When the NFL and the NFLPA agreed to a new labor deal and free agency started in earnest in the final week of July, most NFL veterans assumed they would not have any trouble finding an offer for their services around the league.
While the vast majority of players that were deemed to still have plenty of football left were able to land a job, some players surprisingly fell through the cracks. Maybe their agents were asking for too much money and they priced themselves out of the market. Other teams were able to address areas of need in the draft, and by the time the musical chairs stopped, certain players were left holding an empty bag.
Today we will look at those unlucky players that failed to land a job and who might still have a shot at landing somewhere during the final 12 weeks of the 2011 NFL season. Some players needed to overcome an injury that required surgery, while others needed to get back in shape. Some of these free agents will continue to get a tryout as openings occur, but that doesn't mean anybody will sign them.
Is it possible that Terrell Owens could join the Buffalo Bills again? At this juncture, I wouldn't bet against it. Owens had a reasonable degree of chemistry and success in Buffalo when Ryan Fitzpatrick replaced the injured Trent Edwards as the starting quarterback for the Bills in the 2009 season.
While Owens continues to rehab from his knee surgery, two important things keep happening with the Bills: They keep winning games, and they keep losing wide receivers left and right.
Since the preseason began, the Bills have now lost the following wide receivers for the season: Marcus Easley, Roscoe Parrish and Felton Huggins. They traded away veteran Lee Evans to the Baltimore Ravens. Then the Bills lost Donald Jones last Sunday to a high ankle sprain, and he will be gone for the next four to six weeks.
Bills fans enjoyed having Owens on the team. Owens wants to play for a winning team, and the Bills already have established that they are playing an exciting brand of football and are learning how to win under Chan Gailey.
While the question of Owens playing again in Buffalo might have seemed crazy at the start of the season, it appears that he could become a realistic option if he can prove that his knee is healthy and the speed is still there. Oh, and he will need someone to monitor his pills.
Prediction: Owens may not be ready for another month, but when he does, he will use his key to the city of Buffalo to play for the Bills for the rest of the year and give their receiving corps a shot in the arm.
At only 28 years old, you would think that linebacker Lofa Tatupu would be gainfully employed in the NFL by now. But Tatupu had surgery on both of his knees earlier this year, and there is some question about how healthy he truly is.
The phone stopped ringing in August, so word on the street must be that he isn't ready yet physically. Either that or he needs a new agent.
If another two or three weeks come and go and he does not surface, expect him to use the rest of the year to prepare for the 2012 season, when he has a very good chance to become healthy again.
Prediction: He will not be signed in 2011 but will be signed in 2012.
David Garrard was surprisingly released by the Jacksonville Jaguars before the season even began. Now a free agent, Garrard's name has popped up several times, but for whatever reason, it just hasn't worked out for him to land with a new team.
While it will probably wind up that he inks a deal with a new team for the 2012 season, what about the rest of this year? I see this as an "either/or scenario." Either some team in the playoff hunt loses its starting quarterback and isn't very confident in its backup quarterback, or Garrard will get the itch to play and will agree to play out the string with a team that wants to make a change at quarterback.
What is a team where he could play out the string? Well, the Minnesota Vikings for one. If Donovan McNabb does not show much improvement, I could see Garrard coming in since the Vikings don't yet feel ready to turn the offense over to Christian Ponder.
Prediction: Barring an injury to a team vying for the playoffs, Garrard will play for the Minnesota Vikings or will go the rest of the year as a free agent.
Trent Edwards' stock has dropped quite dramatically in the past year. He began the 2010 season as the starting quarterback for the Buffalo Bills. After two weeks, new head coach Chan Gailey released him, and the Jacksonville Jaguars picked him up off a waiver claim. Edwards started some games in Jacksonville, but they saw enough and let him walk as a free agent.
The Oakland Raiders brought him to try to make the team as a free agent in 2011, but even playing back in the Bay Area wasn't sufficient to raise the bar. He was waived to make room for Terrelle Pryor.
The final straw was the recent injury to Miami Dolphins quarterback Chad Henne. Edwards was brought in to compete for the vacant job but for whatever reason turned down the Dolphins' contract offer. That was the last chance that Edwards had to play in 2011. The phone won't be ringing again this year.
Prediction: Edwards lost his last chance to play this year when he turned down the Miami Dolphins' offer. He is done for 2011.
Brandon Stokley is another wide receiver free agent that could still surface during the 2011 season if another team is banged up due to injuries and is in need of a solid possession-type receiver.
Stokley won't wow you with his speed, but he has good hands and can use his quickness to get open and experience to find the holes in a secondary.
For teams that are experiencing many injuries at wide receiver, like the San Francisco 49ers and the Buffalo Bills, Stokley might be the kind of player that can add some stability to the position.
Prediction: Stokley will get a tryout with the San Francisco 49ers due to all of their injuries, but they will pass on him.
While Darren Sharper was playing safety for the New Orleans Saints, he was tied for the NFL lead in interceptions for the season with nine picks. The Saints were in the top three of all defenses for interceptions that year, and Sharper was their leader.
Now, a year and a half later, he is looking for work.
Sure, he isn't a spring chicken any longer, as Sharper has already logged 13 years in the NFL. But if you look around the league at the terrible play going around in some of the various secondaries or teams that have a number of safeties banged up due to injuries, you would think Sharper could be brought in to see what he can still do.
Sharper may be on his last wheels, but I could see a coach that likes veterans, like Bill Belichick, giving him a shot. After all, the Patriots secondary has been brutal so far, so why not try him?
Prediction: Sharper will play for the New England Patriots.
Kawika Mitchell has been out of football for the majority of the 2010 season and now for all of 2011. Sure, he has racked up his share of injuries over the years, but the time off during the last two years has allowed him to get healthy.
Mitchell has a history of playing for the New York Giants, specifically in playing for New York Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell when both of them were with the Buffalo Bills.
The Giants defense has been hit with a number of injuries already this year, and if one more injury hits their linebackers, I expect them to bring Mitchell in for a deal.
Prediction: Kawika Mitchell will play for the New York Giants this year.
If you have been watching the Philadelphia Eagles this year, you realize that they are a little soft in the interior of their run defense. That was proven again this past Sunday, as Fred Jackson ran around and through them for over 100 yards.
Enter Pat Williams. He doesn't have much left on his career, but if he could finish out the year and lend his massive bulk to helping some teams control the line of scrimmage, then he might be a fit for some of the defensive line issues with the Philadelphia Eagles.
Then again, he would have to play defense for an old offensive line coach, and I am not sure how well Williams would get along with his new boss. I am not convinced he would be a fit in the wide splits employed by the Eagles defensive line. If they change their defense, then maybe he makes more sense.
Prediction: Pat Williams might still get one more tryout, but I predict he doesn't play this year.
Ellis Hobbs is still hoping to continue his playing career in the NFL. The only problem is that his neck injury is still causing most NFL teams to think "red flag" when they hear his name.
Hobbs should let some more time pass so that his neck can get stronger and improve his chances at a team physical.
There are plenty of teams that we see that have corners routinely beaten every week, so if the word is that Hobbs is healthy and able to play, you can imagine that a few teams would be interested in bringing him in for a look-see.
Prediction: It is just too soon for Hobbs. If some team is desperate for help in December, and he is working out and getting back in shape, maybe he could come in for the final month to help somebody. Otherwise, I think he is waiting it out for 2012.
In the 2010 season, Brian Westbrook led the San Francisco 49ers with four rushing touchdowns. He carried the ball 77 times and picked up 340 yards. While those totals aren't overwhelming, the average gain of 4.4 yards per carry is sufficient to tell you that he can still play and be productive.
As long as Westbrook remains unemployed, the Cincinnati Bengals should have him on speed dial. Whenever starting running back Cedric Benson has to begin serving his suspension (assuming that the suspension will be upheld), the Bengals will have to find someone that is capable of handling the workload.
Westbrook only has eight years in the league and would be a fresher back than a Larry Johnson, for example. We will see if Westbrook still can carry the rock.
Prediction: Brian Westbrook will sign with the Cincinnati Bengals when Cedric Benson serves his suspension.
T.J. Houshmandzadeh may not come close to producing any more than he used to in his prime, but if he can help out a team that is losing wide receivers quickly, he probably can come in and help a team out.
The San Francisco 49ers just lost Josh Morgan, so they are in need of bringing somebody in quick. It looks like the open position could go to either Houshmandzadeh or Chris Chambers. Either veteran probably won't light it up but should be able to put up some catches if given enough targets.
Houshmandzadeh may be looking at his final chance, as he is already 34, and his production in the last few years suggests that the end is coming quickly.
Prediction: Houshmandzadeh will sign a new deal with the 49ers this week.
The Detroit Lions are one of the feel-good stories of the 2011 NFL season. Their defense has really improved over the 2010 unit, and that is one of the reasons they are undefeated so far this year.
If any injuries hit their linebacker unit, head coach Jim Schwartz might already have somebody in mind that he can turn to if the team needs to sign a free agent. The player in question is Keith Bulluck, and he is still out there waiting for the phone to ring.
Bulluck has experience working with Schwartz, so there is already a degree of comfort level between the two of them. The fact that the Lions are on a nine-game winning streak makes them an attractive team to play for.
Prediction: Keith Bulluck will play for the Detroit Lions this season.