NFL News of July 31, 2004

Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Tice pulled aside his newest defensive lineman and told him, “If anybody asks, you’re playing inside.” Brock Lesnar nodded. He is fine with that. He doesn’t care where he lines up. He just wants the chance to play in the NFL.

Tice is giving it to him.

In the pro wrestling world, he was anointed The Next Big Thing. Now, as he begins a totally new career, nobody is calling him anything but a long shot. Lesnar hasn’t played football since high school and is as raw as they come, but there is something about this former champion of wrestling that intrigues Tice.

“He’s a project, but he’s as strong as an ox,” Tice said. “He’s perfect for the practice squad, and then we can send him to Europe (to play in NFL Europe).”

Lesnar signed a contract Tuesday with the Vikings for the league minimum of $230,000, but he gets that only if he makes the final roster, which would be stunning. But Lesnar has been stunning people most of his life, and he may just do it again.

—Bob Sansevere, The Pioneer Press “Vikings gamble, go to the mat for Brock Lesnar”

Lesnar was cut at the end of the 2004 preseason, and opted to return wrestling rather than join NFL Europe.

NFL News of July 28, 2004

When your biggest problem is the punter, you’re generally in good shape. That sums up where the Patriots were last year when they won their second NFLchampionship in three years.

That’s why of all the fresh faces that will be on display at training camp starting tomorrow, perhaps none is more welcome than Josh Miller, the ninth-year veteran punter who will assume the reins from the embattled Ken Walter.

Walter was a favored holder of Adam Vinatieri, but behind Walter, the Pats ranked 31st in gross average (37.1 yards) and 26th in net average (33.5 yards).

Enter Miller, who has a big leg to go along with the ability to pooch one near the end zone. In 2003 for Pittsburgh, he was sixth in the AFC in both gross (41.9) and net (36.0) average. Miller also had 27 kicks downed inside the 20, tied for third-most in the AFC. He led the NFL in that category in 1998 (34) and was second in 2000 (also 34).

—Michael Felger, The Boston Herald “New punter will be welcome”

Miller remained with the Patriots through the 2006, when he was injured and place on injured reserve. The Patriots resigned Walter for the remainder of the 2006 season. Both Miller and Walter were released by the team before the 2007 season.

NFL News of July 27, 2004

Former All-Pro defensive back Rod Woodson was released Tuesday by the Oakland Raiders after he failed a physical.

Woodson, 39, had two separate surgeries on his left knee, which he injured during last season’s training camp. He missed six games last season, was placed on injured reserve Nov. 26 and had the second surgery in December.

Woodson is an 11-time Pro Bowler. He was a member of the NFL’s 75th Anniversary Team.

Woodson has started 229 of 238 career games with Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Baltimore and Oakland. The 1993 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, he holds league all-time records for interception return yards (1,483) and interception returns for touchdowns (12), while his 71 career picks ranks third in NFL history.

—UPI News “Oakland Raiders release Rod Woodson”

Woodson retired following his release. He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2009, his first year of eligibility.

NFL News of July 25, 2004

Ricky Williams is retiring.

The 27-year-old running back’s seismic decision to leave football in his prime, a week before the start of Dolphins training camp, is perfectly in keeping with his personality. It is outsized, enigmatic, brave, unpredictable, complex, interesting, selfish and surprising enough to leave your mouth hanging open.

And, of course, different.

Above all, right to the very end of a football career that will be finished when he formally faxes his retirement papers to the NFL offices early this week, Williams always has been relentlessly different.

“I’m finally free,” Williams said by cellphone from Hawaii. “I can’t remember ever being this happy.”

…He relished the playing part with a child’s enthusiasm, but the business part was always much too adult for him. Williams has an artist’s sensibilities and sensitivities, forever fascinated by things beyond that ball, and he is no longer interested in playing his life away.

He wants to study, learn, search, travel, question, write, meditate, read, wander, find himself, climb mountains, take pictures of waterfalls and be Dad without being interrupted by another 8 a.m. meeting to dissect film.

—Dan LeBatard, The Miami Herald “Out of the NFL, Ricky Williams running for free now”

Ricky Williams returned to the Dolphins for the 2005 season before he being suspended for the 2006 season. He spent 2006 with the CFL Toronto Argonauts, before spending 2007 – 2010 with the Dolphins.

NFL News of July 23, 2004

Danny Wuerffel completed 184 passes in his NFL career. The man who works next door to him stole 200 cars.

Wuerffel used to work in stadiums with plush green fields. Now he works in a housing project with crumbling walls and barred windows. And it’s the happiest he’s ever been.

A former Heisman Trophy winner who led Florida to a national title in 1996, Wuerffel retired from the NFL on Feb. 18 and took a job with Desire Street Ministries in New Orleans.

The organization is attempting to rehabilitate one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the United States. Wuerffel, who spoke at the annual Feather Sound Community Church sports banquet Thursday night, is the group’s director of development and associate athletic director of Desire Street Academy, a private school.

—Chris Carlson, The Tampa Tribune “Wuerffel Finds His True Heart’s Desire”

NFL News of July 22, 2004

The Tennessee Titans have reached a contract agreement with tailback Antowain Smith as a replacement for the departed Eddie George, it was reported Thursday.

The Tennessean and ESPN said Smith, a free agent, would get $660,000, the NFL minimum for a seven-year veteran, and a $25,000 signing bonus.

Smith had visited with the Titans Tuesday, the day before George was released.

The 32-year-old Smith had been released by the New England Patriots.

He rushed rushed for 642 yards in 13 games last season and has 5,713 rushing yards in his NFL career with the Buffalo Bills and Patriots.

The Titans released George after he turned down a contract proposal and asked to be traded.

—The UPI News “Reports say Antowain Smith joining Titans”

Smith had 509 yards and 4 touchdowns on 137 carries for the Titans in 2004, his only season with the team. Eddie George was signed by the Dallas Cowboys. He had 432 yards and 4 touchdowns on 132 carries in his only season with the team.

NFL News of July 19, 2004

The NFL champion New England Patriots Monday signed defensive tackle Vince Wilfork, their first-round choice in the player draft in June.

The 6-2, 325-pounder was the 21st overall pick.

The Metro West Daily News reported Wilfork got a six-year deal in the $18 million range and likely will compete with veteran Keith Traylor for the starting nose tackle position.

Wilfork had 48 tackles, 14 sacks, three fumble recoveries and five forced fumbles during his collegiate career at Miami.

—The UPI News “Patriots sign top draft pick”