The Rams' Marshall Faulk works hard to prove he's not finished at 30
By one website's estimate, there are 27 million fantasy football players in the U.S. It's probable that 26 million of them will go to bed the night before their drafts this year wondering, Will the Rams' Marshall Faulk be the dynamic rushing-receiving-scoring threat that he was when he won league MVP honors in 2000 or the declining and injury-plagued player of the recent past?
"We shall see," a particularly pensive Faulk said last Friday, after playing in coach Mike Martz's celebrity golf tournament near St. Louis. "I wish I could tell you I'm going to play 16 games at a high level. I'm certainly working harder than I've worked in the off-season in trying to make that happen."
Faulk hits two milestones this year—he turned 30 in February, and he starts his 10th NFL season in September—that usually mark the beginning of the end for an NFL running back (chart, right). In Faulk's case, playing most of his games on artificial turf (five seasons in Indianapolis, four in St. Louis) has taken a toll. Knee and shoulder injuries dogged him in 2000 and 2001, causing him to miss four games, and a high ankle sprain last year limited him to 212 rushing attempts in 14 games (only 48 carries over the last seven). So for the first time since he joined the Rams in 1999, Faulk has been a regular in the team's off-season conditioning program. "I've put an emphasis on the upper body so I'll be able to take the pounding," he says. "I'm a lot stronger than I've been in the past in June, more well-rested. Nothing's nagging at me."
But more important, how good will Faulk be feeling by Thanksgiving? His team's first six games this season are on artificial turf, bad news for a man with an arthritic right knee. This season will be a four-month endurance test (or longer, if St. Louis makes the playoffs) during which Martz plans to preserve Faulk by resting him in training camp and during some regular-season practice weeks.
Whenever his career ends, Faulk will leave large footprints. He's the only player in NFL history to have four consecutive seasons with 2,000 yards rushing and receiving combined, and he's second to Jim Brown (125.5 yards) in combined yardage per game over a career (121.3). But personal statistics don't drive Faulk as much as his desire to win at least one more NFL championship. "I'm happy with what I've done in the game, but I'm not satisfied," he says. "I'm playing for Super Bowls. I've had my big days of yards and touchdowns—that was the Marshall of my early years. When I took myself out of the center of things and thought only of the team, that's when my life became great. Someone will break the records I have, but no one will take away the Super Bowls. Those last forever."
Salary Cap Management
June Not as Busy As It Used to Be
Four months ago, when the Giants decided that defensive back Jason Sehorn no longer fit into their plans, they cut him and took an $8 million hit on their 2003 salary cap. Club officials knew that if they waited until June to release Sehorn, they could spread the cap hit over two seasons. But times have changed since the early days of unfettered free agency, which was introduced to the NFL in 1993. Whereas early June used to kick off the second phase of shopping in the free-agent market—when talented salary-heavy players would be unloaded to dilute the cap hit—teams today are doing a much better job of managing the cap, and the market isn't flooded with starter-caliber players. As of Thursday 25 of the 32 teams were at least $2 million under the $75 million cap. "Yes, we could have put it off," Giants general manager Ernie Accorsi says of the Sehorn move, "and we would have had more to spend in June. But what would I have spent it on? It used to be you could go out after June 1 and get a pretty good right tackle or a linebacker to fill your needs, but not now."
In recent summers teams have signed such desirable players as Jerry Rice, Vinny Testaverde, Donnell Woolford, Bryan Cox, Keenan McCardell, Brian Mitchell and George Koonce. As of Sunday, however, the best the market had to offer was a quarterback who has been shaky in the clutch, former Bronco Brian Griese, and an underachieving wideout, former 49er J.J. Stokes.
Philly's New Defensive Look
Eagles Downsize In the Middle