Forgotten free agents with possible NFL futures
By Mike Carlson
Special to NFL.com
(May 25, 2006) -- Although the prime function of NFL Europe is as a development league, and the number of allocated players has remained large, free agents continue to play an important part for many teams. The days of teams retaining players like Frankfurt's Mario Bailey or Scotland's Siran Stacy or George Coghill, who were popular with the fans over multiple seasons, are long gone. But still, coaches appreciate being able to sign at least some players who aren't affiliated with NFL teams.
Ronyell Whitaker leads NFLE with 141 return yards on INTs and two touchdowns.
There are a few reasons. These players may be better motivated than others who believe, that as an allocated player, his NFL Europe job is safe. And, often falsely, that an NFL career automatically awaits. Free agents may be players the coach feels are better suited to his system, and, as Bart Andrus demonstrated this year with Amsterdam, brining back experienced players makes the learning curve a bit less steep in the short and sometimes alien European season.
Speaking realistically, a good number of the players allocated by NFL teams are, in reality, free agents, signed just before the allocation period and destined to be released after a period as camp fodder. Of course, some will use the opportunity to demonstrate their skills and supply tape to the whole league, not just their team, to their ultimate advantage. But ask any NFL Europe coach and he'll tell you there's nothing he appreciates more than a free agent who works hard to play at this level.
Every year there are a few players who've made the NFL rosters without NFL affiliation and who have shown enough over the course of the season to make them attractive to teams looking for a free-agent bargain. The odds are always bad that they will make a team, but among these 10 players, don't be surprised if more than a couple surface on NFL rosters or practice squads in the fall. Ranked in approximate order, here are the top 10 free agents from this season, and virtually all of them play on the defensive side of the ball.
1. Ronyell Whitaker, CB, Rhein He's hardly an unknown, as he's actually started in the NFL before. Whitaker has delivered big plays for Rhein all season.
2. Bryan Save, DT, Cologne He made Pro Football Weekly's All-League Team in 2005, and though he's always going to be an injury worry, Save's the kind of active tackle that could suit a team needing a one-gap player inside.
3. Kevin Harrison, LB, Berlin Best suited to play inside. He may be a little small at 6-foot and 245 pounds, but he's a hitter.
4. Earl Cochrane, DE, Amsterdam In his second year with the Admirals, he's been steadily effective. Perhaps not explosive enough, but at 6-5 and 285, he could spark interest in a 3-4 defense.
5. Travis Harris, LB, Frankfurt The Florida product led the Galaxy in tackles, which is what the system wants from its MLB. He's a bit undersized at 6-2 and 240, but he can make plays.
6. James Lee, DT, Amsterdam Another guy with both NFL tape and some injury worries, but the 6-5, 325-pound Lee brings something to the table that can't be coached -- size. He could stir up interest for a team needing a two-gap space eater in the middle.
7. Terrence Robinson, LB, Rhein Another two-year European player who's just a little small and slow by NFL standards, but has shown he can play enough to be valuable on the bench and special teams.
8. Derrick Strong, DE, Rhein Strong is a pass-rush specialist who needs a little bit more explosiveness in his rush, but gave good effort, and in the right system could be useful.
9. Tyler Lenda, C/G, Amsterdam A sentimental choice because he's played well at both positions over two seasons. He's always going to be small for an NFL line, but a zone blocking team needing an overachiever that can back up at two spots might bring him to camp.
10. Noriaki Kinoshita, KR, Amsterdam The Japanese product from that football powerhouse Ritsumeikan University would have a huge adjustment to make, but he's got the ability to make the first tackler miss and averaged 27.9 on kickoff returns and almost 15 yards on just a few punt returns.
Fifth-year European veteran Scott McCready is a season and career record holder.
Just off the list are Hamburg WR Scott McCready, who took a while to get back to full speed after last year's knee injury, but might be worth a look as a special teamer/sixth receiver. There's also cornerbacks Joselio Hanson (Frankfurt) and Rayshun Reed (Hamburg), who face that usual problem of size/speed, which is so difficult to overcome at corner, and running back Marty Johnson of Berlin, who's a bit of a tweener at 5-11 and 225, but offers some power.
Teams really wanting to take a flyer might look at two big national linemen that suffered injuries this year. Lorn Mayers, the English defensive tackle who went to the Raiders camp last season, is at 6-3, 350 pounds, is only 20 years old, has the right attitude, and given another camp and a full season in Europe, he would be well ahead of most college sophomores. A longer shot might be Mexican OT Ramaro Purneda. He was injured in training camp and didn't play, but line coach Don Lawrence reckoned he might be Cologne's best lineman. At 6-6Ã‚Â½ and 320 pounds, he's got size, decent footwork and uses his hands well. Keep an eye on him for next season.
Of course, another aspect of NFL Europe is that teams will have scouted the league and possibly marked players allocated by other teams on the theory that one man gathers what another man spills. They'll watch the waiver wire, and maybe you should too.