NFL Training Camp 2014: Best Available Free Agents Waiting on Camp Injuries
We are finally on the verge of the NFL preseason. The Pro Football Hall of Fame Game, this year featuring the Buffalo Bills and New York Giants, is a day less than three weeks away.
This means the opening of training camps is even sooner.
Obviously, it is impossible to predict injuries in any league or, in fact, any walk of life. But it is easy to expect that every team will have to deal with its share.
So here are 10 players we focused on who remain unsigned free agents who could be ready to go with a simple phone call, e-mail or text…whatever works.
Why these choices? Some of these veterans suffered midseason or late-season injuries and now may finally be ready to contribute to a new club or perhaps a former employer of theirs. You will also notice that with a few exceptions, these are players with their share of tread still very much on the tire and were contributors to their teams this past season.
If you are looking for quarterbacks here, you may be a bit disappointed. Veterans such as Jon Kitna and Seneca Wallace may be the best of a limited group, according to Spotrac (subscription required). Instead, we will be focusing on some other positions.
And it is with the hope that these players actually wind up with teams without it being at someone's expense.
ILB Pat Angerer (Colts in 2013)
It is ironic that we are doing a piece about injuries, and the first name on the list has had his problems staying healthy recently.
A former second-round pick of the Indianapolis Colts in 2010, inside linebacker Pat Angerer has been limited to 11 games each of the past two seasons, finishing fourth in the club with 63 tackles in 2013. The previous season, injuries limited him to 28 total stops.
During each of his first two seasons in the league, Angerer played in 16 games and racked up 88 and 148 tackles, respectively. But injuries have taken their toll, and the four-year pro said back in March that he knew he wouldn't be back in Indianapolis.
"They gave me a heads-up I would not be re-signed by them," said Angerer four months ago to Mike Chappell of the Indianapolis Star. "I understand. I've been hurt the past two years. It's part of the business. It's part of the game. There comes a time when you've got to move on. I wish I could have played better here. I wish I hadn't gotten hurt."
Angerer underwent knee surgery back in December, according to Chappell. We'll see if anyone takes a chance on the productive defender if a need should arise.
RB Ronnie Brown (Chargers in 2013)
Once upon a little less than a decade ago, there were three running backs selected as the first five picks of the 2005 draft. Think about that in today's NFL.
The Miami Dolphins opted for Ronnie Brown with the second overall choice, the Chicago Bears took Cedric Benson fourth overall and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers grabbed Carnell "Cadillac" Williams at No. 5.
Late last year, during the San Diego Chargers' postseason, Brown was still alive and…running. He had a team-high 77 yards rushing, thanks mainly to a 58-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter, as his team bested the Cincinnati Bengals in the Wild Card Round. A week later, he carried the ball just once but caught four passes in the loss to the Denver Broncos.
In nine NFL seasons, Brown has rushed for 5,328 yards and 38 touchdowns with the Dolphins, Philadelphia Eagles and Chargers. He's a reliable veteran who can also catch passes, return kickoffs and throw a pass or two.
We’ll see if a team wants to find out what Brown can do for it.
TE Jermichael Finley (Packers in 2013)
In six seasons with the Green Bay Packers, tight end Jermichael Finley totaled 223 receptions for 2,785 yards and 20 touchdowns. In 2013, he made 25 catches for 300 yards and three scores before going down with a neck injury after six games.
Last November, the 2008 third-round pick from the University of Texas underwent fusion surgery. This past week, he told Jason Wilde of ESPNWisconsin.com that "this is the best I've felt in this entire crazy process."
So does that mean Finley will be back with the Pack anytime soon? In his mind, that appears to be the plan. "Tell everybody I'm working as hard as I can to get back to Packer Nation," he said.
Still, the talented pass-catcher is an unrestricted free agent and can go where he pleases. But could a better opportunity arise somewhere else? The Packers are sure to be excited about rookie tight end Richard Rodgers, and Andrew Quarless re-signed with the team this offseason.
In any case, Finley figures to be back on a football field in 2014.
OLB James Harrison (Bengals in 2013)
For many, it had to be odd to see outside linebacker James Harrison in a Cincinnati Bengals uniform this past season.
Now the question is whether he will be suiting up for any team in 2014.
There was talk (or perhaps a suggestion, as documented by Scott Brown of ESPN.com) that the 2008 NFL Defensive Player of the Year may be headed back to the Steel City, where he enjoyed some huge years.
While he first played for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2002, he didn't become a full-time starter until five years later. Over the course of those next six seasons (2007-2012), Harrison racked up 60 sacks, four interceptions and 29 forced fumbles.
This past season with the Bengals, Harrison played in 15 games and made 10 starts. The five-time Pro Bowler totaled 30 tackles, two sacks and two takeaways for Marvin Lewis' team.
Will the fierce defender get a call if bad fortune should strike a team? From what it sounds like, a number starting with area code 412 would be a good start.
WR Santonio Holmes (Jets in 2013)
It has already been a good year for the San Antonio Spurs.
Will it be a productive year for Santonio Holmes?
While we are exercising a little wordplay here, it will be interesting to see if the former Pittsburgh Steelers and New York Jets wide receiver will be playing anywhere in 2014. The former Super Bowl XLIII MVP is having a difficult time finding a team, but perhaps that will change soon.
Holmes' days with the Steelers were obviously much better than his four seasons with the Jets, his career numbers here courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com. In his third season in Pittsburgh, the team won Super Bowl XLIII, and he won the game's MVP honors. With New York, injuries caused him to miss a combined 17 games over the last two seasons.
If healthy, Holmes figures to have something left to give a team. It will be interesting to see if the opportunity arises.
OLB Stephen Nicholas (Falcons in 2013)
It has not been a good offseason for a certain defensive position around the league.
Injuries will cost Dallas Cowboys middle linebacker Sean Lee and Atlanta Falcons outside linebacker Sean Weatherspoon the entire season. And it looks like Buffalo Bills 2013 rookie standout Kiko Alonso will not be enjoying 2014 at all due to a torn ACL.
So you would think there would be a market out there somewhere for outside linebacker Stephen Nicholas, a seven-year pro who the Falcons released five months ago. While he started only four games this past season and totaled 35 tackles, Nicholas opened 15 contests in 2012 and amassed 97 stops.
Let's see if any of these clubs or perhaps another along the way decides to sign the veteran defender.
FS Ed Reed (Texans and Jets in 2013)
The career numbers are impossible to ignore.
Only five players in NFL history—Paul Krause (81), Emlen Tunnell (79), Rod Woodson (71), Dick "Night Train" Lane (68) and Ken Riley (65)—have totaled more interceptions in the history of the NFL (during the regular season) than free safety Ed Reed (64).
And just for good measure, Reed has also picked off nine passes in the postseason, which is tied for the most ever in that category.
After 11 years with the Baltimore Ravens, the nine-time Pro Bowler signed with the Houston Texans in 2013. Reed never really got on track (who did with that team in 2013?), was released and would end up playing in seven games with the New York Jets. He picked off three passes in his last four games and wound up with more interceptions (three) than the Texans had wins (two).
Can the prolific ball hawk make some team lucky if Reed plays a 13th season?
CB Asante Samuel (Falcons in 2013)
Veteran cornerback Asante Samuel has had better seasons.
But is there still a season left in the standout cornerback?
In 2013, the well-traveled defender played in only 11 games for the Atlanta Falcons, totaling 30 tackles and one interception, while knocking down just three passes. Samuel's interception total was his lowest since picking off only one pass in 2004.
Still, the 11-year pro has that knack for finding the football.
He's totaled 51 career interceptions with the New England Patriots, Philadelphia Eagles and Falcons and returned six of those thefts for scores. He's also been money in the playoffs when his team has gotten there. In 21 postseason contests, he has picked off seven passes and owns NFL postseason records for both return yards (227) and returns for touchdowns (four).
The market has been quiet for Samuel, who the Falcons let go back in late February. But let's see what happens once the bumps and bruises start to add up.
CB Terrell Thomas (Giants in 2013)
This past season with the New York Giants, cornerback Terrell Thomas totaled 67 tackles, knocked down seven passes and totaled one interception.
That’s not a bad showing on a team that finished a disappointing 7-9 campaign in 2013. It's even more impressive considering he was out for both the previous two seasons with knee injuries.
Back in 2010, Thomas was coming off an impressive showing that perhaps had him ticketed for future Pro Bowl honors. That season, he totaled 101 tackles, five interceptions and 21 passes defensed, all team highs that year. He also forced four fumbles with one sack and one fumble recovery. It's hard to do much more than that in a single season.
So far, the heady defensive back has not been re-signed to date by the Giants, who spent a lot of time revamping their secondary this offseason with additions such as cornerbacks Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Walter Thurmond and Zack Bowman.
Still, Thomas would be a solid addition to fill any nooks and cranny in any club’s secondary.
T Eric Winston (Cardinals in 2013)
Talk about reliability?
Veteran tackle Eric Winston has started every game for his team each of the last seven seasons. A fixture on the Houston Texans offensive line for years, he's done the same for the Kansas City Chiefs and Arizona Cardinals, respectively, each of the last two seasons.
It has been somewhat surprising that Winston, the current president of the NFLPA, hasn't landed with a team to date. The 6'6", 305-pound performer has been a solid performer everywhere he has gone but right now, and he apparently still has a lot of football left in him.
For now, he's not going much of anywhere in terms of an NFL training camp. That is in terms of suiting up for football.