2012 NFL Free Agents: 15 Biggest Names That Could Go Unsigned

Dan Van WieContributor IIIMay 30, 2012

2012 NFL Free Agents: 15 Biggest Names That Could Go Unsigned

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    For the 15 NFL free agents in this presentation, there is a reasonable chance that none of them will be signed to a contract in 2012. In most cases, that could very well be the end of their NFL careers.

    The same thing could have been said about Randy Moss after he sat out the 2011 season, but we saw that he decided it was not time to hang it up yet, having signed a free-agent deal with the San Francisco 49ers.

    The reasons why these 15 players are not affiliated with any team range all across the board. Injuries, age, compensation, poor performance, weight issues and slowing down are all valid reasons for being passed over.

LaDainian Tomlinson

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    LaDainian Tomlinson was hoping to find another team to play for in 2012, but with every NFL team already at its allotment of 90 players, Tomlinson is still on the outside looking in.

    There were rumblings that Tomlinson might be able to hook on with the Chargers in an attempt to complete a full circle with the team, but the reality is that he doesn't have a very good relationship with Chargers general manager A.J. Smith, so that probably exhausts his last potential landing spot.

    Tomlinson has enjoyed a rich NFL career, and if he is still able to walk at 32 years old, after the pounding he has absorbed from a career that spanned 11 seasons, he should thank his lucky stars and leave now while he can.

    Tomlinson has played in 170 NFL games, rushed 3,174 times for 13,684 yards and averaged 4.3 yards per rush. He has averaged 80.5 rushing yards per game and scored 145 rushing touchdowns over his career.

Marcus McNeill

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    It seems hard to believe that as highly thought of as Marcus McNeill was as recently as two years ago, the 28-year-old tackle could wind up not being signed by anybody in 2012.

    McNeill was a second-round draft pick of the San Diego Chargers in 2006, and he was named to the Pro Bowl in both 2006 and 2007. McNeill held out from San Diego, but the two sides eventually worked out a new deal in 2010 for six years and $48.9 million.

    But the 2011 season was a disaster. It started with two operations on his knee, and then he injured his neck in the 2011 season, which resulted in him going on injured reserve. The Chargers brought in Jared Gaither to replace him, and just like that McNeill was expendable. San Diego made it official when it released McNeill from his contract on March 13.

    In the 2012 offseason he visited with teams such as Atlanta, Detroit and Kansas City, but all three teams passed on him. Teams with left tackle issues like the Minnesota Vikings (Matt Kalil) and Buffalo Bills (Cordy Glenn) drafted rookies at the position, while the Philadelphia Eagles signed Demetress Bell, who is also 28 years old. That could have been the last solid chance McNeill had for employment this year.

    If the 2012 season comes and goes without a job, maybe that is not a terrible thing for McNeill. He would be able to gain full health and rest up for a year, but he will need to stay in shape. Teams will still monitor him with an eye towards 2013. If he spends the year on the couch and gains 50 pounds, that speaks volumes about his desire to still play in the NFL.

Braylon Edwards

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    I still remember when Braylon Edwards was making commercials for 5-hour Energy. The company must have viewed him as a national star to sign him up for that gig. Fast-forward to 2012, and Edwards is seemingly out of football.

    There is the possibility that the Cincinnati Bengals could have some interest in Edwards, but there is no rush. Training camps won't even open up until this summer, and Edwards needs to finish rehab on a knee that suffered a torn meniscus early on in the 2011 season, according to this story by Joe Reedy of the Cincinnati Enquirer.

    It probably didn't help the perception of Edwards around the league that when Marvin Lewis was asked about the possibility of bringing in Edwards, he replied that they didn't want too many "old players" on the team, according to Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com.

    Of course, Edwards isn't exactly coming off a banner year. Out of 34 targets to Edwards, the 49ers were only able to complete 15 passes to him, less than a 50 percent completion rate. Those 15 receptions totaled 181 yards, good for an average of 12.1 yards, but no touchdowns.

    It is possible that the NFL has seen enough of Edwards to know that there are safer bets out there that they would rather work with. The deep 2012 draft class of wide receivers didn't help Edwards' chances much either. That is another important factor in why he still hasn't visited any NFL teams.

Cedric Benson

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    Cedric Benson is still looking for a new team to play for in 2012. He might be looking for a long time.

    According to a tweet from the Enquirer's Joe Reedy, Benson has burned his bridge with the Bengals, or as Reedy puts it, "That ship has sailed."

    Even though Benson has topped the 1,000-yard plateau in each of the last two seasons, his average yards per rush have been 3.5 and 3.9, which is below NFL standards. Then you factor in his off-field issues and the knowledge that Benson will turn 30 years old in December, and you have all the ingredients you need for why teams are staying far away.

    Here we are at the end of May, and Benson still hasn't conducted a single visit with any NFL team. Not looking good for Benson's chances to be on a NFL roster in 2012.

Jim Leonhard

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    Safety Jim Leonhard appeared in all 16 games for the Baltimore Ravens in 2008 and the New York Jets in 2009. Then the injuries started popping up. Leonhard missed five games in 2010 and then missed another three games last year in New York.

    Now in 2012, Leonhard is still unable to work out for teams due to rehab needed for a torn patellar tendon, and that might keep him out until the start of training camps. By that time, teams might be far enough down the road with their secondary personnel that his phone doesn't ring with any good news this summer.

    Maybe the reality is that teams are willing to overlook him because he is not that big of a playmaker. In seven seasons in the NFL, Leonhard only has six interceptions, two fumble recoveries and two forced fumbles. Not that much to get excited about here.

James Farrior

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    James Farrior has been a warrior in the NFL for 15 years. During that time, he has appeared in at least 14 games all but one season, which is a testament to his durability, toughness and ability to play with pain.

    It is also conceivable that the wear and tear of 15 seasons has caused Farrior to lose some of his speed, quickness and agility, because as we write this, no NFL teams have inquired to bring him in for a workout or visit.

    The Pittsburgh Steelers released Farrior in early March. Farrior's stance has been gradually changing from saying that he would be open to coming back to the Steelers to saying that he wanted to continue his career, to the latest, which is that he is now considering retirement, per this update from CBS Sports.

    Farrior most recently was the captain of the Steelers defense. He is currently 37 years old, which might seem old by normal NFL standards, but remember that the Washington Redskins signed London Fletcher to a new contract, and he is also 37 years old.

Jeremy Shockey

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    Jeremy Shockey had the chance to help Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton make an impact as a rookie, but even the immense talents of Newton weren't enough to prevent Shockey from stopping a six-year slide in production.

    In 2006, when Shockey was still with the New York Giants, he caught 66 passes. Since then his production has been on a slow but steady decline. The following years saw his reception totals drop to 57, 50, 48, 41 and then a career low last year with just 37. The odd thing about the 2011 season was that his average yardage per catch (12.3 yards) was the second-best mark of his career.

    However, here we are entering the final days of May, and even though he is still a free agent, he hasn't had a single visit with any NFL team. Even with the greater emphasis on the tight end position, no teams think enough of Shockey's game to kick his tires, so that doesn't bode well for continued employment.

Donovan McNabb

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    Donovan McNabb had the second half of the 2011 season to rest up. Since then he announced that he has no intentions to retire, lost weight to be in shape for the 2012 season and even got a ringing endorsement from old boss Andy Reid, via this report from ProFootballTalk.com.

    The feedback from the rest of the NFL? Crickets.

    The NFL has appeared to turn its collective back on McNabb, per this story from Los Angeles Times writer Chuck Schilken.

    With NFL teams investing in the crop of 2012 collegiate quarterbacks, some NFL quarterbacks from the 2011 season had to be eliminated to make room. Those eliminated appear to be McNabb, Mark Brunell, Kerry Collins, Dennis Dixon and Jeff Garcia (was with Houston for one month in 2011). These are the more famous quarterbacks that appear to be nearing the end of the line.

    McNabb might have made sense as a mentor for some of the younger quarterbacks in the league, but whenever given the chance to speak on national networks, he usually took the platform that he was still a starting quarterback in his own mind, which meant that there would be a problem with him sitting on the sidelines. He says now he is willing to be a No. 2 guy, but it is too late to take back what he already said.

Bob Sanders

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    In 2007, safety Bob Sanders was the rage of the NFL, having just won the coveted AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year award.

    Since then, things haven't gone so well for Sanders. He hasn't been named to any All-Pro teams or Pro Bowls since that 2007 season.

    What has happened is a series of various injuries that have forced him to go on the IR list in four straight seasons. 2011 was no different. Despite missing virtually the entire 2010 season, Sanders was only able to appear in two games in '11 before getting hurt. He only played in two games in 2009 as well before going on IR.

    Although Sanders hasn't gone on record to announce his retirement, the way that his body has just physically broken down serves notices as well as any formal retirement press conference. Sanders just can't play the game anymore.

Tommie Harris

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    If your knees start to degenerate at 29 years old, how much of a football career would you have left? Probably not very much, if any, which is what free-agent defensive tackle Tommie Harris is finding out.

    There has been some talk according to this story by Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune that the Bears might still have a degree of interest in Harris as a rotational defensive end, but so far that has not resulted in anything but noise.

    That story ran three weeks ago, and since nothing has materialized, it figures that the only way that Harris could resurface in Chicago is if the team loses a defensive tackle to injury in camp. If not, then this could be the end of the road for Harris.

    Maybe the best question is, if your knees are almost shot, why would you still want to even risk hurting them any more?

Aubrayo Franklin

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    Jason La Canfora of NFL Network tweeted back in April that defensive tackle Aubrayo Franklin had a visit scheduled with the Atlanta Falcons. That has been it for activity regarding Franklin's free-agency tour around the NFL.

    The 2012 season would make Franklin a 10-year NFL veteran, but that is only if somebody signs him. He has appeared in all 16 games each of the last four years, so the fact that he has avoided the IR list is a positive sign.

    Franklin hasn't recorded a sack in the last two years and had only 17 tackles last year for the New Orleans Saints despite appearing in all 16 games. The lack of production appears to be the culprit for why teams are not actively engaging him in the offseason.

Plaxico Burress

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    The 2011 season was supposed to be the start of the second-chance story for Plaxico Burress to resurrect his name and restore faith in the wide receiver. Little did we know that 2011 might represent his swan song as well.

    Coming into June, Burress is still on the outside looking in, hoping that some team will give him a contract. It seems like every two or three weeks, Burress will openly state his case for being a good fit for various NFL teams, claiming how badly he wants to play for them, but his overtures are met with silence.

    Perhaps the NFL saw all it needed to see from his game footage last year to know that he has lost it.

    For my money, I still think that Burress makes sense as an option in the red zone, so if any NFL team has one roster spot it isn't completely sold on, you could probably do worse than hire Burress to be a red-zone-designated wide receiver. At 6'5" and 232 pounds, Burress has the size to post up much smaller defenders, as he has demonstrated throughout his career.

    Granted, Burress caught less than half of the passes thrown his way last year (45 out of 97), but the eight touchdown receptions are nothing to sneeze at. Cleveland had 16 touchdown receptions for the entire year and had nobody with more than four touchdown catches.

Ronnie Brown

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    One rushing touchdown with 136 yards rushing on 42 rushes for a paltry average of 3.2 yards per rush. No pass receptions and no pass targets. Sounds like a NFL running back who is on the last leg of the career.

    The above was the 2011 stat line for Philadelphia Eagles running back Ronnie Brown. The Eagles thought so little of his playmaking abilities that they didn't even attempt to throw him a pass all year.

    Maybe after they saw Brown throw that infamous pass on the goal line when he was about to be tackled on that dive play inside the red zone, the Eagles knew they didn't want him to have any part of the passing game. If you forgot that play, here is a story about it from Sporting News.

    There was some noise in March that the Jets could have some interest in Brown to replace LaDainian Tomlinson as the third-down back, but nothing materialized. Brown hasn't heard anything to speak of, so this could very well be end of the line.

Albert Haynesworth

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    We may never know for sure how big Albert Haynesworth allowed himself to get after he signed his mammoth deal with the Washington Redskins, but judging by this picture, Haynesworth didn't miss too many meals.

    There was a tweet from Jason La Canfora of NFL Network on Monday that Haynesworth might have a tryout with the St. Louis Rams, but that is about the only news we have heard regarding him this offseason.

    If he is out of shape, or if his old coach Jeff Fisher doesn't think that Haynesworth can help the team, then it is probably conceivable that the rest of the league would pass on him as well.

Terrell Owens

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    It has been nearly 18 months since Terrell Owens caught his last NFL pass. In that time period, Owens has still refused to acknowledge that his NFL career is over, so no retirement speeches have been made.

    Owens had the workout in 2011 to prove to the NFL that his rehab was successful from his surgery, but none of the 32 NFL teams bothered to send a representative to see him firsthand.

    Now in 2012, it is more of the same. No NFL teams have asked him to come in for a tryout or visit. Sure, there are the various celebrity sightings, appearing on Dr. Phil and playing in the Indoor Football League, but most of that is for image and his ego.

    According to this story from NFL.com, Owens wants to play in the Bay Area, but that is nothing but more noise.

    The real telling tale is that Owens is no longer being repped by Drew Rosenhaus, and that is as good a sign as any that the rest of the NFL has moved on. Now it is time for Owens to do the same.

Bonus Slide: The 2012 Holdouts

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    Every year there are a handful of key players who are unhappy with their personal contract situations and wind up holding out to take a stand against management.

    2012 is no exception, and it would be foolish for us to think that everybody is going to be willing to cave in and sign on the dotted line. There could easily be one or even two players from this group who will wind up believing that their principles mean more to them than the dollars involved and refuse to come in to camp.

    Obviously we aren't suggesting that any of the players from this list are close to retiring, so please understand this group is different from the earlier 14 slides.

    The current group of 2012 holdouts includes Matt Forte (Chicago), Drew Brees (New Orleans), Mike Wallace (Pittsburgh), Ray Rice (Baltimore), Maurice Jones-Drew (Jacksonville), Josh Scobee (Jacksonville), Dashon Goldson (San Francisco), Michael Griffin (Tennessee), Cliff Avril (Detroit), Matt Prater (Denver) and Dwayne Bowe (Kansas City).

    It is possible that everybody on this list will sign a new deal, but frankly I would be surprised if the entire group came to terms. We are talking about some tremendous egos here, and if somebody gets bent out of shape over something that is said during negotiations, pride can make players do some crazy things.