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In free agency, NFL is no country for old running backs

We're at the halfway point of the preseason and there are still a few notable names left on the free agent market -- Terrell Owens, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Brian Westbrook, Tank Johnson, Clinton Portis, Darren Sharper, Kirk Morrison and Lofa Tatupu among them. With roster cuts on the horizon, meaning more players will be available on the market, have any of these veterans played their last down in the NFL?

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  • Jason La Canfora NFL Network
  • Most of these guys will be back

Certainly, some of them have played their last down. But the majority of this group, plus guys like Leonard Davis and Brian Waters and maybe even the retired Randy Moss, will be back in the league.

  <table align="right" width="315px"> 
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  </table> A lot of teams are still evaluating their own talent and particularly their youth. And many teams will be hesitant to sign more expensive veterans prior to Week 1 (which would guarantee their entire salary). But, as always, there will be a flurry of activity just before and after final roster cuts; many of these names will be a part of it.  

T.O. is still coming back from injury. Moss will be very selective and somewhat pricey if someone does indeed coax him back onto the field. Portis is on several emergency lists and we all know running backs get hurt. Westbrook might be at the end, however.

Tatupu is being selective but will ultimately sign somewhere -- Oakland has been pretty interested. Sharper and Houshmandzadeh had recent workouts in New England. If the Saints lose a safety, you know they'd want Sharper back.

I wouldn't go counting these guys out just yet.

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  • Pat Kirwan
  • Vets needed, but not much leverage

Anyone who thought there wasn't going to be some carnage for veterans when the salary cap was re-instituted forgot the history of the cap. There are a number of quality veterans on the sidelines right now and a few of them will find work if and when starters head to injured reserve and the backups are inexperienced rookies or second-year players.

Don't expect many players like T.O., Westbrook or Houshmandzadeh getting deals on opening-day rosters. Not many teams want to guarantee a year's salary -- but after opening day, there will be some veteran signings. A team like the Eagles may look at a Kirk Morrison or Lofa Tatupu (if he can pass a physical) to handle the middle linebacker spot presently manned by young, inexperienced players. Teams will quickly run out of defensive tackles and Tank Johnson will get a few weeks of work. However, older running backs like Tiki Barber may never get that phone call. The one thing that is a reality is that there is little to no leverage left for older veterans on the street waiting for work.

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  • Steve Wyche
  • Older backs not worth it

Some of these guys might have their phones ring if there is an injury. A few will be back: Sharper, Morrison, Johnson and Tatupu among them. They play positions where there is attrition and teams will need help. I do think Westbrook has played his last down. As an older running back with an injury history, he simply is at the point where teams would rather give opportunities to younger players, even practice squad guys, especially because they could be more affordable. We haven't even heard Westbrook mentioned. That could also be the case with Portis, though I think he'll end up playing at some point. The interesting players are Houshmandzadeh and T.O. It probably is going to take an injury, during the season, for either of these one-time stars to get a shot.

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  • Adam Rank
  • Sign Portis for the costumes

Wait a minute, Clinton Portis was still in the league last year? Who knew?

Obviously I am kidding -- sorta -- but Portis seems like the oldest 29-year-old in NFL history (he turns 30 on Sept. 1) and it is kind of hard to imagine that he has anything left to offer other than some hilarious characters. Portis should be signed for that reason alone.

But if last year was the last time we saw Portis play, I wish him well and hope he invested all of that money he earned at the University of Miami.

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  • Dave Dameshek
  • Father Time tough on running backs

Wherefore art thou, Tiki? Perchance your scorched earth policy –- including speaking ill of your coach and star QB after your departure from the Giants –- has made you too poisonous for other potential suitors to touch.

Or maybe it's as simple as this: Tiki is old –- as are Brian Westbrook and Clinton Portis –- and NFL running back is not a career for the aged. From O.J. to Emmitt, Franco to Edge, once-great RBs have shown time and again that their pedigree is no match for Father Time.

One would think NFL GMs are aware of this, too ... but then we learn that Larry Johnson is taking his talents to South Beach. Unfortunately for Larry and the Dolphins, I expect this partnership will be less successful than LeBron's first go-round with the Heat. In the meantime, though, look for some other desperate and/or delusional GM to follow suit by signing Portis.

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