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Cobras’ 2000-2001 Free Agency Preview
By Brian Distelberg (9/30)
Click above for Free Agent Tracker.
Also in this story:

Position-by-position scouting
Brian's FA Shopping List
What shoud the Cobras do in free agency? Discuss in the CZ Forum.
   The great experiment, the AFL’s first try at free agency, is just over the horizon.  The Cobras are in a fairly unique position among the league’s teams, in that most of their stars are not free agents; OS Marlon Estes, OS/WR/DB Dexter Dawson, WR/LB Cornelius White, FB/LB Marrio Grier, and OL/DL Brad Keeney all have less than the requisite four years of experience, meaning that the Cobras won’t face competition for their services.
   At least not from other AFL teams.  That, of course, is the other factor this offseason... who will jump to the NFL or the XFL?  Such uncertainty makes it difficult to speculate on what players will even be available in free agency, much less who the Cobras might target.
   But what the heck?  Let’s speculate!
   The Cobras front office must first determine the status of the team’s own six free agents.  Two may be designated franchise players, and will presumably get longer and more lucrative contracts.  The Cobras will most likely use the designation on QB Fred McNair and OL/DL Jerry Sharp.  They’ll also want to try to keep WR/DB David McLeod and FB/LB Bo Kelly.  DS Adrian Lunsford and backup QB Carlos Garay are worth keeping around if they are not asking for too much.
   Then the Cobras must decide who to protect in the expansion draft.  Considering that the Cobras played like an expansion team this past season, they can probably find people with more talent than whatever few players they lose from the fringes of their roster.
   Assuming the Cobras are able to keep McNair and protect their key younger players in the expansion draft, the biggest areas of need are at defensive specialist, receiver/defensive back, kicker and backup quarterback.  But since the Cobras’ talent level, as indicated by their 3-11 record, was not among the top in the league last year, nearly any addition through free agency has a legitimate shot at starting.
   The Cobras seem to be in a good position when it comes to attracting free agents.  The Triangle consistently ranks high on lists of ‘The Best Places to Live’ – though CZ Forum contributors have mentioned player concerns with the cost of living in the area.  Carolina also can point out its strong crowd support, which could help lure players away from poorly supported teams like Houston, New Jersey and Florida.  And the area’s job market is good, which means players have a good chance at finding offseason work should they chose to permanently relocate.
   The following, then, is a list of players (by position) who I think the Cobras should take a look at.  

Defensive Specialist: 
The Cobras’ secondary did not get its act together until the very end of the season.  Reggie Carthon and Adrian Lunsford helped to turn things around eventually, but the team could really use at least one All-Arena-type at the position to captain the defense and tighten up coverage.  Unfortunately, many of the league’s top defensive specialists are not eligible for free agency.

The Cream of the Crop

  • Wayne Wade, Milwaukee (6-0, 200) – Six-year veteran had five interceptions last season
  • Cecil Doggette, Arizona (5-9, 180) – Four interceptions in 2000, All-Arena in 1999, played under Coach Kay
  • Cedric Walker, Arizona (6-1, 205) – A fairly consistent contributor who also has the Kay connection
  • Derrick Stingley, Albany (6-1, 195) – Consistently excellent, though he fell off a little in 2000
  • Also Worth a Look

  • Carlos Brooks, Buffalo (6-1, 200) – Went from Los Angeles to Buffalo mid-season and had four interceptions for the Destroyers; played for Coach Kay in Arizona in previous seasons
  • Darius Hadley, Grand Rapids (6-1, 205) – Didn’t play much in 1998 or 1999, but had six interceptions for Florida in 1997 and attempted a comeback last season in Grand Rapids
  • Tommy Jones, San Jose (6-0, 180) – Decent player who played some offense last year; had 11 interceptions back in 1998
  • Mark Ricks, Oklahoma (5-10, 175) – Has never had fewer than four interceptions per season, and ran two back for scores last year
  • Local Option

  • Chris Barber, New Jersey (6-1, 190) – Older (seven-year vet), but played at N.C. A&T; a journeyman who has had a few good seasons
  • Receiver/Defensive Back: 
    This position was hit hard last season as injuries required constant shifting of players away to offensive specialist.  Either Marlon Estes or Dexter Dawson – or both, if Kevin Lee stays at OS – could return to two-way play, but the Cobras could really use a solid, defensively-experienced receiver in the mix.

    The Cream of the Crop

  • Barry Wagner, San Jose (6-3, 215) – The AFL’s Michael Jordan just moved out West last year, and probably isn’t going anywhere
  • Carlos James, Iowa (6-0, 180) – Six interceptions and 15 touchdowns this past season, and has been first or second team All-Arena the past four years
  • Brett Cooper, Orlando (6-1, 190) – Grabbed two interceptions (and returned them both for scores) despite playing in the same defensive backfield as McEntyre and Mason; 14 touchdown catches on offense
  • Randy Gatewood, Arizona (6-0, 185) – With 22 touchdown catches and just two passes broken up, may be more offensive-oriented than the Cobras need; All-Arena performer four out of past five seasons
  • Also Worth a Look

  • Alvin Ashley, Milwaukee (5-11, 150) – Injured most of 2000, but a proven AFL star; his defensive performance fell off a little from 1998 to 1999
  • Pierre Hixon, New England (5-10, 190) – Solid but unspectacular; played DS for New Jersey in 1998 and 1999, so knows defense
  • Jerry Reese, San Jose (5-11, 190) – Broke out on offense in 2000 with 22 touchdown catches, but not exceptional on defense
  • Antoine Worthman, Tampa Bay (6-0, 190)  – Nothing special on offense, but last season had two interceptions, 21 pass break-ups, a sack and six fumble recoveries; may be just what the Cobras are looking for
  • Kicker: 
    I think its safe to say Remy Hamilton’s days were numbered long before he drove the nail in his own coffin by driving his final field goal attempt of the season wide.  Hamilton did not equal the promise of his rookie year, not during this season and not during the previous one in Grand Rapids, and the Cobras have better options to turn to.
     

  • Steve Videtech, Milwaukee (6-2, 210) – N.C. State alum had a big family following when the Mustangs visited last season
  • Bjorn Nittmo, Arizona (6-1, 180) – Has played with four different teams in his four AFL seasons; played collegiately at Appalachian St.
  • Quarterback: 
    Unless the Cobras are unable to re-sign Fred McNair, their need in this area is purely of the backup variety.  There are better options available than current backup Carlos Garay, though the Cobras should also bring in a rookie or two from the af2 – it’s never too early to start thinking about the future.
     

  • Scott Semptimphelter, Los Angeles (6-2, 215) – Has staring experience, but won’t get the nod in L.A. unless Todd Marinovich jumps to the XFL
  • Pat O’Hara, Orlando (6-4, 212) – Another former starter playing behind a guaranteed starter, this time ArenaBowl MVP Connell Maynor
  • Scott Wood, San Jose (6-3, 215) – Also a former starter, backed up Mark Grieb this season
  • Rickey Foggie, New Jersey (6-2, 205) – Decent as a starter in New Jersey from 1997-99, now backs up Tommy Maddox
  • Fullback/Linebacker: 
    With Marrio Grier and Bobbie Cotten back from injuries and joining Alan Campos and, if he re-signs, Bo Kelly, the Cobras seem set at this position.  I’d only look at these local products, and then just to stir up fan interest.  When you’re leading the league in rushing, as the Cobras were before Grier was injured, I wouldn’t change things around too much.
     

  • Andre Bowden, Tampa Bay (6-1, 249) – Went to Fayetteville St. (in fact, his family was sitting near me during the last game of the season), but has played with the Storm his entire career
  • Les Barley, Grand Rapids (6-2, 240) – Nine-year vet attracted some interest from the Cobras when he was a free agent last offseason; played at Winston-Salem St.
  • Receiver/Linebacker:
    Most of the available players here are big-names who are going to demand big bucks, and I would be satisfied with All-Ironman Cornelius White if I was the Cobras.  Depth is something of a concern, with only Kevin Lee – who barely played all season – and Greg Harris behind White.  Unfortunately, most of the names available are not back-up types, though some second-tier guys are available:
     

  • Bernard Edwards, Florida (6-6, 200) – Long-time Bobcat grabbed two picks in 2000 before succumbing to injury
  • Jai Hill, Arizona (6-3, 210) – A journeyman who staged a comeback in 2000 with 39 catches and eight touchdowns, his highest toatls since 1996
  • Bruce LaSane, Los Angeles (6-4, 255) – Eight-year veteran who caught six touchdown passes for New Jersey and Los Angeles last year; unspectacular on defense
  • Melvin Phillips, Oklahoma (6-5, 215) – Had a break-out season on offense with 30 catches and 12 touchdown receptions, but defensive play isn’t great
  • Linemen: 
    While the Cobras would have to be pretty satisfied with their line play in 2000, there are a ton of linemen available, so they’ll probably sign at least one.

    Cream of the Crop

  • Sam Hernandez, San Jose (6-3, 250) – Had 9.5 sacks, forced two fumbles as San Jose tore through the regular season; named Lineman of the Year
  • Joe Jacobs, Albany (6-4, 295) – Three-time All-Arena designee has stated his desire to play in Los Angeles or San Jose
  • Victor Hall, Los Angeles (6-4, 265) – Five sacks, and also 10 receptions and three touchdowns
  • James Baron, Nashville (6-4, 265) – Lineman of the Year in 1998, Defensive Player of the Year in 1999, an All-Arena performer since 1997; four sacks and two touchdown catches in 2000
  • Anthony Hutch, Iowa (6-4, 295) – Notched 4.5 sacks and two passes break-ups; not a receiver
  • Robert Stewart, New Jersey (6-0, 290) – 1999 Lineman of the Year and six-time All-Arena player dropped off a bit last season
  • Also Worth a Look

  • Ernest Allen, Orlando (6-3, 280) – Journeyman had three sacks last season; All-Arena in 1998
  • Mark Valvo (6-5, 320) and Kyle Moore-Brown (6-2, 298), Albany and Carlos Fowler (6-3, 265) and Robert Gaddy (6-4, 300), Nashville – All blocked for big-time ground attacks in 2000
  • Local Option

  • Michael Harrison, Houston (6-5, 285) – N.C. State alum had one sack and one touchdown catch in 2000
  • Offensive Specialist: 
    One benefit of the constant injuries at this position last season is that the Cobras discovered they have two viable options at OS: Marlon Estes and Dexter Dawson.  Only four offensive specialists are available in free agency; the Cobras might look at one local option.
     

  • James Bowden, Tampa Bay (6-0, 188) – Former N.C. A&T player had his best season in the AFL last year, with 70 receptions and nine touchdowns


  • Brian’s Free Agency Shopping List
    QB Fred McNair (re-sign)
    QB Pat O’Hara (Orlando)
    FB/LB Bo Kelly (re-sign)
    WR/DB Dave McLeod (re-sign)
    WR/DB Antoine Worthman (Tampa Bay)
    WR/LB Jai Hill (Arizona)
    OL/DL Jerry Sharp (re-sign)
    OL/DL James Baron (Nashville)
    DS Cecil Doggette (Arizona)
    K Steve Videtech (Milwaukee)