Difference makers still available in T.O., Westbrook

Posted July 07, 2010 @ 8:56 a.m.
Posted By Michael Blunda

Free agency is all the rage these days, with NBA superstars LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and others deciding where they will spend the next five or six years of their careers. But the young guns aren't the only guys being sought after on the league's open market.

Realizing the importance of having established veterans, teams have been hot and heavy in their pursuit of players who may be past their prime but still can be helpful commodities to a championship run. Ray Allen and Brad Miller — both age 34 — are just two examples of older individuals who've commanded attention during this free-agency frenzy, as each has the skills to be a key role player on a contending club.

This got me thinking about the bevy of veteran free agents who remain available in the NFL just weeks before training camps are set to kick off. For various reasons, a slew of notable names has been unable to catch on with new teams, leaving a large group of difference makers sitting out there at this late stage in the game. One look at PFW's list of free agents by position will give you a good idea of the talent waiting to be scooped up.

While someone could easily make a case why upward of a dozen of these guys deserve to be signed, two offensive players who stick out to me as vets who'd be instant contributors on new teams are Terrell Owens and Brian Westbrook. Yet it's July, and neither multi-time Pro Bowler has a contract.

While Westbrook has at least met with clubs who could have a desire to sign him, Owens has basically been shunned by the entire league, not drawing significant interest at all this offseason. The reasons why are obvious: He is 36 years old, has lost quite a bit of speed and had his worst statistical season in many years in 2009. Oh, and there's that whole bad reputation thing that continues to follow him around like the plague.

Take a look beyond the surface, though, and it's clear that the perception around T.O. isn't necessarily the reality. He may be old in football terms, but he's as well-conditioned an athlete as there is today, so he plays much younger than 36 — he's only missed one game the past four seasons. While his numbers were nothing special last year (55 catches for 829 yards and five touchdowns), he did so for a Bills offense that was one of the league's worst, finishing 30th in both passing and total yards. And though he's often criticized for his locker-room-dividing attitude, Owens was on his best behavior for the bulk of his tenure in Buffalo, a place he probably wasn't thrilled to be.

Owens ranks No. 3 all-time in both TD catches and receiving yards. Is that really the sort of résumé that receiver-needy teams want to pass on? Assuming he is ready to be an offense's second or third option as his career winds down, T.O. would be an enormous upgrade for somebody like the Falcons, who would boast one of the more dangerous attacks in the NFL with his presence. What about Washington, as the wideout had considerable success playing with QB Donovan McNabb in Philadelphia? The two certainly had their public skirmishes, but they have since buried the hatchet, with McNabb stating that he is open to playing with Owens again. And while he wouldn't exactly fit the culture of the Chargers, Owens would be an ideal guy to step in if Vincent Jackson is traded or holds out. Those are just a few of the landing spots that make loads of sense.

With Westbrook, the concern is more about his injury history than anything else. The 30-year-old running back hasn't been a picture of health throughout his career, having never played all 16 games in a season and missing eight contests in '09. Last year, a laundry list of ailments caused him to be a virtual nonfactor, but it was a series of concussions that kept him sidelined the longest. Finally ready to move on, the Eagles dumped him in March.

Offseason reports about Westbrook's condition have been positive, though, and he'll be ready to roll come training camp. Teams worried about him getting hurt again must consider that the 5-10, 203-pounder took a beating during his six-season run as Philly's featured back, racking up a multitude of touches as both a rusher and receiver. Although he's not built to endure that kind of punishment, the odds of a Westbrook injury would decrease drastically in a reduced role as a third-down specialist, which is likely what he'd be with his new squad.

As pass-catching backs go, there aren't many better than Westbrook, who had 355 receptions for 3,191 yards and 24 scores from 2004-08. He's no slouch as a runner, either, sporting a 4.6-yard career average. There's nothing to suggest he wouldn't be extremely effective coming in on third downs to provide an offensive spark. The Redskins lack a receiving back and would be a solid fit, while places like Green Bay and Minnesota also make good sense. In the right situation, he can still be an impact player.

Even at their advanced ages, Owens and Westbrook have enough talent to just about guarantee that they'll be on an NFL roster by Week One. And while their signings won't shake the foundation of the league like those of LeBron or D-Wade, they could turn out to be more significant moves than most would have anticipated.


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