Former castoff registers two sacks for AFC squad

HONOLULU -- The Pro Bowl is supposed to be about a job well done, not a job audition, Kyle Vanden Bosch conceded Sunday evening.

For the Tennessee Titans defensive end, however, the game represented a little of both.

Perhaps the league's best bargain among veteran free agents in 2005, when he registered 12½ sacks while earning the NFL minimum base salary of $540,000 for a player of his seniority, Vanden Bosch secured a well-deserved trip when Miami Dolphins defensive end Jason Taylor was forced to withdraw with an injury.

And Vanden Bosch, 27, proved a worthy replacement, which should further enhance his worth, given that the five-year veteran is scheduled to enter unrestricted free agency in less than three weeks. For any team seeking to improve its pass rush and looking for a solid character-type player in the locker room, Vanden Bosch had to jump out.

His price tag might have jumped some, too, during a contest in which he not only held his own against an all-star cast, but was one of the Pro Bowl's outstanding defenders.

"It can't hurt," Vanden Bosch said of his standout performance that included three tackles, two sacks, two more quarterback pressures and one special teams tackle. "I mean, I didn't come here trying to impress anyone. I just wanted to be myself, play my game, keep getting after people."

The way he played Sunday in his first Pro Bowl appearance, Tennessee officials would be wise to expeditiously consummate the long-term contract extension they recently began negotiating with Vanden Bosch's agent, before other teams begin getting after the resurgent defensive end.

Of the 98 players from the two squads, counting those who withdrew because of injuries or chose not to participate for other reasons, only seven are pending unrestricted free agents. Most of them -- including tailbacks Edgerrin James of Indianapolis and Shaun Alexander of Seattle, guard Steve Hutchinson of the Seahawks, Seattle fullback Mack Strong, and New Orleans center LeCharles Bentley -- are definitely high-profile veterans.

And then there is Vanden Bosch, who virtually had no name recognition just a season ago and who can't even recall watching last year's Pro Bowl. Vanden Bosch, who missed nearly two full seasons because of anterior cruciate ligament tears to both knees during his four years with the Arizona Cardinals, was barely a pro, much less a player with any kind of profile last February.

He was a former second-round draft choice, a guy with only five career sacks and a medical file almost as thick as his football dossier.

"I was probably closer to being out of the game, maybe forever, than even I realized back then," Vanden Bosch said. "So to be here, in this place and in a locker room surrounded by some of the greatest players in the game, it's like a dream. I know the old 'what a difference a year makes' line is kind of tired. But, really, to [whom] does it apply any better than me?"

There are likely personnel directors, having watched the Pro Bowl, who might be wondering what kind of difference the hardworking and persevering Vanden Bosch could make to their own defensive lines in '06 or beyond. Typically, the former University of Nebraska star displayed the all-out hustle for which he is known. But he also showed quickness, a full repertoire of pass-rush moves and closing speed.

Late in the first quarter, Vanden Bosch burst past NFC left offensive tackle Chris Samuels with an up-field move and sacked quarterback Matt Hasselbeck for a 7-yard loss. On the ensuing possession, he disengaged from a block by tight end Alge Crumpler, worked his way inside with a nice counterspin, and then wiggled beyond tackle Orlando Pace to dump Michael Vick for a loss of 5 yards. In the same series, he flushed Vick from the pocket and forced a wayward pass that was nearly intercepted in the end zone, .

In the second half, he just missed nabbing Jake Delhomme for a third sack, again forcing a wildly errant pass. Rotating with fellow ends Dwight Freeney of Indianapolis and Oakland's Derrick Burgess, he lined up on both sides, was stout against the run, and earned a few votes as the most valuable player of the game, an honor that went to Tampa Bay linebacker Derrick Brooks.

In fact, had it not been for Brooks' interception return for a touchdown, it is likely that Vanden Bosch's dream season would have ended with the POG award and a new, luxury vehicle.

"He's a deceptive guy," Samuels said. "You don't think he looks that strong or that quick, but he's got plenty of both those [elements] in his game. And he just keeps on coming. I didn't know much about him, but you had to be impressed."

A lot of general managers and coaches who tuned in on Sunday, and were somehow successful in staying awake during a contest dominated by defenses and fraught with offensive faux pas, were likely impressed as well.

Let's face it, even though Alexander didn't play because of a mid-foot sprain, his idleness isn't going to change how much money he makes on his next contract, whether it's Seattle or some other franchise doling it out. James' bargaining status wasn't going to be affected by his Pro Bowl statistics. Hutchinson and Bentley, two of the NFL's premier interior linemen, could have whiffed on every block Sunday evening, and would not lack for suitors once the free agency signing period commences on March 3.

It would be naïve, though, to believe Vanden Bosch's market value wasn't elevated.

His preference, he reiterated after the game, is to remain with the Titans, who essentially plucked him off the professional football scrap heap last spring. His wife, Lindsey, and their 10-month-old daughter, Payten, both of whom accompanied Vanden Bosch to Hawaii, like the Nashville, Tenn., area. And he enjoys playing for Tennessee defensive line coach Jim Washburn, whom he brought here as a show of gratitude for helping salvage his fledgling career.

But after playing 2005 for the minimum salary, happy to be collecting a paycheck and for the chance to reestablish himself as a legitimate NFL starter, Vanden Bosch isn't going to sell himself short again. The ongoing negotiations figure to eventually culminate in a long-term deal. But if Vanden Bosch hits the open market March 3, and other franchises are permitted to enter the bidding, the stakes will be raised.

Vanden Bosch's eye-opening performance in Sunday's game all but assured that. He came to this island paradise mostly for fun, but Vanden Bosch might have carved out a chunk of financial security, too.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click hereInsider.