NFL Free Agency: 10 Unsigned Stars with Injury Concerns
Two factors guaranteed to give NFL teams pause before signing any player: age and injuries.
Minor inconveniences like a criminal record or a history of not producing up to one's potential can be overlooked. But old and/or brittle bones are huge red flags. No matter how many Pro Bowls are on the resume, no matter how impressive the stats—if a player is considered over-the-hill or has missed significant time recently because he's been hurt, his chances of being picked up are slim.
(If the real world worked like the NFL, the work force would have no use for anybody over the age of 35, and secretaries would be taking cortisone shots in the bathroom to play through Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.)
With NFL teams re-assessing their rosters after the first two weeks of preseason games and looking to address some needs, here are 10 unsigned free agents who may stay unsigned due to health concerns:
Chad Pennington, QB
Issues: Shoulder, knee
Diagnosis: It might surprise you that Pennington has the 12th-highest QB passer rating in NFL history. His career 90.1 rates higher than Brett Favre, Dan Marino and Roger Staubach, to name a few. It might also surprise you that Pennington's 66.1 career completion percentage is No. 1 all-time.
Whether those numbers make Pennington a great QB or just the darling of some football stat geeks, they at least make a compelling argument for why any team needing an accurate, experienced passer should consider bringing Pennington into the fold.
However, Pennington not only has a notorious history of problems with his throwing shoulder, but he also tore an ACL in April. Facing defenses that can (and will) bring the heat on blitzes and key in on the short-passing game, would you trust a 35-year-old with a bum knee and a wrecked shoulder?
Clinton Portis, RB
Issues: Groin, abdomen, conditioning
Diagnosis: Although the Redskins shut down Portis in November so he could have surgery on a torn groin and a torn abdominal muscle, his biggest hurdle to getting signed is passing a simple eye test to determine if he has any burst left in his legs.
It was only three seasons ago that Portis rushed for 1,487 yards and made the Pro Bowl, but that was also the last time he was an elite runner. Around the time he hit the 2,000-carries mark for his career, his body began to break down and his explosiveness waned.
Portis has worked out for a couple of teams this summer, but he's been described as out of shape and still hasn't been signed.
Brian Westbrook, RB
Issues: Concussions, ankle
Diagnosis: Again, it's not so much one or two specific injuries with Westbrook. It's the wear-and-tear he's accumulated through nearly 1,500 carries and 450 catches, and whether it's rendered him unable to perform like an effective NFL running back.
Remember that Reebok commercial for Allen Iverson where they used his body to chart all of the injuries he plays through? Westbrook could star in the same ad, only his medical report would take up more of the screen. His most recent issues have been with concussions and an ankle injury he suffered late last season.
The team who takes a chance on Westbrook will get a great receiver out of the backfield and a change-of-pace RB who can still make things happen. But that team may not be able to count on him for 16 games.
Terrell Owens, WR
Diagnosis: Through all the off-field controversy and alleged character issues, the one thing that never stood in T.O.'s way was his body. He is, after all, the same man who broke his leg and sprained his ankle six weeks before playing in the Super Bowl.
As he begins knocking on 40 years old, T.O. is still arguably the best conditioned athlete in the league. But he had the worst timing when he tore his ACL this offseason. Even his speedy recovery will keep Owens sidelined for the first couple weeks of the regular season.
I don't doubt that T.O. will be a beast again whenever he gets back on the field, but concerns over his age and this latest injury—on top of the typical T.O. concerns—make it tough to guarantee he will get signed this season.
Alge Crumpler, TE
Diagnosis: Crumpler made four straight Pro Bowls from '03 to '06 as one of Michael Vick's favorite targets in Atlanta, but in the latter stages of his career he's been more valuable as a blocker than a pass-catching tight end.
He had surgery in January for a shoulder injury that he reportedly played through all last season for the Patriots. New England released Crumpler last month, and surely that shoulder is part of the reason he's yet to land on another team.
Max Starks, OT
Issues: Neck, conditioning
Diagnosis: Starks was a starter on Pittsburgh's last two Super Bowl-winning teams, but the Steelers released him last month when he reportedly showed up to training camp close to 400 pounds. The fact that he's also coming off neck surgery didn't help, either.
It's understandable if Starks couldn't work out much while letting his neck heal. But once he is healthy, he'll need to drop some weight. He can be a starter in the NFL again, but it's up to him.
Shaun O'Hara, C
Issues: Achilles, feet
Diagnosis: O'Hara had two surgeries this offseason—one to insert a screw into his foot, another to remove a bone chip from his Achilles tendon. Between his health, age and salary, the Giants felt the three-time Pro Bowler was expendable.
Before injuries forced him out of 10 games last season, though, O'Hara hadn't missed a start since 2006. He has a few more years left in the tank.
Antwan Odom, DE
Issues: Achilles, wrist, thigh
Diagnosis: Odom has had a terrible offseason. In March, his $1 million home in Ohio was destroyed by a fire. Then earlier this week, he got shot in the thigh at his other home in Alabama. Not to make light of a serious situation, but the gunshot wound adds another entry to the list of injuries that have kept Odom unemployed so far in free agency.
Odom has played in just 10 games over the last two seasons, thanks to a blown Achilles and a wrist injury. And back in '06, he was sidelined for 12 games with a knee injury. When he's healthy he's a havoc-wreaking pass rusher, but he hasn't been healthy often enough.
Lofa Tatupu, LB
Diagnosis: Tatupu didn't miss a start last season, but his production (88 tackles) was down from his three-time Pro Bowl standard. He then had arthroscopic surgery on both knees in late-January, and the Seahawks released their longtime defensive linchpin in July.
Tatupu is talented enough to start and be an impact player at middle linebacker for a lot of teams, but those same teams also know Seattle wouldn't have let him go if he wasn't slipping.
Kelvin Hayden, CB
Issues: Neck, shoulder, knee
Diagnosis: Hayden's star was shining bright after his crucial interception return TD in the Super Bowl helped lift the Colts over the Bears—and he parlayed that big play into a big contract to match—but injuries have now turned him into just another DB looking for a job.
Hayden missed 18 games over the past three seasons. Last year he was nagged by neck, shoulder and knee injuries but still managed 61 tackles and two interceptions that he returned for scores. He'll find a new team soon enough, but his lack of durability puts him on the clearance rack.
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