As the clock ticks down to 12:01 AM on Friday, here is a position-by-position look at the players from around the league who are scheduled to become free agents …
Seattle's Leonard Weaver originally signed with the Seahawks as a rookie free agent in 2005 and is now poised to hit the free agent market as one of the best available at the fullback position.
But Weaver provides something the other recognizable names at the position do not - youth. Weaver is entering his prime with just four years of service in the league at 26 years of age. The question about Weaver is whether he wants to just be a fullback. At 6-0, 242 pounds, Weaver can be a bulldozer of a big back very much like Baltimore's Le'Ron McClain, who is basically a fullback in name only. In the last two years, Weaver has 63 carries for 276 yards and one touchdown. He also has 59 catches out of the backfield in those two years with two scores - one of them a 62-yarder.
Arizona's Terrelle Smith has paved the way for such 1,000-yard rushers as Edgerrin James, Deuce McAllister, Ricky Williams and Reuben Droughns. After two seasons with the Cardinals, Smith might not be re-signed because the team already has Tim Castille in the fold. The 6-0, 250-pound Smith just completed his ninth season in the league.
New England's Heath Evans has been with the Patriots since 2005 after stints with Seattle and Miami. A veteran of eight NFL seasons, Evans has seen his most involvement on the offensive side of the ball since he joined the Patriots. In 2007, Evans had a career-high three touchdowns. As the Patriots posted record-breaking numbers that season, Evans contributed by helping the team average 4.10 yards per carry - the team's highest since 1985. Evans is also a key special teams contributor, very important from the Eagles' perspective.
The other two names at the top of the list at the fullback spot are quite seasoned to say the least. A 14-year veteran and three-time Pro Bowl selection, Tony Richardson helped Thomas Jones gain an AFC-best 1,312 yards and score a team-record 13 touchdowns in 2008. Richardson's long list of accolades includes two-time Associated Press second-team All-Pro selection and two-time Sports Illustrated All-Pro. Seven times since 2001, Richardson has blocked for a 1,000-yard rusher and four different Pro Bowl backs including Jones who earned his first All-Star nod in 2008.
There's also Lorenzo Neal who wrapped up his 16th NFL season in 2008 and first with the Baltimore Ravens. Neal became expendable with the emergence of the aforementioned McClain. A four-time Pro Bowl and three-time All-Pro nominee, Neal's best years were earlier this decade when he played for the Cincinnati Bengals and San Diego Chargers. Neal has blocked for a 1,000-yard rusher in 11 straight seasons and four straight Pro Bowl starters. In 2006, Neal helped LaDainian Tomlinson earn MVP honors. The Chargers rushed for 2,578 yards that season and Tomlinson set league records with 28 rushing scores and 31 total.
Will the Eagles be shopping? It'll be interesting to see how the Eagles handle Dan Klecko. After he signed with the Eagles as a fullback, Klecko was moved to his original position of defensive tackle before going back to fullback during the preseason. With an entire off-season to work as the fullback, maybe the Eagles give Klecko another crack. Kyle Eckel was signed in the middle of last season and chipped in as a short-yardage back but never got to handle the lead blocking duties.
The most productive of the bunch is Cincinnati's T.J. Houshmandzadeh.
The 31-year-old pulled in at least 90 receptions for the third straight year and at least 70 for the fifth. The 6-1, 199-pound Houshmandzadeh caught 92 balls for 904 yards and four touchdowns. Against the Eagles, Houshmandzadeh had his best game of the year, an amazing 12 catches for 149 yards and a touchdown. It was one of two 100-yard games this past season for Houshmandzadeh. There are a couple things to note with Houshmandzadeh. He's had Chad Ocho Cinco lined up on the other side of him for his entire career. And in the past two seasons, Houshmandzadeh has averaged just a shade under 10 yards per catch.
After Houshmandzadeh, two of the better prospects would be difficult to get. Tampa Bay's Antonio Bryant finally capitalized on his wealth of talent with 83 catches for 1,248 yards in 2008. However, the Bucs slapped the franchise tag on him. New Orleans' Lance Moore, who had a breakout season with 79 catches for 928 yards and an eye-popping 10 touchdowns, is a restricted free agent.
Let's break down the top receiver free agents into two categories - speed receivers and possession receivers.
Going back to the Saints' explosive aerial attack, if you want a speed guy let's start with Devery Henderson. In the last three years, Henderson has averaged 23.3 yards per catch, 20.5 yards per catch and 24.8 yards per catch, respectively. Never having caught more than 32 passes in a season, Henderson has however been very consistent in terms of production in the last four years in the league. This past season, Henderson had a career-high 793 receiving yards and three touchdowns.
One speedy wideout who used to be on the wish list of Eagles fans was Ashley Lelie. He's tall (6-foot-3) and amazingly quick (just 195 pounds), but he's never been able to match his amazing 2004 season. That year, Lelie caught 54 passes for 1,084 yards and seven touchdowns with the Denver Broncos. In his first four seasons, 2002-05, Lelie had at least 35 catches and 500 yards in each year. In the three since with three different teams, Lelie has just 49 catches for 742 yards and three touchdowns. Total.
Shaun McDonald of the Lions thrived in 2007 in coordinator Mike Martz's scheme catching 79 balls for 943 yards and scoring six times. McDonald was also with Martz in St. Louis. Last year without Martz, McDonald wasn't as dynamic with 35 catches for 332 yards and one touchdown. McDonald works best as a slot receiver.
Would you take a chance on Jerry Porter? After catching 140 passes for nearly 2,000 yards and 14 touchdowns between 2004 and 2005, Porter was on the fast track to becoming one of the league's top-tier receivers. He's got great size (6-2, 220 pounds) and amazing speed. But after falling out of favor in Oakland, Porter was a big-ticket free agent signing of the Jaguars in 2008 and caught only 11 balls for 181 yards and a touchdown. It doesn't help the fact that he's now 30 years old.
If you want a possession receiver, look at Tampa Bay's Michael Clayton. The 6-4, 215-pound Clayton took the league by storm as a rookie in 2004 with 80 catches for 1,193 yards and seven touchdowns. Even for a first-round pick, those numbers in his opening year were outstanding. However, he hasn't cracked 40 receptions, 500 yards or two touchdowns since. 2008 was his second-best season as a pro with 38 grabs for 484 yards and a touchdown. Could be a good fit for a team that wants a possession guy, but not a No. 1 receiver.
Carolina's D.J. Hackett just joined the fray as he was released after just one disappointing season with the Panthers. The 6-2, 208-pound Hackett caught just 13 passes for 181 yards last season. A former Seahawk, Hackett enjoyed his most productive campaign in 2006 with 45 catches for 610 yards and four touchdowns - all career-highs. At 27, Hackett is still young enough to grow with a team.
San Francisco's Bryant Johnson has the capability of being a productive threat in the red zone with his 6-3, 211-pound frame. This past season, Johnson caught 45 passes for 546 yards and scored three times. Johnson's best seasons were with Arizona where he was a good complement for Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin before Steve Breaston came into the picture. In 2006, Johnson caught 40 passes for go along with a career-best 740 yards and four touchdowns.
A savvy veteran who contributed to Tennessee's success this past season was Justin McCareins. The 6-2, 215-pound McCareins caught 30 passes for 412 yards. McCareins' best season came in his first go-around with the Titans in 2003 where he caught 47 passes for 813 yards and seven scores. He cashed in on that with a deal from the Jets and caught a career-high 56 balls for 770 yards and four touchdowns the following season. After another productive season in 2005, McCareins lost out to Jerricho Cotchery and became a non-factor.
Eagles fans certainly know Giants wide receiver Amani Toomer. Even at 34 years old, Toomer is an effective and polished possession receiver who can still contribute. The 6-3, 203-pound Toomer rarely drops a pass and just last season caught 48 balls for 580 yards and four touchdowns two years after a bad knee injury. Far removed from his string of five consecutive 1,000-yard seasons (between 1999-2003), Toomer would be a good veteran addition for a team in search of a rental while another player develops.
The ninth-overall selection in the 2004 NFL Draft, Jacksonville's Reggie Williams, is an intriguing prospect. Why? What would happen if you put the 6-4, 212-pound receiver in a pass-oriented offense? A physical receiver who is a good red zone threat, Williams has never caught more than 52 passes in a season (2006) or gained more than 629 yards in a season (2007). However, he did grab 10 touchdown passes in 2007. But in his contract year, Williams had just 37 catches for 364 yards and three touchdowns on an underachieving Jaguars team.
Will the Eagles be shopping?The question is whether any of these players are significant upgrades over what the Eagles already have. There are certainly names, but a lot of either older players or underachievers. Fortunately for the Eagles, only Hank Baskett is scheduled to become a free agent and even he is a restricted one. This isn't the most pressing of needs in this off-season.
With Houston's Owen Daniels a restricted free agent, Tennessee's Bo Scaife slapped with the franchise tag and the Eagles' own L.J. Smith unlikely to come back, the depth of quality at the tight end position is certainly not strong.
The Jets' release of Chris Baker provides a good pass-catching option. The emergence of Dustin Keller and a not-so-cap-friendly deal made Baker expendable. In 2007, Baker had his best season with 41 catches for 409 yards and three touchdowns. Baker has sort of been a late-bloomer as the 6-3, 258-pound tight end just wrapped up his seventh season in the league. This past year, Baker caught 21 passes for 194 yards.
Sticking with the Jets, Bubba Franks is certainly a recognizable name but is on the downside of his career. Last year, the 31-year-old Franks caught six passes for 47 yards. He hasn't caught 25 passes in a season since 2006. Never was a big-time production guy except in the red zone. Franks had nine touchdowns back in 2001 and seven in 2004. Franks presents an experienced hand for a team that needs a short-to-intermediate threat, isn't much for production after the catch.
Jerramy Stevens of the Bucs is a very talented player who has been dogged by inconsistency and off-the-field issues. The 6-foot-7, 260-pound Stevens caught 36 passes for 397 yards and two touchdowns. His best season came in 2005 with the Seahawks when he had 45 receptions for 554 yards and five touchdowns.
Sort of like the draft, there aren't a lot of complete tight ends on the market. If the Eagles want to add another pass-catching threat to go with Brent Celek, two potential options are Atlanta's Justin Peelle and Tennessee's Ben Troupe. Peelle is a seven-year vet who spent last season with the Falcons, where he caught 15 passes for 159 yards and two touchdowns. A former Charger and Dolphin, Peelle caught 29 passes for 228 yards and two touchdowns with Miami just two seasons ago. Troupe, a former second-round pick, was released early in 2008 by the Bucs to make way for Stevens. He was signed by the Raiders, but was placed on IR with a foot injury and eventually released. Drafted by the Titans in 2004, Troupe appeared on his way after he caught 55 passes for 530 yards and four touchdowns in 2005.
If the Eagles want to find a blocking tight end to complement Celek, two possible options are Minnesota's Jim Kleinsasser and former Eagle Tony Stewart of Oakland. Kleinsasser has just 17 catches in the last three seasons and is essentially a fullback for Adrian Peterson. He is 32 years old, but he does have some pass-catching experience. He did grab 46 passes back in 2003. At 6-3, 272 pounds, Kleinsasser could certainly hold his own at the line of scrimmage. Stewart has carved out a nice career for himself ever since he began with the Eagles in 2001. The 6-5, 260-pound Stewart did catch only 11 passes for 81 yards last season, but he's never caught more than 21 in a campaign. Again, if you need someone to help on the line especially in short-yardage and goal line situations, Stewart can potentially be the guy.
Will the Eagles be shopping?The Eagles certainly need to address the position, but there isn't much in top talent. L.J. Smith is arguably the best unrestricted free agent on the market and while he could thrive in a new situation, it's likely not going to be here. With a bevy of pass catchers available in the draft, the Eagles could opt to look for a blocking solution here.