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Irish Free Agency: 2000-06

Among this year’s crop of Notre Dame alumni hoping to hear their names called in last month’s NFL Draft were center Braxston Cave, offensive guard Mike Golic Jr., wide receiver John Goodman and running back Cierre Wood. The quartet did break into the professional ranks via free agency, with Cave inking a deal with Cleveland, Golic Jr. landing in Pittsburgh, Goodman signing with Cincinnati and Wood reaching an agreement with Houston.

Cave will embark on his NFL career in Cleveland after signing an undrafted free agent deal.

Now it’s a matter of what they do with their respective opportunities that will ultimately decide how long they’ll remain employed at the highest level of the sport. And it got us thinking: Which former Fighting Irish players to go undrafted had the most successful careers in the NFL? Which ones went one and done? Which had potential but where derailed by injury?

In part two of our series, we examine the former Notre Dame standouts that worked their way into the league as undrafted free agents from 2000-06 and how they fared:

2000 — Wide receiver Bobby Brown signed an undrafted free agent contract with Green Bay before ending up in Cleveland, where he caught two passes for 14 yards. He was asked to play in NFL Europe by Cleveland’s management and respectfully declined. Brown, who went on to graduate from Yale School of Management, got his NFL agent license and formed a representation company with his brother.

Cornerback Deveron Harper began his NFL career with the Carolina Panthers in 2000, but it wasn’t until 2001 that he made his way into the statistical archives (eight tackles and forced fumble). He sat out the 2002 season before joining the New Orleans Saints for 2003-04. Harper appeared in 19 games for New Orleans and had 11 stops.

Linebacker Bobbie Howard spent four years with the Chicago Bears, first seeing the field in 2001 (eight tackles). He started nine games in 2002 and finished the year with 63 stops (49 solo) and an interception. He picked up six tackles in 2003, but a hamstring injury in week two resulted in Howard being waived.

2001 — Defensive tackle/end Lance Legree spent his six-year active career in New York, five years with the Giants and one with the Jets. Starting 21 games from 2001-04 with the Giants, Legree had 105 tackles and four sacks. He spent 2005 with the Jets, where he started four contests and registered 39 stops and a career-high three sacks. Legree rejoined the Giants in 2006 and appeared in two games.

2002 — Journeyman safety Deke Cooper got his first real shot with the Carolina Panthers and made two tackles in 10 games. He was named NFL Europe’s MVP earlier in the year as a member of the German-based Rhein Fire. He hooked up with the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2003 and started 22 games and recorded 154 tackles and three interceptions through the 2005 campaign. Cooper appeared in one game (one tackle) for San Francisco in 2006, and rejoined the Carolina Panthers for his final year in 2007, when he started 15 games and notched 46 stops and a career-high three picks.

Running back Tony Fisher signed with the Green Bay Packers, where he spent four seasons as a reserve. Fisher racked up 241 carries for 880 yards and four touchdowns in Green Bay, averaging 3.65 yards per take. His final year in St. Louis in 2006 yielded just six carries for nine yards. In his five-year NFL run, he added 139 receptions for 1,059 yards and five scores.

Fullback Joey Goodspeed inked a deal with San Diego but didn’t get a carry until his second year with St. Louis in 2004, when he rushed three times for six yards and a touchdown. He started nine total games for the Rams primarily as a blocker. In 2006, he tore his ACL before the start of the Minnesota Vikings’ season and was later cut.

Defensive end/linebacker Grant Irons landed in Buffalo for one year, followed by four seasons as an Oakland Raider. He grabbed 2.5 sacks and eight tackles as a rookie for the Bills. Irons appeared in just one game with the Raiders in 2003, but started two games and registered 12 tackles and a sack for Oakland in 2004. Over the next two seasons, he appeared in 17 games and tallied nine tackles.

Offensive tackle Kurt Vollers appeared in one game for the Dallas Cowboys in 2002 and worked his way up to an eight-game starter in 2003. Vollers started three games for the Cowboys in 2004 before finishing his career in Indianapolis (appeared in two contests). On Feb. 3, 2012, he was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison for his role in a drug trafficking operation in Dallas from 2006-08.

2003 — Defensive back Ron Israel recorded one tackle for the Minnesota Vikings in his only game.

Running back Tom Lopienski was active for six games from 2003-04 with the Indianapolis Colts, but did not have a carry.

2005 — Earning the second-highest salary for an undrafted free agent, according to reports, linebacker Mike Goolsby connected with the Dallas Cowboys briefly, but was waived in August. He signed with the St. Louis Rams soon thereafter and appeared in two games without a tackle.

Former quarterback Carlyle Holiday parlayed a senior season at Notre Dame as a receiver into a four-year NFL career, starting in Arizona (2005-06). He joined the Green Bay Packers at the end of the 2006 campaign after being released by Arizona. In December, he caught a 21-yard pass from Brett Favre that gave Favre the NFL all-time career completions record (4,968). Carlyle injured his knee Philadelphia in the first game of the 2007 season, and spent the year on injured reserve. He was released the following February. All nine of his career receptions (for 126 yards) came in four games in 2006.

Running back Ryan Grant agreed to a deal with the New York Giants and spent the year on the practice squad. He sat out the following season (2006) with an arm injury and was traded to Green Bay prior to the 2007 campaign. Grant posted 3,412 rushing yards and 23 touchdowns in the next three years, but an ankle injury in the season opener in 2010 forced him out for the remainder of the year. He bounced back with 559 yards and two scores in 2011 as a co-starter in his final year in Green Bay. Grant signed a free agent deal with the Washington Redskins in 2012 and appeared in just one game before returning to Green Bay for the remainder of the season.

2006 — Offensive tackle Mark LeVoir signed with the Chicago Bears (2006-07), and played for the St. Louis Rams (2007) and New England Patriots (2008-10). In 2011, he split time between the Baltimore Ravens and St. Louis. He spent his first two seasons on the Bears’ practice squad before breaking through for a spot on the Rams’ 53-man roster in November 2007. He was waived the following August. Claimed by New England in September 2008, LeVoir was active for all 16 games (started two). A shoulder injury slowed his career, but he remained in the rotation for the Patriots through 2010. He started one game for Baltimore and three for St. Louis in 2011.

Linebacker Corey Mays joined New England and was promoted to the active roster midway through the 2006 season and had nine tackles in eight games. He was cut by the Patriots in October 2007 after appearing in just one contest. Mays was then signed by Cincinnati, where he recorded 31 tackles in 23 games from 2007-08. He wrapped up his career in Kansas City, starting 13 games and notching a career-best 85 stops in 2009. Mays, hampered by an ankle injury, had six tackles in his final year in 2010.

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