In the NFL, it is easy to go from Pro Bowl-caliber talent to out of the league. If a player has a down year, it is mandatory that he follows that year up with a successful season or that player could be looking for a new team. If a player struggles with his new team, it is likely that the player’s career could be over.
In 2012 James Harrison had six sacks and 49 tackles, and it was his worst season as a full-time starter. The Pittsburgh Steelers did not re-sign him. He was picked up by the Cincinnati Bengals and had an even worse season, just two sacks and 16 tackles. He wants to continue his playing career but no one has given him an offer. In two short seasons, he went from one of the most dominant linebackers in the NFL to struggling to find a roster spot.
Last season, several former Pro Bowl-caliber players had down years. Here is a list of the top five players who must have bounce-back seasons, or they could be looking for new teams.
1) Mike Wallace
Wallace was signed by the Miami Dolphins last offseason and was paid like a No. 1 receiver. Unfortunately, he was unable to produce like one. To be fair, much of his lack of production was poor design in the offense. In two of the first three games of the season Wallace only had one reception.
Offensive coordinator Mike Sherman was fired and the team has installed a new up-tempo offense. Hopefully this will help Wallace get back on track. He is supposed to be a deep threat or downfield receiver, yet he only averaged 12.7 ypc. Compare that to Anquan Boldin who is considered a possession receiver, and he averaged 13.9 ypc.
2) Sam Bradford
Many people wondered if the St. Louis Rams would look at a quarterback in this year’s draft due to the fact that the jury is still out on Bradford. The team decided to give him one last shot. When he has played, he has shown flashes. However, this team now wants to compete for a playoff spot and management currently has no idea if the former No. 1 overall pick can lead the way.
Any quarterback needs weapons to throw to, and maybe now Bradford has those weapons. The team struggled to use the talents of speedster Tavon Austin last season. A year of familiarity should make things better. They also signed Kenny Britt hoping he could return to form. Jared Cook is a solid tight end and should help Bradford control the middle of the field.
3. Matt Schaub
In 2013, everything that could go wrong did go wrong for Schaub. It seemed like the harder he tried to make the right play, the more things just fell apart. The Houston Texans went from Super Bowl hopefuls to having the No.1 pick in the draft. The team also decided that Schaub could no longer be their leader.
The Oakland Raiders hope Schaub can find his mojo and begin to make plays again. The team tried this a few seasons ago when they traded for Carson Palmer. That didn’t work out so well. The good news for the Raiders and Schaub is expectations are low, no one expects the Raiders to be a playoff team. The bad news for Schaub is Derek Carr is waiting in the wings, and he would like the job sooner rather than later.
4. Ray Rice
Rice has had a year to forget. On the field he managed a meager 3.1 ypc. He totaled just 660 rushing yards for the season. Off the field he had a domestic abuse incident which led to an arrest. He and his wife met with Commissioner Roger Goodell on Monday and now he awaits a possible suspension to start the 2014 season.
It is believed that Rice likely will be given a four-game suspension. That will put even more pressure on him to return to the lineup and round back into form. However, in this new era of running backs with diminishing value Rice has to still accumulate 1,000 yards next season. He must prove to his team that he is still their best option at running back.
5. Eli Manning
Manning has thrown 20 or more interceptions three times in his career. He has led the league in interceptions twice. His two magical runs to Super Bowls absolve him of the criticism most guys would take for those numbers. Truth be told, last season he may have been the worst quarterback in his own division.
Manning needs help, and the team had no running game. The team’s leading rusher had less than 500 yards. The offensive line needs improvement and former offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride retired. That doesn’t even take into account that the defense has lost its identity and is in need of a talent upgrade, especially in the front seven.
Manning has the tools to be effective when things around him are in their proper place, but he is not the guy that will cover up a multitude of issues. Things could get real messy in New York this season if he were to struggle again.
Photo Courtesy: Charlie Riedel/AP