Larry Johnson and the 10 Most Surprising Free Agent Signings

Dan Van Wie@@DanVanWieContributor IIISeptember 2, 2011

Larry Johnson and the 10 Most Surprising Free Agent Signings

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    When the 2011 NFL labor lockout ended, nobody knew for sure how everything was going to work out. There were some players that would be inconceivably still looking for work as we approached the end of preseason, like Pisa Tinoisamoa, Lofa Tatupu, Darren Sharper, Julian Peterson, Michael Lewis, Brian Finneran, Brandon Stokley and Ken Hamlin.

    Then there are the players that are retired, semi-retired, or are still trying to rehab from injuries before they can be considered to sign. That group includes Randy Moss, Terrell Owens, Channing Crowder and Carson Palmer. We also had players that wanted to come out of retirement like Tiki Barber, but his plans fizzled out quickly enough.

    But then there are some free agent signings that were considered to be real surprises, whether it was due to a strange fit or a team with a surplus at a position, or because everybody thought that the player had hung up their helmets and cleats.

    Today we look at the top 10 NFL free agent signings that are considered to be among the most surprising deals of the 2011 free agency period. On to the list.

Larry Johnson

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    The last time that Larry Johnson suited up for a game in the NFL, he was a member of the Washington Redskins in 2010. Johnson saw very limited action, as he was only active for two games last year. In those two games, Johnson rushed the ball five times. Included in the five rush attempts, he established his season long of a seven-yard rush. The other four rushes resulted in a loss of five yards, giving him a net average of 0.4 yards per rush.

    Johnson had one final year with the Kansas City Chiefs in 2009, where he had 123 rushes but a paltry average of 2.9 yards per rush.

    So, being out of the game for the majority of the past year, the Miami Dolphins decided to see if there was any air left in these old tires. They signed him as a free agent on August 23rd. There has been very little coming out of Dolphins camp recently about Johnson, so one would expect that he is there to either serve as a mentor to Daniel Thomas or possibly be a short-yardage type of back.

    In Johnson's heyday, which was from 2005-2006, he was gaining over 1,700 yards per season. But after those two magical years, things started going downhill pretty fast. Dolphins head coach Tony Sporano said that "Johnson has had some productive seasons. We're asking him to be a piece of the football team."

    That is all well and good, but 2005-2006 is pretty far removed by now. It is really surprising that based on how poorly Johnson has performed lately that anybody would be interested in him anymore.

Kerry Collins

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    Another oldie but goldie, quarterback Kerry Collins surprised football fans when he decided to come out of retirement last week to play quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts. Obviously, Collins serves as an insurance policy for the Colts, who still don't know for sure when Peyton Manning will be ready to play.

    At 38 years old, Collins is not exactly a spring chicken any more. As you can see from the photo, Collins literally qualifies for the "grey beard" moniker. He has still been a productive player through his career, and hopefully there is not that much rust for him to work off as he attempts to prepare to play in Week 1 on September 11th.

    The intrigue for Collins was that just by being on the Colts roster for the season opener, he would qualify for a $4 million salary. That is incentive enough to come out of retirement, even if he winds up holding a clipboard for most of the year after Manning returns. He can also serve as a sounding board for Manning, since he has Peyton beat by three years. It sure beats coming out of retirement to be a greeter at WalMart.

Aaron Maybin

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    One of the more surprising free agent moves was the New York Jets claiming linebacker Aaron Maybin off waivers. Surely, if there was anything of value that Maybin had to offer in the way of providing a strong pass rush, the Buffalo Bills would not have released him, as their pass rush was ranked 27th in the NFL in 2010.

    There will always be a parallel between Aaron Maybin and the Jets' own Vernon Gholston. Both were first-round draft picks that turned out to be a bust for what they were supposed to deliver. The fact that both of them were playing for AFC East rivals just adds a little more intrigue to their history. Both were waived in the preseason, and both were picked up for a second chance. It looks like both are failing at that as well. Gholston was already released by the Chicago Bears on August 29th.

    Yet even though Maybin had never recorded a sack in two years in the league, there were the Jets pouncing on him when he became available. Jets fans won't have to wait long to find out what his future will be in New York. According to the Newark Star Ledger, Maybin has his work cut out for him. The report said that Maybin is behind undrafted free agent Jamaal Westerman and former CFL player Garrett McIntyre.

    Maybin will have to show something in the final preseason game to impress Rex Ryan into keeping him on the roster. If you watch Maybin on tape, whether he is playing on defense or special teams, you will notice how easily he is lifted up in the air off of his legs whenever he is blocked. That is due to Maybin coming in to training camp in Buffalo weighing only 228 pounds. For some reason, he came in lighter when he should have come in heavier. The end result is that he has no prayer for shedding blockers.

    The Jets must really be desperate to find pass rush help is all that I can conclude from this exercise.

Mark Clayton

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    Another surprising move was the recent signing of wide receiver Mark Clayton of the St. Louis Rams. Clayton was signed as a free agent on August 31st, and the same day, the Rams turned around and announced that they were placing Clayton on active/PUP due to his knee injury.

    According to a tweeter report from Howard Balzer, Clayton is physically unable to perform for now, no different than players at the start of camp. A decision must be made by Saturday on his status.

    The Rams have a small collection of injured receivers with knee issues. Another player that fits that description is Danario Alexander. Alexander has had numerous knee operations and is unlikely to remain healthy enough for the Rams to count on him.

    There is a long line of Rams receivers that want to catch passes from Sam Bradford, including rookies Austin Pettis and Greg Salas, and veterans Donnie Avery, Mike Sims-Walker, Danny Amendola, Brandon Gibson and Mardy Gilyard.

    When you add Clayton and Alexander to the group, you have to wonder exactly how many receivers the Rams plan to carry. But the signing of Clayton is still a surprise when you consider all of the other guys they have in the fold.

Ty Warren

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    Another signing that was rather surprising was the deal that brought defensive tackle Ty Warren to the Denver Broncos. Unfortunately for Warren, he tore his triceps, which required surgery. Now it appears that Warren will be out for 3-4 months while he attempts to get back into shape. 

    Not only was the fact that the Broncos surprised the league by signing him, but that they are still considering keeping him on the active roster to see if he can help them late in the season. Being out for three months or longer would usually be an automatic placement on the I.R. list, but for some reason, the Broncos don't want to go there yet.

    They already have their starting defensive tackles identified in Kevin Vickerson and Brodrick Bunkley, so what is with this fascination they have with Warren? As it was, Warren missed the entire 2010 season due to injury, and now has the triceps injury on top of it.

    The Broncos did have other options, as they could have gone after a player like Aubrayo Franklin, who was not as big of a health risk. There are still defensive tackle free agents out there like Pat Williams, but the Broncos need to make a decision on what they are going to do with Warren first.

Darren Sproles

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    The New Orleans Saints had some talented running backs in the fold with Pierre Thomas and Chris Ivory. The Saints still went ahead and nabbed Alabama's star running back Mark Ingram in the first round. That seemed to round out the backfield, but then the Saints went ahead and signed free agent Darren Sproles.

    Everyone is aware of how talented a passer quarterback Drew Brees is. Brees puts up strong numbers year after year. But how many carries will be there for the Saints running backs, and how many are needed to keep each player happy? Obviously, Sproles is a change of pace back and offers skills that the other three don't have, but there is still the question of how many touches will he realistically have in 2011?

    The way things appear right now, the Saints will not be able to satisfy the desires of all four backs, and somebody will undoubtedly become unhappy with their personal situation.

Brian Brohm

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    We now come to the recent transaction blurb that shows that quarterback Brian Brohm is now gainfully employed, to demonstrate that no matter how poorly you play in the NFL, you can always find a job if you want to play football badly enough.

    Brohm signed a contract with the Las Vegas Locomotives of the UFL.The main thought is that if Brohm can get steady reps and more game experience, he can somehow resurrect his career.

    For those of you that didn't catch his last NFL appearances while a member of the Buffalo Bills, Brohm made two starts for the Bills. His accumulative stats from those games are 27 of 52 passes completed for 252 yards, no touchdowns, five interceptions and a QB passer rating of 26. 

    To think that the Green Bay Packers drafted him with the No. 56 overall pick in the 2008 draft shows that even the Packers can get fooled on occasion.

Tarvaris Jackson

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    As the Seattle Seahawks entered the free agency period, they had many choices for going after a free agent quarterback or one that was available via trade. The choices ranged from Vince Young, Donovan McNabb, Kevin Kolb, Kerry Collins, Bruce Gradkowski, Tyler Thigpen or Tarvaris Jackson.

    The Seahawks went with Jackson, and even though his play during the preseason has been anything but stellar, head coach Pete Carroll refuses to open up the job to competitors, namely Charlie Whitehurst and Josh Portis.

    We failed to mention Matt Hasselbeck, but that would have made the most sense. He knew the offense and had chemistry with the returning players on offense. But the Seahawks' braintrust opted for Jackson instead.

    So far in three preseason games, Jackson has completed 27 of 48 passes for 181 yards. That means he is averaging just 3.77 yards per pass attempt. The conclusion is that Jackson is not a very good quarterback or that the offensive line is so bad that nobody will be able to do better.

    The fact that the Seahawks went after Jackson so hard was somewhat of a surprise. For his career, he has thrown 24 touchdowns to 22 interceptions, which is an unacceptable ratio. He doesn't even complete 60 percent of his passes, which is the NFL minimal standard. 

    With each shaky performance, one has to wonder what led offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell to be so high on Jackson to begin with. This could be a very long year in Seattle.

Alex Smith

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    Just like the Seattle Seahawks rushed in to sign Tarvaris Jackson, the San Francisco 49ers did basically the same thing, as they settled on bringing back Alex Smith just so he could prove once and for all that he doesn't fit as the 49ers' franchise quarterback.

    This decision does not allow head coach Jim Harbaugh to have the greatest debut to his NFL coaching career. In fact, this will be a decision that makes people wonder how astute he really is.

    After all, there were five years of tape for Harbaugh to dissect through the lockout. There was the statistical proof, with 51 career touchdowns compared to 53 interceptions, a completion percentage of 57 and a career passer rating of 72.1. Yet despite all the evidence to the contrary, Harbaugh decided to go with Smith.

    Smith has basically looked inept to this point in the preseason. He has completed 12 of 26 and one interception. For two games, he exited with passing yardage totals of 10 and 17 yards, respectively.

    Harbaugh continues to stand by Smith as his starter, but for how long? The best guess is that Smith will play poorly through the early part of the season, which allows Harbaugh time to get Colin Kaepernick ready to take over the reigns coming out of their bye week, which would be the Week 8 game versus the Cleveland Browns.

Derek Anderson

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    The quarterback battle with the Carolina Panthers is squarely between the incumbent starter Jimmy Clausen and the first-overall draft pick Cam Newton. The two young quarterbacks have been receiving the majority of playing time in games and at Panthers practice.

    So, with that being the case, it had to be viewed as a surprise that the Panthers would waste their time by signing veteran free agent quarterback Derek Anderson to a contract. After all it can't be because the Panthers thought he would raise the level of competition at training camp. After all, Anderson has a career ratio of 53 touchdowns to 55 interceptions and has completed only 52.6 percent of his passes. His career QB passer rating is only 68.8.

    So what was it about Anderson that led the Panthers to bring him in? Was it his mentoring skills? According to a report by the National Football Post, John Skelton agreed that being a mentor is not the strong suit of Anderson.

    We already know not to quiz Anderson in press conferences if he is seen laughing on the sidelines during a loss. There has to be some redeeming quality.

    Is it the way he holds a clipboard? The way he dons a Panthers baseball hat on the sidelines? If you know, share it with the rest of us.