Although he rushed for 1,002 yards on a bad Browns offense in 2008, Lewis averaged a pedestrian 3.6 yards per carry with a long run of just 29 yards. Lewis, who turns 30 in August, then had ankle surgery to remove bone chips for the second time in the past three offseasons. Lewis needs to regain his 2007 form (1,304 rushing yards, 9 TDs), or he has no shot at collecting his scheduled $3.9 million salary in 2010.
Seattle QB Matt Hasselbeck
The Seahawks gave Hasselbeck a vote of confidence by not using the draft's No. 4 pick on a quarterback. Hasselbeck, though, must show a new coaching staff that he is the long-term answer at the position. Hasselbeck is coming off his worst season as a Seahawks starter, playing in only seven games because of a back injury. He also turns 34 in September.
Buffalo WR Terrell Owens
Having left his third NFL team on bad terms, Owens needs to reinvent himself in Buffalo after signing a one-year, $6 million contract. With a good season, Owens could land a nice free-agent deal in 2010, even though he turns 36 in December. If he struggles or again proves a disruptive locker-room presence, Owens may have a hard time finding another NFL team willing to sign him at this point in his career.
Cincinnati WR Chad Ochocinco
Call him Chad Johnson or Chad Ochocinco. Either way, he was mediocre in 2008. Ochocinco's catches (53), receiving yards (540) and touchdowns (4) were the lowest totals since his rookie season in 2001. He also remained a lightning rod for controversy. Ochocinco's shenanigans were tolerable when he was playing at a high level. At age 31, they won't be for much longer in Cincinnati if he doesn't improve in 2009.
Denver CB Champ Bailey
When he's healthy, Bailey is one of the NFL's top cornerbacks. But Bailey missed seven games with a groin injury last season and turns 31 on June 22. Bailey must rebound to have a shot at collecting the $9.5 million salary he is set to earn in 2010. Denver's new football administration already secured what could be Bailey's heir apparent, trading a 2010 first-round pick to Seattle for the chance to select Wake Forest cornerback Alphonso Smith in the second round of this year's draft.
Chicago LB Brian Urlacher
The impact plays Urlacher once made were sorely lacking in 2008. He intercepted two passes but didn't register a sack or forced fumble. Urlacher's tackle total also dipped to 93, which equaled 35 less stops than what he averaged from 2005 to 2007. In his defense, Urlacher didn't receive much support from an underachieving defensive line and secondary. At age 31 with a $6.9 million base salary in 2010, Urlacher needs to resurrect his menacing ways or face an uncertain future in Chicago.
Kansas City RB Larry Johnson
Earlier this offseason, it seemed the 29-year-old Johnson and his $4.55 million base salary would be on the outs in Kansas City. Johnson even publicly lobbied for a trade or release. Johnson has since bought into new head coach Todd Haley's program and was a regular at offseason workouts. Johnson was arguably the NFL's best running back in 2005 and 2006, until injuries and off-field problems derailed his career. This could be his last chance in Kansas City to recapture that magic.
San Diego RB LaDainian Tomlinson
It was touch-and-go determining if this future Hall of Famer would remain with the Chargers earlier this offseason until a restructured contract guaranteed his return in 2009. Still, Tomlinson's long-term future in San Diego remains in doubt. Tomlinson's play slipped in 2008, and he was sidelined with injuries for the second consecutive postseason. Tomlinson turns 30 on June 23, which is social-security age for an NFL running back. Plus, the Chargers kept promising backup Darren Sproles with use of a franchise tag. With 3,167 career touches (runs and catches) and only one missed regular-season game in eight years, Tomlinson must show that so much wear-and-tear hasn't diminished his status as one of the NFL's elite rushers.
New York Giants LB Antonio Pierce
He recently promised that the "old A.P." would return in 2009. He had better. Pierce slumped last year after playing a key role in New York's Super Bowl run the previous season. His 95 tackles accounted for his lowest total in five years as an NFL starter and didn't generate many big plays. Plus, Pierce generated off-field headlines for being with Plaxico Burress the night the ex-Giants wide receiver shot himself in the leg inside a Manhattan night club. At 30, Pierce needs to get back on track quickly or risk getting replaced. He should benefit from playing behind the NFL's deepest defensive line, and also from New York's free-agent signing of Michael Boley (Atlanta), who will start at weak-side linebacker.
Washington QB Jason Campbell
With the Redskins unable to upgrade the position during the offseason, Campbell will get one final chance to prove himself as Washington's starting quarterback. Campbell is 16-20 as a Redskins starter since 2007, which won't cut it in such a competitive division. He also is entering the final year of his rookie contract.
Cleveland OLB Kamerion Wimbley
A player's sack totals are supposed to improve from his rookie season, not the other way around. After notching 11 as a rookie in 2007, Wimbley has gotten to the quarterback only 9 times in the past two years. Wimbley needs to flourish in new head coach Eric Mangini's 3-4 defense or he will be remembered as another wasted Browns first-round pick.
New Orleans TE Jeremy Shockey
The New York Giants look like geniuses for trading Shockey to the Saints last offseason for second- and fifth-round draft choices. Shockey struggled adjusting to a new system, catching 50 passes with career lows in receiving yards (483) and touchdowns (0). Shockey's troublesome off-field reputation wasn't helped this offseason when he was hospitalization for dehydration while attending a Las Vegas pool party. At 28, Shockey is still young enough to regain the form that earned him four Pro Bowl berths, but the clock is ticking in New Orleans.
Tampa Bay RB Carnell "Cadillac" Williams
After a brilliant start to his NFL career in 2005, Williams has missed most of the past two seasons because of knee injuries. He might have to open this season on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list while recovering from his latest surgery. With his base salaries sitting at $2.6 million and $2.2 million the next two years, the Bucs may not have much more patience if this Cadillac can't fix his flat tire.
San Francisco QB Alex Smith
Four years removed from making him the top overall draft pick, the 49ers are giving Smith one last chance to salvage his NFL career. Smith's time in San Francisco has been marred by injury, poor performances and a revolving door of offensive coordinators that retarded his development. Smith may never have as good a chance at winning a starting spot again as this preseason when he competes with Shaun Hill for a first-team spot.
Houston QB Matt Schaub
After seven years without a playoff berth, the entire Texans coaching staff and roster is under the gun to make the franchise's first postseason appearance. The pressure is especially high on Schaub, whose first two seasons in Houston were marred by injuries. The Texans made a heavy investment in Schaub, trading two second-round picks to Atlanta for his services and signing him to a six-year, $48 million contract in 2007. It's time Schaub lives up to his end of the bargain.
Carolina QB Jake Delhomme
With five interceptions, Delhomme was so awful in last season's playoff loss to Arizona that there were questions about his long-term future in Carolina. The Panthers did extend the 34-year-old Delhomme's contract this offseason with the hope that he will be improved one season removed from Tommy John elbow-ligament replacement surgery. He had better be, or Carolina may be tempted to give backups Matt Moore or Josh McCown a look-see.
New Orleans RB Reggie Bush
So far, Bush hasn't fulfilled the expectations that came with being the No. 2 overall pick in 2006. Part of the problem is knee injuries that have sidelined him during parts of the past two seasons. Coming off microfracture surgery, Bush has dedicated himself to the Saints' offseason workout program. That's a wise move. Bush has to stay healthy this season to count on earning his $8 million base salary in 2010.
Jacksonville WR Torry Holt
He has more receptions than any player this decade, but the free-agent market for Holt was tepid following his offseason release by St. Louis. The lack of interest stemmed largely from age (33) and health concerns. Holt has a chance to prove teams wrong in Jacksonville, where he is now the No. 1 receiver on a team that desperately needed one following the offseason release of Matt Jones. If he doesn't produce at a high level, the Jaguars will probably release Holt in the 2010 offseason.
New Orleans DE Charles Grant
Grant's staunch play between 2003 and 2006 earned him a seven-year, $63 million contract extension during the 2007 offseason. Since then, Grant has notched only 5.5 sacks and missed 10 games because of injuries. Grant also is scheduled to miss the first four games of this season while serving a suspension for violating the NFL's steroid policy. Grant, who turns 31 in September, needs to shine this year when he is reinstated.
Detroit LT Jeff Backus
The Lions gave Backus a vote of confidence when using the draft's top overall pick on quarterback Matt Stafford rather than selecting a blue-chip offensive tackle like Baylor's Jason Smith. Still, Backus shouldn't get too comfortable. His play has slipped in the past few seasons. Backus, 31, needs to impress new head coach Jim Schwartz or risk being replaced in 2010.
Tampa Bay DE Gaines Adams
The Buccaneers thought they were getting the next Simeon Rice when making Adams the No. 4 overall pick in 2007. Instead, Adams has notched a modest 12.5 sacks in his first two NFL seasons. The Bucs are hoping that new defensive coordinator Jim Bates can make Adams into the second coming of Jason Taylor, a star pass-rusher the latter coached with the Miami Dolphins. While that may be ambitious, Adams needs to show improvement to avoid being labeled a draft bust.
Tampa Bay CB Ronde Barber
Barber is coming off his fifth career Pro Bowl appearance playing in the Bucs' trademark "Tampa-two" zone-coverage scheme. Tampa Bay, though, is changing its system to include more man coverage. Barber, 34, must show he can make that adjustment, or this could be his final Bucs season.
Dallas LT Flozell Adams
Don't be fooled by Adams making his fifth Pro Bowl in six seasons in 2008. Like the rest of the Cowboys' offensive line, Adams had a down year. With a $5 million base salary in 2010, the 34-year-old Adams needs to play better this season to assure his spot isn't taken by a younger player.
San Diego CB Antonio Cromartie
Cromartie seemed on the verge of greatness in 2007 when intercepting 10 passes in just eight starts. Cromartie, though, regressed in 2008 because of injuries and poor technique. There are questions about Cromartie's coachability and whether he can be disciplined enough to fulfill his limitless athletic potential. This will be the year we discover if Cromartie is truly a shut-down cornerback, or just a one-year wonder.
Oakland QB JaMarcus Russell
This will only be Russell's second year as an NFL starter, but the heat is already on. Russell was abysmal for much of 2008 before finally showing some improvement toward season's end. That wasn't enough to keep the Raiders from signing free agent Jeff Garcia as his new backup. Garcia has starting aspirations and may get those wishes answered if Russell falters early in the season. So far, Russell's offseason work ethic and practice performances haven't impressed.
Baltimore TE L.J. Smith
Philadelphia thought enough of Smith last season that he was designated the team's franchise player. Smith, though, struggled with injuries for a second consecutive season. He finished with just 37 catches for 298 yards, and was supplanted by Brent Celek as a starter during the playoffs. Smith will have the chance to get his career back on track in Baltimore playing with tight end Todd Heap, who also needs a strong season to guarantee his Ravens return in 2010.