From INSIDER. enjoy.
Few 49ers fans will forget when San Francisco released 13-time Pro Bowler Jerry Rice in June of 2001, but the move appeared to make sense from a management standpoint. After all, Rice, whose numbers had slipped during the 1999 and 2000 seasons, was 38 and coming off his 16th season in the league. He appeared to be on the downside of his career, and the 49ers decided to go younger.
Many players in Rice's position would have retired, but he felt he could still be productive and signed with Oakland. The change in scenery and offensive philosophy jumpstarted Rice's career, as he finished with more than 1,000 yards receiving in his first two seasons with the Raiders. Rice is a precise route runner who excelled in the Raiders' offense, which relied heavily on crossing patterns and timing. In fact, Rice's most productive season since 1996 came in 2002.
Rice's level of production late in his career is a testament to his natural ability, durability and understanding of the game. However, it also shows that players in the twilight of their careers still can make an impact in the right schemes, surrounded by the right supporting cast or in the right circumstances.
Here are 10 players over the age of 30 who changed teams during the offseason. Most aren't as explosive, fast or strong as they were earlier in their careers, but each has the potential to make an impact on his new team. The desire to prove their former teams wrong for letting them go also could cause some of these players to elevate the level of their game.
Five offensive players
Tim Brown, WR, Tampa Bay
Brown's production has steadily declined over the past three seasons, and he clearly has lost a step with age. With Oakland wanting to take more chances downfield this year, it's not all that surprising the Raiders released him after 16 seasons. Now Brown, who had some of his most productive seasons under head coach Jon Gruden in Oakland, is hoping Gruden can do for him in Tampa Bay what he did for Rice in Oakland.
Brown is a crisp route runner and has extensive experience in Gruden's system, making him an adequate No. 2 receiver in this offense. As a result, signing Brown gives the Buccaneers good insurance should Keenan McCardell's holdout continue and first-round pick Michael Clayton be unable to handle the starting slot opposite Joey Galloway. However, Brown no longer has the speed or explosiveness of a prototypical No. 2, and the Buccaneers hope that either McCardell or Clayton wins the job, allowing Brown to move to the No. 3 or 4 slot.
A nine-time Pro Bowler, Brown has the footwork and enough burst to get open working against most nickel or dime backs, and Tampa Bay won't ask him to stretch the field often. It's unlikely he'll be as productive as Rice was three years ago, but Brown still can make an impact as a reliable target underneath and in the red zone.
Curtis Conway, WR, San Francisco
Conway's average-yards-per-catch has been dropping the past three seasons, and he isn't the downfield threat he was earlier in his career. Shoulder problems also have hindered the 33-year-old during each his last two seasons, creating concerns about his durability. With both of their starters from a year ago departing through free agency, the 49ers signed Conway to improve depth and add some experience to the roster.
Conway has made the most of the opportunity thus far, impressing the coaching staff with his route running, consistency catching the ball and work ethic during the preseason. Even though Conway is currently listed as the No. 3 receiver, he may be the 49ers' best option at the No. 2 spot (behind Brandon Lloyd) and could push Cedrick Wilson for playing time.
Although Conway is a better fit as a nickel receiver and struggled as a starter for the Jets last year and San Diego two years ago, he should get enough touches to post respectable numbers should he start. If he remains the No. 3, as hoped, he has the quickness to get open working against most nickel backs and should still get plenty of touches, as San Francisco likely will be playing from behind regularly this year.
Eddie George, RB, Dallas
One of the hottest topics during the offseason was whether George would return to Tennessee this year. The Titans ultimately chose to release George and go with second-year back Chris Brown. At 30, George isn't as old as many of the players on this list, but his heavy workload over the years has caused him to wear down. (He hasn't averaged better than 3.4 yards a carry since 2000.) With second-round pick Julius Jones projected to start and little depth behind him, Dallas signed George, and he should be an excellent fit.
George rarely goes down with the first hit, and he has the size to wear teams down over the course of the game, which will help the Cowboys protect any late leads. While he doesn't have great speed, he doesn't have to consistently turn the corner in Dallas' conservative running attack. In addition, Dallas will frequently spell George by rotating Jones in and replacing him with FB Richie Anderson on passing downs. A fresher George should show greater burst through the hole, and that should help improve his average.
Antonio Freeman, WR, Miami
Freeman made just 14 catches while appearing in 15 games for Green Bay last year; he hasn't had a 1,000-yard receiving season since 1999. He isn't explosive enough to turn the short gain into the big play and isn't fast enough to consistently get over the top of defenders. Miami signed him in hopes he would make the team and improve the depth of a receiving unit that has been dealing with injuries throughout the preseason.
Freeman's inability to create separation working against man coverage is reason for concern, but he almost always finds the soft spot in zone coverage and has excellent hands. He also has averaged a touchdown every 7.8 receptions during his career. Carolina likes to use Ricky Proehl, who has caught at least four touchdowns in each of the last four seasons, inside the red zone, and Freeman could play a similar role in Miami.
Charlie Garner, RB, Tampa Bay
Garner is somewhat different from the rest of the players on this list, because he exercised an option in his contract allowing him to leave Oakland and sign with Tampa Bay. That said, Garner's production dropped off dramatically last year, and the Raiders didn't appear broken-hearted about his departure. There is also some concern about his durability, as he is undersized, is 32 and missed two games with a back injury last year.
Garner also played under Gruden in Oakland and will need to rely on that experience to make a quick transition, as he is the primary back until Michael Pittman is done serving a three-game suspension. The passing game is where Garner should make his biggest impact. Gruden will use Garner's versatility to his advantage by moving him around and creating favorable matchups. Garner excels at getting open quickly and is still dangerous after the catch.
With a healthy Mike Alstott, who missed most of last year with a neck injury, and Pittman, once he returns, taking ample carries, Garner may not get as many carries as he would like. However, he still has enough burst to turn the touches he gets in the running game into adequate production, and the rotation should keep him fresh late in games, as well as late in the season.
Five defensive players
John Lynch, SS, Denver
Several Tampa Bay fans were upset with the way Lynch was let go during the offseason, but Lynch no longer had the range to excel in a cover-2 scheme. With the much-younger Jermaine Phillips ready to step in, the Buccaneers made the right move by parting ways.
Few players will benefit from Denver's trade for Champ Bailey more than Lynch. Bailey's ability to take opposing receivers out of the game with little or no help takes a lot of pressure off of Lynch in coverage, as he shouldn't have to cover nearly as much ground. This will allow him to focus on filling against the run and punishing receivers who go over the middle. The leadership he brings to a relatively young Broncos' secondary shouldn't be overlooked, either.
Warren Sapp, DT/DE, Oakland
Many felt Sapp would challenge for the league's single-season sack record following his 16.5 sacks in 2000. He hasn't come close to matching that production since, and with Tampa Bay less than enthusiastic about re-signing him during the offseason, Sapp jumped to Oakland.
Sapp isn't as explosive as he was earlier in his career, and he has some problems splitting double teams, but he still has enough quickness and agility to be effective rushing the passer. New defensive coordinator Rob Ryan will put Sapp in a position to succeed by moving him all over the field.
Sapp will see time at defensive end and tackle depending on the formation, as well as down and distance. Lining Sapp up in a variety of different positions makes it difficult for offensive lines to adjust their protection to account for him, and it should result in Sapp getting to the quarterback more often this year.
Jason Gildon, OLB, Buffalo
Pittsburgh asked its outside linebackers to do more in coverage last year, and Gildon struggled to make the transition. With Clark Haggans waiting in the wings and Gildon's sack production steadily declining over the past four seasons, the Steelers released Gildon.
It's true Gildon doesn't have the ability to change directions quickly or the speed to cover most backs out of the backfield, but Buffalo won't ask him to drop into coverage very often. The Bills are expected to use Gildon as a situational nickel pass rusher, and he can be very effective in this role.
Gildon, who is Pittsburgh's all time-sack leader, uses a variety of different pass rush moves, and he should be more explosive off the ball now that he isn't starting. He also should benefit from Aaron Schobel frequently drawing attention away from him.
Bobby Taylor, CB, Seattle
Philadelphia decided to let Taylor go after his interception total dropped and he missed nine games with a foot injury last year. Seattle signed him in hopes he would improve depth and push the inconsistent Ken Lucas during the preseason.
Mission accomplished, thus far. While Taylor has played well, Lucas has risen to the challenge, and it appears he will be the starter opposite Marcus Trufant on opening day, making Taylor the nickel back. Taylor is an adequate starter, but he should be one of the best nickel backs in the league. He is extremely physical, shows good strength at the point of attack and will use his hands to disrupt the slot receiver's timing. If he can stay healthy and Lucas continues to play well, Seattle should have one of the better secondaries in the league.
Brock Marion, FS, Detroit
Marion no longer has the speed to consistently reach the deep half of the field, and Miami's secondary had some problems preventing the big play last year. As a result, the Dolphins let the 34-year-old go, and he signed with a Detroit secondary that had released Corey Harris.
There is no question Marion is nearing the end of his career, and he isn't going to make many big plays at this point, but he is an excellent fit for the Lions. He does an excellent job of using technique and experience to mask his declining athletic abilities.
Marion won't make many mistakes and will help keep Detroit's secondary on the same page. The Lions will help keep him fresh by spelling him with backup Terrence Holt. Marion's impact could outlast this year, as well, because Holt will benefit from playing behind him.