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Hawks in the NFL: Three at the crossroads

BY CHARLIE GREEN | JULY 28, 2015 5:00 AM

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The NFL is a tough business for aging veterans. Young players are often faster, less worn-out, and most of all, they’re cheaper. Teams that build primarily through the draft rather than consistently dishing out big money in free agency are more primed for long-term success.

And the physical and speedy nature of the game, combined with the value that a player on his rookie contract provides from a monetary standout, sends home one point more than any other: The NFL is a young man’s game.

As veterans age and their bodies continue to go through the rigors of an intense contact and collisions, they become more dispensable at the first indication of a drop-off in production.

These former Hawkeyes face important seasons to prove they can still be effective players (and one is currently unemployed):

Chad Greenway, Minnesota Vikings

Greenway has been one of the most consistent linebackers in the league since the Vikings took him in the first round of the 2006 draft.

In 2014, injuries stunted the production Minnesota has come to expect from the 32-year-old veteran entering his 10th season.

The two parties restructured his contract in March so that the team could keep him at a cheaper price. Despite recent injury issues, head coach Mike Zimmer appears intent at the moment on starting Greenway at weakside linebacker.

But Gerald Hodges played well in the absence of Greenway last season, showing the speed that Greenway may be losing as he ages and his body continues to wear down.

His toughness is one area that continues to make him an asset. He started 90-consecutive games at linebacker for the Vikes before sitting out Week 4 against the Atlanta Falcons. Greenway entered Week 3 with a broken bone in his hand and a broken rib — and still suited up for action.

Though he managed to play a good chunk of the season, if injuries continue to slow him down he’ll struggle to stick around as a starter.

Bradley Fletcher, New England Patriots

Like Scott Chandler, Fletcher is a former Hawkeye who joined the defending champion Patriots in the off-season. Unlike Chandler, he faces a daunting task: shoring up the team’s decimated secondary.

New England’s defensive backfield will bear little resemblance to the one that helped it win a Super Bowl in 2015 — and was an integral part of it. All-Pro Darrelle Revis left in free agency, and the team parted ways with Brandon Browner, Alfonzo Dennard, and slot corner Kyle Arrington — who collectively made up the group’s top four cornerbacks a season ago.

Enter Fletcher, coming off a truly dismal campaign with the Philadelphia Eagles. As a team, the Eagles ranked 31st in the NFL in pass defense. A strong defensive front helped them compile a 49 sacks, second only to the Buffalo Bills and leaving the arrow of blame pointed directly at the secondary.

And it started with the corners, specifically Fletcher and Cary Williams. Fletcher usually took on the top recievers of opposing teams, struggling to contain the likes of Jordy Nelson, Dez Bryant, and DeSean Jackson — who in Week 16 single-handedly sent Fletcher to the Eagles’ bench.

That said, the Patriots still believe he can be a strong option as a No. 2 corner, possibly planning on giving to top spot to Super-Bowl hero Malcolm Butler — who himself is still extremely inexperienced.

But if Fletcher can hold his own in New England’s secondary, it will go a long way in the team’s pursuit of back-to-back titles. If he gets burned as badly as he did at times last season, expect his days as a starter in the NFL to be numbered.

Shonn Greene, free agent

After two disappointing seasons in Tennessee, the Titans released Greene this off-season, deciding to ride with youngsters Bishop Sankey and David Cobb and free agent Dexter McCluster.

Greene had four solid seasons to start his career with the New York Jets from 2009-2012 — logging consecutive 1,000-yard seasons in the last two. After that, his production and number of carries dropped tremendously.

The Dallas Cowboys may be interested in bringing in the former Iowa star, as questions linger in their backfield in the wake of losing DeMarco Murray to free agency. Most likely, Greene provides an insurance policy for a team that suffers an injury at the position in training camp.

He remains one of the top free agents on the market, and the low number of carries over the past two seasons (171 total) may indicate he’s in decent shape physically, even though injuries were part of the cause.

But the two years before that may be more telling about Greene’s physical condition; he logged 529 carries in that stretch. The battering ram, workhorse style he plays could have simply worn him down. Plus, he turns 30 in August, the fabled number that seems to signal the physical decline to NFL teams of the sport’s most physically demanding position.


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