When you’ve been deemed not good enough for a team that only mustered a single win, that isn’t usually something you want at the top of your resume. In fact, many former Rams from last year’s squad still find themselves unable to crack even the ballooned-out training camp rosters, and are looking to Canada or the UFL to stave off the specter of retirement.
However, five individuals could be potential prize acquisitions for their new employers, and stand to have an impact on the playoff fortunes of their new clubs. On the other hand, these five high-profile players could just as easily flame out and create a Chicago Cubs-like aura of failure that extends beyond the borders of the Rams roster.
Alex Barron – Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys made a strong statement last season by not folding down the stretch, and by showing a mental fortitude heretofore unseen in December. And with the receiving weapons emerging around a newly focused Tony Romo, including impact rookie Dez Bryant, the team has seemingly only gotten stronger. Has the wolf finally emerged from sheep’s clothing? As the man primed to protect Romo’s blind side, Alex Barron could have a lot to say about that.
Barron looks to replace the mammoth Flozell Adams, who ended his eleven-year tour as a Cowboy with an inconsistent, sloppy, and penalty-prone season. The Cowboys had to create a hole there, and initially backup tackles Marc Colombo or Doug Free looked to be the replacements. But then Dallas got creative, finding the Rams looking for an excuse to dump the durable-but-dumb Barron after drafting Rodger Saffold. Linebacker/ team pariah Bobby Carpenter became that excuse. Barron has the size, the first round pedigree, and many more starts over the past five seasons than either player in the competition at left tackle, and Dallas is hoping that there’s still enough fairy dust left over from last season to sprinkle on this big new acquisition.
Prognosis: Likely starter.
Impact: Not every lump of coal turns into a diamond. Dallas takes a hit in run blocking after losing Flozell, and doesn’t stand to improve on dumb penalties. But Barron has shown a physical ability to neuter top pass rushers, and steps into a division with Brian Orakpo, Justin Tuck, and the blitz-happy Eagles.
Torry Holt – New England Patriots
Holt may not have the stain of the ’09 Rams’ one-win season on his record, but he does carry the sting of being released. And now, after one season of trying — and failing — to prove himself as a #1 receiving option on the woeful Jacksonville Jaguars, Holt carries it twice over.
However, the Big Game couldn’t have asked for a softer landing. Holt becomes the #3 man in New England, a team that throws more than 70% of the time, that has Randy Moss drawing opposing team’s best cover corners, and that will be without the services of primary target Wes Welker for at least part of the season. Oh, and they have this guy Brady at quarterback. Supposedly he’s pretty good, or something. Holt not only steps into a positive offensive scenario, he joins a team that is known for taking smart veterans — like Junior Seau or Troy Brown — and finding ways to make them effective. Rather than try to blunt their egos, Belichick and company appear to use the pride (and fear of retirement) of these players as a primary motivating tool to accept somewhat limited opportunities and make the most of them.
Prognosis: Likely top man in the WR2 rotation.
Impact: Rams fans will hate to see it, but Holt could be the best possible fit at WR2 for the Pats. Even without a top gear, Holt has the precision, hands and brains of a top-flight receiver, and the Patriots’ gaudy passing stats could help burnish his career stats and eventual HOF standing.
Will Witherspoon – Tennessee Titans
The sad thing for the classy Witherspoon is, no matter what he does to help this Tennessee Titans team reboot its once-proud defense, his efforts will be overshadowed by drama elsewhere on the team. This is what happens when your running back has more moves than a Red Bull trick plane; when your quarterback gets punchy in a local strip club; and when the biggest presence on your defense is the absence of Albert Haynesworth.
All that aside, the Rams’ former defensive captain steps neatly into the “Will” linebacker position that is his natural fit, and will help to shore up a defense that plummeted from 2nd to 28th in the span of one awful season. His quiet leadership style will help him slowly erase the void created by the departure of local legend Keith Bulluck. Jeff Fisher’s teams have always been anchored by tough, smart defenses, and this backbone has given them the resiliency to bounce back from bad year to good year with surprising effectiveness. Witherspoon may be getting long in the tooth, but he has the tenacity to be a good fit here.
Impact: Sound, efficient play, but will need playmakers to emerge next to him to help lift Tennessee back into the playoffs.
Richie Incognito – Miami Dolphins
I can’t think of a better way to audition for the top run-blocking line in football than by getting cut by two of the worst teams in football in the same season. Oh, wait. Yes, on second thought, I think I probably could.
At first blush, the perennially undisciplined Incognito would seem like a horrible fit on a Bill Parcells team, if all you know about Parcells is his tough-guy, “my-way-or-the-highway” approach to coaching. But from Lawrence Taylor to Terrell Owens, Parcells has always had a place on his roster for the talented knucklehead, relying on his own outsized ego to dominate these troubled players and whip them into shape.
The trouble is that this might be Parcells’ roster, but the locker room that now has Incognito, Brandon Marshall, and a sudden plethora of players making embarrassingly stupid decisions is in the charge of Tony Sparano. This hard-nosed coach deserves a lot of credit for lifting the Dolphins out of the gutter and turning them into an unexpected power, but he has to be wondering when he’s going to get players that don’t require constant maintenance and upkeep. When Ricky Williams is the level head on your team, you’ve got troubles.
Prognosis: penciled in as the starting right guard. But pencils have erasers for a reason.
Impact: The question with the hit-first, hit-second Incognito has never been how to get him going, it’s how to get him to stop once the whistle has blown. But Richie also has trouble knowing his assignments, and too often finds himself out in space with no one to block, and a suspiciously wide open path to the quarterback somewhere nearby. Sparano has the offensive line pedigree, but he has a big-time project on his hands here.
Mike Martz – Chicago Bears
Okay, so Mike Martz is several years and several teams removed from his days as a Ram. But he’s never far from our thoughts as the architect of the Greatest Show — and one of the many egos playing tug of war with the Rams roster that led to the rapid dissolution of our team. With the recent retirement of Isaac Bruce, Martz has been on the local airwaves quite a bit, reminiscing about one of his favorite players and helping to build Ike’s case for the Hall of Fame. (Bruce is repaying the favor by joining Martz in the Bears’ minicamps to help tutor the fleet of young receivers.)
And as has been his career MO, Martz joins a team in serious need of a miracle. The Bears have been approaching full-scale meltdown status after relying year after year on injury-prone veteran players to carry forward the defense-first, run-second, punt-third philosophy of the post-Ditka era. In desperate attempt to add some legitimacy to their offense, they severely mortgaged the future to grab Jay Cutler. Their draft-pick-heavy deal with Denver may not be as notorious as the Herschel Walker or Ricky Williams trades (two Ricky Williams references in the same article? nice), but the aftereffects might be very similar. Now that they have a so-called franchise QB, they have no offensive line to protect him and no reliable weapons for him to throw to.
Prognosis: Offensive coordinator and likely interim head coach in waiting.
Impact: By bringing in Martz, coach Lovie Smith is essentially playing chess with Death, bargaining for just a little more time and trying to hit just enough wins to keep his job for another season. In this case, though, even a mild offensive resurgence won’t be enough to reverse the tide. It truly will take a miracle.