Ricks' signing could have ripple effect
LBs Jeremiah Trotter and Jason Gildon are among the big-name free agents still looking for jobs.
He wasn't on the training camp roster last summer, and wasn't in the Carolina Panthers media guide, either, given his Aug. 1 addition to the team. But when Super Bowl XXXVIII kicked off six months ago, offensive lineman Matt Willig was dressed and on the Carolina sideline, a valuable, veteran insurance policy, playing for minimum salary.
There will be, for sure, a few more Matt Willig-type players signed by NFL teams in the three weeks remaining before the starting of training camps. And, in truth, even a few veterans who figure to end up contributing more to their teams in 2004 than the classy and utilitarian Willig did to the Panthers' conference championship run last season.
The New York Jets made the NFL's first meaningful post-July 1 roster tweak Thursday, signing six-year veteran tight end Mikhael Ricks, a converted wide receiver who still runs well and should add a new dimension to the mid-field passing game. His signing won't signal an opening of the flood gates, not with the paucity of serviceable players among the free agent remnant pile, but should result in at least a modest ripple effect.
When personnel directors and general managers return from vacations next week, the market should pick up enough to at least register a blip on the radar screen, as teams make one final sweep through the free agent bargain basement. It is a group, no denying, that is mostly threadbare, but with a few veterans worthy of consideration as clubs try to improve their depth or fill out a last, remaining roster hole.
"You know that old saying about how one man's trash is another man's treasure?" noted one AFC general manager. "Well, what's out there right now is pretty much everyone's trash, to be honest. But there might be three or four players, especially if reality has set in and they're ready to take the minimum (salary), who could still find homes. I mean, you would think somebody will sign (linebacker Jason) Gildon, and a few others, right? There are some guys worth plucking off the scrap heap. Just not many, that's all."
The leading career sacker in Pittsburgh Steelers history, Gildon, released for salary cap considerations, is in many ways the poster child for the group of free agents still hoping to land a training camp gig. Translation: He is on the wrong side of 30 and his production has declined in recent seasons.
Gildon's sack total has declined every season since he posted a career-best 13½ in 2000. His six sacks in 2003 represented his fewest since '97 and, after 10 seasons playing in the Steelers' 3-4 scheme, he has, somewhat justifiably, been typecast by some clubs. Rarely has Gildon been asked to drop and cover, has played principally coming forward toward the line of scrimmage, and probably is best suited to situational status at this juncture of his career.
But his six sacks in 2003 would have been enough to lead eight teams and there are three or four clubs still interested in Gildon and he will be in someone's camp, provided that he is willing to be a role player and for about one-third of the $3 million-plus that he was to have earned with the Steelers in 2004.
Here are a few more players who should escape the unemployment line in weeks leading up to training camp:
Around the league
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.
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