There could easily be 25 names on this list with a brief blurb dedicated to each of them. That said, there are a handful of players who carry a chip on their shoulders so big that they have to be given their due.
These men have made the list because they endured some of the most difficult and frustrating situations in the league heading into the 2013 season. Most are old faces in new places, while others are either making a return to their origins or simply fighting for a third chance at redemption.
One requirement to qualify is they have to be currently on a roster—no free agents allowed. After that, the bigger a chip on a player's shoulder, the more likely he is to make the list. Any ties or close calls naturally went to the higher-profile player.
Each of these vengeful competitors has much to prove this season, complete with intriguing storylines and challenging odds. Though playing with a chip can give each player a significant advantage, there isn't room for everyone here to have a happy ending.
Alex Smith was a fumbled punt return shy of playing in a Super Bowl, but lost his starting job midway through the next season due in large part to an untimely concussion. With Colin Kaepernick entrenched under center in a matter of weeks, it was an easy decision for the San Francisco 49ers to part ways with Smith, shipping him off to the Kansas City Chiefs.
Alex Smith’s career in San Francisco was riddled with disappointment, doubt and disaster since being drafted No. 1 overall in 2005 draft. For nearly seven years, Niner fans waited years for an heir apparent to Steve Young and Joe Montana to emerge and bring the once-storied franchise back to prominence.
Six years into a paltry career, Smith was finally able to show signs of life, leading San Francisco to the NFC Conference Championship game against the New York Giants in 2012.
His playoff success has carried over to the 2012 regular season, as he finished with the third-highest passer rating of all quarterbacks who attempted at least 200 passes, finishing behind only Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning.
Smith now enters the 2013 season with a new team and a quiet fire as he sets out to prove that his delayed success was the product of talent and experience—just the beginning of something truly special.
If he thrives in an environment void of Jim Harbaugh’s influence while transforming the Chiefs into a Super Bowl contender, he may finally unload the interminable chip on his shoulder once and for all. However, in the NFL, dreams and reality can easily part ways once the helmets come on.
It may be hard to comprehend how a man who signs a contract for $96 million over six years could have anything to be angry about. But that way of thinking is not how an ultimate competitor achieves greatness.
Darrelle Revis is fueled by competition, and his discordant departure from the city and team he once loved has clearly rubbed him the wrong way. For whatever reason, the New York Jets made a proactive decision to proceed without the four-time Pro Bowler, perhaps looking to avoid the distractions of a major contract negotiation.
Since tearing his ACL early last season, Revis’ undisputed reign as the best cornerback in the league has been challenged by his peers. There is no doubt that this prideful professional is intent on restoring his dominance and has special interest in the home opener against his former team in September.
If you think he was motivated to get healthy by the start of the season before the trade, just think of where he is at now with even more added incentive to return to form.
Will "Revis Island" reopen for business in 2013?
Welker’s agency, Athletes First, accused the Patriots of offering a “take it or leave it” deal that left no room for negotiations. This was in response to owner Robert Craft’s claim that Welker’s agent “way over-valued” the wideout.
However you slice it, those words have to hit like a punch in the gut for a guy who has caught over 100 passes in five different seasons for the Patriots.
In the end, he signed with the conference-rival Denver Broncos for a mere $1 million more than what New England offered.
The perception on Welker seems to be that he is an above-average football player who has benefited tremendously from both Bill Belichick's system and a future Hall of Fame quarterback in Tom Brady. Had the lack of respect not been so overt, Welker might have stayed with his former team, considering the financial divide was pretty insignificant.
As an undersized, undrafted free agent who everybody overlooked, disrespect isn’t anything new for Welker. But for a 10-year vet at the ripe age of 32, pumping out fuel to keep the fire burning can be a challenge. Having a motivator smack you in the face can be a welcomed addition.
Regardless of what he says publicly, Welker wants to make his doubters sorry.
Now, Welker will team with Peyton Manning in an effort to get the Broncos over the hump and back to the Super Bowl. Choosing Denver may shake any stigma in regards to the receiver's dependence on a system, but there clearly is little, if any, drop off at quarterback.
At this point, Michael Vick shouldn’t be surprised to hear that he has no shortage of doubters in his ability to play quarterback at a Super Bowl level. His response to those who question his ability to read defenses was interesting if not telling (via Sporting News):
I'm really tempted right now to just say "no comment" to that because, like I said a second ago, you don't last 12 years in the NFL not being able to read the defense, those people who are talking and saying that are just ignorant, and they know nothing about football. Unless they turn on the film and watch my game and see what goes on, then they'll replace those comments with the right comments.
In all fairness, Vick has never thrown more interceptions than touchdowns in a season and has exceeded his career average in completion percentage in each of his last three years as Philly’s starting quarterback.
Considering “accuracy and decision-making” are the top qualities Eagles’ quarterbacks coach Bill Lazor is looking for, Vick had better hope that his self-assessment is correct.
Whether he can or can’t read defenses is another matter altogether. What's important here is that No. 7 appears to be livid about his unflattering reputation.
To make matters worse, the team drafted USC's Matt Barkley with the 98th overall selection in the 2013 draft. Barkley has received high praise from Lazor, who had this to say on the rookie signal-caller (via PhillyMag.com):
From the moment he’s walked on the field here he has been accurate, and that’s the No. 1 thing. Accuracy and decision making. He’s been decisive and accurate, I feel like the way we evaluated him so far—without having played a game—has proven to be true.
It’s no stretch of the imagination to think this could be a “make-or-break” year for Vick, who will be in a dogfight this offseason to secure the starting quarterback position.
Should the going get tough, he can always prove his worth by racing the young quarterbacks stealing his thunder. If only he understood the value of those guys is established more by their arms and minds rather than their 40-yard dash times.
Charles Woodson can either mail it in playing what could be his last year of football for a non-contender, or he can make the most of this reunion with the Oakland Raiders organization and go out of this league with the same type of fire he came in it with.
This offseason has shown Woodson the harsh reality of a 36-year-old’s value in the NFL, regardless of resume. It wasn’t but two seasons ago that Woodson had seven interceptions and was playing at as high of a level as ever. Once the Packers let their defensive leader test the free-agent market, though, he quickly realized that a big-money contract was out of the question.
As the offseason rolled on, this future Hall of Famer was hit with a painful lesson: Just finding a team was more challenging than he ever anticipated. On NFL Network’s Total Access, he talked about lowering his expectations from playing with a contender to simply wanting another opportunity to play football anywhere.
When you accumulate 55 interceptions and 29 forced fumbles in a career, there’s no way you don’t feel hurt by the lack of interest due to advanced age.
As a former teammate of Woodson when he was in Oakland, I have some unique insight into the type of guy he is and the competitive spirit which kept him playing at such a high level for the past 15 years. This is a guy who will give up his body for a losing team and bloody his nose in a losing season if only to inspire his teammates to dig deeper.
I can only imagine what type of competitor will emerge when he sets out to show the NFL he’s no ordinary player in his mid-30s. If Woodson can stay healthy, expect an all-out effort week in and week out.
In moments where this man is angry or frustrated, his intellect and uncanny intangibles allow him to use those emotions as a positive force—tapping into his own abilities while simultaneously inspiring his gridiron brethren.
He may not have the speed he once did and be slower to heal from the weekly grind, but Charles Woodson with a chip on his shoulder is one dangerous man on a football field—fully equipped with the leadership and playmaking abilities to take the Raiders on a impassioned journey.
These underdogs may have just found their warrior spirit.
Ryan Riddle is a former NFL player with the Oakland Raiders and New York Jets who now contributes to Bleacher Report as an NFL Featured Columnist.