"It was our Super Bowl," McCardell said. "That should have never happened."
The team that does sign McCardell will be getting the ninth leading receiver of all-time, a guy with 861 career catches. That's amazing, considering McCardell came into the league as a 12th-round draft pick of the Washington Redskins in 1991.
They don't even have 12 rounds anymore.
Of the top-10, all-time receivers, he's the lowest-drafted of them all -- by far. Five (Jerry Rice, Tim Brown, Marvin Harrison, Art Monk and Irving Fryar) were first-round picks. Isaac Bruce and Jimmy Smith were second-round picks and Cris Carter and Andre Reed were fourth-round picks.
So for bang for the buck, McCardell is the best receiver bargain of all-time.
He never played for the Redskins, spending time on the taxi squad -- yes, they had them then -- and learning from Monk. He spent four seasons with the Cleveland Browns, playing six games his first two seasons, before playing 14 and 16 his last two years. After he caught 56 passes in 1995, the Jaguars signed him as a free agent. That year he caught 85 passes and was on his way to the Pro Bowl.
"I did it the hard way," McCardell said. "Everyone expects first-round picks to be the ones catching 800, 900 passes. But I just stuck with it, taking it one year at a time, and here I am."
He is third on the list of active receivers behind Harrison and Bruce. With two more catches, he can move into the eighth spot ahead of former Jacksonville Jaguars teammate Smith, who remains a good friend.
"I would love to get to 1,000 catches to join those guys," McCardell said.
Rice, Carter, Brown and Harrison are the only players with 1,000 catches. McCardell would have to average about 46 catches a season for three years to make that happen.
"Well, I'd like to play 20 years," he said.
So how has McCardell, a low-round draft pick with not-so-great speed, been so successful? He's one of the best route runners this league has seen. His routes are sharp and he's one of the best at not breaking down when he makes a move.
A lot of receivers tip the corner when they are about to make a move by the way they run, not staying smooth through the break. The truly great route runners don't give any hints.
When he was with the Jaguars, McCardell sat down with me and actually watched film with me. Showing the intricacies of running routes. It was like sitting with a professor with 10 graduate degrees, discerning play after play.
The Jaguars decided McCardell was expendable after the 2001 season -- a season in which he caught 93 passes. They released him to save $2.8 million of cap room and because they thought it was time to play R. Jay Soward, who bombed in large part because of off-the-field issues.
McCardell went to Tampa Bay, caught 145 passes and won a Super Bowl, and the Jaguars are still searching for a replacement. That makes it kind of ironic. Getting McCardell was the best move in franchise history; letting him go was the worst.
"Hey, I won a Super Bowl," McCardell said.
After winning it, he held out in Tampa and was traded to the Chargers, playing seven games in 2004. In 2005, he caught 70 passes with nine touchdowns before being phased out last season.
As he waits for another job, McCardell continues to keep his body in top shape. He knows the chance will come, and when it does he will be ready.
Pops still wants to play. Better yet, Pops can still play.