How 32 teams spent their final weekend before it starts for real.
Arizona signed Chester Taylor, which was certainly the smartest place for him to go. Now Beanie Wells, who has been underwhelming and caused the Cards to draft Ryan Williams in the second round this year, will have competition from a veteran determined to prove he got jobbed in Chicago.
Atlanta cut John Parker Wilson, who entered training camp with a 50-50 shot to unseat Chris Redman as the backup to Matt Ryan. The lack of an offseason, plus missing the first week of practice because he was an exclusive-rights free agent (those FAs couldn't practice with teams until the CBA was approved), hurt Wilson. But he came back Sunday, signed to the practice squad. So in effect, he's still the team's third quarterback.
Baltimore is serious about winning, and winning now. First it was the deal for wideout Lee Evans, then the signing of fired Viking tackle Bryant McKinnie. On Sunday, the latest addition bolstered a position in doubt because center Matt Birk's knee surgery: Andre Gurode, late of the Cowboys, signed a one-year deal. Now Gurode will have three practices to prepare for Casey Hampton, James Harrison and James Farrior slugging him in the head.
Buffalo doesn't seem like such a stable place, but check out the starting 22: Only linebacker Nick Barnett and 3-4 end Marcell Dareus (who will play some inside and some outside; he is a monstrous man who needs to be in the middle in goal line and short yardage) were not on the team last season, either for all or part of the year.
Carolina will start a rookie quarterback (you might have heard of him), but their first line of defense is rookie-filled too. Both defensive tackles in Ron Rivera's 4-3 scheme -- Sione Fua (no relation to fellow nose man Sione Pouha of the Jets) and Terrell McClain -- are rookie third-rounders who Rivera hopes can help clear the way for his linebackers to make plays.
Chicago signed Patriots castoff Brandon Meriweather (more on him in the New England section) and kept five undrafted rookies, one who should be very interesting to watch. Offensive coordinator Mike Martz likes Ohio State product Dane Sanzenbacher, who could end up being the kind of valuable slot receiver Az Hakim or Mike Furrey were for Martz. Speaking of the Martz factor, now Greg Olsen (trade) and Desmond Clark (waived) have been lopped off from a strong group of tight ends. Just proves that Martz prefers his offense to come from anyone but a tight end.
Cincinnati got fortunate Sunday, being awarded Brandon Tate on waivers from the Patriots. Tate, at his best, is a top-five kick returner, which the Bengals needed. The bad news: Guard Bobbie Williams, a top-tier offensive lineman, will miss the first four weeks, suspended for the use of performance-enhancers. More good news for rookie quarterback Andy Dalton.
Cleveland did not have a noteworthy weekend, which can be a good thing. Not a lot of major roster decisions to make. Placing Brandon Jackson on IR was one of them; it means rookie Armond Smith of tiny Union (Ky.) College has his NFL dream come true. With all the big backs in Cleveland, the 5-9, 195-pound Smith might be able to play a role the big guys can't.
Dallas kept its placekicking revolving door moving (see Stat of the Week) by importing Oklahoma State undrafted kicker Dan Bailey for field goals; last year's kicker, David "I Live Week to Week on This Team'' Buehler, will start the year handling kickoffs. For the first game anyway. Two other roster surprises: Three inside linebackers stay in the 3-4 scheme, including 35-year-old Keith Brooking... Akwasi Owosu-Ansah, last year's fourth-rounder from Division II Indiana (Pa.) who was drafted to play safety and be an ace returner, got hurt in his rookie summer and never showed signs of being able to do either.
Denver used the weekend to gradually cut more ties with the McDaniels/Xanders draft classes of 2009 and '10. Only four starting players come from those drafts. This is stunning: The Broncos drafted three players in the second round of the 2009 draft -- cornerback Alphonso Smith (37th), safety Darcell McBath (48th) and tight end Richard Quinn (64th) -- and all were gone by the close of business Saturday. Talk about the Tim Tebow pick all you want, but wasting three second-round picks is the kind of thing that sets a franchise waaaaaay back.
Detroit cut veteran cornerback Nathan Vasher. The corner position for Detroit is a who's who of players who could keep the Lions out of the playoffs. Alphonso Smith, Chris Houston and Eric Wright are the ones the Lions are keeping for now. If I were GM Martin Mayhew, I'd pick up Joselio Hanson, cut by the Eagles. Now. One other note: Good for Bobby Carpenter, the itinerant linebacker who never fit in Dallas or St. Louis, finding a home backing up in the middle of Jim Schwartz's 4-3 scheme.
Green Bay, as I wrote earlier in the column, did a strange thing by keeping five tight ends. I don't think I've ever seen that. But Ted Thompson doesn't care about the chalk, and turning over 16 players on the 53-man roster of a Super Bowl champ isn't particularly surprising to me. You know what Ron Wolf used to say about his NFL roster. You've always got to be churning it. If the new guy's one percent better, he's got to make the team.
Houston made my favorite move of the weekend. The Texans signed Mister Alexander, a rookie from Florida State, to the practice squad after waiving him. His parents named him Mister so if anyone shortened his name to MR, it would mean "Mentally Ready.''
Indianapolis had a need for a rotational tackle but couldn't use Tommie Harris, which says something about the readiness of the former Chicago Bear. It says something else about Joseph Addai and Donald Brown that the team's rushing touchdown leader last year, Javarris James, got cut too.
Jacksonville will probably not waste much time in pairing safety Dwight Lowery, acquired from the Jets in a trade, with free agent signee Dawan Landry from Baltimore. A quiet weekend otherwise with the Jags. Intriguing receiver Cecil Shorts from Mount Union (Ohio) was kept and, for now, Blaine Gabbert will back up David Garrard. For now.
Kansas City suffered the worst player loss of the preseason, I believe. Tight end Tony Moeaki went on IR with a knee injury suffered early in the second quarter of the second preseason game at Green Bay.
Miami cut and re-signed free agent quarterback Pat Devlin to the practice squad. Smart. He succeeded Joe Flacco at Delaware, is a smart kid with a good enough arm, and the Dolphins know it's smart to develop quarterbacks when you're not sure if your quarterback of the future is on the roster already.
Minnesota cut Stylez G White. Lineman B Gone. The biggest development, I believe, is going with Charlie Johnson at left tackle. I'm not dinging Johnson; he's average on his best day. I'm just saying that Johnson being there is going to make Donovan McNabb more inclined to throw quickly, and that means Kyle Rudolph, the rookie tight end, could be a very valuable player for the 2011 Vikings.
New England cut the 24th pick of the 2007 draft, safety Brandon Meriweather, and added free agent Pro Bowl guard, Brian Waters. You know what says it all about Brandon Meriweather? That there was more interest over the last few days in signing James Sanders when Bill Belichick let him go (Atlanta won out over Kansas City) than there was in dealing for a two-time Pro Bowl safety with a reasonable 2011 salary ($1.65 million).
Meriweather twice back-doored the phony-baloney Pro Bowl by making it as an alternate. Emboldened by thinking he'd arrived, he never worked like he should have to be a great player. The difference between Rodney Harrison and Meriweather? Harrison worked every day like he was trying to be great; Meriweather thought he was great before he really was.
By the way, kudos to Belichick for letting Sanders walk last Monday, when he had time to catch on with a team and have some extra time to learn the defense well enough to play opening day.
New Orleans kept one of the most unlikely of undrafted free agents: Fordham safety Isa Abdul-Quddus, who might have been the eighth safety on a crowded roster midway through camp. But he was great at something every team needs -- special teams -- and the fact that New Orleans cut Chris Reis too, in part to make room for Abdul-Quddus, is the ultimate irony. Reis survived in New Orleans by his kicking-game play. He recovered the onside kick at the start of the second half of Super Bowl XLIV, leading to the Saints' rally to beat the Colts two seasons ago.
The Giants kept Steve Weatherford to punt and dropped Matt Dodge. Everyone in the organization liked Dodge, but he was just too unreliable (think back to his punting to DeSean Jackson and not out of bounds last year, leading to the Eagles' comeback in the Meadowlands) and he had iffy hands. Weatherford's more of a proven punter who is not prone to the mistakes of youth.
The Jets made an interesting move by giving Mardy Gilyard a shot after he was released by the Rams. When a fourth-round pick gets whacked 17 months after he was drafted, that's a pretty major indictment of his ability. The Jets clearly are interested in upgrading their return capability and have questions about TCU rookie Jeremy Kerley's ability to handle the returns. We'll see what special teams coach Mike Westhoff sees in Gilyard in practice this week, but it wouldn't be surprising to see Gilyard returning in the Sunday night season opener against Dallas.
Oakland cut Trent Edwards, who lost out to Kyle Boller for the backup quarterback job. That's a stunner, how far Edwards has fallen. I was sure he'd win the job behind Jason Campbell, but he was tentative in camp and didn't throw the ball as well as he should have.
Philadelphia could well have an unexpected surprise in Week 1 -- wideout Steve Smith being active after microfracture surgery for the opener at St. Louis. The bigger upshot of the roster shuffling in Philadelphia is that the Eagles are one of the good teams in the league entering the season with trouble on the offensive line. Chicago's very shaky, Pittsburgh uncertain, Indy's playing a rookie left tackle in Anthony Castonzo, Dallas is going to a youth movement. With the Eagles, the right 80 percent of the line is new -- free agent signee and former Bengal left guard Evan Mathis, rookie sixth-rounder Jason Kelce at center, rookie first-rounder Danny Watkins at guard and transplanted guard Todd Herremans at tackle. So to think Michael Vick will be hit less than he was last year seems far-fetched.
Pittsburgh had the most boring cutdown day in the league. That's what happens when your team is borderline set in stone entering training camp. Charlie Batch sticks, because of the injury to Byron Leftwich. Arnaz Battle and Jerricho Cotchery stick at wideout; Battle will be more special-teamer than receiver.
San Diego kept Ivy League free agent signee Bryan Walters, whose strange ride from Seattle to Cornell to San Diego will be addressed in my Tuesday column. And the other story of camp is that Bob Sanders made it through healthy. We'll see if he can finally make it through a season healthy. Predicting Sanders' fate can be hazardous to one's mental health.
San Francisco named Alex Smith the starting quarterback, Colin Kaepernick the backup and signed Scott Tolzien to the practice squad. The latter is the undrafted kid who was popular with the draftniks before the draft, who couldn't make the Chargers. And coach Jim Harbaugh did the smart thing at running back, moving rookie Kendall Hunter behind Frank Gore. Wouldn't be surprised to see Hunter gain 800 yards this year, even if Gore stays healthy.
Seattle cut defensive tackle Colin Cole and saved $3.25 million by doing so. Kicker Jeff Reed goes. Quarterback Josh Portis, of California (Pa.), stays. Did you see Portis at all this camp? Once he learns the playbook, he's going to be an interesting prospect for offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell to work with. Good arm, good runner, seems fearless.
St. Louis cut center Hank Fraley Sunday. One of the good guys. The Rams went bigger and younger on the line. But the story of their weekend, to me, was cutting Donnie Avery and Gilyard, who, on May 1, 2010, were seen by some as the starters of the future, the guys Sam Bradford would grow old with. Shows you how quickly things change, how injury and not taking advantage of opportunity affects things.
Tampa Bay cut linebacker Tyrone McKenzie. Can't help but feel for McKenzie. After his mother was injured in a car wreck and lost her business, McKenzie transferred from Iowa State to South Florida to be near her in 2007, working the graveyard shift at a Hampton Inn to support her. A week after the Patriots picked him in the third round of the 2009 draft, he tore his ACL in a minicamp drill. The Patriots waived him a year ago today. He signed with Tampa, was promoted to the active roster in December, but couldn't earn a spot. Just a sad story.
Tennessee had only one surprise: the suspension of fullback Ahmard Hall for four weeks for violating the league's performance-enhancing drug rules. So GM Mike Reinfeldt picked up the phone and called one of his best friends, GM Ted Thompson of the Packers, and got a fullback -- Quinn Johnson -- for an undisclosed future pick.
Washington kept eight wide receivers, including at least three who won't play many, if any, of the special teams (Santana Moss, Jabar Gaffney, Donte' Stallworth). Sounds like they'll be moving one or more of them, or cutting one, before they play the Giants Sunday in the emotional 9/11 game at FedEx Field.
For some reason, this story surprises me.
I had heard throughout the offseason that Tiki Barber had a suitor, a team that would sign him after his four-year hiatus from football. I knew it wasn't Tampa Bay, where his twin brother Ronde prepares to continue his remarkable career. I figured it was Pittsburgh, where Mike Tomlin, Ronde's former position coach with the Bucs, knew the Barbers well and had very high regard for them. But the Steelers never came through.
And when the phones stopped ringing Sunday night, and the musical chairs of roster spots around the league had ended, and the teams had their 1,696 players set for the 2011 season, not a single team had called Barber or his agent, Mark Lepselter. It's easy to justify that, given that Barber is a 36-year-old man trying to play the position of players 13 and 14 years younger. And it's probably understandable, except for one fact.
At 29, 30 and 31, Barber's final three seasons in the NFL, he led all NFL backs in total yards from scrimmage (rushing-receiving yards), averaging 138 yards from scrimmage per game. Miami worked him out and chose to not sign him. The Giants released him and never would have brought him back because of bridges burned. And don't get me wrong -- I'm not saying this is some sort of outrage.
I tried to reach Barber on Sunday, but he wasn't talking. I hear he's devastated that no team gave him a chance. You might wonder if teams would bring him in after the first game of the season, so his contract wouldn't be guaranteed, and that could still happen. But with no team calling Lepselter with even a hint of interest, it's more likely teams would start with backs who've been in some football competition this summer.
Lepselter told me Sunday: "We are flabbergasted that Tiki has not had an opportunity with any team, especially when rosters were at 90 players this year. I certainly thought some team would be intrigued to see what he had left in the tank.''
I'm not flabbergasted that a 36-year-old trying to play for the first time since 2006 doesn't get a sniff. I just thought after his career-twilight performance that he was worth a look.
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