Lots of big names still on NFL's unemployment line
Published: Sunday, July 20, 2014 at 6:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, July 20, 2014 at 6:20 p.m.
NEW YORK — MISSING: A handful of former NFL stars.
REWARD: An opportunity to help a team and revive a once-flourishing career.
With NFL training camps about to open, several big-name players are still unemployed, waiting anxiously, wondering when — or if — they'll get a call.
Retirement could be the next step for former All-Pros such as Ed Reed and James Harrison.
"I know that I can still play," Reed said at a charity softball game in Baltimore last month. "It's just a matter of the right fit."
Jermichael Finley is coming off a career-threatening injury. Tim Tebow, a former University of Florida quarterback, hasn't been with a team in almost a year. Santonio Holmes, Ronnie Brown, Asante Samuel, Jonathan Vilma and Kellen Winslow Jr. are among former stars on the downside of their careers.
"I could retire," Winslow wrote on Twitter last month, "but that's not who I am."
Here's a look at a few familiar unsigned free agents:
TIM TEBOW: Sure, many critics might have written him off and he's got a TV gig with the SEC Network. But as long as the polarizing quarterback is still available, plenty will wonder if anyone will sign him. After a failed 2012 with the Jets, he spent last summer in camp with the Patriots before being cut. Teams aren't sold on his throwing skills, and might not want to deal with the distractions that come with Tebow.
RONNIE BROWN: Once one of the NFL's most dynamic running backs, Brown, 32, comes off a season during which he ran for 157 yards and caught eight passes as a backup for the Chargers. If he has played his last game, he went out in style: Brown had a 58-yard touchdown run against the Bengals in a first-round playoff victory.
JOSH CRIBBS: He has eight career kickoff returns for touchdowns, sharing the NFL mark with the Titans' Leon Washington, and could be a fit for a team looking for a spark on special teams. That's what he was for the Jets last year, when he was signed a few games into the season, but then missed the final four weeks with a shoulder injury.
JERMICHAEL FINLEY: His career was in jeopardy when he suffered a serious neck injury last October with Green Bay. Finley was establishing himself as one of the league's elite pass-catching tight ends. That has had several teams interested this offseason, including the Packers, despite questions about his health.
JOSH FREEMAN: Talk about a turn of events. Once considered a potential franchise quarterback for Tampa Bay, Freeman was benched last season in favor of rookie Mike Glennon, then released. He signed with the Vikings, was terrible in his one start and finished the season as Minnesota's third-stringer. The Giants signed him in the offseason as insurance for Eli Manning, but cut him in May.
JAMES HARRISON: A menace to quarterbacks who frequently was fined for illegal hits, and a regular critic of Commissioner Roger Goodell, the 2008 NFL Defensive Player of the Year is 36, had a reduced role in his one season in Cincinnati and has seen his sack totals decrease every year since 2010.
SANTONIO HOLMES: Tone Time might be running out. The Super Bowl MVP with the Steelers in 2009, the 30-year-old Holmes was terrific in his first two seasons after being traded to the Jets in 2010. But he has just 43 catches in 15 games over the last two years after suffering a serious foot injury in 2012 and missing five games last season with a hamstring problem.
RICHIE INCOGNITO: He'll always be known for his role in the harassment of former teammate Jonathan Martin, another offensive lineman and an assistant trainer last season. Incognito was suspended and missed the final eight games with Miami. The bullying scandal, along with being 31, might make it tough for the guard to find a suitor.
ED REED: A year ago, the newly signed Reed was considered a key piece of the Texans' improved defense. But he underwent hip surgery in the offseason, missed the first two games, then lost his starting job at safety. Reed was released after seven games, but reunited with Rex Ryan in New York and had three interceptions in seven games with the Jets. He'll be 36 in September.
ASANTE SAMUEL: Helped the Patriots to two Super Bowls early in his career as one of the league's top ballhawking cornerbacks. After four seasons with the Eagles, they traded him to the Falcons in 2012. Samuel is 33, but still productive — although he was limited to 11 games last season and relegated to backup duty.
JONATHAN VILMA: A tackling machine early in his career with the Jets and Saints, he then dealt with knee injuries, ineffectiveness and also was identified in 2012 as a ring leader of New Orleans' bounty program. Vilma missed the first five games of that season while rehabilitating his left knee, and played in only one game last year because of it.
KELLEN WINSLOW JR.: The tight end caught 31 passes in 12 games with the Jets and showed flashes, but missed four weeks for violating the NFL's performance enhancing substances policy. He was also arrested last November on suspicion of synthetic marijuana possession, but was granted a conditional discharge — meaning the charge could be dismissed after a year.
ERIC WINSTON: The 30-year-old right tackle has started 119 consecutive games, spanning his first six NFL seasons with the Texans, a season in Kansas City and last year in Arizona. He wasn't re-signed by the Cardinals, and some wonder if the lack of interest is due in part to Winston becoming president of the NFL Players Association.
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