2013 NFL Free Agents with the Most Baggage

Russell S. Baxter@@BaxFootballGuruContributor IFebruary 17, 2013

2013 NFL Free Agents with the Most Baggage

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    We’re less than a month away from the free-agency period, but that doesn’t mean it is a slow time for all 32 NFL teams.

    For those teams looking to add players via this process, there are always a few names that, while familiar, may have the phrase “buyer beware” attached.

    The focus here is on unrestricted free agents, not the so-called “street” free agents such as wide receiver Titus Young, who was released by the Detroit Lions, signed with the St. Louis Rams last week and was released by the Rams this past Friday.

    That also pertains to veterans such as defensive back Charles Woodson (Green Bay Packers), running back Ahmad Bradshaw (New York Giants) and defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch (Detroit Lions), who were let go by their teams and can be signed by a team at any time instead of waiting until March 12.

    So how do we define “baggage”? There are a lot of different ways, be it controversy, injury or simple wear and tear over the years. We’ll address each potential free agent in his own way and try to give a balanced representation of all examples.

    For the record, no one is discouraging any team from signing these players. It’s simply an expanded tale of the tape for a handful of free agents.

Reggie Bush, RB, Miami Dolphins

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    Perhaps expectations are truly a four-letter word when it comes to Miami Dolphins running back Reggie Bush.

    It’s certainly not for a lack of trying on his part. But consider the roller-coaster ride the former USC Trojan has been on in seven NFL seasons.

    During his first five seasons in the league with the New Orleans Saints, Bush was known as an all-purpose back with the emphasis on receiving and punt returns. Meanwhile, he totaled 2,090 yards rushing in 60 games with the Saints, never reaching at least 600 yards in any one season.

    His role with the Dolphins has been different and somewhat surprising. Bush has started 31 games and amassed 2,072 yards on the ground, including a career-high 1,086 in 2011.

    Last season, he totaled a career-high 227 carries, running for 986 yards. He’s been a tough runner both inside and outside the tackles.

    But last season’s numbers are somewhat deceiving. Bush totaled 276 of his 986 yards rushing in two games, wins over the Oakland Raiders and Jacksonville Jaguars. They were also the only two games in which he totaled at least 20 carries.

    Was it the transition into a new system or simply something else? The explosive performer appears to have plenty of football remaining in his career. Whether Bush's career will continue in Miami remains to be seen.

Peyton Hillis, RB, Kansas City Chiefs

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    It wasn’t long ago that running back Peyton Hillis was running over opponents.

    Now he’s become a bit of a mystery.

    In just five NFL seasons, Hillis has already suited up for three teams. After two seasons with the Denver Broncos, the former Arkansas standout was dealt to the Cleveland Browns as part of a trade that sent quarterback Brady Quinn to the Mile High City.

    His debut season with the Browns certainly opened some eyes. Hillis rushed for 1,177 yards and 11 touchdowns and caught 61 passes for 477 yards and two more scores. The only negative (and it was not a small one) was his tendency to put the ball on the turf, as he fumbled eight times, losing five of them.

    In 2011, various circumstances, including a hamstring injury, limited Hillis to 10 games. He ran for only 587 yards and totaled nearly as many fumbles (two) as touchdowns (three).

    With his days numbered in Cleveland, Hillis signed with the Kansas City Chiefs in 2012 and hoped to team with Jamaal Charles to give the team a potent one-two punch out of the backfield.

    But it was Charles who did all the swinging, running for 1,509 yards to Hillis’ 309 yards in 13 games and two fumbles.

    He is still young at age 27, and it will be interesting to see where he lands in 2013.

Steven Jackson, RB, St. Louis Rams

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    When you’re the all-time leading rusher for a franchise whose history includes Hall of Famers Eric Dickerson and Marshall Faulk, it’s hard not to notice.

    Admittedly, running back Steven Jackson has spent more seasons in a Rams uniform than both Dickerson and Faulk, but the fact remains that he is the team’s all-time leading ground gainer with 10,135 yards.

    In nine NFL seasons, Jackson has also totaled 2,395 rushing attempts, easily the most amongst active players in the league.

    When it comes to baggage, Jackson certainly has his carries, which raises the question of just how long the workhorse back, who has run for 1,000 or more yards in eight straight seasons, has left in terms of tread on the tires.

    It’s safe to say head coach Jeff Fisher and the organization have an interesting decision to make, especially with second-year pro Daryl Richardson waiting in the wings. Or Jackson can opt to go somewhere else on his own, and it’s likely he’ll get his share of offers.

Rashard Mendenhall, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    The Pittsburgh Steelers’ first choice in 2008 may not be their first choice in 2013.

    Like the team itself, running back Rashard Mendenhall is coming off a disappointing season, and it remains to be seen if he’s long for the Steel City.

    After seeing his rookie campaign shortened by a broken shoulder four games into the season, Mendenhall ran for 1,000-plus yards in 2009 and 2010. In 2010, he ran for 1,273 yards and 13 touchdowns. He certainly did his share as the Steelers wound up in Super Bowl XLV.

    Mendenhall rushed for 928 yards and nine scores in the first 15 games of 2011. But in the season finale at Cleveland, he sustained a knee injury that shelved him for the playoffs and turned his football future a little cloudy.

    In 2012, Mendenhall played in just six games and ran for only 182 yards, and his lone touchdown of the season came on a reception. He also fumbled three times in limited action.

    Will Mendenhall return to the Steelers? There figure to be a lot of changes off an 8-8 season, and he may or may not be one of them.

Bryant McKinnie, T, Baltimore Ravens

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    It’s not going out on a limb to say tackle Bryant McKinnie’s 11-year NFL career has been intriguing.

    A first-round pick by the Minnesota Vikings in 2002, the former Miami Hurricane was a holdout until November, signed with the team and started seven games.

    From 2003 to 2007, McKinnie started all 80 games for the Purple Gang. That streak ended in 2008, when he was suspended for the season’s first four contests for violation of the team’s personal conduct policy. 

    But he returned to the lineup and started the next 44 games for the club, earning Pro Bowl honors in 2009. However, he never played in that game and was suspended for the all-star contest, reportedly for missing practice on several occasions.

    In 2011, McKinnie was a 16-game starter for John Harbaugh’s Baltimore Ravens. This past season, he played in every regular-season contest but never started. That all changed when the team reshuffled its offensive line for the postseason, and McKinnie opened all four postseason games at left tackle.

    Will he be back with the defending Super Bowl champions? Only time and a great many other things can tell.

Andre Smith, T, Cincinnati Bengals

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    You feel like we hardly knew ya?

    It’s almost hard to believe that Cincinnati Bengals tackle Andre Smith has already spent four seasons in the NFL.

    That’s likely because until 2012, the one-time University of Alabama star hadn’t played all 16 games in a season. That finally changed this past campaign for the sixth overall pick in the 2009 NFL draft.

    After a summer-time holdout during his rookie year, Smith played in only six games with one start.

    A year later, the 6’4”, 335-pound performer played in only seven contests (four starts) before a broken foot shelved him for the remainder of the season. In 2011, Smith started 14 games for the playoff-bound Bengals.

    Now the massive blocker is eligible for free agency. Given his dimensions and massive potential, he will get his share of look-sees. The Bengals are a young and talented team that has drafted extremely well in recent years, which accounts for three playoff appearances in the last four seasons.

    Will Smith ever live up to his talent? Only one person can answer that question.

Glenn Dorsey, DT/DE, Kansas City Chiefs

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    This may be less about baggage and more about packing his bags for a better opportunity.

    It’s safe to say much more was expected from defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey when the Kansas City Chiefs made him the fifth overall pick in 2008.

    But the talented defender who had his share of eye-opening moments at LSU never became that kind of player with the Chiefs.

    Perhaps the move from defensive tackle to end in the team’s 3-4 alignment was a bad fit. Dorsey has totaled just four sacks in five NFL seasons. While ends in the 3-4 don’t usually spend a lot of time getting to the quarterback, that’s a low total for any performer.

    This past season, calf injuries limited him to seven tackles in four games before he was placed on injured reserve in November. Off a miserable 2-14 season in 2012, Kansas City has a new regime in place with head coach Andy Reid.

    A change of scenery may be all that Dorsey needs to become a star in the league. That and a defensive system that may be better suited for his talents.

Sedrick Ellis, DT, New Orleans Saints

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    You would think it’s not exactly the ideal time for defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis to be on the open market.

    When his team finished dead last in the league against the run and allowed the most total yards in a season in NFL history, he doesn’t have much bargaining power.

    Now the Saints are making the switch to a 3-4 defense under new coordinator Rob Ryan, and it’s unclear if the former USC Trojan fits into their plans. Ellis doesn’t appear to be suited for nose tackle and could move on, looking to be a starter for a team that employs the 4-3.

    Wherever he may wind up, it’s safe to say that more production will be expected from a player who has shown he can be disruptive. Ellis has played in and started 47 of 48 contests the last three years, so availability doesn’t seem to be the issue.

    But after totaling six sacks in his third NFL season in 2010, he’s logged just 0.5 sacks in his last 31 contests, including zero sacks in 2012.

    Could Ellis emerge as a Pro Bowl performer elsewhere? Stay tuned.

Aqib Talib, CB, New England Patriots

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    All one had to do was watch the AFC Championship Game vs. the Baltimore Ravens to know how significant cornerback Aqib Talib’s presence was to the New England Patriots.

    Or should we say lack of presence.

    The talented defender was injured in the first half of the playoff matchup, and his absence enabled veteran wideout Anquan Boldin to take advantage of an already suspect New England secondary. Boldin caught two fourth-quarter touchdown passes in his team’s 28-13 win.

    But back to Talib, who was acquired midseason in a trade from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

    He was obviously available due to numerous issues during his days in Tampa. Talib played in six regular-season games with the Pats in 2012 and had one interception, which he returned for a touchdown.

    The New England defense is certainly in need of playmakers. But is Talib’s long-term future in Foxborough?

Mike Jenkins, CB, Dallas Cowboys

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    There’s no denying the talent of Dallas Cowboys cornerback Mike Jenkins. But is the body still willing and able?

    A first-round pick in 2008 from South Florida, the speedy defender took just two seasons to earn a Pro Bowl invitation.

    In 2011, shoulder and hamstring injuries limited Jenkins to just 12 games. But in that limited action, he still tied for the team lead in passes defensed (which should tell you something about the Cowboys secondary that season).

    However, the addition of free agent Brandon Carr and the first-round selection of Morris Claiborne prior to the start of the 2012 season put Jenkins’ future with the team in doubt. The play of the former Chief and the rookie from LSU added to that speculation.

    Also adding to Jenkins’ issues was his availability. He played in just 13 games in 2012, making a pair of starts and totaling only 14 tackles while knocking down three passes.

    In this league, a team needs all the good corners it can get. If healthy, Jenkins could be one of them. But that’s been iffy as of late.