Nnamdi Asomugha was dubbed one of the best cornerbacks in football two years ago.
In 2011, Ryan Fitzpatrick signed a big, long-term contract extension with the Buffalo Bills.
DeAngelo Hall started every game for the Washington Redskins last season and was tied for 11th in the NFL with four interceptions.
What do these guys all have in common? They were cut this year by their teams.
What else do they have in common? No one is asking if off-field issues are the reason for their release.
So why all the finger pointing over the release of Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe and Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo? Why is it that these two LGBT activists are the only released players leading some, including major media outlets, to issue baseless claims that they were cut for anything but football-related reasons? These are just two of hundreds of players who have already been cut in the offseason. Hundreds. Why are they being singled out?
At this point in the season, the NFL is a numbers game. There's a salary cap that each team has to fit under, and every general manager and coach has to figure out how to maximize every dollar. When the Minnesota Vikings drafted UCLA punter Jeff Locke, they played a numbers game. They'll get Locke this season for a savings of almost $1 million under Kluwe's projected salary.
Last year the Jacksonville Jaguars selected punter Bryan Anger in the NFL Draft. They paid him under $500,000 despite the fact that he was a third-round pick. He went on to set NFL rookie and franchise punting records. Some say the Vikings can expect similar production from Locke. If he even gets close, the Vikings' gamble will have paid off.
The numbers just make too much sense.
Yet all the media headlines surrounding Kluwe's release point to his involvement with LGBT rights.
Yahoo!: "Chris Kluwe's release by Vikings sends message that gay-marriage talk is not tolerable in NFL"
Fox Sports: "Kluwe pays price for speaking up"
Sports Illustrated's Peter King forgot the fact that only a handful of NFL teams are in the market for a punter as he laid out a conspiracy theory that went beyond the Vikings' decision and included every team in the league.
"If he isn't punting somewhere in late July," King wrote, "there will be no question in my mind that NFL teams want their punters to be seen and not heard."
Even Minnesota's governor Mark Dayton got in on the act, telling the Minneapolis Star-Tribune of Kluwe's release, "I don't feel good about it."
But in the same interview he had a moment of truth that we rarely see from politicians: "I mean I'm not in position to evaluate the role and their punting abilities...."
From a football perspective, Ayanbadejo is just as clear-cut. At 36 he, like every other NFL player that age, has lost a step. He started three games last year; the Ravens lost all three.
While Brendon helped the team win the Super Bowl, the Ravens have cleaned house since, sending starters like Anquan Boldin and Bernard Pollard packing, watching Ray Lewis retire and Ed Reed sign with the Houston Texans.
The fact that Ayanbadejo was able to play in the league for 10 seasons is a testament to his hard work; not many guys in his situation last 10 years in the NFL. But like his time with the Dolphins and the Bears previously, his stint with the Ravens has come to an end. Both player and team have released statements of mutual admiration, saying that his advocacy work had nothing to do with his release.
If these are just football matters, why are we seeing all the headlines about these men being cut for supporting gays and lesbians?
It's simple: Because people still want to believe that the NFL hates gay people. This narrative fits their worldview, so they run with it whether it's true or not.
Many in the gay community, their supporters and members of the media just won't listen to the chorus that has erupted in the last year from players like Robert Griffin III, owners like Robert Kraft and league leaders like commissioner Roger Goodell and NFLPA president Domonique Foxworth.
Members of the media have long been the biggest deterrent to gay athletes coming out. Attitudes in the NFL shifted years ago, and even where they haven't, players will accept a productive gay teammate whether they realize it or not.
Yet the mainstream media continues to pound the drum of NFL intolerance. A common theme I heard from "experts" in the last two weeks mentioned how Jason Collins' coming out was lovely, but we all know how hard it really will be for an out NFL player in the locker room. On this issue, the mainstream media has showed a dereliction of duty for a decade. This is simply the latest example.
The media wants these players to have been released for their advocacy. "Civil Rights Advocate Cut By NFL For Supporting Gays" just makes a better headline than "Punter Released."
Sadly, those headlines hurt Kluwe's and Ayanbadejo's chances of finding another job. If they're just going to be accused of homophobia, why would a team bring one of them in to compete for a job when they may be cut? These headlines entice potential teams to simply stay away from them altogether.
The storyline also hurts the LGBT sports movement. By putting a fictitious target on athletes who support gay rights, we make it harder to find athletes who will speak their mind on behalf of equality.
Still, there's hope for these two men. They're good men. That goes a long way. And now that they are released from their contracts, they can sign deals that will lower their salary and make them a better bargain. It's a tough pill to swallow for any athlete, but like every other athlete in the NFL, contracts and salaries are big elements of the sport.
The NFL is a numbers game. Teams have to figure out how to best use the money they have to win. You know what number matters most? The number of Super Bowl rings. The Ravens have the newest one. The Vikings don't have any. All these two teams want is another Lombardi Trophy, gay activists or not.
Follow Cyd Zeigler on Twitter: www.twitter.com/cydzeigler