With LaDainian Tomlinson agreeing to a two-year deal with the Jets on Sunday, he became the third supposedly over-the-hill running back to find work since the start of free agency. Remember, when Tomlinson, Thomas Jones, Brian Westbrook, Larry Johnson and Willie Parker were released or not re-signed entering free agency, most of the conversation centered on their projected lack of effectiveness because they were 30ish.
The Jets cut Jones before he was due a roster bonus of about $3 million yet they replaced him with Tomlinson, who's just 10 months younger and last season rushed for 730 yards -- 672 fewer than Jones. Tomlinson was released by San Diego before he was due a $2 million roster bonus.
Meanwhile, Jones, 31, signed to a two-year, $5 million deal with the Chiefs -- basically the amount of money Jones was set to make in New York this season with the roster bonus and base salary. The economically-sound move brings Kansas City a highly-productive, tough-as-nails player who will add some blue-collar leadership and production to a young offense in need of any help it can get. Jones, who is coming off his fifth straight season with at least 1,100 yards rushing, also will be playing with a chip on his shoulder, having been bounced by another team that he helped get deep into the playoffs (Chicago was the first).
In conjunction with these slight degrees of separation, Jones will replace Johnson, whose repeated off-the-field misgivings got him shipped out of Kansas City. He was re-routed to Washington, where he agreed to a three-year deal Friday, through Cincinnati, where he finished last season and provided short-term depth to the guy the Bears bounced Jones for two years ago -- Cedric Benson. Johnson, 30, found work despite supposedly being worn down by years of serious heavy lifting (3,539 yards on 752 carries in 2005 and 2006 combined) with the Chiefs.
The Redskins seem very high on the acquisition of Johnson -- I am on record as saying L.J. will be the best free-agent running back addition this offseason. However, he doesn't seem like the ideal one-cut runner for the zone-blocking system new coach Mike Shanahan ran for years in Denver. The most interesting dynamic of Johnson going to Washington is pairing him with Clinton Portis. Both players are older, not that fast and have strong personalities that are either magnetizing or alienating. Keeping those two outspoken veterans in check could be the toughest thing Shanahan has to do this season.
So for all the talk about running backs being viewed as dinosaurs once they hit 30, Jones, Johnson, Tomlinson and Chester Taylor, who signed with the Bears, quickly found work. Their roles could be different than the full-time ball carriers they were in their mid-20s, but for as much as they were viewed as being liabilities because of their age, that extra coin most of them were set to earn appears to have been the baggage that really made them expendable.
As for Parker and Westbrook, not much buzz going on. They could be on the sideline until after the draft, which is deep in talented running backs.
Why Delhomme had to go
Cleveland adding Jake Delhomme may or may not help the Browns' unstable quarterback situation. His surprising and costly release from Carolina did help the Panthers' unstable quarterback situation. And not simply because Delhomme's best days could be behind him.
Once the decision was made to go with upstart Matt Moore, Panthers management and coaches pondered the notion of retaining Delhomme as the backup, but realized that would be worse than paying Delhomme $12.7 million to walk away, which they did. Delhomme is very popular among his teammates, even though a lot of them grew tired of his ineffectiveness on the field. His engaging personality made him a favorite throughout all levels of the franchise, which is why he had to go.
Had Delhomme been available when Moore made a mistake or two, locker-room division could have ensued quickly. Players could have taken sides and Delhomme definitely would have significant support. The coaching staff and management accurately realized that Delhomme couldn't be kept around for that reason alone, so it made the move to release him.
As one person with the organization told me, it would have been like Brett Favre being Aaron Rodgers' backup. We know that would not have been good. Several folks from around the league also don't think the Panthers will bring in a veteran to seriously challenge Moore, in part to avoid him feeling threatened or spur any locker-room division.
Chargers third-string quarterback Charlie Whitehurst, restricted free agent, was offered contracts by Arizona and Seattle over the weekend. He'll decide by Tuesday which one to sign. San Diego has placed a third-round tender on Whitehurst, meaning it would receive a third-round pick as compensation if it opts not to match an offer made by another team (it won't, which is why it only placed a third-round tender on him).
While Seattle doesn't have a third-round pick to offer, I'm told they've already discussed amenable compensation with the Chargers should Whitehurst sign with Seattle.
So why would anyone go after a guy who hasn't thrown a regular-season pass in four seasons? Potential. This is hardly the first time teams have come after Whitehurst. The Chargers have received calls over the past few years but declined to move the 6-foot-4, 220-pounder whose dad David played quarterback for Green Bay. Whitehurst is viewed as a nice talent and, instead of using a third-round draft pick on a rookie, Seattle and Arizona view it more appealing to forfeit a selection on someone whose been coached by Norv Turner, is used to being on good teams and has been through the NFL lifestyle.
Seattle and Arizona aren't willing to give up a pick and a new contract for someone to simply be a backup, either. Whitehurst would compete with Matt Leinart in Arizona. With Pete Carroll and his staff taking over in Seattle, they could open up the competition or groom Whitehurst while Matt Hasselbeck plays out the last season of his contract with the Seahawks.
McClain's status unchanged
"None," one general manager texted me when I asked if McClain's medical condition was an issue. He will be the first linebacker -- inside or outside -- selected and it is unlikely he escapes the top 10.
Most teams were aware of his condition, so his public acknowledgment did nothing to make teams think differently. The 6-3, 254-pound, three-down inside linebacker, never missed a game or came out of a game in three seasons at Alabama because of Crohn's-related issues. He told me he's managed symptoms -- he was first diagnosed as a high school freshman -- by taking seven or eight medicines a day.
Some of the scouts I spoke to at McClain's pro day were blown away at his measurables and on-field production, but his biggest quality -- this was an almost universal opinion -- was how smart he is on the field. His ability to consistently make the correct play-calls, get players in the right position and decipher plays while they're happening makes him one of the top defenders in the draft. If he gets past Jacksonville at No. 10, he won't get past Denver at No. 11.
This Cook's getting hotter
With so few cornerbacks available in free agency -- especially bigger corners -- a draft prospect who apparently is on the rise is Virginia's Chris Cook. After running a 4.46 at the NFL Scouting Combine -- the second fastest among corners -- the 6-2, 212 Cook's stock is ascending to where he could be one of the top four or five corners taken. The big concern with Cook was his top-end speed and because of that, he was viewed as a Cover 2 corner or possibly even a safety. However, his 40-time has made personnel types review his film and what they've seen in hindsight is working in Cook's favor.