Thursday, January 18, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

NFL sidelines some surprising names

Rough business, this NFL.

One day you're a Pro Bowl player and the next you're wandering the streets, looking for work.

Sometimes you're the flavor of the month only to find out that you're a flavor about to be discontinued.

Forget what you did yesterday or back in college, what have you done lately, as in today?

Job security in the NFL? There's no such thing.

The 32 NFL teams trimmed their rosters to 53 last weekend to get ready for the season, which begins Thursday night. And there are some surprising names bouncing around at the moment.

Let's take a look.

Michael Sam

Never has so much been made of a seventh-round draft pick not making a football team. But the Sam story is compelling because he is the first openly gay player to be drafted.

Did his sexuality have anything to do with him being cut by the Rams, and not even making the practice squad? You would like to think not. The Rams appeared to have given Sam a fair shot. But it does seem strange that Sam, last year's co-SEC defensive player of the year, had such difficulty finding a team that would welcome him.

It looks as if he will end up in Dallas with the Cowboys, and it's good to see someone taking a chance on a kid who proved during the preseason that he can play at the next level.

Perhaps the Rams, who are loaded up front on defense, didn't have room for Sam and made their decision based simply on football. But it feels as if some teams might have passed on Sam because of the perceived distraction.

It hasn't been Sam who has caused the distraction. For as much as the media likes to think we're progressive enough to cover such a story, it really was the media — not the NFL and not the players — that didn't know how to handle the Sam story. The two so-called "distractions'' were media driven: the Tony Dungy comments about not wanting Sam because he would be a distraction; and the ESPN report about Sam's showering habits.

But it might have been these stories that stopped some teams from bringing in Sam, even for the practice squad. Good for the Cowboys. They had a need and a player like Sam might be able to fill it. Sounds like a wise football decision.

Josh Freeman

Amazing, isn't it? It was only two seasons ago that the then-Bucs quarterback threw for 4,000 yards and 27 touchdowns. And he just turned 26 years old.

Yet even as teams search for dependable quarterbacks — think St. Louis and Oakland and, arguably, even right here in Tampa Bay — Freeman isn't even getting a sniff. No one is interested. No one. Heck, maybe Freeman isn't even interested in playing football anymore.

But Freeman out of football is one of the more bizarre football stories you will find.

Connor Barth

On one hand, you have one of the best kickers in the NFL, a reliable player who tied for the NFL lead in field goals of 40 yards or longer in 2012. On the other hand, you have a kid who played his college ball at Fordham and has never even attempted a kick during the NFL regular season. So who makes the team?

The cheaper one. That would be the untested kid, Patrick Murray. Who is out? That would be the veteran, Connor Barth, one of the best kickers in Bucs history.

Though the Bucs claim that the decision came down to a gut feeling that Murray was just better, it's hard to ignore the economics. Barth, who missed all of last season with a torn Achilles, was scheduled to earn $2 million in salary and $1.15 million in roster bonuses. Murray is scheduled to make $420,000.

But, boy, the Bucs better be right about this. It's one thing to have a guy look good in practice in front of no fans with nothing on the line as opposed to having a game and, potentially, a season resting on a 45-yard kick with two seconds left.

Barth likely will get picked up by someone. If so, he will join the long list of kickers — Matt Bryant, Michael Husted, John Carney, Steve Christie — who went on to have long and successful careers after leaving Tampa Bay.

Tim Tebow

Here's a funny nugget, courtesy of the website thebiglead.com: Tebow, whose job at the moment is being a broadcaster on the SEC Network, is on more ESPN fantasy league rosters than Jacksonville QB Chad Henne and Oakland QB Matt Schaub.

Still hard to believe that with all the mediocre quarterbacks out there, no one would at least have Tebow on the sideline. Yeah, I know, he can't throw, has poor mechanics, can't read defenses, blah, blah, blah.

This is a fact: He has a winning record (8-6) as an NFL starter and has won a playoff game. The Panthers' Cam Newton can't say that. Neither can the Bengals' Andy Dalton or the Bucs' Josh McCown. In fact, Tebow has the same number of postseason wins as the Bears' Jay Cutler, the Falcons' Matt Ryan, Chiefs' Alex Smith and the Cowboys' Tony Romo.

Okay, so does that mean Tebow is better than those quarterbacks? No, but those numbers would have you think that he could be one of the 40 or so backups out there.

Champ Bailey

He's 36 and has had injury troubles. But you're talking about one of the best cornerbacks ever — a 12-time Pro Bowl player and seven-time All-Pro and a future Hall of Famer. It just seems weird to not have him in the league. Maybe that will change in the next few days and someone will pick him up.

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