Panthers quickly acquire Europe standout
Former Colts WR Drew Haddad is one of the NFLEL free agents who could get a training camp invite.
When the Carolina Panthers lost fifth-round draft choice Drew Carter to a season-ending knee injury in a recent mini-camp, and needed a wide receiver to fill the roster spot of the former Ohio State standout, the NFC champions scoured the world for a replacement.
OK, so that's not entirely true, we concede. But in signing Scott McCready of the Scottish Claymores, a much-traveled wide receiver who led the NFL Europe League this spring with 59 catches, the Panthers essentially confirmed that there are a few free agent players from overseas worth considering for summer training camp jobs.
Of the 22 position players on the all-NFLEL team, only four were not allocated, meaning they are free agents. Most of the league leaders in significant statistical categories were allocated by NFL franchises, sent to Europe to get some actual playing time, but whose contractual rights belong to the clubs that shipped them overseas.
There are, however, a handful of free agents from Europe who have garnered interest, as NFL teams continue to fine-tune rosters in advance of the opening of training camps next month. The majority of those players are probably little more than camp fodder, needed to fill out the quota of bodies at a particular position, and with little realistic chance of earning a regular-season roster spot.
But with the practice squad limit expanded to eight players for 2004, some of the NFLEL free agents could find gainful employment, and a few might be good enough to become role players on the active roster. "There aren't," said one AFC personnel director, "a lot of guys who people will look at, but there are a few interesting ones."
McCready is certainly one of them, if for no other reason than the persistence the former South Florida star has demonstrated, following plenty of setbacks. This marked the third consecutive spring that McCready, a London native and son of a former F-15 pilot in the Royal Air Force, played in the European league. McCready, who moved to the United States when he was nine, was twice in camp with the New England Patriots, and on the team's practice squad in 2001.
His career seemed stuck in neutral, though, until this spring. In catching 59 passes for 472 yards, McCready displayed nice hands and solid route-running skills. Having muscled up to 213 pounds, he also has the kind of stature teams like Carolina prefer, and he flashed some special teams skills as well.
The Panthers invested a $10,000 signing bonus on McCready, modest upfront money to be sure, but more than the team spent on most of its undrafted free agents. There aren't many NFLEL free agents who will merit that kind of bonus, but here are some who figure to be in NFL training camps:
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.
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