Now that clubs are making lists of free agents and checking them twice, people can't wait to tell you whom their favorite teams should add. Not me -- I'm here to tell you whom they shouldn't.
|Buyer beware: Willie Parker's yards and rushing average have been trending downward recently. (Getty Images)|
Why? Keep reading.
LaDainian Tomlinson, running back, San Diego: First things first -- he's not a free agent. But he will be, and soon. Just ask him. L.T. expects to go, and anyone who follows the Chargers expects him to go, too. So we're launching a pre-emptive strike -- as well as putting a disclaimer out there -- by including him here, even though he's still under contract with the Bolts. Now that we have that out of the way, here's why you don't sign him: He turns 31, he's been hurt in parts of the past three seasons (including the playoffs) and his numbers have declined, which happens when you absorb as many hits as he has over the years. In short, he's not a premier back, far from it. Look, L.T. is one of the greatest Chargers ever, but he can't cut it anymore -- and Tomlinson supporters can rewind the videotape of San Diego's playoff loss to the New York Jets for proof. He averaged two yards a carry and didn't touch the ball in the fourth quarter. He also averaged a career-low 3.3 yards per carry this season. From where I sit, he looks like Edgerrin James when the Colts let him walk. Someone will take a flyer on Tomlinson, just as the Arizona Cardinals did with James, but he won't make an impact. A year ago, I thought he would. In fact, a year ago, I thought he'd pull a Curtis Martin and find new life at 30. It didn't happen. Another injury did. Your time is up, L.T.
Terrell Owens, wide receiver: I give the guy credit: He didn't make a mess in Buffalo. He basically shut up, played and went down with the ship. But he doesn't figure in the Bills' future, and that's not exactly news. Chad Ochocinco already has said he would chip in to help the Bengals acquire him, and you can see why: Cincinnati desperately needs someone to take the heat off No. 85. But Owens is a descending star who turns 37 in December and is coming off his worst season since 1999. Yeah, OK, so he averaged 15 yards a catch, and that's solid. But he's not the impact player he once was, and put him in the right situation; translation: somewhere other than Buffalo -- and you're playing with kerosene. To me, the risk is far too great for most teams. He will want money, and he will want the ball -- and your locker room could suffer for it. All I know is that at the top of Owens' career three teams couldn't wait to get rid of this guy. So why would you want him now?
Kyle Vanden Bosch, defensive end: I love "try-hard" guys, and Vanden Bosch is ... was ... one of the best. When he and Albert Haynesworth lined up for Tennessee, there was pressure everywhere -- and the Titans were one of the top defenses anywhere. But Haynesworth left, Vanden Bosch got a little older and now, at 31, I don't know how much he has to offer. Where he had double digit sacks in two of three seasons, he has 7.5 the past two years. Worse, his three sacks last year were his lowest since 2004, his last season with Arizona. Titans coach Jeff Fisher hasn't ruled out the possibility of Vanden Bosch staying with Tennessee, and I can see why: He gave the club some terrific years, and it's not as if he suddenly turned into lunch meat. But he's not a premier player, and, if the Titans don't bite, he'll likely demand plenty on the open market. I think I'll pass.
Antonio Pierce, linebacker: There was a report that the St. Louis Rams might be interested in Pierce, and, for the life of me, I don't get it. The Rams stink and must build from the ground up -- which means going young, young, young with your huddle. If you're going to stink, do it with young players who can learn from experience -- don't do it with tired veterans who retard growth. Pierce turns 32 this season, and while that isn't old, Pierce plays old. When I spoke to a couple of coaches who beat the Giants last season, they singled him out as one reason for Big Blue's defensive collapse. They aimed plays, they said, at Pierce because he was slow and couldn't make stops. Of course, that's before Pierce bowed out with a neck injury. All I know is I haven't seen Pierce do much of anything since the second half of the 2008 season. My recurring memory of him is chasing Brian Westbrook from behind, and that's how it goes when you can't move. Pierce can't, except to the next address.
Neil Rackers, kicker: All I know about Rackers is that he had two shots to hit a 50-yard field goal versus New Orleans in the playoffs, and couldn't make either. One was wide, the other short. I'm sorry, but if you can't make a 50-yarder indoors, you can't be trusted. Yeah, I know, Rackers was one of the best in the business in 2005 when he made 40 of 42 field-goal attempts, including six from 50 and beyond. That isn't just good -- it's astounding. Rackers always had one of the strongest legs out there, attempting 32 field goals of 50 or more yards from 2004-2007 -- an average of eight per season, but those days are over. Rackers tried just two from that distance in the past two seasons. Heck, he's 33 but he's not the same guy, and while I love his accuracy -- he's 41 of 45 in field goals the past two years -- I also like kickers who can make 50-yarders and I don't think he can. Not anymore. But there's another reason, and this one runs deeper: I don't think Rackers is a pressure kicker. He could've won the playoff game against Green Bay with a last-second 34-yard field goal, and he didn't. In fact, he shanked it so badly I thought I was looking at Mike Vanderjagt in the 2005 playoffs. Vanderjagt was accurate, he just couldn't nail a big kick. Hmmm, sounds familiar.
Larry Johnson, running back: Here's another guy who turns 31 this year and absorbed a ton of hits when he was on top of his game. But he's on top no more, failing to produce a touchdown in two years and producing a career-worst average of 2.9 yards per carry last season. Bad enough that Johnson is fading -- that happens -- but he's a bad guy, too, and why would you want to take on someone who is near the end of his career and could disrupt your locker room? You wouldn't. The Kansas City Chiefs made the smart move getting rid of Johnson. He was a liability on and off the field, and the team couldn't trust him. So he kept his mouth shut in Cincinnati. Big deal. He did nothing. Get used to it.
Julius Peppers, defensive end: I'm with my colleague, Pete Prisco, on this, though not necessarily for the same reason. Unlike Pete, I'm not all that concerned that Peppers is 30. What I am concerned with is how much he will cost someone at that age. The guy is looking to break the bank one year after making $1 million per game. If I pay someone that much per game, I want the absolute best pass rusher on the planet, and Peppers is not that man. Once he might have been. But his inconsistency troubles me. He shows up one game, disappears the next. I don't know what to make of him anymore, other than I'm not sure which Peppers I'll see. Plus, you must play a 4-3 to be interested. I love his ability to force fumbles, and he's been consistent there. He had five last season, five the year before and three the year before that. At his best, he's a dominant defensive end. But at his worst, he's someone who takes plays -- and games -- off. He had 10.5 sacks last year, and that's decent, but six of those sacks came in a four-game stretch. That means he had 4.5 the other 12 starts, and he can break someone else's bank with those numbers.
Ty Law, cornerback: This guy has nearly as many lives as Junior Seau. He was a great cornerback once, but that was years ago. He can't run. He can't produce interceptions. He can't make game-changing plays. Yet, guaranteed, someone somewhere will try to sign him in the middle of the season, and don't ask me why. He's 36 and a ghost of the player he once was. But when people hear that Ty Law is available to the next bidder, they wonder why their clubs shouldn't take a flyer on him -- you know, as a nickel back, a dime back or, well, as someone who can just help out with coverages. Well, consider this: Even though he had virtually nothing left, Law was given opportunities by three teams the past three years, and none made the playoffs. You don't sign him unless you believe he can make a difference, and he can't -- not anymore.
Willie Parker, running back: Two years ago, the Steelers drafted Rashard Mendenhall for a reason: They wanted to protect themselves against the decline and fall of Parker, and they were smart. Parker hasn't played a complete season since 2006, turns 30 this year and hasn't been much of a factor for the past couple of seasons. So Pittsburgh moved away from the running game -- maybe Parker was a factor in that decision. All I know is that the more I see him, the less I fear him. He could help someone in some capacity, but not as an every-down back. He averaged 304.3 carries per season from 2005-07, and the punishment has taken its toll. He hasn't had a run over 34 yards the past three seasons and produced eight touchdowns in that time -- he had 16 in 2006. Moreover, his yards and rushing average have on a downward trend the past two years -- sure signs of a back on his way down.
Jevon Kearse, defensive end: He's 34. He's an injury waiting to happen. And he can't find the quarterback anymore. So why would you be interested? I like Kearse and I especially liked him when he was a sack machine. But that was years ago. If he had anything left the Eagles wouldn't have let him go two years ago. But he's at the end of a career, and you're better off looking for someone younger instead of signing this guy and hoping he jump-starts his career for one or two seasons. At most, you get a part-time player for part of the year. Me? I'm not interested.