I didn't have enough characters in the title for charm, but the nostalgia these names conjure more-than-compensate.
They're all grouped together for space's sake—if you see a 10 zillion-slide column, you probably won't read any—but really should be compartmentalized into subcategories.
In one grouping, you'd have Darren Sharper and Brian Dawkins, specialists with both accomplishments and (potentially) a market beyond 2011. The other sub-strata include Bob Sanders and Mike Brown, one who gleaned his potential, but neither of whom realized it because of injury.
Save for maybe the Woodsons, Rod and Charles, who bookend Sharper's second-most interceptions returned for touchdowns in NFL history, Sharper might go down as the craftiest with the football. He never had Antonio Cromartie's gait or Deion Sanders' quicks, but Sharper just looked like he knew what he was doing with the football. Set up blocks. Tough to bring down. The kind of carrying the football chops that made you Google whether he played running back at William and Mary.
(He played quarterback for an otherworldly high school program, the kind that teaches coverages and installs plays progressions, which makes sense. Figure he reverse engineered offenses and channeled QBs' mindsets.)
I get that his last healthy year, 2009, added nine interceptions to his five Pro Bowl resume, scattered between Green Bay, Minnesota and New Orleans.
But at 35 years old, you seriously question his ability to perform. Microfracture surgery doesn't treat anybody well, let alone guys with 14 years of service to their names.
Kind of surprising that Sharper's body betrayed him, but Brian Dawkins somehow held up.
More than quarterbacking the late Jim Johnson's frenetic, blitz-happy Eagles defense; more than his iconic stature in Philadelphia over a quarterback (Donovan McNabb) and running back (Brian Westbrook, who was loved, but not hallowed like Dawkins); more than anything else, you remember Brian Dawkins for his hitting.
Dawkins was the prototypical strong safety—who played free safety. Dude could hit. Like, momma said (Brian Dawkins) knocked you out.
(I legitimately think the 1990 song was written proactively in homage of Dawkins, who didn't enter the league until 1996.)
Nonetheless, in a classic botched Bill Belichick mimic job, an Eagles favorite, the organization cut ties with Dawkins before his decline, rather than getting suckered into drafting a contract handily rewarding him for his last four years of service instead of his next four. They released him in 2009, a few months before Denver scooped him up.
Other interesting fact about that defensive backfield: At one time, Denver may have sported the oldest, crustiest, most over-the-hill secondary in NFL history. The 2009 Broncos had Dawkins (then 36), 31-year-olds Champ Bailey, Renaldo Hill and Andre' Goodman, and—as if they couldn't get closer to collective career hospice care—signed a 34-year-old Ty Law to a one-year deal mid-season.
To put it in context: Imagine if the 2000 Redskins trotted out three, 33-year-old Deion Sanders and brought Darrell Green out of retirement at the ripe age of 40 to compliment Sanders on Washington's defensive left.
Dawkins will go down as one of the grittiest players of all time, if nothing else for his reliability and consistency. And that's what we're saying about a guy who, for various reasons, missed 31 games in 13 seasons, which belied how often he should have been shelved, given how viciously he hit.
As for when he played: He didn't miss tackles. (Asante Samuel) He didn't blow coverages. (Roy Williams)
He wasn't Ed Reed, but who is?
But, even due $6 million a year until 2013, based on a ludicrous five-year, $17 million deal he signed in 2009, you can't imagine him playing that out. Reports that he's willing to restructure tell you all you need to know: A.) the Broncos know his skills are deteriorated, and B.) Dawkins knows his skills are deteriorated.
Still, there are fewer reasons to dislike Dawkins than there are inches of neck holding up his head. (It's like he's got little emergency brake stoppers instead of traps.)
Kind of how you felt about Bob Sanders.
Not heartbroken, how you felt for each of his six injury-ravaged seasons. He missed 10 games in his rookie year in 2004 (stress fracture in his foot). He was nixed another 12 times in 2006 for a knee injury.
Since signing a favorably leveraged five-year, $37 million ($20 million guaranteed) deal in 2007, Sanders has missed 24 of 33 games for a knee and biceps tear that dragged through his last two seasons.
That doesn't bode well for anyone, let alone a one-year waiver on San Diego's balance sheet for the veteran minimum and escalators.
Sounds crazy to put him on this list, given that he debuted as recently as 2004, was instrumental in the Colts' Super Bowl win in 2006, won the AP Defensive Player of the Year Award in 2007 and is the subject of the quintessential training camp story every year, none of which you doubt that he'll be OK this time, that his bad luck is behind him.
But how can you expect him to hold up, when he's only ever started 15 games in a season, and is batting 2-for-7 in a game of "not suffering catastrophic injury"?
You want to. But you can't.
Neither can you for Mike Brown, an unredeeming sob story.
Brown debuted in 2000 with a career high 80 tackles. He was sort the Emmitt Smith of the Bears defensive secondary. Never the beefiest or speediest. But he was a stickler for detail, capable leader (though, with Brian Urlacher, he never really had to be), more opportunistic than the numbers suggest (he only had 11 interceptions his first four years), deceiving given his presence) and an all-around respectable pro.