- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 4, 2004

Even with Champ Bailey dealt from Washington to Denver, and Baltimore and Oakland placing franchise tags on Chris McAlister and Charles Woodson, respectively, it’s a rare, fantastic time to be in the market for an elite NFL cornerback.

Pro Bowl corners Troy Vincent and Bobby Taylor of Philadelphia head a talent-rich free agent class that also includes Buffalo’s Antoine Winfield and San Francisco’s Ahmed Plummer. Aaron Beasley and Ray Buchanan, let go by the New York Jets and Atlanta in salary cap moves, are also available. Former Seattle No.1 corner Shawn Springs already has signed with Washington.

Compare that group to last year’s top free agent corners: aging Ashley Ambrose and Corey Fuller, overrated Dexter McCleon and Dre Bly and career nickel back Al Harris.

Among the teams looking for impact corners are Arizona, Atlanta, Detroit, Minnesota, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, the New York Jets, Buffalo (if Winfield leaves) and Philadelphia (if Vincent and Taylor depart).

Even with a handful of players virtually untouchable because of their franchise tags and defensive end Jevon Kearse (Philadelphia), defensive tackle Ted Washington (Oakland), receiver Terrell Owens (Baltimore) and offensive tackle Derrick Deese having already joined new teams, there is some talent beyond the corners: San Diego defensive end Marcellus Wiley of San Diego, quarterback Jeff Garcia of the 49ers, Bills guard Ruben Brown and center/guard Damien Woody, all Pro Bowl veterans.

Offensive tackle John Tait — despite his transition tag — and defensive end Eric Hicks of the Chiefs also should be attractive. Seahawks receiver Darrell Jackson, Rams defensive end Grant Wistrom and defensive tackles Warren Sapp of the Buccaneers and Rod Coleman of the Raiders should be snapped up promptly.

Offensive tackle Adam Meadows, cut by the Colts, shouldn’t be unemployed long. Neither should Broncos linebacker Ian Gold (even though he’s coming off a knee injury), Ravens kicker Matt Stover (even though he’s 36) and running backs Antowain Smith of the Patriots and Duce Staley of the Eagles.

Rams quarterback Marc Bulger and Miami defensive end Adewale Ogunleye head the list of restricted free agents — three-year veterans whose offers their teams have the right to match. All in all, it’s not a bad time to be shopping.

Hard-luck Deuce — Saints halfback Deuce McAllister, who had cash stolen from his locker by teammate Albert Connell in 2001, was in the wrong place at the wrong time on Fat Tuesday. McAllister apparently tried to intervene in a bar fight between one of his pals and a bouncer and wound up temporarily unconscious and sporting a black eye.

Dynamic duo — Bengals Pro Bowl receiver Chad Johnson and outstanding Panthers wideout Steve Smith were teammates at Santa Monica (Calif.) Junior College in 1997. Johnson had 120 receptions for 2,100 yards and 23 touchdowns during his two seasons. Smith had 83 receptions for 1,106 yards and 15 touchdowns during his tenure.

Johnson’s 90-yard catch from Tennessee’s Steve McNair in the Pro Bowl was the first all-star offensive touchdown by a Bengal, although Ambrose returned an interception for a score seven years ago. Johnson’s touchdown was the second longest catch in Pro Bowl history, and his 156 receiving yards were the second most in a Pro Bowl.

Back to red — Atlanta will wear red jerseys at home for the first time since 1989. The Falcons wore an alternate red jersey twice last season to applause from players, coaches and fans. This will be the third home jersey in as many seasons following a re-designed look in 2003 that featured an updated logo and tri-color sleeves.

Not only do Michael Vick fanatics have to buy another jersey, but after selling out all their home games last year for the first time, the Falcons have raised their ticket prices despite a 5-11 finish.

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