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Friday, July 26
Updated: July 27, 5:18 PM ET
Anderson among those still searching for a home

By Len Pasquarelli

By the end of the weekend, training camps will have opened in every league precinct. While some teams continue to fine-tune rosters with 11th-hour contracts for serviceable veterans, there is a sobering reality for many players left orphaned by free agency.

In many cases, their careers are over, the alleged panacea of free agency having turned into the NFL equivalent of sticking a needle into a balloon. Some expectations have been cruelly dashed and players who four months ago viewed free agency as a potential mother lode are scrambling now for jobs that pay the league minimum.

By unofficial count, there are three dozen players who started a minimum of eight games in 2001 but who remain unemployed.

Jamal Anderson played in only three games last season before suffering a knee injury.
"It's a monumental letdown for these guys, really, a possible psychological trauma," acknowledged agent Angelo Wright, who this week found a home in Denver for former Pro Bowl defensive end Michael Sinclair, released by Seattle early in the spring. "They think they're going for a magic carpet ride and instead they have the rug yanked out from under them."

There is still demand for a few players -- defensive tackle Sam Adams, wide receiver Antonio Freeman, offensive guard Matt Campbell, to name a few -- but there are not a lot of job openings right now, and the supply outdistances the demand.

In a few cases, like that of tailback Ricky Watters, continued unemployment is a factor of his dissatisfaction with the finances offered him. But most players still in the remnants of the free-agent pool haven't had an offer to reject. And several of them are players who, at this point of their careers, still have some productive seasons left.

They may not be big names -- guys like safety Chad Cota, linebacker Bernardo Harris, offensive tackle John Fina, cornerback Jimmy Hitchcock, tailback Jamal Anderson -- but they still could contribute to some team. Few of them, though, will get the opportunity. It is hard to imagine, for instance, that the Saints this week signed the venerable Terry Allen as a backup to tailback Deuce McAllister and didn't consider Anderson.

At least Anderson, who wants to extend his NFL tenure but is also considering a career in television, has options. That is hardly the case for most of the unemployed veterans. Most of the out-of-work players will spend the early days of camp scouring the newspapers in their home towns, looking for any word of an injury that might force a team to go back into the market. Sinclair got his job with the Broncos, for instance, because Denver was forced to release second-year defensive end Paul Toviessi.

The bottom line, though, is that it's a maddening waiting game for players accustomed to being in camp by now.

"You don't think it's going to end like this," said Hitchcock. "You figure there is going to be some team that will call you. But the (silence) is pretty frustrating."

Around the league

  • The Pittsburgh Steelers continued their spending spree this week, signing defensive end Aaron Smith to a six-year, $25 million contract, a move that will keep him off the free-agent market next spring. Pittsburgh now has 19 of its 24 starters, including kicker Todd Peterson and punter Josh Miller, under contract through at least the 2004 season. But it's two players the Steelers haven't addressed, offensive left tackle Wayne Gandy and strong safety Lee Flowers, who are starting to wonder about their futures. The vault seems poised to slam shut soon in Pittsburgh; if it does so without new deals for Flowers and Gandy, both will become unrestricted free agents next spring. The reluctance to re-up Gandy is not surprising. Some in the organization feel he is overrated and that one of the younger linemen, perhaps Oliver Ross, will be ready to take over the position in 2003. The situation with Flowers is a bit more puzzling, particularly since a high-ranking Pittsburgh official twice promised the seven-year veteran this spring that his contract would be addressed. The Steelers have an experienced backup in Mike Logan, but it could be third-round pick Chris Hope who could move into the starting lineup if Flowers exits next spring.

  • The Washington Redskins might sign free agent defensive tackle Daryl Gardener, cut by the Miami Dolphins last week, but no one else is beating down his door right now. Gardener rubbed Houston Texans officials, who were very interested in him before his visit there, the wrong way during a brief meeting. He complained the club dispatched a town car, and not a limousine, to ferry him from the airport to the practice facility. He was, one Texans staffer told ESPN.com, notably out of shape. After a seven-minute workout, the Texans had seen enough, and sent Gardener packing without a contract offer. The Detroit Lions, with a pair of ailing defensive tackles in Luther Elliss and Shaun Rogers, also checked out Gardener and weren't particularly impressed. There is even a split on him in the Washington organization, but no one seems to be heeding any of the detractors on the Redskins staff.

    Miami coach Dave Wannstedt is too astute to simply give up on a quality defensive lineman without there being some underlying issues. And Gardener has more than a few. The franchises that have done their homework on him, and phoned friends in Miami to get background information, have mostly backed way from the gargantuan defensive tackle.

  • The St. Louis Rams ranked No. 1 in offense in 2001 and third on defense. But despite the presence of standout special teams coach Bobby April, the club's kicking game was one of the least productive in the league. The result: St. Louis is likely to have new players at four of the five most critical special-teams positions. "We've certainly made a lot of changes and, hopefully, for the better," said the colorful April. The free agency departure of the frenetic Az-Zahir Hakim, whose problem with fumbling mushroomed into a mental block, means that former Indianapolis wideout Terrence Wilkins, acquired in a trade, takes over that chore. Third-round draft choice Lamar Gordon, a tailback from North Dakota State, is the probable new kickoff returner, replacing Trung Canidate. The Rams dumped inconsistent punter John Baker and signed former Pro Bowl performer Mitch Berger, who struggled with injuries in Minnesota last year. April will not ask Berger to kick off, as he did with the Vikings. Tight end and deep snapper Jeff Robinson exited in free agency, and the Rams expended a seventh-round choice on Chris Massey to take his place. All of which means the lone holdover at the top special teams positions is kicker Jeff Wilkins, solid on field goals and one of the NFL's top kickoff men. April is optimistic the overhaul, some of it by design and part of it dictated by free agency, gets his units turned around.

  • Twice-suspended defensive tackle Josh Evans, who two weeks ago won an appeal that allowed him to dodge further sanctions under the NFL's substance-abuse policy, has about 8.6 million reasons for staying clean. The four-year contract Evans signed with the New York Jets paid him a signing bonus of just $200,000, and his base salary for the 2002 campaign is the NFL minimum of $525,000. But if Evans is productive and plays up to the form he has demonstrated with the Tennessee Titans in the past, someone will have to pay him next spring. New York can keep him for the final three years of the contract, but only by exercising a $3 million option, one that triggers base salaries of $1.2 million (for 2003), $1.9 million (2004) and $1.75 million (2005). The contract also includes a $750,000 roster bonus for the '05 season. If the Jets don't exercise the option, Evans can go back into the free-agent market again.

  • When the San Francisco 49ers reached an injury settlement with quarterback Gio Carmazzi last week, a move that had been long anticipated, it didn't end the career of the 2000 third-round choice. Two interested franchises immediately phoned agent Mike Sullivan, but the truth is that Carmazzi still isn't fully recovered from the shoulder problems that have stymied his career, and he's not ready to audition yet. The plan, Sullivan said, is to provide Carmazzi sufficient time to rehabilitate -- his shoulder apparently feels better than it has in two years -- and then perhaps place him on a practice squad for the final month or two of the season. That will get Carmazzi some exposure to regular practices, allow him to work in a team environment and to prepare for 2003. "He's definitely not finished with football," said Sullivan. "He wants to play again and there's no reason he shouldn't be in a camp next summer." Carmazzi was the man Bill Walsh felt might be the eventual successor to Steve Young, but the youngster never logged a regular-season snap during two seasons in San Francisco.

  • The sometimes notorious and often braggadocious Fred "The Hammer" Williamson lives again. Well, sort of. Last week, we noted in this space that the Oakland Raiders like to name the bonus clauses in contract addendums after former franchise stars who played the position of the player being signed. So when first-round draft choice Phillip Buchanan signed his five-year, $7 million contract on Thursday morning, it included the "Eric Allen Guarantee," the "Willie Brown Incentive," the "Terry McDaniel Escalator," the "Mike Haynes Escalator" and, yes, the "Fred Williamson Honors." The loud-mouthed defensive back, who served a stint as an analyst on Monday Night Football, played four seasons (1961-64) for the Raiders. Note to Raiders senior administrator Bruce Allen: If you're going to include Williamson, you've got to find a spot for Lester Hayes, man.

  • Catching up on a recent deal for which the salary numbers were just reported, the three-year contract that free agent Willie Jackson signed with the Atlanta Falcons is worth $3.5 million. The veteran wide receiver got a signing bonus of $350,000 and a base salary for 2002 of $650,000, of which $250,000 is guaranteed. His base salary for 2003 is $1.1 million and for '04 $1.2 million. There are offseason workout bonuses of $100,000 each in 2003 and 2004.

  • Kudos to San Diego management for doing right by rookie wide receiver Terry Charles. The promising youngster suffered a season-ending knee injury during a minicamp and the Chargers promptly announced that they would still "slot" the former Portland State star in the fifth round. That's precisely what the Chargers did, signing him to a three-year contract that included a signing bonus of $121,500. The upfront money is in line with the bonus Charles would have received if he wasn't injured. The choice right ahead of him, Cleveland linebacker Andra Davis, received a $123,000 signing bonus. The pick directly behind him, linebacker Scott Fujita, got $120,000 upfront. Not every team demonstrates such largesse in dealing with rookies who are injured before they sign their contracts. The Dallas Cowboys gave no signing bonus to tight end Bob Slowikowski, a sixth-round tight end who, like Charles, sustained a season-ending knee injury in an offseason workout. Further, his scheduled base salary of $300,000 for 2003 will revert back to the rookie minimum of $225,000 if Slowikowski does not accrue a credited season in '02.

  • The discussions haven't reached the substantive stage yet, but Texans officials continue to tell cornerback Aaron Glenn they want to sign him to a contract extension by the start of the regular season. The move has twofold implications: It would secure the services of Glenn, who has been terrific in early camp workouts, for beyond 2002, which is the final season on the contract Houston inherited when it plucked the former Jets standout in the expansion draft. Second, it would reduce Glenn's $8 million-plus salary cap figure for the 2002 season.

  • The parting shot this week comes from an unnamed Redskins operative who, noting the shoddy performance of Washington quarterbacks in early camp workouts, suggested that unsigned first-round draft choice Patrick Ramsey might do well to sit at home a while longer. "The longer Ramsey is out (of camp), the closer he gets to winning the starting job," said the observer.

    Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.

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