Also among the final contenders is Cincinnati, which could be the front-runner. The up-and-coming Bengals have plenty of salary-cap space, but perhaps more importantly, Gildon starred at Pittsburgh while Bengals coach Marvin Lewis coached the Steelers' linebackers.
Gildon was released by Pittsburgh in a salary-cap related move June 1. He recorded just six sacks last season, too few for a player who would have counted nearly $5 million against the Steelers' salary cap. The former Pro Bowler is Pittsburgh's all-time leader in sacks with 77.
At age 32, the declining production may simply mean Gildon is past his prime. Gildon tallied 13.5 sacks in 2000 and was an All-Pro after piling up a dozen sacks in 2001. His sack numbers dropped to nine in 2002 and six last season. With the Packers taking a big-time financial hit for signing Joe Johnson, it's possible Packers coach/general manager Mike Sherman may think twice about doling out a large signing bonus to Gildon.
Asked at the June minicamp if he learned any lessons from signing Johnson, a former standout in New Orleans who was ruined by injuries in Green Bay, Sherman said: "I think everybody learns lessons from everything they do. When age is a factor, at a certain point in a player's career, you have to be cognizant of that and the possibility that an injury may occur down the road, which it did with Joe, unfortunately. We watched him on tape and he looked great and did a lot good things. It's unfortunate the injuries happened."
Still, Sherman said he remained interested in Gildon, who could be the perfect complement to Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila. Sherman, however, said, the demand for premium pass-rushers far outpaces the supply.
"Not many people have two," standout rushers, Sherman said. "Very few people have one like Kabeer, so I feel fortunate. Would I love to have two? Yes. Every other head coach in this league also would love to have two guys like Kabeer. But it's hard to accumulate that type of talent. Obviously it's a financial commitment.
"So we'll continue to look under every rock and see if we can find somebody. I'm not so sure that we won't find someone here, much like we did at one time with Kabeer. I see some guys getting better as pass rushers. I believe we'll be a better interior rush team. I think pressure will come from our linebackers, as well. You can compensate in different ways. I would love to find one, but everybody is looking for those pass rushers."
By saying "I'm not so sure that we won't find someone here," Sherman may have been alluding to first-round flop Jamal Reynolds. Reynolds had a strong postdraft minicamp but was far less noticeable in the June camp.
Time and again when matched against even the Packers' lesser offensive tackles, Reynolds was engulfed when trying his outside speed move. Reynolds has developed a spin back to the inside as a counter, but the fact remains, if the offensive tackle gets his mitts on Reynolds, Reynolds is done. Still, Sherman hasn't closed the door on Reynolds being in town when training camp starts Aug. 2.
"Unless my hand is forced on something," Sherman said., "I usually want to make a decision based on the facts and look at it as long as I could before I make that final decision. So this was an opportunity for him to continue to show what he can possibly do for us."
The one thing that could force Sherman's hand is a $217,500 roster bonus due to Reynolds next month. While not a lot of money, Sherman may deem it too much for a player who has been inactive (30 games) nearly twice as often as he's been active (18) on game days.
If Reynolds again makes the opening day roster, he would count nearly $2 million against this year's cap. If he's cut, the Packers would save about $667,000 on the 2004 cap but would be hit with a $1.3 million charge on the 2005 cap, unless another team signs him, in which case the Packers would be off the hook for '05.
For his part, Reynolds has been as classy as can be about his situation. During the June minicamp, he said all he wanted was a chance to show what he can do.
"As long as I get a shot at being in that position, I can prove to people why they drafted me to come here," Reynolds said, adding, "I've been good on every level I've played in, so I don't see no reason not to do it now, once I start getting my plays. I know what I can do."