With teams gearing up for training camp and preseason, they’ll have some decisions to make in six weeks regarding who gets cut from their eventual 53-man roster.
While those players memorize playbooks and make the most of their August playing time, there remains a bevy of former All-Pros still looking for work, as well as otherwise once-exceptional players.
Should teams experience a costly injury at a skill position, or see weakness in the position’s depth, expect some phones to be ringing as the dog days of summer wear on.
Listed here are two dozen and one players who could find be finding new homes this August or September should prospective teams fail their self-administered litmus tests.
25. Travis LaBoy (DE/LB) (Opening Day Age: 31; Last Played With: Chargers)
LaBoy struggled in San Diego’s defense last year, with a mere 31 tackles and a sack in fourteen games started. With San Diego firing defensive coordinator Greg Manusky after just that one season, perhaps the onus doesn’t fall on LaBoy, who thrived situationally in Tennessee and San Francisco.
24. Mike Sims-Walker (WR) (Opening Day Age: 27; Last Played With: Jaguars)
2011 was a weird year for the “Chopper City” native, as he jumped to St. Louis, was cut in October, returned to the Jags, ended up a reserve two weeks later, and then was released. Teams needing depth at receiver could use Sims-Walker’s flashes of brilliance in the slot.
23. Melvin Bullitt (S) (Opening Day Age: 27; Last Played With: Colts)
Injury misfortunes made Bullitt a lock to be canned during Indianapolis’ house-cleaning this offseason. Playing only six games over the last two seasons made him expendable, as he ended up on reserve twice with shoulder issues. At his age, if his price is low, he can at least compete for a spot.
22. TJ Houshmandzadeh (WR) (Opening Day Age: 34; Last Played With: Raiders)
“Housh” played only half a season in 2011, making eleven catches for 146 yards and a 40-yard touchdown as he reunited with Carson Palmer in Oakland. Though older and having lost a step, the man who once had 112 catches in a season can contribute in the slot with his sure hands.
21. Brad Maynard (P) (Opening Day Age: 38; Last Played With: Browns)
His average is dipping as he gets older, having posted two consecutive years below 41 yards a punt. The only other year in his long career that he’s done that was 2000, and that average is still above his 2010 and 2011 averages. Still, an injury to one’s punter makes Maynard a priority call.
20. Jim Leonhard (S) (Opening Day Age: 29; Last Played With: Jets)
A torn patellar tendon in his knee ended his season last December, and the Jets made safety upgrades in the offseason that led to him going unsigned. One of the shorter safeties at 5’8”, but is also a handy punt returner if a team needs to solidify a shaky return game.
19. Tommie Harris (DT) (Opening Day Age: 29; Last Played With: Chargers)
Picked up three sacks off the bench for San Diego last season, after serving as one of Chicago’s dependable pass rushers for seven seasons prior. Harris has had a tumultuous offseason, losing his wife Ashley to a stroke in February, leaving Tommie with their two little children.
18. Adam Goldberg (OL) (Opening Day Age: 32; Last Played With: Rams)
Goldberg can be shuffled around the line where needed, but knee injuries and roster turnovers had relegated him to understudy duty by last season. With injuries to Rodger Saffold and others, Goldberg’s versatility was showcased; a skill that can come in handy for other injury-plagued lines.
17. Raheem Brock (DE) (Opening Day Age: 34; Last Played With: Seahawks)
The positives: put up twelve sacks over the last two seasons coming off the bench in pass-rushing situations. The negatives: advancing age, as well as a rash of legal problems, including two DUI’s, and a strange case of an unpaid bar tab, over the past couple years.
16. Nick Collins (S) (Opening Day Age: 29; Last Played With: Packers)
The three-time Pro Bowler would be higher on this list if concerns about his neck weren’t so high. The injury was so severe, that Green Bay opted to cut him, thinking he’d never be the same. In three months, nobody has claimed a man with 21 picks and five defensive touchdowns.
15. Jeff Faine (C) (Opening Day Age: 31; Last Played With: Buccaneers)
New head coach Greg Schiano worked on revamping the offensive line, and saw Faine worth cutting. Faine shouldn’t feel too bad; it was to make room for the beastly Carl Nicks. Despite being the odd-man-out, Faine has made for a consistent, gifted starter when healthy.
14. Visanthe Shiancoe (TE) (Opening Day Age: 32; Last Played With: Vikings)
Could Shiancoe be a victim of circumstance? In 2009, playing with Brett Favre in his final gasp of greatness, Shiancoe had eleven TDs in his best season. His numbers have dipped over the last two seasons, but he could serve well in a backup role in double sets.
13. Dennis Dixon (QB) (Opening Day Age: 27; Last Played With: Steelers)
Maybe this is a tad high, but Dixon’s a young player whose ceiling hasn’t come close to being nicked or scratched. He hasn’t played since Week 2 of 2010 due to injuries and being buried on the depth chart, but he’s at least a reliable backup who can manage games when needed.
12. Ryan Longwell (K) (Opening Day Age: 38; Last Played With: Vikings)
Longwell was cut by Minnesota in March, and replaced with unproven rookie Blair Walsh. Longwell missed six field goals in 2011, going 22 for 28, and having an average below 80 percent for the first time since 2005. Chances are, somebody’s poor performance will lead to his resurfacing.
11. Ryan Torain (RB) (Opening Day Age: 26; Last Played With: Redskins)
Torain thrived in 2010 as part of Mike Shanahan’s vaunted (except in fantasy) committee, but regressed week by week in 2011 until he was cut before the final game of the season. If a team needs a quality power runner to complement a speedy back, Torain’s got some years left.
10. Daniel Sepulveda (P) (Opening Day Age: 28; Last Played With: Steelers)
He’s young, he’s stronger than the man Pittsburgh replaced him with (Jeremy Kapinos), and he comes off his best career average in 2011 (46.1 yards a punt). However, three serious knee injuries in his career have raised questions about his long-term durability, despite his output.
9. Donovan McNabb (QB) (Opening Day Age: 35; Last Played With: Vikings)
Nobody wanted him after Minnesota granted his release mid-season last year, but the once-perennial Pro Bowler has recommitted himself to conditioning this offseason. McNabb wants a starting job, which may be a stretch, but we’ve seen 35+ year olds make big comebacks before.
8. Jackie Battle (RB) (Opening Day Age: 28; Last Played With: Chiefs)
Battle had to lead the charge for the running game after Jamaal Charles tore his ACL, and Thomas Jones proved ineffective for an injury-wrought Chiefs team. Battle was a mixed bag, only going over 100 yards once, but would be better in short-yardage for a team needing a one-two punch.
7. EJ Henderson (LB) (Opening Day Age: 32; Last Played With: Vikings)
Despite starting all sixteen games for Minnesota over the last two seasons (2010 a Pro Bowl year), questions about Henderson’s knees relegated him to being a two-down player. Henderson recently insisted that he’s 100% healthy, so expect him to get some serious looks soon.
6. Jake Scott (OL) (Opening Day Age: 31; Last Played With: Titans)
The acquisition of future Hall of Famer Steve Hutchinson led to Scott not being re-signed, in a year where Chris Johnson was crushed in the backfield more than he should have been. Scott is reliable, though, not having missed a start since 2004 when he was with the Colts.
5. Andre Carter (DE) (Opening Day Age: 33; Last Played With: Patriots)
Carter made the Pro Bowl for the first time ever at age 32 last year, nabbing ten sacks in fourteen games. What he lacks in speed, he makes up for with vicious pursuit. Teams looking for third-and-long pressure could do worse than having Carter, with 76 career sacks, play in those situations.
4. Vernon Carey (OL) (Opening Day Age: 31; Last Played With: Dolphins)
Carey’s started 107 games for the Dolphins in his eight year career, and has apparently received interest in a few anonymous teams over the past several weeks. Though beginning to decline, Carey can fill in at both tackle and guard for a team that needs instant stability on the line.
3. Cedric Benson (RB) (Opening Day Age: 29; Last Played With: Bengals)
Despite 2,200 yards and 13 rushing touchdowns over the past two seasons, Benson’s yards-per-carry average has slipped below 4.0 in both seasons. His bounce-back year in 2009 is but a distant memory, but Benson could thrive once more behind an ideal offensive line.
2. Ryan Grant (RB) (Opening Day Age: 29; Last Played With: Packers)
Green Bay essentially won the Super Bowl without him in 2010, but Grant played well with limited carries (in a pass-heavy offense) last season. Grant started 14 games, netting 4.2 yards a run on 134 carries. Grant could serve to do more with a heavier workload elsewhere.
1. Plaxico Burress (WR) (Opening Day Age: 35; Last Played With: Jets)
Burress slapped a $3M price tag on himself for his services this season, which has warded off interested parties. Is the money worth it? Last year, Burress made a shaky Mark Sanchez look good in the red zone, and still has great instincts and agility for an aging player that missed 2 seasons while incarcerated.