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Veteran stars who were cast aside
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PHOTOS: The Dirtied Dozen
The NFL can be a cold, hard business for NFL 30-somethings. Alex Marvez shares
12 longtime veterans suddenly shown the exit.
1. LB Derrick Brooks 14 seasons, 11 Pro Bowls with Tampa BayWhy is he gone?
The 35-year-old Brooks didn't fit in the youth movement being implemented under first-year Bucs head coach Raheem Morris and general manager Mark Dominik. Brooks started all 16 games last season but was pulled from nickel packages because his coverage skills have declined. Tampa Bay didn't want to pay Brooks a $3 million base salary in 2009 as a part-time player.
Brooks is likely to sign with a team that doesn't fill its linebacker need in April's draft. Who is replacing him in Tampa Bay?
Quincy Black and Geno Hayes are two promising youngsters who will get a shot at replacing Brooks and Cato June, who also was released. Hayes is recovering from stab wounds recently inflicted by his girlfriend during a domestic dispute. The Bucs may add a veteran free agent for depth. Former Buffalo starter Angelo Crowell visited earlier this week but wasn't signed. What legacy does Brooks leave behind?
He made more tackles (895) and started more consecutive games (208) than any player in Bucs history. Brooks made an equally significant impact off the field in Tampa through his charity foundation (hit55.net). There are 1,335 words dedicated to all of Brooks' good works in Tampa Bay's media guide.
2. WR Marvin Harrison 13 seasons, eight Pro Bowls with IndianapolisWhy is he gone?
Harrison refused to accept a pay cut from the $9 million salary he was slated to earn in 2009. That forced his release by a Colts team unwilling to carry his $13.4-million salary cap figure. Where is he going?
Harrison's offseason has been just as low key as he is. A suitor has yet to publicly emerge for a 36-year-old who had clearly lost a step during last season's 60-catch campaign. There remains a chance he could return to the Colts if a replacement isn't found. Who is replacing him in Indianapolis?
Like they did with 2009 starters Reggie Wayne and Anthony Gonzalez, the Colts are expected to use their first-round pick (27th overall) on a wideout. What legacy does Harrison leave behind?
The reclusive Harrison wasn't heavily active in Indianapolis civic work. Harrison spent most of his personal time in his hometown of Philadelphia. He will be best remembered for forming the most prolific quarterback-wide receiver tandem in NFL history with Peyton Manning. The duo combined for 971 completions and 110 touchdown passes.
3. LB Keith Brooking 11 seasons, five Pro Bowls with AtlantaWhy is he gone?
Atlanta's leading tackler the past eight seasons, Brooking hit incentives that voided the final year of his contract. While wanting to stay, Brooking and agent Pat Dye Jr. correctly believed he could command more in free agency than what the Falcons were offering. Where is he going?
Dallas signed Brooking to a three-year, $6 million contract with $2.5 million guaranteed. The 33-year-old Brooking will start at inside linebacker under Cowboys coach Wade Phillips, who was Atlanta's defensive coordinator in 2002 and 2003. Who is replacing him in Atlanta?
The Falcons have signed Mike Peterson, a lower-cost option who played under Atlanta coach Mike Smith in Jacksonville. But with four-year starter Michael Boley (Giants) also having left in free agency, expect Atlanta to select a linebacker early in the draft. What legacy does Brooking leave behind?
Brooking was Atlanta through and through. The Georgia native was a football star at the high school, college and pro level in his hometown area. He also formed the Keith Brooking Children's Foundation in 2003 (keithbrookingfoundation.com). Brooking has pledged to continue helping Atlanta-area youngsters even though he is now with the Cowboys.
4. S Brian Dawkins 13 seasons, seven Pro Bowls with PhiladelphiaWhy is he gone?
Philadelphia wanted more speed at free safety than the 35-year-old Dawkins can provide at this point in his career. Where is he going?
Dawkins signed with Denver but there was no celebrating his five-year, $17 million contract. A distraught Dawkins became emotional talking about his Eagles departure in media interviews. Who is replacing him in Philadelphia?
The Eagles signed free agent Sean Jones (Cleveland), but could move strong safety Quintin Mikell to free safety. Jones, a three-year starter in Cleveland, might be a steal with a one-year, $3 million deal. What legacy does Dawkins leave behind?
Dawkins was so beloved in Philadelphia that one fan (Dan Leone) was fired from his job with the team for ripping the Eagles on his Facebook page. Dawkins was the unquestioned leader of Philadelphia's defense and a class act on and off the field.
5. WR Torry Holt 10 seasons, 7 Pro Bowls with St. Louis
Both sides wanted a split. Tired of the losing in St. Louis, Holt didn't want to go through another rebuilding process with new coach Steve Spagnuolo. Holt was released Friday after St. Louis couldn't find a trade partner. Where is he going?
With free-agent options for wideouts scarce, bidding for the NFL's leading receiver this decade could quickly get heated. Suitors, though, must weigh whether Holt's subpar 2008 season was the result of an ineffective Rams offense or physical decline at age 32 (he turns 33 in June). Who is replacing him in St. Louis?
The Rams' receiving corps is in shambles following the release of Holt and free-agent bust Drew Bennett. Donnie Avery and Keenan Burton show promise but both are entering just their second NFL seasons. What legacy does Holt leave behind?
The Greatest Show on Turf was a five-ring circus thanks to quarterback Kurt Warner, coach Mike Martz, running back Marshall Faulk and wideouts Holt and Isaac Bruce. The Rams were almost unstoppable offensively for three seasons, winning one Super Bowl (XXXIV) and barely losing another (XXXVI). Holt leaves with 869 career catches and the highest per-game receiving average (80.1 yards) in NFL history.
6. T Orlando Pace 12 seasons, seven Pro Bowls with St. LouisWhy is he gone?
Injuries suffered over the past three seasons knocked the 33-year-old Pace from the class of elite left tackles. The rebuilding Rams cleared $6 million in cap space Tuesday with Pace's release. Where is he going?
Pace should draw consideration from any team needing a short-term fix at left tackle. Oakland might be a strong contender with the Raiders recently cooling on former Jacksonville starter Khalif Barnes. Who is replacing him in St. Louis?
The Rams are likely to choose a left tackle with the draft's No. 2 overall pick. Virginia's Eugene Monroe and Bayor's Jason Smith are potential targets. What legacy does Pace leave behind?
The top overall pick in the 1997 draft, Pace was the cornerstone blocker for the aforementioned Greatest Show on Turf. His play helped the Rams rebound from the mistake of wasting a high first-round pick on running back Lawrence Phillips the previous year.
7. C Matt Birk 11 seasons, six Pro Bowls in MinnesotaWhy is he gone?
Birk's bumpy relationship with Vikings coach Brad Childress may have led to his departure. Birk didn't want to depart Minnesota, but Baltimore lured him away with a three-year, $12 million contract offer that the Vikings declined to match. Where is he going?
With the Ravens, Birk will replace departed free agent Jason Brown (St. Louis). Addressing the center spot was imperative with Baltimore facing two of the NFL's best nose tackles (Pittsburgh's Casey Hampton and Cleveland's Shaun Rogers) twice a season. Who is replacing him in Minnesota?
Aware that Birk could be leaving this offseason, the Vikings made a preemptive strike by selecting Notre Dame's John Sullivan in the sixth round of last year's draft. Sullivan didn't take an offensive snap as a rookie. If he struggles, the Vikings could shift Anthony Herrera or Ryan Cook into the spot. What legacy does Birk leave behind?
Raised in St.Paul, Birk lived a lifelong dream of playing for his hometown team. He was a seven-time winner of the Vikings' Man of the Year award and founder of the HIKE Foundation for at-risk children in the Twin Cities (hikefoundation.org).
8. K Matt Stover 19 seasons, one Pro Bowl in Cleveland/BaltimoreWhy is he gone?
Stover's leg strength has faded. He made just five of 10 field goals from 40-plus yards in 2008. He also was replaced by rookie Steve Hauschka on kickoffs and long field-goal attempts. Where is he going?
Even at age 41, Stover would be an appealing option for a team willing to dedicate an extra roster space to a kickoff specialist. Stover made all 27 his field goals from within 44 yards last season and brings plenty of experience performing in pressure situations. Stover has more game-winning kicks (14) than any player in NFL history. Who is replacing him in Baltimore?
Hauschka will have the chance to assume all of Baltimore's kicking duties. Should he struggle, Ravens officials have left the door open for a Stover return provided he hasn't signed elsewhere by then. What legacy does Stover leave behind?
He was the last member of the Art Modell-owned Browns still with the Ravens following the franchise's 1996 move to Baltimore. Stover was among Baltimore's most active players in the community, which is why the team's refusal to re-sign him isn't going over well with Ravens fans.
9. RB Fred Taylor 11 seasons, one Pro Bowl in JacksonvilleWhy is he gone?
Taylor finished last season with his lowest rushing total (556 yards) and average (3.9) since 2001. He turned 33 in January making him a senior citizen at his position and was due to earn $6 million in 2009. Where is he going?
New England, which had previous success with over-30 running backs Corey Dillon and Antowain Smith. The Patriots signed Taylor to a two-year, $5 million contract. He is expected to serve as part of a running back-by-committee approach that currently includes Sammy Morris, Kevin Faulk and Laurence Maroney. Who is replacing him in Jacksonville?
Maurice Jones-Drew is being promoted to the starting lineup. Jones-Drew was Jacksonville's leading rusher last season and is in line for a huge contract extension. Expect the Jaguars to add another running back as Jones-Drew's backup. What legacy does Taylor leave behind?
The respect that Taylor garnered with the Jaguars became evident during the 2007 season when fans, teammates and opposing players successfully lobbied for him to reach the Pro Bowl.
10. RB Deuce McAllister eight seasons, two Pro Bowls in New OrleansWhy is he gone?
McAllister became a part-time player in 2008 because of injuries and declining skills. That made McAllister's $7 million salary for 2009 exorbitant. Where is he going?
McAllister could be this year's version of Shaun Alexander, the former NFL rushing champion who drew little interest for his services in 2008 after being released by Seattle. McAllister, who has undergone two knee reconstructions, showed little burst last season and is 30 years old. Who is replacing him in New Orleans?
Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush are set to split the workload, but the Saints would be wise to add a McAllister-like bruiser to their running back mix. LaDainian Tomlinson would have been a nice fit former Chargers quarterback Drew Brees made a recruiting pitch but the cap-strapped Saints didn't swing a deal. Tomlinson restructured his contract to remain in San Diego. What legacy does McAllister leave behind?
The chants of "DOOOOOCE!" were never louder inside the Louisiana Superdome than last season when McAllister scored his franchise-record 54th career touchdown against Green Bay. McAllister's punishing running style and Southern roots made him one of the most popular players in franchise history.
11. WR Amani Toomer 13 seasons, no Pro Bowls with the GiantsWhy is he gone?
Toomer couldn't help pick up the slack in the passing game after Plaxico Burress' suspension. In New York's final five contests, Toomer caught only 11 passes for 126 yards and no touchdowns. There was no reason to believe Toomer was going to be any better entering the 2009 season at age 35. Where is he going?
On his web site (the stylishly-named Amani.com), Toomer said he wants to continue playing another "two or three years." He may not get that opportunity. Toomer has yet to draw significant free-agent interest. St. Louis would make sense because of that team's glaring need for a veteran and Toomer's previous relationship with Spagnuolo in New York. Who is replacing him in New York?
The Giants have yet to bite on a free-agent wideout like T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Laveranues Coles or Marvin Harrison. Holt or Arizona's Anquan Boldin could be a more appealing fit, especially with Burress unlikely to return. The Giants have used picks on the position in the past three draft classes on wideouts with mixed results. Steve Smith (2007 second-round) would start opposite Domenik Hixon if the season began today. Sinorice Moss (2006 second round) never became the slot threat that New York envisioned. The jury is still out on Mario Manningham (2008 third round), who didn't receive much playing time as a rookie. What legacy does Toomer leave behind?
Toomer enjoyed five consecutive 1,000-yard seasons (1999 to 2003) en route to catching a franchise-record 668 passes. Toomer also started a charity foundation to help after-school programs.
12. WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh 8 seasons, 1 Pro Bowl with CincinnatiWhy is he gone?
Houshmandzadeh was determined to land with the highest bidder as a free agent this offseason. He did just that when Cincinnati and Minnesota refused to match Seattle's five-year, $40 million offer that included $15 million in guaranteed money. Where is he going?
Some teams shied from pursuing Houshmandzadeh because of his age (he turns 32 in September) and the belief he wasn't a bona fide No. 1 receiver. Houshmandzadeh will have the chance to prove he can carry a receiver corps in Seattle. The Seahawks didn't have a wideout with more than 500 receiving yards in 2008. Who is replacing him in Cincinnati?
The Bengals struck quickly for a replacement in Coles, who was signed to a four-year, $28 million contract shortly after Houshmandzadeh signed his deal. What legacy does Houshmandzadeh leave behind?
Initially known as a sportscaster's punch line, Houshmandzadeh established himself as one of the NFL's top receivers and began emerging from Chad Johnson's shadow in 2007. Houshmandzadeh was well liked among his teammates and could return to Cincinnati as a media personality when his playing days end.