Winslow, Sims-Walker look to help Jets' offense
Knowing that was just a few years ago made it all the more strange for Winslow as he anxiously waited for his phone to ring with another NFL opportunity.
''It was hard, very hard,'' Winslow said Tuesday after his first practice in a tryout with the New York Jets. ''It's a situation that I've never gone through. It's probably one of the hardest situations I've had to go through. You don't know what your future holds and this is my dream, and when it's taken away like that, it's hard.''
Mike Sims-Walker knows the feeling. He was a rising star among the league's wide receivers with Jacksonville, but never reached expectations and found himself out of the league last year, uncertain if his NFL career was done before it ever really took off.
Now the two veterans are trying to revive their NFL careers while helping the Jets' offense during their three-day tryouts in minicamp.
''I'm not new at this,'' Sims-Walker said. ''It's a different environment, but football is football, so I'm trying not to make it any harder than it is. ... They've just told me to be myself. They told me to not try to do anything outside of what I've been doing.''
Winslow, who turns 30 next month, was a first-round draft pick of Cleveland in 2004, but made it through just two games before a broken right leg ended his rookie season. The following offseason, Winslow tore a knee ligament in a motorcycle accident that sidelined him that entire year. He vowed to come back, and had a career-high 89 catches in 2006 and made the Pro Bowl as an alternate the following year.
A staph infection cut short his 2008 season, but he was traded to Tampa Bay and bounced back with solid seasons of 77, 66 and 75 catches. The Buccaneers traded him to Seattle before last season, but he was waived in September after declining to reduce his salary. He signed with New England a few weeks later and played one game - before asking for his release.
And then, nothing.
''I have years left,'' Winslow insisted, saying his sometimes troublesome knees aren't an issue. ''My last year was 2011, and I caught 75 balls, so I've been productive. It's just the NFL. It's how it goes sometimes. You get cut, you get traded, and you can't do anything about it.
''It's out of my control, you know?''
It's also how you end up going from a Pro Bowl-caliber player to one who needs to audition for a job. He got the call from the Jets on Saturday, flew to the New York area Monday and made a few plays during practice, including nice grabs on pass from Mark Sanchez and Geno Smith early.
''It's better than sitting on the couch,'' Winslow said of his tryout. ''I'm going to prove myself and try to impress the coaches.''
That's what the Jets are hoping, especially since they're thin on experience at the position after allowing Dustin Keller to leave as a free agent. Right now, Jeff Cumberland - who has 32 career catches in three seasons - is the projected starter, with Konrad Reuland, a solid blocker, and former rugby player Hayden Smith the backups.
''We'll certainly look at all possibilities,'' coach Rex Ryan said. He then added: ''I'm excited to see Kellen.''
Sims-Walker could also provide some depth to a receiving corps that has dealt with injuries this offseason. Santonio Holmes is still recovering from a serious foot injury that sidelined him most of last season, and could land on the physically unable to perform list at the start of training camp next month.
Stephen Hill is working his way back from a knee injury that required offseason surgery, but he was able to practice Tuesday. The swelling is gone, as is the fluid that hampered him in organized team activities. But Clyde Gates is dealing with a hamstring issue, while Jeremy Kerley - the team's leading receiver last season - was limited recently by a tweaked heel.
''I feel like we're coming along pretty good,'' Kerley said of the wide receivers. ''We have some guys banged up. ... We like the pace, we like the offense. I love the offense. All we can do is try to build each other up and stay injury-free.''
The 28-year-old Sims-Walker last played for Jacksonville in 2011, and has 134 career catches for 1,798 yards and 14 touchdowns. He was a third-round draft pick of the Jaguars in 2008 and spent his first three seasons with them. He signed with St. Louis as a free agent in 2011, playing in four games before being released and then re-signed by Jacksonville. He played in two games for the Jaguars before being placed on injured reserve, and later released - and hasn't played in the NFL since.
But Sims-Walker likes what he has seen from offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg in his brief time with the Jets, and thinks he could add to what they're doing on offense.
''The offensive coordinator's a really good guy,'' Sims-Walker said. ''I like the downfield throws, and I'm just trying to get a feel for it all. I really haven't been here long enough, but from what I've seen, so far, so good.''
-- NOTES: Sanchez worked with the first-team offense, while Smith was with the second-stringers. Both quarterbacks were scheduled to address the media Wednesday. ... Ryan said he was happy to see Tim Tebow sign with the Patriots and wished him well, but added that it wouldn't matter where New England plays the former backup quarterback on the field - and he's not curious about what they'll do. ''I mean, if they want to replace (Tom) Brady with him, fine,'' Ryan said, smiling. ... Former Jets and Patriots OL Damien Woody, now an analyst on ESPN, on why the frenzy that comes with Tebow being on a roster will quiet down in New England: ''The biggest Kryptonite to Tebowmania is the 'Patriots Way,''' he said. ''If you really think about it, we've seen so many other dominant personalities come to New England from other teams and they all fall in line.''