10 NFL Veterans on Their Last Legs
No matter how great he is or was, every NFL player reaches that point. The point at which he is no longer the player he once was. Every year, former superstars find themselves past their prime and on their last legs.
Looking at many veterans' 2012 seasons, it is easy to identify candidates for this. Age is an obvious factor, but many older players are still playing at high levels. In addition to age, quality of play is the most important trait here.
This happens to varying degrees. Some of the players on this list are borderline unemployable. Others still have jobs and are capable of starting.
Who are some of the NFL's veterans whose careers are fading fast? Some of these names are obvious—others might surprise.
Jarrett Johnson, Dwight Freeney, Quentin Jammer
Jammer is still a free agent, and Freeney only recently signed with the San Diego Chargers, where he will play along with Johnson.
Jammer, now 33 years old, struggled in 2012 and may not play again in the NFL. He's lost a step, and at cornerback, that is detrimental.
Johnson was never a great player. He was always an average-at-best pass-rusher with great run defense. His pass rush has declined even further, though, as he recorded just 1.5 sacks in 2012. He simply isn't strong enough against the run to compensate for that type of lackluster pass rush.
Freeney is quite clearly the best of these players. Even he isn't the player he used to be. In 2012, he recorded just five sacks—a clear step down for the once-elite pass-rusher.
Charles Woodson, S, Free Agent
The decline for Woodson began a couple years ago. He spent much of 2012 playing at safety instead of cornerback, and his speed and burst clearly aren't what they used to be.
This isn't surprising. Woodson is 37 years old. He's had a long, illustrious and possibly Hall of Fame career. He could still find a job—the Broncos and Raiders are supposedly interested, according to Adam Schefter of ESPN—but he won't be the player he was even two years ago.
At this point, Woodson is a borderline starter at safety. He can still provide some value, but he will soon be past even that point.
James Harrison, OLB, Cincinnati Bengals
Over the course of the past two seasons, James Harrison has struggled some with injuries, and his production has gone down. In 2012, Harrison racked up just six sacks, a steep drop from previous numbers.
Now playing in Cincinnati's 4-3 defense, Harrison's role is changing. He will still blitz fairly often, but he will have more responsibility in coverage, and he won't have as many chances to pick up sacks.
If anyone can still get anything out of the 35-year-old, it is Mike Zimmer. Don't expect a sudden rejuvenation, however. Harrison is just a shell of his former self.
Ed Reed, S, Houston Texans
It's hard to believe, but Ed Reed is no longer a Baltimore Raven. He is now a member of the Houston Texans. Reed is still recovering from hip surgery, and the 34-year-old won't find recovery as easy as he would have a few years ago.
Never a great run-defender, Reed has always depended on his athleticism and ability in coverage. That athleticism has begun to fade with age, and Reed's play isn't as dominant as it once was.
The long-time Raven was still talented enough to get a three-year contract from the Texans, but he isn't a star defensive back anymore. He may be a decent starter, but he is nothing more than that.
Bart Scott, LB, Free Agent
Once an excellent inside linebacker, Bart Scott's big mouth and declining play have left him unemployed. It is still possible he could find a job, of course, but the 32-year-old just might be done.
And he probably should be. Scott has lost enough of his athleticism that he is no longer effective in coverage, and he can't defend the run sideline to sideline, either.
If the NFL saw Scott as a high-character player and a leader, he might have be on a roster right now. But with the type of lackluster play Scott now provides, no team wants to sign a player with a history of speaking too loudly and too often.
Kevin Williams, DT, Minnesota Vikings
The Williams Wall is now stuck far in the past, with Pat out of the NFL completely and Kevin quickly fading. At 32 years old, Williams is obviously aging, and his play has declined.
Once a terrific penetrating defensive tackle, Williams has failed to make much of an impact in recent seasons. The defensive tackle who had 22 sacks between 2003 and 2004 no longer exists.
It wouldn't be a surprise if this is Williams' last season with the Vikings. He is a free agent in 2014, and the team probably won't see much reason to bring him back for another year.
Willis McGahee, RB, Denver Broncos
Willis McGahee was never among the NFL's top running backs, but he did run for 1,199 yards just two years ago. In 2012, McGahee took an obvious step down, rushing for just 731 yards.
Now, the Broncos have Montee Ball in the fold, and he seems likely to take away even more of McGahee's carries. Even without Ball, McGahee was going to continue fading. He's 31 years old now, well past the prime for a running back.
Running backs typically decline early, and McGahee has had a long, successful career. It looks like it could soon be over.
Richard Seymour, DT, Free Agent
Oakland's defensive line is horrible, yet the team hasn't re-signed Richard Seymour. That says something about where the former Patriot is as a player.
The 32-year-old was one of the most dominant defensive linemen in the league for much of the 2000s, but he played in only eight games during 2012 and didn't impress when on the field.
Seymour isn't so old that he couldn't possibly contribute. However, injuries have often been a factor for him, and he now lacks the athleticism that made him so dominant in his earlier years.
Troy Polamalu, S, Pittsburgh Steelers
No one should be surprised that Troy Polamalu seems to be declining at a younger age than many safeties do. Injuries have ruined several of his seasons, and they obviously remain a factor.
Polamalu was at times the NFL's most dominant defensive player. He would line up all over the field, blitzing, dropping back in coverage and, in general, making plays all over the field.
That all seems to be in the past. Still a strong run-defender, Polamalu isn't as fast as he used to be, and his never-great coverage skills have worsened.
After playing in just seven games during 2012, Polamalu's recent history doesn't inspire much confidence moving forward.
Justin Tuck, DE, New York Giants
It seems like it was so recent that the Giants were beating the Patriots in the Super Bowl, in part thanks to their dominant pass rush. Now, Osi Umenyiora is gone, and Justin Tuck is on the downswing of his career.
Though still just 30 years old, Tuck has clearly declined. He has just nine sacks in the past two seasons, and he isn't even effective against the run any more.
It's difficult to say just what has gone wrong with Tuck, though injuries have probably been a factor. It is clear, however, that he is no longer a great defensive end.
There is a reason the Giants were linked to many defensive ends prior to the 2013 NFL draft, and that reason is not Jason Pierre-Paul's play.
Brian Urlacher, LB, Free Agent
Throughout his career, Brian Urlacher has been named to eight Pro Bowls and five All-Pro teams. Clearly, he has been an incredible player.
Over the past decade, only Ray Lewis has had a comparable impact at middle linebacker. Lewis is retired now, and Urlacher could soon be joining him. The 34-year-old doesn't have a team, and several have denied interest.
Injuries have hindered Urlacher over the course of the past few years, and, as you would expect, he's slowed down some. He could probably still start for a few teams, but the once-terrifying linebacker is now a below-average player.