Free-agent leftovers: Receivers add some zestPosted: Thursday May 22, 2003 5:53 PM
Updated: Sunday May 25, 2003 8:47 PM
By Bob Harris, Special to SI.com
Hey, I hope last week's heaping helping of backfield leftovers didn't cause too much indigestion. This week's batch -- receivers, tight ends and place-kickers -- should be more appealing. Let's dig in.
Germane Crowell: The 26-year-old Crowell had his best season in 1999, catching 81 passes for 1,338 yards and seven touchdowns in his second NFL season. But Crowell has missed significant playing time in every season since, leading the Lions to release him before the start of the free-agent signing period.
While Oronde Gadsden (see below) and Marcus Robinson, who subsequently signed with the Ravens, were the primary focus of pre-draft speculation regarding the Patriots' need for a bigger receiver, Crowell also hit Foxboro for a visit with team officials and the medical staff in early April.
If nothing else, the 6-foot-3, 222-pound Crowell would certainly offer the Patriots the kind of physical downfield threat they thought they acquired last year in Donald Hayes.
The former Virginia standout also visited the Dolphins last month but wasn't offered a contract. The Miami Herald reported shortly thereafter that Dolphins officials hinted Crowell’s knees weren't quite up to snuff.
Nonetheless, his unique combination of size, speed and skill is all but guaranteed to win Crowell a spot in an NFL training camp this summer. The only question then will be whether he can stay healthy enough to take advantage of the opportunity.
Antonio Freeman: Interest in Freeman has quietly picked up in the last couple weeks and bidding for the veteran wideout is likely to heat up even further in coming weeks.
While Eagles head coach Andy Reid has repeatedly indicated that Freeman is welcome to return (and his nameplate has yet to be removed from his Philadelphia locker), the Jaguars and the San Francisco 49ers also are also in the hunt.
And why wouldn't they be? After all, Freeman comes off a 2002 campaign in which he pulled in a respectable 46 catches for 600 yards and four touchdowns working out of the slot, primarily on third downs.
Finally, in an article published April 19, Baltimore Sun staffer Jamison Hensley said Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome believes adding a veteran receiver is a must this offseason because the decision not to sign Antonio Freeman last season might have hurt the development of the young receivers.
"Even though we allowed our young guys to work and to grow, having a mentor sometimes is very good for them," he said.
If you ask me, any team currently holding off on adding Freeman to their rotation would be wise to heed Newsome's words.
Oronde Gadsden: Recent reports indicate Gadsden has drawn some recent interest from Jacksonville, where he would have a legitimate chance to push Donald Hayes for a starting spot as the Jaguars' No. 2 receiver, but there's also a chance he could return to Miami.
The Dolphins' starting receivers are Chris Chambers and James McKnight. Behind them are seven others, led by Derrius Thompson, signed as a free agent from Washington, and fifth-round draft choice J.R. Tolver.
Gadsden, who was cleared to play late last month after having his surgically repaired left wrist checked, has also drawn some interest from Minnesota and New England.
"I am not sure which direction that is going to go," head coach Dave Wannstedt said recently. Wannstedt went on to point out the team doesn't need a lot of receivers because tight end Randy McMichael and running back Ricky Williams will stay on the field often for third down. He said the team also wants to get fullback Rob Konrad more involved.
Gadsden took trips to Minnesota and New England early in April, but neither visit earned him an offer.
Qadry & Raghib Ismail: It's starting to look like the NFL will have to do without both the "Missile" and the "Rocket" in 2003 with neck injuries apparently limiting the chances of either Ismail brother returning to action this year.
According to Indianapolis Star-News beat man Mike Chappell, Qadry Ismail's future is up in after he sustained a concussion during a Dec. 22 loss to the Giants. Ismail was subsequently placed on injured reserve after an MRI revealed a bulging disk in his neck. The injury could keep him out this season, and the Colts have already signed former Raven Brandon Stokley to replace him.
Recent reports out of Washington, where the Redskins were unable to reach an agreement with Raghib Ismail, indicate that team officials were never really convinced the former Notre Dame star was ready to resume his career after a serious neck injury suffered during Cowboys training camp last summer.
Other WRs of Interest: Reggie Barlow isn't expected to return to Tampa Bay; Isaac Byrd's career as a Panther probably came to an end the same day Kevin Dyson joined the team; Darren Chiaverini doesn't have the speed to hang with the suddenly swift Falcons; despite questions regarding his attitude, the Niners might be interested in taking another run at Willie Jackson, a player they chased last spring; recent reports say that Terence Mathis, still a solid possession man, could return to Pittsburgh for one more year; Darnay Scott won't be back in Dallas, but is likely to rear his head in some NFL city before the end of July.
Tight Ends and Place-KickersOf the currently available free agents, former San Francisco tight end Justin Swift joins veteran placement men Todd Peterson and Gary Anderson as the cream of the crop at their respective positions -- further proof of just how appealing those leftover receivers look.
Swift became expendable when the 49ers signed former Dolphin Jed Weaver to back up Eric Johnson. Don't be fooled here; Swift and Weaver are the same guy; they just happen to be at different points in their development. Look for somebody to give Swift the same chance to emerge that Weaver got in Miami.
Peterson, who spent only one season with the Steelers, was cut in February -- about a month after Steelers head coach Bill Cowher said he planned to bring him to training camp this year. Cowher, who said it was Jeff Reed's job to lose, changed his mind when confronted with the $100,000 bonus that the team was obligated to pay Peterson if he stayed on the roster.
"It's a business," Peterson said from his home in Atlanta. "I learned over the years to not over- or under-value things that are said. You take them for what they are. You take it in stride.
"It's March, and better [to be released in] March than August," Peterson said. "We'll go kick somewhere else. ... "
Meanwhile in Minnesota, Hayden Epstein is making progress in his recovery from a serious knee injury and head coach Mike Tice recently told reporters the former Jaguar is already kicking 40-yard field goals.
Epstein tore the ACL in his left knee while covering a kickoff during last year's Dec. 21 win over the Dolphins.
Of course, the team is still trying to get a handle on its kicking situation. According to those who follow the team closely, Anderson is considered a steady placement man, but he'll only return if the team finds a punter capable of handling kickoffs. In addition to Epstein, the team will take a long look at incoming rookie kickoff specialist/punter Eddie Johnson, a sixth-round pick, as well as Todd France and Aaron Elling before making a final decision on Anderson's future.
See, I told you things would get better this week. And by golly, they'll get even better next week when we review this year's most likely post-June 1 cap casualties.