The Graybeards are back.
For the sixth year, our front office (population: 1) has exhaustively combed through the NFL database of unattached free agents to build a starting roster comprised of players still available to all 32 teams.
The goal of the Graybeards is the same as it ever was: build a team that can reasonably compete in (affects Troy Aikman accent) OUR LEAGUE. The goal is in our motto: Just Win Sometimes, Baby. If we can field an 8-8 squad, our team headquarters will throw a rager of biblical proportions on New Year's Eve.
And you know what? I really think our 2020 squad can do it. Let's dig in.
NOTE: Each player's name is accompanied by what his age will be as of Sept. 1.
This is, by far, the most talented quarterback room the Graybeards have ever had. For comparison, in this same exercise last March, the QB depth chart was comprised of Sam Bradford, Brock Osweiler and Josh McCown. Brock Osweiler, people! Joe Flacco will get third-team reps for the '20 Beards -- he would have been the starter on last year's squad. Everything in life is about timing.
I'm installing Newton as my starter and hoping for the best, injury-wise, but I feel confident we can move the ball with either reserve. Seriously, though: I have a 5,000-yard passer who's one bad shell practice away from being my inactive third-stringer. This QB room alone makes this the best Graybeards team ever assembled. I'm pinching myself over this fake team so far.
Freeman looked a step slow in his final season with the Falcons, and it's fair to wonder if lower body injuries have robbed him of the explosiveness that made him a terror during the Kyle Shanahan salad days. Still, he remains relatively young and is worth a first-team look as a reclamation project. Hyde rushed for more than 1,000 yards at 4.4 yards per carry last year in Houston; he's a solid backup option if Freeman can't play the guitar. Miller is coming off an ACL tear that cost him the 2019 season, but the injury was suffered last summer. He could still have the speed to count as a home-run hitter.
Like McCown on last year's Graybeards, Gore's presence means all the beat writers can pre-write a notebook lede about the veteran's leadership qualities then quietly take a four-day weekend in August. Everyone wins.
Nix was literally the only guy listed under his position group on NFL.com's available free agents tracker, so I'm just going to assume he's the only fullback left in the world. What's John Kuhn up to?
Before you get all up in arms, this is my fake team, and I'll take the fake PR hit from the outrage crowd. Brown has comported himself like, well, a jerk for a long time now, but perhaps he's ready to clean it up if he wants to play football again. Remember, he was one of the most productive wide receivers we'd ever seen before he lit a stick of dynamite under his own career.
Gabriel is undersized but speedy, a nice moneyball option on the outside. Higgins tripped into Freddie Kitchens' doghouse last season, but he flashed during Baker Mayfield's rookie campaign in 2018. We'll try him in the slot. Ginn remains a credible downfield threat despite his advanced age. Speaking of former Browns, the presence of Gordon -- still awaiting reinstatement from his indefinite suspension for violating the NFL policies on performance-enhancing substances and substances of abuse in December -- should clue you in to the fact there aren't many appetizing receiver options remaining on the open market. Maybe you'd take a chance on Mr. Big Chest, too.
This is a worrisome position group. Walker was an underrated playmaker during his time with the Titans, but age and injury issues (he played just eight games combined in his final two years in Nashville) makes it fair to wonder if the show's over. Stocker is a capable blocking tight end with two functioning hands. I can't sell him any more than that in good conscience.
Age is obviously an issue here ... but hey, we're the Graybeards for a reason. Peters is a former All-Pro who continued to play at a quality level last season with the Eagles. Can he keep that up for another year? Shipley bounced back from an ACL tear and started 16 games for the Cardinals in 2019. He's battle-tested and should provide stability in the pivot. Leary wasn't great in 12 starts with Denver, but maybe he's better another year removed from his Achilles injury. Kline was a surprise cut by the Vikings after being a decent starter last year. Dotson showed signs of age-related decline at the end of his long run in Tampa, but let's bookend Peters with a crafty technician.
This is a strong, savvy, proud line. Probably better than several of the real-life five-way turnstiles we saw in the NFL last season.
We comin' for ya. Clowney's stagnant market is a major win for the Graybeards, who get a young, dynamic, physical freak smack dab in in his prime. Griffen and Wake are two cagey vets with nine Pro Bowl nods between them, while Matthews is the marketable face we can't wait to slap on the front of a media guide.
I predict 30-35 sacks from this group. Let's go big-game huntin'.
Daniels was a total stud and amongst the best in the league at his position not too long ago, so we're banking on a return to form if he can leave his injury woes in the past. Similarly, "Snacks" Harrison was one of football's best run-stuffers for several years before his game fell off a cliff with the Lions last year. Jernigan is another proven run-stopper who has been slowed by injuries of late. His age tells us a bounce-back season is certainly possible. We fell in love with Hunt when he was on Hard Knocks with the Bengals, and we'll continue to root for him here. How many 6-foot-8 Estonians do you have on your roster?
Bradham is our patrol man in the middle, the eyes and ears of a veteran defense. He's known for sideline-to-sideline quickness, which he'll need to bail out some of his slow-footed teammates. Ogletree flamed out after being traded to the Giants in 2018; perhaps a new environment will help him regain the eye of the tiger. Lee was a draft bust for the Jets who was unable to find a home last year with the Chiefs after being traded to Kansas City in May. Still, the former first-rounder is young, speedy and athletic -- traits the Graybeards take a chance on.
Amukamara isn't much of a playmaker (three interceptions in his last three years), but he has starting experience and counts as a serviceable option on the outside, at least against wide receivers of the non-premium ilk. Carr comes from a similar mold as Amukamara: He's never been a Pro Bowl-level talent, but he can typically hold his own without morphing into burnt toast. These guys won't win games for you, but they'll rarely lose them, either. Ryan, coming off a solid three-year run with the Titans, makes plenty of sense as our slot guy. Williams is, let's call it, extremely well-seasoned at this point, but he continued to perform at a functional level in 2019. A nice depth option if one of the other guys goes belly-up.
Randall has been used in a lot of ways during his career, and we plan to make the most of that versatility as an option in or out of the box. Wilson gives us similar flexibility, but we're going to put him in center field and send him ball-hawking. Reid had an uncharacteristically poor season after signing an extension with the Panthers, but he put too much good stuff on tape before 2019 to give up on him. Berry -- out of football last year -- deserves another shot after putting in all the work to return from illness and injuries.
Marquette King (31)
We wanted to bring in at least one XFL player, so why not extend an NFL olive branch to King, a former second-team All-Pro who plied his trade with the St. Louis BattleHawks in a pre-COVID-19 world? King seemed to alienate himself from NFL teammates and coaches with his gregarious antics, and we'll be make sure to tell him that the Graybeards don't need a Dwight Howard type in our locker room.
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And there's the team. Your 2020 Graybeards. Given the quality quarterback play, solid offensive line, deep front seven and competent secondary, this team has all the hallmarks of a perfectly serviceable, potentially frisky 8-8 team. And when you factor in that the difference between an 8-8 also-ran and a 10-6 playoff squad usually comes down to a field goal miss here or a holding penalty there, let's just say hope is in no short supply at Graybeards headquarters.
Let the fake games begin!