- The Washington Times - Friday, March 2, 2007

There doesn’t figure to be a debate one day about whether any member of the NFL’s free agent class of 2007 belongs in the Hall of Fame. Baltimore outside linebacker Adalius Thomas is the only player who’ll hit the market today who was even chosen for last month’s Pro Bowl (his first as a defensive player) and he’ll be 30 in August.

Buffalo cornerback Nate Clements figures to be the most sought-after player, but he has been only been to Hawaii once. The No. 2 cornerback, Indianapolis’ Nick Harper, has never been so honored. Nor have New England tight end Daniel Graham (120 catches in five seasons) and Buffalo middle linebacker London Fletcher-Baker, who turns 32 in May. Pittsburgh outside linebacker Joey Porter has been to Hawaii three times but might be too much of a hothead for some teams.

Even with the $7 million rise in the salary cap to $109 million, how much will any team spend for 37-year-old Jeff Garcia, no matter his three Pro Bowls with San Francisco and how well he played last year for Philadelphia after Donovan McNabb was hurt? Drew Bledsoe, cut by Dallas yesterday, might be at the end at age 35.

The best available young quarterback, restricted free agent Matt Schaub, remains a fairly unknown quantity after 161 passes and two starts in three years as Michael Vick’s backup in Atlanta. And a team that wants Schaub would have to match his $2.35 million tender and give the Falcons first- and third-round choices in April’s draft.

While Green Bay’s Ahman Green rebounded from an ugly 2005 to have his sixth 1,000-yard season in 2006, he’s still a 30-year-old running back with nearly 2,000 carries to his name. Dominic Rhodes, half of the Super Bowl champion Colts’ backfield tandem, could be more attractive at 28 and with fewer than 600 career carries, except that he was busted for drunken driving last week. And while Jamal Lewis is just 27, the former Baltimore star has run more like he’s 37 lately.

Defensive end Patrick Kerney, late of Atlanta, is the best available pass rusher, but that’s with just 58 sacks in eight seasons. And Kerney is 30, too. Chiefs defensive Jared Allen can get to the passer, but is the restricted free agent worth a big contract plus first- and third-round draft picks in compensation, especially after two driving under the influence convictions?

Receivers Drew Bennett (46 catches, three touchdowns for Tennessee) and Donte Stallworth (38 and five for Philadelphia) won’t set too many general managers’ hearts aflutter. And Kevin Curtis (40 and four for St. Louis) will be 29 in July and has yet to be a starter. Joe Horn was cut by New Orleans, but he likely is not very attractive at age 35.

Cincinnati guard Eric Steinbach is the top offensive lineman on the market, which doesn’t say much for the available tackles, including Arizona’s massive but enigmatic Leonard Davis.

The talent pool is so thin and teams have so much cap room that Miami gave Vonnie Holliday a four-year, $20 million contract with $10 million in bonuses after the 31-year-old journeyman defensive lineman recorded a career-high seven sacks in 2006.

New Green Day? — Kansas City’s signing of 2006 fill-in passer Damon Huard to a three-year deal likely will mean a new home for Trent Green, the Chiefs’ starter the past six seasons. While Huard thrived in new coach Herman Edwards’ more conservative offense, Green, who’ll be 37 in July, struggled after returning in November from a concussion. The Chiefs will try to trade Green, the only quarterback to throw for 4,000 yards in 2003, 2004 and 2005 but might have to wind up releasing him.

Green got his first chance to start in Washington under San Diego coach Norv Turner and Detroit offensive coordinator Mike Martz. The Chargers are committed to Philip Rivers so the just-waived Brad Johnson (another ex-Turner pupil) might be a better fit as a backup while the Lions have journeyman starter Jon Kitna. Miami coach Cam Cameron worked with Green in Washington, too. The Dolphins are hopeful that Daunte Culpepper can rebound from two tough seasons.

See ya? — With a 2004 Super Bowl ring as well as a spot among the all-time 15 leading rushers in his possession, New England’s Corey Dillon sounds serious about following fellow running back Tiki Barber in walking away after 10 seasons. And with excellent 2006 rookie runner Laurence Maroney in place, the Patriots might oblige him.

“We’ve had a ton of carries, a ton of pounding,” said Dillon, who has a $4.4 million cap number and three years left on the five-year deal he signed with the Patriots in 2004. “I don’t want to be broken down, not able to play with my kids. Football is the furthest thing [from] my mind right now.”

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