (con’t) Chiefs – (kept S Jon McGraw; added LB Darrell Robertson) – McGraw is a backup safety and special-teams player who is used to the Patriot way because he played for the Jets and former Pats aide Eric Mangini. Robertson was cut by New England Thursday and immediately snapped up by the Chiefs, who are fast becoming New England Midwest.