The Graybeards have returned -- and like Clint Eastwood at the farmers market, they're grumpy as hell.
Yes, your favorite fake team of players currently unattached to a real team is back. For the eighth straight year, I've dug through our database to build a roster I hope can compete in the league of 32.
Of course, the Graybeards roster rollout is so much more than your basic "Best Remaining Free Agents!" article. Puh-leeze. We choose to place our focus on NFL veterans who have aged out of the desired demographic of most team builders. To be a Graybeard, you must be 30 or older -- either now or by the end of the 2022 season.
Our team motto remains unchanged: Just Win (Sometimes), Baby. And you know what? I think these grizzled vets have a real shot in 2022.
But don't take my word for it ... you be the judge.
The facts are undeniable: Fitzpatrick will turn 40 in November and had his 2021 season wiped out by a serious hip injury. But this, too, is undeniably true: Prior to the injury, Fitzpatrick was playing the best football of his career during a memorable run in Miami. Hell, where hasn't Fitzpatrick played memorable football? Sign us up! Geno is a perfectly serviceable alternative who had some positive moments filling in for Russell Wilson a season ago. He's a better backup option than Cam Newton at this stage. Imagine telling someone that in 2015.
The last time we saw McKinnon, he was the lead back for the Chiefs in the playoffs, compiling over 300 total yards and a touchdown across three contests. If Clyde Edwards-Helaire wasn't a first-round pick, it'd probably be CEH on the street right now. Johnson doesn't seem to have much juice left these days, but he could provide some value in the passing game. Le'Veon Bell, now 30, can't even land a roster spot on the Graybeards. Life comes at you fast.
This feels like the best wide receiver room in the history of the Graybeards. Beckham is currently recovering from another ACL tear, but he was electric in the Super Bowl before going down with the injury. Brown is a legitimate nightmare, but this is a fake team -- and as such, his tantrums and general buffoonery cannot hurt us. He remains a versatile and productive playmaker. Landry is a welcome addition in the slot, where he'll do the dirty work in the blocking game and move the chains with his fine hands and crafty route-running. Jones is no longer an All-Pro, but he's worth a flier to see if there's any tread left on the tires. It's not too often you get to roster one of the greatest playmakers of a generation. These are all name brands with something left to give -- and if not, guys like A.J. Green and Cole Beasley are a phone call away. Giddy up.
Gronk said this week he isn't ready to commit to another season of football, but we're no dummies. Tom Brady's return to Tampa all but guaranteed the legendary tight end will come back, and there's no reason to sign a contract this spring and have to deal with organized team activities and snooze-inducing Todd Bowles Zoom calls. For now, Gronk -- who was arguably a top-five tight end a year ago -- is a Graybeard. Cook has been a bit of an enigma during his career, but he remains a compelling target who can get into a playmaker's groove if you catch him on the right day.
We might have another ALL-TIME BEST positional group for the Graybeards. Brown is a wily veteran who's been a trustworthy blind-side presence for a decade-and-a-half. Fisher is a perfectly capable right tackle who will be starting for a real team in a few months. Spain didn't survive the Bengals' makeover along their offensive line, but he'll fit in nicely in our land of misfit toys. Williams will man the other guard spot and provide versatility in the event we need to kick someone outside to tackle. Paradis in the pivot is a nice score for us.
This is a mean group that will intimidate opposing offenses. Ingram earned three Pro Bowl bids during his time with the Chargers and found success rushing the passer and stuffing the run during a 2021 spent in Pittsburgh and Kansas City. The days of Houston chasing the league's sack record are long gone, but we'll rotate him in and see if he can still get the engine going. Hughes is a pass-rushing specialist who has a knack for getting in a QB's grill, while JPP is coming off a gnarly bust of a season (he ranked dead last among 108 qualified edge rushers, according to Pro Football Focus). A change of scenery might help.
My lunch-pail guys have arrived at the construction site. Hicks and Joseph are proven run stuffers, while Campbell is an all-time Good Guy who remains one of the better all-around D-linemen in football. Suh is no longer the game-wrecker he was in his youth, but he brings experience and the nasty edge that allows our grizzled team to intimidate the Tik Tok-obsessed youth we call the enemy.
Johnson was a versatile starter under Vic Fangio for the Broncos last year before a torn pec ended his season in October. Hightower was a one-time star for the Patriots who is dying to stick it to Bill Belichick. (The Graybeards always look for that quality in a player.) Barr is another former Pro Bowl selection who knows how to get to the quarterback.
This positional group is usually the Achilles' heel for the Graybeards: a collection of lumbering vets doomed to be dusted by younger, faster opposition. Not this year. Gilmore remains a credible No. 1 cornerback who can shut down a star playmaker in man coverage. Nelson is a plucky fighter who will play opposite of Gilmore and handle his business. Like Nelson, Jackrabbit is a proven commodity who can win in various systems, while Callahan has graded out as one of the league's better slot corners in nickel schemes, per PFF. Haden ties things together as the veteran leader who provides depth, wisdom and funny stories about Ben Roethlisberger. Gotta have a few Joe Hadens on your squad.
I'm as surprised as you are that Honey Badger has lasted long enough to make the Graybeards. It's only a matter of time before he brings his near-peerless versatility to a contender that needs a playmaker in the back end of its defense. For now, that's us. While Mathieu lines up all over the place, we'll send McLeod down to the box where he does his best work.
Plugging in Sebastian Janikowski here would threaten my impeccable reputation as a FOOTBALL MAN, so instead I'll grab Ficken off the pile and hope for the best. Where have you gone, Seabass?
UPDATE: Morstead has signed a free-agent contract with the Miami Dolphins, NFL Network's Tom Pelissero reported.
I'm pretty sure Morstead has been on the Graybeards for eight straight years.
I love me some Mike Zimmer. That man keeps it real, and his 72-56-1 career record tells the story of a coach who knows what he's doing. (As an added bonus, we can feed him beers on the team plane and listen to him go off on Kirk Cousins for hours.) Gase will be hired after I receive a personal call from Peyton Manning vouching for his old buddy. What can I say? I don't want to disappoint The Sheriff. Westhoff is a god who will live forever.
Am I crazy? Is this team actually ... good? Like, can-finish-with-a-winning-record good? Fitzmagic's health is a vital piece of the puzzle here, but he has a capable offensive line in front of him and will be flanked by a talented and versatile crew of playmakers. The defense has proven commodities on every level, including a pair of stars in the secondary in Gilmore and Honey Badger.
I've routinely picked my Graybeards teams to finish with wretched records because I couldn't ignore the fact that the roster's deficiencies would be exposed by superior competition. But not this year. America fell in love with Saint Peter's during March Madness. Next January, the world falls head over heels for the playoff-bound Graybeards.
RECORD PROJECTION: 10-7!