Just a flesh wound

This weekend was the final roster cut-down for NFL teams. Hundreds of players were left without jobs after they were visited by the Turk. But don't be surprised if a few Hall of Famers were in the bunch. Check out these players who were cut in their careers.

Johnny Unitas

You can make a strong argument that Johnny U is the greatest quarterback in the history of football. Yet, he was cut by his first team. Drafted in the ninth round out of Louisville in 1952 by his hometown Steelers, Unitas was cut because the Steelers weren't sure he was smart enough to play the position. Maybe that's why the Steelers went another 20 years before making the playoffs. Unitas went on to a Hall of Fame career with the Baltimore Colts. He became the first QB to throw for more than 40,000 yards and still holds the incredible, and perhaps unbreakable, record of throwing a touchdown pass in 47 consecutive games.

Wes Welker

He is the NFL's Little Engine That Could. Undrafted out of college, the 5-foot-9 wideout from Texas Tech made the Chargers coming out camp in 2004. But one game into the season, they released him. He landed in Miami and spent three years there playing on special teams and at wide receiver. He ultimately signed with the Patriots in 2007 and has since become one of the most prolific receivers in the game, averaging 108 receptions a year, including an impressive league-leading 123 in 2009. Think the Chargers regret letting this guy get away?

James Harrison

The Steelers have a rich history of spotting and developing stars that weren't noticed by other teams. A perfect example is Harrison, an undrafted linebacker out of Kent State who has gone on to play in four Pro Bowls and three Super Bowls (including two victories) with Pittsburgh. But let's not pat the Steelers too hard on the back. Harrison spent two years on their practice squad and was cut not once, not twice, but three times. In between, the Ravens cut him once, too. That's four times he was cut, and he nearly gave up the game. Fortunately for the Steelers, he gave it one more shot, and that time the Steelers didn't make the same mistake. The fifth time must have been a charm for Harrison.

Jim Langer

There's a debate about who is the best center in NFL history. Some might say Pittsburgh's Mike Webster. Some might say Miami's Dwight Stephenson. And some might say the Dolphins' Langer, who was named All-Pro from 1974 to 1977 and played in six consecutive Pro Bowls from 1973 to 1978. He also played in three Super Bowls, including with the 1972 undefeated team that featured two 1,000-yard rushers. Now for the kicker: The future Hall of Famer should've been anchoring the line in Cleveland instead. But the Browns cut him during training camp in 1970.

Jim Plunkett

What a strange career he had. Plunkett won the 1971 Heisman Trophy at Stanford and was the first overall pick of the 1971 draft. He spent five seasons with very little success in New England and then had two mediocre seasons in San Francisco. Then the 49ers released him, and at that point, he might have gone down as one of the biggest busts in NFL history. But Plunkett revived his career in Oakland, going on to win two Super Bowls, including winning MVP honors in Super Bowl XV.

Kurt Warner

Back in 1994, the Packers cut the undrafted Warner, who ended up bagging groceries because he couldn't find another NFL job. He played in Europe and the Arena League until 1999, when the Rams threw him into the starting lineup because of an injury to Trent Green. A virtual unknown, Warner put together one of the greatest seasons ever with 4,353 passing yards and 41 touchdown passes, capped by a Super Bowl championship and MVP performance. He went on to play in two more Super Bowls and is a borderline Hall of Famer.

Jake Delhomme

Everyone knows the story of how Kurt Warner spent time playing in NFL Europe. Well, how about this? Delhomme was Warner's backup in Europe. He was twice shipped by the Saints to Europe, which actually might be worse than being cut (which the Saints also did to him). Eventually, he moved on to Carolina, where he became the Panthers' all-time leader in completions. Plus, he took the Panthers to a Super Bowl.

Trent Green

This quarterback gets a special mention on the list because not only was he cut in the United States, but Canada, too. He spent a season standing on the sideline with a clipboard in San Diego before being cut by the British Columbia Lions of the CFL in 1994. He eventually hooked on with Washington and was supposed to be a star with the Rams in 1999, but he tore his knee in the preseason, paving the way for Kurt Warner to become an NFL star. Green, however, became a star, too, appearing in two Pro Bowls while with the Chiefs.

Jack Kemp

Let's go old-school. Kemp was drafted in the 17th round in 1957 and was essentially discarded by four teams — the Lions, Steelers, 49ers and Giants — before landing in the CFL. Eventually he worked his way back to the Chargers and Bills of the American Football League and became one of the AFL's greatest players. A seven-time AFL All-Star, Kemp owns most of the significant quarterback records for the AFL, including passing attempts, completions and yards.

Len Dawson

Johnny Unitas isn't the only quarterback the Steelers missed on. Dawson sat around for two seasons on the Steelers bench, then was traded to the Browns on New Year's Eve 1959. Hey, at least the Steelers made a trade. The Browns outright released him. Both teams, however, would feel foolish years later when Dawson had a Super Bowl ring, a Super Bowl MVP award, six AFL All-Star selections, Pro Bowl appearance and a Hall of Fame selection.

Other notable players once cut

Receiver Cris Carter was cut partially because of off-field issues in Philadelphia, but he went on to have a career in Minnesota that likely will land him in the Hall of Fame. Defensive back Willie Brown was cut by the Houston Oilers in 1963 but moved to Denver and Oakland, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. Quarterback Rich Gannon was traded by the Patriots when he refused to move to defensive back and was later released by the Redskins. He wasn't the best QB ever, but hey, he was a four-time Pro Bowl selection. Finally, there's receiver Steve Largent, who was about to be cut by the Oilers but was traded to the expansion Seahawks for an eighth-round draft pick. When you think about it, that's practically like being cut. Largent went on to become a Hall of Famer.

Just a flesh wound 09/03/11 [Last modified: Saturday, September 3, 2011 8:43pm]

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