2009 NFL Owners Meeting Review

(Philadelphia, PA) — Amidst Southern California’s flowing palm trees, the NFL Calendar turned it’s attention this past week towards Dana Point, California.  The posh St. Regis Resort became the epicenter of the National Football League for a few days as the 2009 NFL Owners’ meetings came to town.  The NFL Owners’ Meetings used to be a quiet traditional off-season vacation type event where league officials, team front-office representatives, and their families could congregate without any fanfare to talk shop while also fitting in some relaxation.  Those days are long gone as the football hibernation period on the NFL calendar is no more.  Now everything NFL related is eaten up as quickly as huge defensive tackle Grady Jackson can eat a plate of hot wings.  People just can’t seem to get enough information from the world’s greatest sports league, so now this former sleepy event is a major sport’s story.

With over 200 media types heading home — What Economic Downturn for News Outlets?? — I thought it was time to go over what we learned over the event’s four days. 

The Competition Committee carries some weight at this event – While everyone was waiting for Commissioner Roger Goodell to chime-in on different issues, the voices that matter most were those of the league’s Competition Committee.  The Committee is comprised of co-chairmen Jeff Fischer and Rich McKay with the other members being Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis, Giants co-owner John Mara, Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome, Colts GM Bill Polian, Panthers Team President Mark Richardson and Texans GM Rick Smith.  The group is tasked with being the NFL’s primary rule making body, maintaining the integrity of the game and competitive balance.   Basically these guys rule over all aspects of NFL football – anything from game-play rules to player safety.  Before the meeting certain issues are targeted by the committee after sending out a survey to the league as a whole.

NFL Economics the main topic at Meetings – The foremost topic at the NFL Owners’ Meetings was the challenges ahead for the NFL economically during these tough times.  Yes even the ultra-rich National Football League (revenues reported over $6 Billion for ’08) is partially feeling the crunch of the economy — layoffs at the league office (125 jobs), NFL Network/NFL Films cut backs, teams like the Colts and Panthers cutting jobs of lower-tier employees, Commissioner Goodell taking a 20-25% cut on his $11 million salary, and NY Jets making some employees take an paid vacation.  

Don’t let Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder handing big-ticket free agent defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth a seven-year, $100-million deal with a league-record $41 million in guaranteed money fool you, because the NFL maybe looking at a possible work stoppage in 2011.  The current Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) is set to expire after the 2010 season, so trust me in order for all of the dollars to continue to flow around the league from the television networks to the owners to the players, it behooves everyone to maintain labor peace. However I don’t know about you, but there seems to be an air around the NFL that a lockout is very possible.  New NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith is a known labor litigator so unlike former NFLPA head Gene Upshaw (noted NFL pacifier) he seems to be ready to fight the owners over issues such as maintaining the  nearly 60% of football revenues that are paid to the players. Smith recently said about the impending CBA labor issues, “There isn’t a day where I don’t hope for peace, but at the same time, there isn’t a day where we won’t prepare for war”.  If a new agreement is struck soon, the salary cap is set to expire after the 2009 season with owners threatening a potential lockout in 2011 — the league’s last labor stoppage the 1987 player’s strike.

There are some uncertain times ahead for the NFL economically as there are several big issues lurking, especially an uncapped year looming in 2010, that must be resolved for the league to maintain it’s current lofty status.  It will be up to Goodell and Smith to not kill the ‘Golden Goose’ of sports (#1 sports league in America by far in terms of fan interest, revenues, television rating, and merchandising) while being mindful of an economy where NFL fans are losing their jobs at an increasing rate.  I have to agree with Fox Sports analyst Jimmy Johnson who said of the situation,  “I think there’s too much money at stake. Everybody involved, owners, players, everybody understands it’s in everybody’s best interest to get a new CBA done”. For fans’ sake, I hope Jimmy is right about a sense of urgency around the NFL as America’s Game will be tarnished by any labor unrest.

 Changes Coming from the Meetings

The rules and changes that came from this Owner’s Meeting are listed below and before you ask…there will be no rules forcing long haired players to tuck their manes under their helmet.  Thank Goodness the Kansas City Chiefs found some other worthy cause to worry about other than hair.

No More Bunches on Kickoffs — The elimination of the bunch formation on kickoffs. Kickoff formations must be evenly balanced  (Passed).  LV’s Take:  This rule was specifically called out because special teams coaches were finding inventive ways to get around the league’s 2005 rule that called for balanced kickoffs (four players had to line up on each side of the kicker).  I know the NFL is calling this a safety issue, but I love the scrum that ensues during onside kicks.

Slicing Wedges on Kickoffs — The elimination of the over two-man man wedges on kickoff returns. Going forward only two men wedges will be considered a legal wedge (Passed).  LV’s Take:  Though the NFL is denying it, this rule is basically the “Kevin Everett” rule.  The NFL does not want any further injuries from guys trying to bust a large wedge (4 guys) on kickoffs. I will go along with the NFL on this one, though I loved guys like former Eagles special teams star Ken Rose flying into a wedge so their teammates could make a play.

The Hines Ward Rule – The elimination and penalization for helmet-to-helmet contact on blind-side blocks — Now 15 yards and a fine. Are you listening Hines Ward, because this rule is specifically target at you for your open field blow-up of Bengals linebacker Keith Rivers  that caused the rising rookie to suffer a season-ending broken jaw injury (Passed).  LV‘s Take:  Like anyone else I love a great open field block and players should keep their heads on a swivel, but much like a chop block there is a line (intentionally trying to injure a fellow player) that should never be crossed on the football field.  When you see the live action replay of the Rivers hit, you can see the young linebacker was totally unaware of Ward coming and he was basically away from the play.

No more head hunting of defenseless WR’s — Expanding the protection of defenseless receivers by eliminating any kind of contact with a receiver’s head area while he is still in the air.  A defender must have two feet on the ground before contact to the head – Now 15 yards and a fine (Passed)LV’s Take: This is another rule directly linked to on the field incidents.  In ’08 both receivers Wes Welker (Pittsburgh Steelers safety Ryan Clark forearm) and Anquan Boldin were injured on non-flag head hunting plays.  Boldin of course got the worst of any player as he had is face and jaw broke by a couple of New York Jets in the endzone.  Though I am all about “Player Safety”, I think this rule is going to be too hard to evaluate in live action.  You cannot blame a defender for making a play in a split second and trying to separate a receiver from the ball.  I can still remember talking to former Falcons safety Lawyer Milloy after the Falcons-Eagles game in ’08 where he had been flagged for a similar play and he said, “It happened so fast that he could stop his momentum”.

The Ed Hochuli Rule — Expanding reviewable plays to include incomplete passes that result in fumbles (Passed)LV’s Take: We all know this rule comes directly from referee Ed Hochuli’s gaffe during the Chargers-Broncos game in Week 2 of the ’08 season.  Hochuli became public enemy number one, because he blew an inadvertent whistle and review could overturn an obvious fumble by Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler.  Anything to help the poor referee is fantastic in my eyes.  I can still see Chargers quarterback Phillip Rivers seething over this missed call.  My advice to the officials is to “Get the Call Right” the first time and the replay won’t be needed. Head of Officials Mike Pereira recently said that game day crews  averaged 98.1 percent accuracy, down slightly from 98.3 in 2007.

Review of out of bounds plays near the sidelines — Expanding reviewable plays to include loose balls ruled out of bounds but recovered in the field of play.  Formerly a ball ruled out of bounds was unreviewable (Passed). LV’s Take: I can still hear Eagles fans yelling about their onside kick attempt in the NFC Championship that the Cardinals recovered despite their player being out of bounds and the officials doing nothing about it.  Like the other reviewable change, anything to help the officials “Get it Right”, I am all for it..

No more re-kicks — Extending the rule that currently eliminates automatic re-kicks on illegal onside kicks in the last five minutes of a game so that the rule would be in effect the entire game (Passed). LV’s Take: Good… another missed spot on a bad rule fixed.  I always used to hate the many re-kicks on game closing kicks back in the day.

Defenders should forget about lunging — This wasn’t a rule change that was voted on, but the NFL decided that defenders who are knocked to the ground can no longer lunge into quarterbacks if the play is still going on. LV’s Take: This will be forever be called the “Tom Brady” rule as everyone in the NFL community was heartbroken when Kansas City safety Bernard Pollard took out the league’s MVP in the first game of the 2008 season.  You knew as soon as the Brady play happened that the NFL was going to protect their “Golden Boys’ even further.  As former Eagles head coach Buddy Ryan used to say, “They should just put flags on the quarterbacks and get it over with”.  C’mon let the defensive guys play hard…can anyone tell me if the same kind of measures are taken on chop blocks and zone blocking knee diving blocks.

Waiver Periods re-worked — A waiver period during the first two weeks of training camp was established. Owners also reworded when the postseason waiver period begins – previously it was after the Pro Bowl and now it will be after the final postseason game. LV’s Take: Total non-issue so I am fine with it.

New Draft Order — The Competition Committee passed a bylaw change regarding a new draft order starting in 2010. Draft positions 1-20 will still be determined by regular season records, but positions 21 to 32 will now be based on how the playoffs shake out.  LV’s Take: I like this rule as everything with the regular season should be thrown out the door when the playoffs start.  I think it is terrible that the Chargers (8-8) beat the Colts (12-4) in the wildcard round and because they had a worse regular season record, they be picking earlier in the first round (16th to 28th).

Lateral Fumbles Will Stop the Clock – Now all fumbles and laterals that go out of bounds will stop the game clock.  The clock will start when the referee sorts out how the lateral was fumbled/recovered and signals for play to resume.  LV’s Take: This seems like a minor rule change, so I am fine with the change.  But watch somehow we will see a play in ’09 that requires pulling out the rulebook.  

Other Discussion topics

More Regular Season Games?? —  NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell seems pretty adamant that he would like to see more regular season games played (from 16 to 17 or 18) by 2011.  There are many hurdles to the expanded game schedule (Player approval, Television Contract changes, Pre-Season length, playoff starting dates, playoff ending dates, the Pro Bowl, injuries, and much more) that will need to be worked out in CBA discussions before the league can move forward with this plan. Goodell said of the plan, “It’s possible that we could vote in May, but we want to have core discussions on this”.   Goodell added, “Anytime you have change, there is some reluctance. But it’s clear we don’t need four preseason games anymore.”  LV’s Take: It is clear that the new games would come from the existing 20 games (16 regular season and 4 pre-season games) with at least one or two meaningless pre-season games going away. Could the final week of pre-season games be in jeopardy, oh darn.  If I don’t have to sit through another Eagles-Jets week 4 pre-season game where most the players will be cut the next day then I am all for it.

No Overtime Changes – Though there has been much discussion around letting both teams having a chance to score in overtime (see the Chargers overtime wildcard win over the Colts), the Competition Committee did not vote on any proposals to change any overtime rules.  LV’s Take: I am okay with the current overtime rules despite the fact that the coin-toss winning team won 63 percent of overtime games in ’08.  Most players do not mind the existing overtime format and want to fight it out in sudden death, so I am with them.  And don’t forget my favorite players, kickers, are helping as they made 84.5% of overall field goal attempts in ’08.

Free Agent Tampering – Every year at the free agent start date (12:01 AM) there are already reports that deals were done much earlier — think Albert Haynesworth signing with the Redskins in ’08 and Asante Samuel signing with the Eagles in ’07.  Some around the league are looking to make a hard-line regarding free agent tampering and this issue will be back around come May.  LV’s Take: The league knows that there is free agent tampering, but they are not sure on how to implement a new “freeze” period.  I still expect rules and a fine structure to come about around this issue, but you agents (Show-Me-the-Money) will find a way to circumvent the system.

No Playoff Re-Seeding – This item was not even discussed by the competition committee after everyone knew a fight was going to ensue.  This may come up again if another team like the San Diego Chargers gets into the playoffs with an iffy record- won the weak AFC West with an 8-8 record and hosted a playoff game.  LV’s Take: Sure everyone wants teams to play to the end of the season, but I am not sure if de-emphasizing Division titles is the way to go.  When it comes to losing home playoff game revenues you know owners will always raise an eyebrow.

No additional playoff teams to be added – There was some discussion around going from 12 to 16 playoff teams, but nothing came of it.  Commissioner Goodell said of the talk, “Some clubs believe we should expand the playoffs, I don’t think it’s required as part of the restructuring of the season to expand the playoffs. The opposing view is, let’s not water down (i.e. the NBA and NHL) something that’s tremendous. We still have 32 teams. We should keep it to 12 teams and it should be special to be able make that. It makes the regular season special, that you have to qualify to get into that postseason.” LV’s Take: I agree with Goodell that 12 teams is enough for now.  But last year I did not like that the New England Patriots (11-5) became just the second team in 31 seasons of playing a 16-game schedule to miss the playoffs. 

Possible rookie wage scale – Though not an agenda item, in talking about upcoming Collective Bargaining Agreement discussions the issue of a rookie cap was brought by Commissioner Goodell.  Older players and the Commissioner have called for more “sanity” when it comes to exorbitant guaranteed money awarded players at the top of the draft.  Think about it Rookie of the Year and 2008 third overall pick Falcons QB Matt Ryan was the league’s fourth-highest paid player before even taking a snap (received $34.5 million guaranteed, the highest ever for a rookie player). LV’s Take: Something is greatly wrong when rookies are making more than three-time league MVP Peyton Manning.  Please make these kids earn their $$$ before giving them huge guaranteed dollars.

NFL might look to adding liquor and lottery sponsorships – In the league’s ever present motto of “Chasing the Dollar”, the NFL is reviewing a proposal to loosen league rules against liquor and lottery sponsorships as new revenue streams.  If the revenue streams are approved, the NFL would join the NBA and NASCAR in allowing both sponsors. New York Jets owner Woody Johnson, a member of the business ventures committee recently said of the issue, “We have to be as innovative and creative as we can because these are difficult times”.  LV’s Take: This proposal was not voted on at these meetings, but you have to think at the NFL Spring Meeting in May that a vote will be taken.  I am okay with the NFL grabbing more sponsors, but the interesting part to me is that the NFL may finally be dipping it’s toe in the same waters as the NBA and NASCAR.  I guess money is more important than pushing away some societal vices viewed as negative.

NFL might start another developmental league –  If you can believe it…it has been nearly three years since the NFL scrapped their failed NFL Europe developmental league — reportedly was losing about $30 million a season.  However with a huge void left from the Arena Football League not playing in 2009 and the possibility of younger players missing snaps from the removal of 3rd and/or 4th preseason games, there has been talk that the NFL might bring back a minor league product.  Commissioner Goodell said of bringing back a developmental league, “The way we look at the developmental league would be mostly in the off-season where players could get those reps and then have the opportunity to play in the NFL as they work into the season”.  Goodell added, “If (there) was a developmental league, it should be done for that purpose, for the purpose of developing players. So the commercial aspects, the international aspects, I think those would become secondary”. LV’s Take:  I say having a developmental league is a great idea for the NFL.  Minor league baseball has thrived forever so the NFL should try to find a way to put a smaller product out there.  But please no more developmental games in Europe.

Major Announcements During the Owner’s Meetings

Compensatory Picks Announced – A total of 32 compensatory choices in the 2009 NFL Draft were awarded to 16 teams. Cincinnati and Tennessee received the most compensatory picks with four apiece. The 32 compensatory choices announced will supplement the 224 choices in the seven rounds of the 2009 NFL Draft  on April 25-26. Here is how the 32 compensatory picks are broken down by team: Cincinnati  4, Tennessee  4, Chicago 3, New England 3, Seattle 3, Dallas 2, Jacksonville 2, San Diego 2, San Francisco 2, Arizona 1, Detroit 1, Indianapolis 1, Kansas City 1, New York Giants 1, Pittsburgh 1, Washington 1.  For you Eagles fans out there, they got no extra picks for the upcoming draft

Season Opening Games Announced – For the sixth consecutive season the Super Bowl champion will open the slate as the champion Steelers host the Titans on Sept. 10 at 8:30 p.m. ET on NBC.  The Sunday night primetime game (8:30 p.m. ET) on NBC will feature a division match-up with the Green Bay Packers hosting the Chicago Bears — Green Bay and Chicago have won seven of the past eight NFC North titles.  On Monday, Sept. 14, ESPN will host a “Monday Night Football” doubleheader that will be part of the NFL’s celebration of the 50th anniversary season of the American Football League. The four clubs competing that night began playing in the inaugural 1960 AFL season. The first game (7:00 p.m. ET) will send the Buffalo Bills to Foxboro to visit the New England Patriots, the decade’s winningest team (102-42 since 2000). The MNF nightcap (10:15 p.m. ET) will be an AFC West battle as the Oakland Raiders host the three-time defending AFC West champion San Diego Chargers.

Thanksgiving Day Games Announced — The early game (Fox, 12:30 p.m. ET) will be an NFC North meeting between the Green Bay Packers at the Detroit Lions. The second game (CBS, 4:15 PM ET) will feature the Oakland Raiders visiting the Dallas Cowboys in the Raiders’ first Thanksgiving game since 1970.  The Thanksgiving primetime game will be at 8:20 p.m. ET on NFL Network with the defending NFC East champion New York Giants visiting the Denver Broncos, marking the first Thanksgiving contest in Denver since 1963.  The rest of the 2009 regular-season schedule will be completed and announced in April.

AFL to be Honor in 2009 – Though the “true” 50-year anniversary doesn’t really occur until 2010, the NFL will be celebrating the birth of the American Football League (AFL) during the 2009 season.  The AFL was an innovative rival football league that helped make the National Football League an ‘institution’ with their historic merger in 1969.  Remembrances will begin during Hall of Fame weekend in August with the Buffalo Bills against the Tennessee Titans (Began in the AFL as the Houston Oilers).  Following HOF weekend the NFL’s opening weekend will feature a Monday night doubleheader featuring four original members of the AFL as the Bills will visit the Patriots in a 7 p.m. EDT game and the Chargers will face the Raiders at 10:15 p.m.  During the “Legacy Games”, the original AFL teams will wear their old historic uniforms.

Bonus Pay from 2008 Announced — Chargers offensive tackle Jeromey Clary was the big winner in the NFL’s performance-based pay system for 2008.  Clary, a 2006 sixth-round draft pick from Kansas State, earned $405,859 in additional pay for his work with 8-8 San Diego.  Nearly $105 million in performance-based pay was distributed to 19 players from the 2008 season. Created as part of the 2002 collective bargaining agreement extension with the NFL Players Association, the system gives financial compensation based on a comparison of playing time to salary.  Other notables were Redskins safety Chris Horton ($342,197) and Steelers offensive tackle Willie Colon, who led the list a year ago with $309,534, but was 16th this time at $267,422.

NFL to Stick with DirecTV — The NFL announced an agreement to extend DirecTV’s rights to carry NFL Sunday Ticket. DirecTV will continue to have exclusive television rights to air the package of Sunday afternoon games through the 2014 season. In securing the incredible rights fee from DirecTV to air games — $1 billion per year from 2011 through 2014 — the NFL got “lockout insurance”.  It has been rumored that even if games are not played in 2011, the NFL’s deal with DirecTV calls for the league to collect their billion-dollar rights fee.

Lloyd’s Leftovers

Condoleezza Rice addresses the NFL – The former aspiring NFL Commissioner finally got her chance to address the NFL. After accepting an invitation from Goodell,  Rice spoke to the “NFL Family” about topics ranging from football to politics to the economy to the NFL playing in Europe and Australia.  Rice must have done a good job as the former Secretary of State under the Bush administration received several standing ovations as she spoke to the group of several hundred people.

No Naming Rights for Cowboys new palace – To show the difficulty of today’s economy facing the NFL, the Dallas Cowboys will open their $1.1 billion stadium this summer probably without a corporate name on it.  It is hard to believe that the Cowboys, who sit atop the NFL value list and are called “America’s Team” due to their popularity, can’t find a company to come forward.  Cowboys vice president Stephen Jones said of the situation, “We’re not naive to what’s going on in the country and the economic crisis”. “We’re very respectful of that now. Obviously, there are some factors when you’re opening a new building in this economy.”  The Cowboys reportedly had AT&T lined up for naming rights last year, but that deal has been put on hold. 

Bills may propose for more Canadian Games —  There is a rumored proposal by the economically challenged Buffalo Bills to play more than one home game per season in Toronto. Roger Goodell said of the rumored proposal, “That’s something that would have to be approved by the membership, it has not been presented to me.”   Just because Goodell has not heard of the proposal believe me the issue is out there and who could blame Bills owner Ralph Wilson (age 90) as he wants to earn some revenue now.  Plus old Ralphie deserves hazard pay, because he has to deal with the NFL’s version of a time bomb called Terrell Owens.

Broncos’ head coach McDaniels wants to kiss and makeup — Denver Broncos coach Josh McDaniels reiterated at the NFL meetings that he wants to keep disgruntled quarterback Jay Cutler. McDaniels even told NFL Network, “He’s our quarterback, we want him to be our quarterback”. The desperate coach even tried to inspire Cutler to make-up by displaying the Broncos old-school jersey with the No. 6 jersey when the NFL announced that former AFL teams would where throwbacks in some games.

The Lobby was the place to be at the Meetings — The circular lobby of the St. Regis Hotel was the place to be as GM’s, coaches, owners, agents, players, and media types talked NFL Shop.  Topics ranged from the “impending CBA battle” to “Where Julius Peppers and Jay Cutler would start the season” to “Who the Lions would take with the first overall pick”.  Some of the bigger headliners holding court in the lobby were Raiders owner Al Davis , John Madden, and Troy Aikman.

Horse Collar Tackles are up – To the dismay of Head of NFL officials Mike Pereira, the NFL’s hot button penalty (horse-collar tackles) increased during the 2008 season. There were 24  horse-collar tackles called up from 12 in ’07 plus there were an additional 47 league fines handed out for the leg-breaking tackling method.  Pereira said, “That’s just too high a number, we have not been effective in terms of stopping the tactic.”  The head officiator added that crews will make them a point of emphasis along with holding penalties in 2009.

That’s a wrap for the 2009 NFL Owners’ Meetings and I am sure the league will be talking about many more hot button issues at NFL Spring Meeting (May 18-20) in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. 

 

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

2009 NFL Draft Prospects v2.0

With the Senior Bowl, NFL Combine, and the first round of Pro Days completed, I thought it was a good time to updated my rankings for the 2009 NFL Draft. The Detroit Lions (0-16) still own the first overall pick and no one is sure where they are going with the pick (Keep It or Trade It??)  If the Lions do keep the selection look for Georgia QB Matthew Stafford, Baylor OT Jason Smith, or Virginia OT Eugene Monroe to be standing next to Roger Goodell at Radio City Music Hall as the first overall pick.

 Quarterbacks

1. Matthew Stafford, Georgia (Jr.)

2. Mark Sanchez, USC (Jr.)

3. Josh Freeman, Kansas State (Jr.)

4. Pat White, West Virginia

5. Nate Davis, Ball State (Jr.)

6a. John Parker Wilson, Alabama

6b. Jacary Atkinson, Tuskegee

 Running Backs

1. Chris “Beanie” Wells, OSU (Jr.)

2. Knowshon Moreno, Georgia (Jr.)

3. Donald Brown, UConn

4. LeSean McCoy, PITT (Jr)

5a. Shonn Greene, Iowa (Jr.)

5b. Ian Johnson, Boise State

Wide Receivers

1. Michael Crabtree, Texas Tech (Soph- RS)

2. Percy Harvin, Florida (Jr.)

3. Jeremy Maclin, Missouri (Soph – RS)

4. Darrius Heyward-Bey, Maryland (Jr)

5. Kenny Britt, Rutgers (Jr.)

6a. Hakeem Nicks, NC State (Jr.)

6b. Brian Robiskie, OSU

Tight Ends

1. Brandon Pettigrew, Oklahoma State

2. Darius Hill, Ball State

3. Cornelius Ingram, Florida

4. James Casey, Rice (Soph – RS)

5a. Travis Beckum, Wisconsin

5b. Andrew Davie, Arkansas (Jr.)

 Offensive Tackles

1. Eugene Monroe, Virginia

2. Jason Smith, Baylor

3. Michael Oher, Ole Miss

4. Andre Smith, Alabama (Jr.)

5a. Eben Britton, Arizona  (Jr.)

5b. William Beatty, UConn

Offensive Guards

1. Duke Robinson, Oklahoma

2. Herman Johnson, LSU

3. Anthony Parker, Tennessee

4. Kraig Urbik, Wisconsin

5a. Cornelius Lewis, Tennessee State

5b. Greg Isdaner, West Virginia (Jr.)

Centers

1. Antoine Caldwell, Alabama

2. Alex Mack, California

3. Max Unger, Oregon

4. A.Q. Shipley, Penn St

5a. Jonathan Luigs, Arkansas

5b. Eric Wood, Louisville

Defensive Ends

1. Michael Johnson, Georgia Tech

2. Brian Orakpo, Texas

3. Everette Brown, Florida State

4. Tyson Jackson, LSU

5a. Chris Baker, Hampton

5b. Connor Barwin, Cinncinati

Defensive Tackles

1. B.J. Raji, Boston College

2. Peria Jerry, Mississippi

3. Vance Walker, Georgia Tech

4. Sammie Lee Hill, Stillman

5. Terrance Taylor, Michigan

6a. Evander Hood, Missouri

6b. Fili Moala, USC

Inside Linebackers

1. Rey Maualuga, USC

2. James Laurinaitis, Ohio State

3. Darry Beckwith, LSU

4. Jason Phillips, TCU

5a. Gerald McRath, Southern Miss

5b. Dannell Ellerbe, Georgia

Outside Linebackers

1. Aaron Curry, Wake Forest

2. Aaron Maybin, Penn St (Soph – RS)

3. Brian Cushing, USC

4. Larry English, Northern Illinois

5a. Clay Matthews, USC

5b. Marcus Freeman, Ohio State

6a. Clint Sintim, Virginia

6b. Tyrone McKenzie, South Florida

Free Safeties

1. William Moore, Missouri

2. Rashad Johnson, Alabama

3. Louis Delmas, Western Michigan

4. Courtney Greene, Rutgers

5a. Derek Pegues, Mississippi State 

5b. David Bruton, Notre Dame

Strong Safeties

1. Patrick Chung, Oregon

2. Michael Hamlin, Clemson

3. Nic Harris, Oklahoma (WLB)

4. Emanuel Cook, South Carolina (Jr)

5a. Kevin Ellison, Southern Cal

5b. Curtis Taylor, LSU

Cornerbacks

1. Malcolm Jenkins, Ohio State

2. Vontae Davis, Illinois (Jr.)

3. Alphonso Smith, Wake Forest

4. D.J. Moore, Vanderbilt (Jr)

5. Mike Mickens, Cincinnati

6a. Victor “Macho” Harris, Virginia Tech

6b. Domonique Johnson, Jackson State

Kickers

1. Graham Gano, Florida St.

2. Jose Martinez, UTEP

3. Louie Sakoda, Utah

4. Kevin Kelley, Penn State

5. Ryan Succop, South Carolina

Punters

1. Chris Miller, Ball St.

2. Kevin Huber, Cincinnati

3. Thomas Morstead, SMU

4. Aaron Perez UCLA

5. Britton Colquitt Tennessee

 

 

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

Broncos TE Would Look Good in Green

With the news that free agent LJ Smith has indeed signed with the Ravens, the Eagles tight end position looks even weaker now more than in ’08.  As unit the Birds’ tight ends caught 66 passes for 626 yards (9.5 ypc) and only 4 TDs. Sure…. the Eagles couldn’t have used Chiefs TE Tony Gonzalez  (96 rec, 1058 yards, 11.0 ypc, and 10 TDs in ’08) at the trade deadline last year for the cost of a 2nd rounder — but I digress.

With an emphasis on getting better in the redzone, the tight end position must be addressed immediately.  In the draft there are possibilities (Oklahoma State’s Brandon Pettigrew, Ball State’s Darius Hill, Ball State, Florida’s Cornelius Ingram, and Rice’s James Casey).  But given the Birds affinity for working most rookies in slow, maybe they should look for a veteran in a trade.  It so happens that Broncos TE Tony Scheffler has fallen out of favor with the team’s management (i.e. new head coach Josh McDaniels) and is on the trading block.

Scheffler (40 rec, 645 yards, 16.1 ypc, and 3 TDs with a long of 72 yards in ’08) is not attending Broncos OTA’s and he shares the same agent (Bus Cook) as unhappy quarterback Jay Cutler, so a trade seems imminent.  The 25-year old tight end from Western Michigan has rare vertical skills, can find the soft spot in zones, and has very good hands, so maybe the Birds could part with one of their 12 picks (possibly a 3rd or 4th rounder) to bring him in.

Taking It to the House 2009 NFL Draft Mock v1.0

(Philadelphia, Pa) – Unlike many draft prognosticators who seem to just make their picks out of thin air, I like to wait until after attending the Senior Bowl, NFL Combine, talking with key NFL talent evaluators and letting Free Agency play out before making my picks.  In my opinion you cannot do a true “mock” until after these events, because only then you can get a good sense of how NFL talent evaluators are viewing prospects and have accurate team needs.

1. Detroit Lions – QB Matt Stafford, Georgia (Jr)

Record: 0-16 | Needs: QB, OT, CB, S, DE

All through the early part of the pre-draft season I thought that the Lions led by new head coach Jim Schwartz would be content with going for an offensive tackle with their first pick.  There have been rumors that veteran Jeff Backus would move to guard leaving the Lions to pick either Virginia’s Eugene Monroe or Baylor’s Jason Smith first overall.  But lately I have been hearing inklings that the winless Lions want to make a big splash on April 25th and that means, “quarterback”.  With the front office figuring out that Daunte Culpepper is only a caretaker at this stage in his career, the Lions will draft big-armed quarterback Matthew Stafford (6-3, 236) from Georgia.  Stafford has shown natural ability since his high school days, but he never was able to totally put it together at Georgia. He put up good numbers of 235-383 passes for 3,459 yards and 25 touchdowns with 10 interceptions in 2009, but his team was inconsistent.  Stafford looked terrible against eventual National Champion Florida in ’09, losing 49-10 while throwing for pedestrian numbers of 18-33, 265 yards, 0 TDs, and 3 INTs (one returned for a touchdown).  The former Texas high school gunslinger has all the quarterback measurables of instincts, vision, footwork, arm and a tough attitude, but you have to wonder if he is the next Jeff George – disappointing first overall selection in 1990. Stafford finished his career with numbers 564-for-987 for 7,731 yards, 51 touchdowns, and 33 interceptions.

2. St. Louis Rams – OT Eugene Monroe, Virginia (Sr)

Record: 2-14 | Needs: OT, QB, CB, OLB, WR

With new coach Steve Spagnuolo coming to town, the Rams are in the process of turning over an aging underachieving roster.  Veterans Orlando Pace, Trent Green, Torry Holt, and Drew Bennett have all been sent packing with an eye on rebuilding one of the NFL’s lower franchises.  With needs all over the place, the Rams start building upfront on the offensive line as there is a glaring need to replace former first rounder left tackle Orlando Pace.  With Spagnuolo and new offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur looking to build around marquee running back Steven Jackson, expect the selection of a road grader to plow the way.  The Rams select big athletic Virginia offensive tackle Eugene Monroe (6-5, 315).  Monroe battled back from a 2007 knee injury and showed impressive durability, footwork, strength, and “punch” in 2008. The former All-ACC pick, who many say is better than ’08 first rounder Branden Albert, is a prototypical left tackle with good height, long arms and a strong anchor. Look for the surprisingly nimble big man to lead the way on running plays and get after linebackers and defensive backs downfield. 

3. Kansas City Chiefs – OT Jason Smith, Baylor (Sr)

Record: 2-14 | Needs: OT, G, CB, LB, NT

New coach Todd Haley and new general manager Scott Pioli will be looking to instill the “Belichick” way to a franchise that is trying to rebuild from a terrible 2008 season.  All along going into the draft process everyone thought quarterback, but the Chiefs took care of that thanks to an assist by the Patriots acquiring franchised quarterback Matt Cassell for a bargain 2nd round pick.  With Cassell in place and thoughts of keeping malcontent running back Larry Johnson happy in Kansas City, the Chiefs will select Baylor cat-quick offensive tackle Jason Smith (6-5, 305).  After converting from tight end to tackle in 2006, Smith showed that he was a natural tackle.  Though he missed 2007 with a knee injury, Smith finished his college career with 39 starts including twenty-four at left tackle and seven at right tackle. J-Smooth, as Smith is nicknamed, had a great combine doing well in interviews running 5.22 seconds in the forty, banging out a tackle-high 33 reps on the bench, and showing the best agility of all O-linemen in bag drills. Smith only gave up 4 ½ sacks in his career as a left tackle and the Chiefs will love his attitude.  Smith said of competition, “I take a lot of pride in physically assaulting somebody when I’m on the field.”

4. Seattle Seahawks – DE Michael Johnson, Georgia Tech (Sr)

Record: 4-12 | Needs: OT, DT, RB, TE, G

Options will be plentiful for the rebuilding Seahawks as they will try to start the Jim Mora era in Seattle on the right foot.  Offensively the Seahawks have looked to free agency with the signing of TJ Houshmanzadeh from the Bengals and the return of often-injured receiver Deion Branch and quarterback Matt Hassellback to bolster their ranks.  So the defensive-minded Mora will look to improve a defense that is getting old on the defensive line by selecting two-way defensive end Johnson (6’7, 266).  The first team All-ACC selection will definitely compliment veteran holdover Patrick Kerney with his height, long arms and burst off the edge. As a senior, Johnson had 17½ tackles for loss and nine sacks. Even though he has all of the measurables including recently clocking an incredible 4.59 seconds in his Pro Day forty, Johnson has been known to be inconsistent and undisciplined at times so Mora will need to stay on him.

5. Cleveland Browns – RB Chris “Beanie” Wells, Ohio State (Jr)

Record: 4-12 | Needs: RB, CB, LB, S

The magic ran out for former coach Romeo Crennel in 2008 and now the Browns will rebuild behind former Jets head coach Eric Mangini.  The Browns currently are rebuilding their defense around their playmaking linebackers, but their offense needs a move-the-chains running back.  Veteran Jamal Lewis is close to finishing out his solid career, so the Browns will get younger at the position by selecting bruising Ohio State running back Chris “Beanie” Wells.  Don’t think of this pick as a hometown selection as Wells (6-1, 237, 4.53) is just the type of runner that Mangini needs to compliment quarterbacks Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson.  He is a north-south runner who hits the hole quickly and can either run passed or through a defender.  The junior eligible likes the to use the stiff-arm, but he will need to watch injuries after three injury-filled seasons at OSU – injured ankle nagged him in 2008 and forced him to miss the Buckeyes huge game against USC.  Even with injuries, Wells is a franchise back and should make an immediate impact as a rookie.  In his college career, the former Buckeye put up numbers 585 rushes for 3,496 yards and 30 touchdowns.

6. Cincinnati Bengals – OT Andre Smith, Alabama (Jr)

Record: 4-11-1 | Needs: OL, DE, RB, S

A rollercoaster season filled with injuries and internal strife landed embattled head coach Marvin Lewis in the Top 10 of the draft again.  The Bengals need help in a variety of areas including a defense that was ranked near the bottom of the NFL in sacks and an offensive line that had the huge defection of offensive tackle Stacy Andrews in free agency to the Eagles.  With the objective of keeping quarterback Carson Palmer healthy for the entire season, the Bengals will select huge offensive tackle Andre Smith from Alabama.  Though red flags have been plentiful with Smith (6-4, 340) including recently having an average Pro Day, leaving the combine early, his weight fluctuating, and being suspended for the 2009 Sugar Bowl there is no doubt he is a talented player.  The Bengals, who are known to take chances on question mark players will give Smith a shot to live up to his huge potential.  The 2008 Outland Trophy as the country’s top lineman, Smith played since his freshman year and was dominant.  The first-team All-SEC pick should easily replace Andrews as he is a dominant run blocker who has surprising agility as a pass blocker.

7. Oakland Raiders – WR Michael Crabtree, Texas Tech (Redshirt Soph)

Record: 5-11 | Needs: WR, OT, DE, S

The affinity of Raiders owner Al Davis in looking for game-breaking skills and a homerun threat will lead him directly to receiver Michael Crabtree (6-3, 214, 4.54). Raiders new head coach Tom Cable needs a complimentary receiver to go with his talented backfield trio (McFadden, Fargas, and Bush) and strong-armed quarterback JaMarcus Russell.  Plus the Raiders just cut veteran receiver Ronald Curry and Javon Walker appears to be on his last legs, so the two-time Biletnikoff award-winner makes sense.   Though he is recovering from a foot injury, Crabtree is considered to be the next Larry Fitzgerald. In his two years at Texas Tech, Crabtree was a man amongst boys producing 231 receptions for 3,127 yards, and 41 touchdowns. To me the former Texas Tech quarterback recruit is already a high-level professional receiver and he could possibly have an impactful rookie year on the level of 2007 receiver Marques Colston.  Crabtree has great ability to start-and-stop in routes, superior hand-eye coordination, good body control and is an aggressive run-after-catch guy.

8. Jacksonville Jaguars – OLB Aaron Curry, Wake Forest (Sr)

Record: 5-11 | Needs: WR, OT, CB, RB

Jags head coach Jack Del Rio is a former NFL linebacker, so he knows the value of grabbing a difference-maker at the position.  With the Jaguars parting ways with volatile linebacker Mike Peterson this off-season, Curry seems like an ideal fit to breath life into a defense that was pushed around in ’08.  Curry (6-3, 247) is a four-year standout who is an aggressive enforcer on the field.  Probably the most NFL ready player in the 2009 Draft, Curry is the 2008 Butkus award-winner, which is a award given annually to college football’s most outstanding linebacker.  He is prepared for the NFL both mentally and physically, with an exceptional knack for diagnosing plays.  A very fluid player with great change of direction, Curry had a great combine and has the stats (105 tackles, including 16 for lost yardage and 2½ sacks, and three fumble recoveries in 2008) to back-up comparisons to Titans LB Keith Bullock.

9. Green Bay Packers – CB Malcolm Jenkins, Ohio State (Sr)

Record: 6-10 | Needs: LB, DE, S, CB

The Packers have been quiet in free agency, but you have to believe that they will be looking for the future replacement of aging corners Charles Woodson and Al Harris in the draft.  The Packers may take a look at Curry at this spot if he is available, but I believe Jenkins (6-1, 201) is their man.  With former Buckeye AJ Hawk already on the roster, the Packers get another solid player from Ohio State.  Jenkins is a “lockdown” corner, who has a nose for the ball.  As a senior, he won the Thorpe Award as the nation’s top defensive back. He has great quickness and explosion to the ball plus he will provide the versatility that Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers likes in his secondary. Repeatedly battle tested, Jenkins was the leader of the Buckeye secondary that ranked #1 against the pass in ’07.  He was so good that teams tended to thrown away from him. Had 11 career interceptions including returning two for touchdowns versus Penn St in 2007.

10. S.F. 49ers – OLB/DE Aaron Maybin, Penn State (Redshirt Soph)

Record: 7-9 | Needs: QB, OL, OLB, DE

This will be an intriguing pick, because new head coach Mike Singletary is evaluating every player and every position on his roster.  The Niners have multiple needs, but I have a feeling that the defensive side of the ball will be where Iron Mike will go with his selection.  The Niners maybe tempted to take a quarterback (Mark Sanchez), but their new scheme will be based around a strong running game and an attacking defense.  For their new 3-4 scheme, the Niners select outside pass rusher Aaron Maybin to play alongside All-Pro middle linebacker Patrick Willis.  Maybin (6-4, 248, 4.67) was a productive defensive end for two seasons in Tom Bradley’s attacking Nittany Lions defensive scheme.  He displayed tenacity and great closing speed, which allowed him to lead the Big Ten with 12 sacks plus he had 20 tackles for a loss in ’08. Though Maybin is smallish for a true NFL defensive end, with his knack for rushing the passer he is a natural fit for the Niners’ “Elephant” position (half OLB and half DE).  Look for Maybin to get bigger and stronger as he matures into his NFL body.

11. Buffalo Bills – RB Knowshon Moreno, Georgia (Redshirt Soph)

Record: 7-9 | Needs: DT, RB, DE, WR, TE

With multiple questions abounding about troubled running back Marshawn Lynch and not many backup options. Bills head coach Dick Jauron continues to rebuild his offense by selecting Moreno.  The former All-SEC running back is an explosive player, who can both move the chains and take it the house on long runs.  Moreno (5-11, 208, 4.6) is quick and has great cutback moves similar to Chargers super back LaDainian Tomlinson. With Moreno, Lynch, and new receiver Terrell Owens, quarterback Trent Edwards will have an embarrassment of players around him.  Moreno had career numbers of 498 rushes for 2,859 yards and 30 touchdowns plus he also caught 53 passes for 645 yards.

12. Denver Broncos – DT B.J. Raji, Boston College (Sr)

Record: 8-8 | Needs: RB, OT, LB, CB

New Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels is changing the face of this franchise by adding over 12 free agents this off-season. However the young head coach who is trying to install the “Patriot” way of playing football needs a dominant defensive tackle in Vince Wilfork’s mold.  With the selection of Raji (6-2, 337) the Broncos will get their two-gap protector who they will funnel their defense through.  After sitting out in 2007 for failing to fulfill academic obligations, the big All-ACC fire hydrant performed with a vengeance in 2008 and seemed unblockable at times. Raji was the most dominant interior defensive lineman in the country with 16 tackles for loss and eight sacks. The Senior Bowl practices are where he really shined by dominating in trench drills.  The 337-pounder followed up his strong Senior Bowl performance by next standing out at the combine producing 33 reps at 225 and running a solid 5.2 forty time.

13. Washington Redskins – DE Brian Orakpo, Texas (Sr)

Record: 8-8 | Needs: DE, OT, LB, CB

The Redskins have strong needs along both their offensive and defensive lines.  But I believe the team’s upper management is targeting the defensive line as their new cornerstone.  Already the ‘Skins have invested over $100 Million in free agent Albert Haynesworth and their next move will be to enhance a weak pass rush by drafting Orakpo (6-4, 260, 4.73).  The former Longhorns defensive end won the Lombardi, Hendricks and Nagurski awards in 2008 making him the most honored defensive lineman in college. Orakpo is solid against the run and the pass plus demonstrated a tough play in college. Redskins defensive coordinator Greg Blache will need to ensure that Orakpo is properly motivated, as sometimes he does not display the intensity needed.  Also there are knee concerns as Orakpo missed some time the last two seasons with injuries in that area.

14. New Orleans Saints – DE Everette Brown, DE, Florida State (Jr)

Record: 8-8 | Needs: LB, DE, S, OL, WR

The Saints are coming off a very disappointing season where they lacked consistency especially on defense.  It seemed every week that head coach Sean Payton’s team was in a pinball machine-type game as they allowed 393 points due mainly to their inability to get after the passer.  With intentions on pushing underachieving DE’s Charles Grant and Will Smith, the Saints will select Brown (6-4, 252, 4.65).  The explosive former Seminole pass rusher knows how to get after the quarterback, as shown by his 21½ tackles for loss and 13½ sacks in 2008. Brown has speed, uses his hands well and has excellent balance in taking on larger offensive tackles. Look for him to bulk up in the pros.

15. Houston Texans – OLB Brian Cushing, Southern California (Sr)

Record: 8-8 | Needs: OL, RB, TE, LB, S

With the Texans concentrating so many picks on their defensive line over the last couple of drafts and the signing of ex-Cardinals defensive end Antonio Smith in free agency, it seems to make sense that they will finally look for a playmaker at outside linebacker. Cushing (6-3, 243, 4.7) seems the logical choice to play next to Pro Bowl player DeMeco Ryans.  The former USC stalwart is an explosive player, who moves forward well especially when blitzing. At this year’s Senior Bowl, Cushing showed that he was the best of USC’s outstanding trio of linebackers at the event. Cushing had only one tackle in the game, but all week everyone was impressed with his size, recognition skills, and downhill playing style.  This versatile athlete should fit-in well in the Texans’ attacking defensive scheme, but any team taking Cushing will need to watch against injuries (high ankle, knee and shoulder problems during his career).

16. San Diego Chargers – ILB Rey Maualuga USC (Sr)

Record: 8-8 | Needs: DT, WR, CB, LB

The Chargers vaunted defense was not it’s usual self in ’08 giving up 347 points as superstar LB Shawne Merriman (knee) was on the sidelines.  To help get his unit back into shape, defensive coordinator Ron Rivera won’t need to convince head coach Norv Turner much that the Bolts must select the NFL’s next great run stuffing inside linebacker in Maualuga (6-2, 254, 4.7).  The big tough inside linebacker can play all three downs and has a nose for the ball plus his “stay at home” mentality will allow Merriman and Shawn Phillips to make plays on the outside.  Maualuga plays with a nasty disposition and wants to make every tackle.  He had a tremendous week at the Senior Bowl producing 3 tackles, 1 tackle for loss and forcing a fumble in the game. Though he pulled his hamstring at the combine, Maualuga should bounce back to be a great downhill NFL linebacker.  The one negative on the USC star is he over-pursues and will need to get better at learning to read play-action.

17. New York Jets – QB Mark Sanchez USC (Jr)

Record: 9-7 | Needs: DE, WR, QB, G, RB

The Jets new head coach Rex Ryan is all about defense, but even he knows that the J-E-T-S need a triggerman to build around.  Future Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre retired leaving inexperienced throwers Kellen Clemens and Brett Ratliff as Ryan’s only options.  The Jets with their fans yelling and screaming at Radio City Music Hall will get their man as they select Sanchez (6’3, 225) as Favre’s replacement.  The All-PAC 10 junior eligible only started 16 games for USC, but he did lead his team to a Rose Bowl win as a senior.  In his only full season as a starter in 2008, Sanchez led the Trojans to a 12-1 record displaying a good arm, excellent footwork, and mental toughness.  The former USC star has great anticipation, accuracy and throws a good ball. In 2008 after coming back from a knee injury, Sanchez completed 214 of 366 passes for 3,207 yards and 41 touchdowns with 16 interceptions.

18. Chicago Bears – WR Percy Harvin, Florida (Jr)

Record: 9-7 | Needs: QB, WR, OL, DT, S

The Bears continued to struggle offensively as they never really found a playmaker to replace departed receiver Bernard Berrian.  Looking to score more touchdowns (only scored 42 in ’08) and take some pressure off of quarterback Kyle Orton and returner turned receiver Devin Hester, Bears head coach Lovie Smith grabs college football’s version of Reggie Bush in mercurial Florida speedster Harvin (5-11, 195, 4.36).  The junior eligible from this year’s National Champs has dazzling talent where he can be used on the outside, in the slot, in the backfield, in the “Wildcat” and help out on special teams.  Most dangerous in the open field, Harvin in three years with the Gators had 133 receptions for 1,929 yards and 13 touchdowns and 194 carries for 1,852 yards and 19 scores. Amazingly Harvin scored at least once in 15 consecutive games, which was the longest streak in the nation. The only question mark about the diminutive receiver/running back is whether he is durable enough to take an NFL pounding.

19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – DE Tyson Jackson, LSU (Sr)

Record: 9-7 | Needs: CB, RB, QB, LB

The Buccaneers are undergoing a huge makeover under the guidance of young defensive-minded head coach Raheem Morris.  With veteran defensive end Kevin Carter leaving in free agency, the Bucs will look for another pass rusher.  Jackson is at 6-4, 295 is a stout two-way defensive end who can also slide inside if needed.  Jackson has excellent size and strength at the point of attack plus has good enough quickness to shed blocks.  However there have been questions regarding Jackson peaking earlier in his career and whether he is an underachiever.  After exploding on the scene in 2006, producing a team-high 8.5 sacks for the Tigers, Jackson sack totals fell to 3.5 in ’07 and 4.5 in ’08.  It will be interesting to see if Morris and his defensive coordinator Jim Bates can turn Jackson’s size and potential into being a solid pro.

20. Detroit Lions (from Dallas) – OT Michael Oher, Mississippi (Sr)

Record: 0-16 | Needs: QB, OT, CB, S, DE

With the Lions already grabbing marquee quarterback Matthew Stafford with the first overall pick, they will then look to grab a protector for him with their second first rounder.  By selecting Oher (6-5, 309) the Lions can move veteran right tackle Jeff Backus and have their bookends for the future with the All-SEC pick and last year’s number one Gosder Cherilus.  A reserved guy off the field, Oher (pronounced “Oar”) carries a nasty streak on the field.  The Ole’ Miss standout can either out-quick or  manhandle opponents as he has a great punch and decent footwork.   The former Ole Miss star will need to continue to work hard in the pre-draft period as some scouts have worried about his technique and demeanor.  At the Senior Bowl, Oher showed an ability to be a dominant run blocker.  However he also showed that work is needed on his pass-blocking skills, not reaching for an opponent and playing with leverage.  The big natural right tackle was the subject of a book called the “Blind Side” in high school.

21. Philadelphia Eagles – OT Eben Britton, Arizona (Jr)

Record: 9-6-1 | Needs: OT, TE, RB, S, WR

I know you want a receiver here Birds fans, but given the Eagles track record and their need to replace stalwart bookend tackles Jon Runyan and William Thomas, a tackle will be this pick. Britton (6-6, 310) has the skills to become an excellent NFL tackle, though some thought that he could have used another year in college to hone his skills. The Wildcats junior-eligible road grader uses his size, strength and athleticism to be a force on the edge.  Britton started 37 straight games since entering the lineup as a freshman, lining up at right tackle for the first 24 contests before shifting to left tackle in 2008. Britton is a high-character and hard worker type of player who was a team captain.  But he was will need watch playing too upright and maintaining an aggressive attitude in the pros.  With O-line guru Juan Castille pushing him look for this big athletic O-lineman to push disappointing ’06 pick Winston Justice and add depth to an area that Andy Reid always loves to build up.

22. Minnesota Vikings – WR Jeremy Maclin, Missouri (Jr)

Record: 10-6 | Needs: QB, S, CB, WR

Everyone knows the Vikings and their offensive-minded head coach Brad Childress wanted another offensive weapon this off-season.  The Vikes unsuccessfully tried to land T.J. Houshmandzadeh in free agency, so they will look to the draft to grab a play-making receiver to go with Bernard Berrian.  Maclin (6-1, 200, 4.38) is a straight burner, who is a homerun threat whenever he touches the ball.  Though he has some work to do in terms of route running, the former All Big 12 player will be able to contribute right away in the return game, on trick plays (reverses/Wildcat/receiver passes), in the slot and on the outside. Maclin returned from a serious knee injury in 2006 to become one of the Big 12’s most explosive players over he past two seasons along with Texas Tech’s Michael Crabtree.  In a spectacular 2008 campaign, Maclin had 102 catches for 1,260 yards and 13 touchdowns as a receiver and 306 rushing yards with 2 TDs.  With an additional 270 yards on punt returns including one touchdown with an 11.7 average plus a 24-yard average and one touchdown on kickoffs.

23. N.E. Patriots  – ILB James Laurinaitis, Ohio State (Sr)

Record: 11-5 | Needs: LB, CB, TE, OL, RB

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick is experiencing the retooling process of his former 3-time Super Bowl winning team.  The Patriots are coming off an 11-5 non-playoff season and it is now time to start getting younger at key positions.  The Patriots seem to have targeted the linebacker position as one of the areas that needs an upgrade this off-season as they traded veteran LB Mike Vrabel and are not re-signing future Hall of Famer Junior Seau.  The continued overhaul of Belichick’s prized unit will continue with the Patriots selecting Ohio State’s big man in the middle, Jim  Laurinaitis (6-2, 240).  The three-time All-American who has a trophy case full of awards from his intensity inspired play (Bronko Nagurski Award – ’06, Dick Butkus Award – ’07 and the Lott Trophy as best all-around defensive player in ’08) should be a natural fit in the Patriots attacking scheme. Laurinaitis is a smart and instinctive football player, who through film study always seems to be in the right position.  Known for being the son of pro wrestling legend Joe “Road Warrior Animal” Laurinaitis, the younger “Animal” is a ferocious tackler and is always looking to deliver a blow.  In his historic career college football career this perennial All Big 10 selection collected 366 tackles.

24. Atlanta Falcons – CB Vontae Davis, Illinois (Jr)

Record: 11-5 | Needs: OT, LB, S, WR

The Falcons experienced a re-birth in 2008 as Rookie of the Year Matt Ryan led his team back from a disastrous 2007 season.  However the Falcons will need to select more impact players in the 2009 NFL Draft as they will not be sneaking up on anyone this year.  A high priority for Falcons head coach Mike Smith and GM Tom Dimitroff should be finding a replacement for CB Domonique Foxworth (Ravens) and a partner for former high draft pick Chris Houston.  The  selection of Davis (6-0, 204, 4.42) seems like a nice fit for the Falcons as the supremely talented All Big 10 corner is an athletic, aggressive, and sticky cover-corner. Like his older brother, San Francisco 49ers tight end Vernon Davis, Vontae will need to be pushed in the NFL to live-up to his immense talent.  Davis is a heavy hitting corner with big play ability, who plays like a shut down corner on the outside yet he is a dangerous weapon in the return game and likes to come up to lay a blow in the running game. A Day 1 starter in college, look for this early entry to have an immediate impact in the NFL.

25. Miami Dolphins – OLB Larry English, Northern Illinois (Sr)

Record: 11-5 | Needs: DE, WR, OL, LB

The Miami Dolphins were the NFL’s biggest turnaround story in ’08, but with the dawning of a new season they will need more weapons in the draft to stay on top of the tough AFC East division led by the Patriots.  One thing is for certain, we know Dolphins top executive Bill Parcells likes to have tough aggressive linebackers.  With veteran Joey Porter getting along in age, the Dolphins will add the versatile English (6-2, 254, 4.76) to help out their pass rush.  The MAC defensive player of the year the past two years is a high-motor player with an explosive first step that should help him make the transition from college football defensive end to NFL 3-4 outside linebacker. English with his superior straight-line speed totaled 23 sacks the past two years and he has been working hard on his agility to help him in pass coverage.  At the Senior Bowl amongst bigger names, English overshadowed higher profile guys in practices and in the game.  The main areas where the former All-MAC player will need to improve are getting stronger at the point of attack and cutting down on his head faking when rushing the passer.

26. Baltimore Ravens – OLB Clay Matthews, USC  (Sr)

Record: 11-5 | Needs: CB, OL, LB, TE

The Ravens rode another stellar season from their defense (the NFL’s leader in takeaways with 34) all the way to the AFC Championship game.  But with former Ravens defensive coordinator turned Jets head coach Rex Ryan pilfering their unit, the Ravens will look to replenish their defense in the draft.  I see Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome finding OLB Bart Scott’s replacement with the selection of his former Browns’ teammate’s son.  Matthews (6-3, 246, 4.76) a high-energy linebacker is an NFL legacy player  — father, Clay Jr, was a linebacker with the Cleveland Browns; his uncle Bruce was a Hall of Fame offensive lineman; and his grandfather Clay Sr. was with the 49ers in the 1950s – who went from a walk-on to a top PAC 10 defender after four years of work.  A full-time starter for the first time last year, Matthews grew into a top caliber NFL prospect delivering 56 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss (3rd on team), and 4.5 sacks (2nd on team). NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said of Matthews, “What I would tell you (about Matthews) is he’s got a healthy chip on his shoulder. His dad, his uncle, his brother — everybody played big-time football and this kid didn’t get a scholarship offer to USC. He will outwork people”.

27. Indianapolis Colts – WR Darrius Heyward-Bey, Maryland (Jr)

Record: 12-4 | Needs: WR, OL, RB, LB, CB

The Colts this off-season have witnessed the transition of future Hall of Famer Marvin Harrison as the team cut ties with the 14-year veteran this March.  With a huge hole in their receiving core, Colts GM Bill Polian and new head coach Jim Caldwell will grab one this year’s top pass catchers in Heyward-Bey (6-2, 206, 4.37).  The junior-eligible has the rare combination of size, athleticism and speed to make an instant impact in the NFL. Though there were not many defenders in college that could stay with the big receiver, he will now have to learn the nuisances of the receiver position including route running to excel at the next level. Heyward-Bey ended his career ranked second on Maryland’s all-time list in receiving yards (2,089). The former Terrapin wowed everyone at the NFL Combine running the forty in a combine-low 4.30 seconds and looking fluid while showing consistent hands in receiver drills. 

28. Philadelphia Eagles (from Panthers) – TE Brandon Pettigrew, Oklahoma State

Record: 9-6-1 | Needs: OT, TE, RB, S, WR

The Eagles need a franchise tight end to build around now that they have moved on from free agent LJ Smith (Ravens).  With 3rd year player Brent Celek looking like their next receiving tight end (career-high 10 catches for 83 yards and two touchdowns in the NFC Championship game), the Eagles need a complimentary bigger blocking tight end.  Pettigrew (6-5, 257, 4.82) is a great blocker, who is working hard to refine his raw receiving skills. He can handle all phases of in-line tight end play including drive blocking on running plays and sneaking out on pass plays to find the soft spot in zones.  As a pass catcher, Pettigrew has great quickness out of his stance, sure hands and can make the big play. Much like former Eagles first rounder Keith Jackson when he came out of college, Pettigrew may not have huge college numbers (in four years, he caught 112 passes for 1,450 yards and nine touchdowns) due to working in a running offense, but he is a talented prospect who is only going to get better in the NFL.  Pettigrew had a solid Senior Bowl week where he clearly was the best tight end of a solid group (blocking, catching, and shielding off defenders). The former Oklahoma State Cowboys star is a strong player as shown by his 22 reps of 225 pounds at the NFL Combine.

29. New York Giants – CB D.J. Moore, Vanderbilt (Jr)

Record: 12-4 | Needs: CB, S, WR, OT

The 2007 Super Bowl winners were solid once again on defense (allowed 292 yards per game), but there were too many question marks in their secondary — recently cut safety Sammy Knight and CB Sam Madison.  The G-Men routinely had problems containing pass plays down the field, which may have been partly attributed to injuries along their defensive front, but they need better players in their back four.  Head coach Tom Coughlin in looking to get former first rounder Aaron Ross some help in the secondary, will select the playmaking Moore (5-10, 184, 4.45) with the Giants’ first rounder.  The versatile corner from Vandy has the athleticism and instincts to be a top-tier cornerback in any draft. Moore exploded onto the scene as a playmaker in ’07 with 83 tackles, six interceptions and an average of 25.7 yards on kickoff returns (had 100 yards in kickoff returns three times). In 2008, the tough junior-eligible had 5 INT’s and made plays on the offensive side of the ball too. Moore has great man-to-man coverage skills and will also help out in run support as shown by his 13 tackles versus ‘Bama in ’07.  Moore is still a young player who may need to mature as a player in the NFL, but he should help out in nickel/dime coverage and on special teams.

30. Tennessee Titans – DT Peria Jerry, Ole Miss  (Sr)

Record: 13-3 | Needs: WR, DT, CB, C

After winning an NFL-high 13 games in ’08, the Titans stumbled in the playoffs against the upstart Ravens.  To make matters worse the Titans’ highly ranked defense (293.6 yards allowed – 3rd in the AFC) lost their main cog in free agent mammoth defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth, who signed a $100 Million dollar deal with the Redskins.  With Haynesworth fresh in their mind, Titans’ head coach Jeff Fisher and new defensive coordinator Chuck Cecil will use their number one pick on big run-stuffing (6-2 300) defensive tackle Jerry.  The All-SEC performer has been a riser in the draft process after a  2008 season that saw him SEC defender of the week four times and having a standout week at the Senior Bowl. The pocket-collapsing big man is very quick off the ball and at times is difficult to handle even by two O-linemen.  Jerry can play one or two gap protection, but scouts are definitely watching his game tapes as he was a bit inconsistent at times during his Ole’ Miss career.  Look for Jerry,  an older age player at 24 years old, to be on the field early in his pro career.

31. Arizona Cardinals – CB Alphonso Smith, CB, Wake Forest (Sr)

Record: 9-7 | Needs: OL, FS, RB, CB, DT

The NFC Champion Cardinals had a magical ride in ’08 going from a weak division champion to an ascending playoff tough squad who fought eventual Super Bowl champion Steelers till the bitter end.  However throughout the 2008 season, the Cardinals had problems on defense finishing with an NFL ranking of 19th in total defense during the regular season.  Even with ’08 first rounder Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie already in place, the NFC Champs have to get better in coverage (allowed an average of 292.1 passing yards per game) so Smith (5-9, 193, 4.45) will be their man.  Though not the biggest corner in the draft, this All-ACC pick stands out due to his great instincts, quickness and agility. Smith is the NCAA’s all-time leader in interceptions with 21 career picks and he also returned a NCAA record four interceptions for touchdowns.  Senior Bowl week was a special one for Smith as he clearly was the best corner in practices providing blanket coverage and fighting for every pass.  Also can contribute on special teams by returning and covering kicks plus he even had 3 receptions on offense in the bowl win versus UConn in 2007.

32. Pittsburgh Steelers – William Beatty, OT, Connecticut

Record: 12-4 | Needs: OT, G, CB, LB, DE

The Super Bowl Champs will be in the ideal position of picking last in the draft.  Usually the team picking in the 32nd slot just sits and waits to see who is available before picking.  But the Steelers have a drastic need to fortify an offensive line as quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was sacked an NFL high 51 times in ’08.  With an eye toward keeping Big Ben upright, the world champion Steelers will take Beatty (6-6, 307).  The former All-Big East offensive tackle has the feet, agility and strength required to be a very good left or right tackle in the NFL. After making a comeback from a broken leg in 2006, Beatty was the Huskies most consistent O-lineman only allowing 6½ sacks  over the past two years. The NFL Combine was Beatty’s finest hour as he joined Jason Smith, Monroe, Oher, and Davis in top tackle conversations.  At the combine, Beatty came in at 307 lbs (weighed only 291 pounds at the Senior Bowl due to the flu), ran an exceptional 5.12 forty, had a very good 33.5 vertical jump, and showed good  athleticism in the o-lineman drills.  The only area where the Steelers will need improvement from Beatty is his strength as he failed to put up 30 reps of 225 pounds at the combine.

Teams not owning a first round pick

Carolina Panthers – Record: 12-4 | Needs: DT, LB, QB, WR

The Panthers traded their 2009 first round pick to the Philadelphia Eagles during the 2008 NFL Draft to select offensive tackle Jeff Otah (19th overall).  Even though they do not have a top pick in 2009, you have to say the trade worked for the Panthers.  Otah and Jordan Gross have formed one of the NFL’s best young bookend tandems plus the Panthers running game was one of the NFL’s best (152.3 yards per game – Ranking of 3rd overall).  However the NFC South Champions should think about finding a young quarterback of the future and improving their play at the defensive tackle position in the 2009 draft.  The defensive line was not as stout after the trading of DT Kris Jenkins to the Jets in ’08 and quarterback Jake Delhomme was too inconsistent (5 INTs in playoffs to the Cardinals).  Also watch for the Panthers to possibly move disgruntled “franchised” defensive lineman Julius Peppers for a first round pick before or during the draft.

Dallas Cowboys – Record: 9-7 | Needs: CB, WR, OT, S

In an October 2008 trade deadline deal, the Cowboys traded away their 2009 first round pick along with a third and a sixth-round pick to the Detroit Lions in exchange for a seventh-round pick and WR Roy Williams.  For their efforts the Cowboys received 19 receptions for 198 yards (10.4 ypc) and 1 TD from Williams and missed the playoffs.  By not having a first rounder, The Cowboys and owner Jerry Jones will be counting on Williams to be the man in ’09.  The former University of Texas start will not only have to produce because of his high price trade, but also there will be the added pressure of replacing volatile Number #1 receiver Terrell Owens who was cut and now resides in Buffalo.  The Cowboys will also probably be looking for secondary help as they have openings for a cornerback and strong safety due to additional off-season cuts.

 

 

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

NFLPA Names Smith as New Executive Director

dsmith

NFLPA will now be led by D.C attorney DeMaurice Smith

The 2008 NFL Season was all about unpredictability and the trend continued this weekend in Hawaii as Washington, D.C. lawyer DeMaurice Smith, pulled a monumental upset by winning a secret ballot vote to replace the late Gene Upshaw as the NFL Players Association’s (NFLPA) new Executive Director.  Smith, a 45-year old partner at the law firm Patton Boggs, was a relative unknown going into the March 15th vote. But he beat out three higher-profile candidates including former NFLPA Presidents Troy Vincent and Trace Armstrong plus attorney David Cornwell in voting by player representatives from the NFL’s 32 franchises.  All along most NFL media, including myself, thought that the NFLPA membership’s vote would come down to Vincent or Armstrong as both former players each had extensive backing from a variety of quarreling NFL factions.  However after the player representatives heard from all four candidates – March 14th initial candidate presentations and March 15th closing remarks – they selected the fresh voiced D.C. based corporate attorney as their captain in the boardroom.  Buffalo Bills player representative and defensive back George Wilson recently said of the selection of Smith, “His energy is impressive and he was very prepared in a way that you could see why he has been such a successful attorney”.

The selection of Smith now means that NFL players will call a non-player their lead representative — the first since Ed Garvey left office in 1983 — just like the three other major sports’ player associations. Hopefully Smith is up to the challenge of righting an organization that was once deemed “the weakest union in modern sports”, because there is a litany of landmine issues that the NFLPA will face in the near future.  Legally charged issues include an expiring Collective Bargaining Agreement in 2011 (the current CBA pays players nearly 60% of football revenues that exceed $6 billion per year according to the owners), a looming uncapped year in 2010, players benefits, retiree rights/benefits, an economy where everyone including the NFL is struggling, a possible rookie salary cap, player marketing, television contracts, player conduct and so much more there is not enough space to write them all down. However Smith, a frequent commentator on MSNBC’s Hardball, has said his new position is a “calling” which leads you to believe he is going to roll his sleeves up to tackle the many challenges facing the NFLPA. 

NFL players by voting-in Smith, who by his own admission has never been in an NFL lockerrooom, decided that their union should be more about the “unity” of players (past and present) while keeping an eye on the “business” side of football rather than politicking, mudslinging, and living in the past (See the Upshaw regime and the campaigns of Vincent and Armstrong). Much like current President Barrack Obama, who has reported ties to the new NFLPA Executive Director, Smith gave NFL players “Change They Could Believe In”. Smith recently said in an USA Today interview, “To say that (the NFLPA Executive Director job) is purely a labor and management play is to miss about six or seven dominant issues that make up the business of the NFL each and every day”.  The former University of Virginia Law School graduate has been on the frontlines of corporate business law for years, including working with current U.S Attorney General Eric Holder, so you know he will be right at home talking the “business” of football.  And let’s not fool ourselves, the National Football League is all about “big” billion dollar corporate business.  Now the players will have a litigious voice representing them at the table with billionaires like Jerry Jones, Pat Bowlen, and Jeffrey Lurie.

I don’t know about you, but I finding it refreshing that the new NFLPA head will be about handling “business” and representing his constituency rather than making back-door agreements that may not be for the good of the organization.  Wilson added, “He’s the man, it’s a new day in the ‘PA.’   So now the play-clock begins on the Smith Era of the NFLPA and it will be interesting to see if the new Executive Director has an amicable or disagreeable relationship with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and the owners he represents.  For now Smith is firmly at the helm of the NFLPA and he will need to stiff-arm the NFL’s many challenges that seem as mammoth as William “The Refrigerator” Perry to guide his players over the goal-line.

  

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

Get Your Popcorn Ready as T.O’s Circus Comes to Buffalo

Bills Owens Football

T.O’s traveling circus has landed in Buffalo and it will be interesting to see how long the honeymoon last’s in Western New York

T.O’s back and there’s gonna be trouble…Hey LA…Hey LA.. T.O’s back.  Future Hall of Famer and erratic receiver Terrell Owens must be part cat as he found yet another NFL home (4th team) less than a week after being released by the Dallas Cowboys, surprisingly signing with the small-market Buffalo Bills.  The desperate move by Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson Jr, age 90, to sign the enigmatic Owens to a one-year, $6.5-million deal ($2.5 salary w/ $4 million signing bonus) is the 2009 Hall of Fame inductee’s latest attempt to infuse excitement into his struggling franchise.  The Bills already are playing two games a year in Toronto, because their stadium situation is one of the worst in the NFL and Wilson wants to see a winner before he leaves everything behind. Wilson said of the signing, “We are happy to announce that we signed Terrell Owens to our team, we all know of his tremendous ability and look forward to what he will bring to our offense.”  I guess any owner would be happy to add an explosive part to an anemic offense that last year ranked 25th in the NFL in yards gained and failed to have a 300-yard passing.

However in signing the disruptive Owens, you have to think that the poor Bills (three consecutive 7-9 seasons, no playoffs since 1999, and one of the NFL’s smallest revenue streams in a bad economy) may have bitten off more than they can chew.  There is no question that Owens, 35, brings a boatload of talent — career numbers of 951 receptions for 14,122 yards (14.8 ypc) and 139 TDs – but he also brings a circus type atmosphere fueled by animosity and a “Me-Me” attitude that has destroyed relationships/locker-rooms in San Francisco, Philadelphia and Dallas.  Think about it, T.O is the one man who maverick Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who lately has been running a home for wayward NFL players with player personality guru and former Cowboys’ running back Calvin Hill serving as “Father Flanagan”, said “Enough” to — not even notorious “Bad Boy” receiver Michael Irvin heard those words from Jones.   When asked about his divisive reputation, Owens said, “That’s all hearsay. If you look at all of the comments that have come from all of my teammates with the Cowboys, it’s all been positive. Prior to that … I don’t really want to get into it.”

The one-year signing does make sense on one level for an offense that could use a quality partner for emerging talent Lee Evans and a small-market team trying to “catch lightning in a bottle” in the big-ticket NFL.  But you have to wonder if the Bills are even getting the real T.O at this stage in his career.  Owens will be thirty-six next season and despite decent 2008 numbers of 69 receptions for 1,052 yards (15.2 ypc) and 10 TDs, he has not been as explosive on the field to merit the problems that he has caused off the field — questioned former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jeff Garcia’s sexuality, fought with Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb over his Super Bowl performance, training camp verbal altercation with former Eagles offensive coordinator Brad Childress, TV Camera sit-ups on his front lawn during a suspension, fighting with Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo over game plans, and much more.  Owens also in his three-year stay with the Cowboys had 60 dropped passes including 33 in 2008.  The two people that better get “their popcorn” ready to deal with the divisive Owens are Bills 3rd year quarterback Trent Edwards and embattled head coach Dick Jauron – on a very hotseat entering ’09 — as they are the new ringmasters of the T.O Circus.  Which means get ready to stroke the ego of Owens while trying to keep fifty-two other players, assistant coaches, the front office, and the media from igniting T.O’s notoriously short fuse.

Edwards said of the addition of Owens, “I am really excited about the addition of Terrell Owens to our team, we spoke earlier and both look forward to working hard this off-season. We share the common goal of winning football games. His ability and experience will add to our offense and the weapons we already have.”  So we all know this summer including training camp will be one big T.O Honeymoon where Owens says and does all the right things including befriending players like fifth string receiver Justin Jenkins, former pal with the Eagles.  But I am officially setting the T.O meltdown alarm for September 13th, which is the opening Sunday of the 2009 NFL Season, when Edwards overthrows T.O and Owens digs into the young passer.  Only time will tell if this version of Owens, this time in Western New York, will finally be able to become a team-first guy.  But don’t’ choke on your popcorn when Wilson eventually sends T.O over nearby Niagara Falls without a barrel.

 

 

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

2009 Free Agency Review

(Philadelphia, Pa) – Free Agency comes in like a quick storm at 12:01 AM on the first day and it soon slows down about a week later.  With March 4th marking the ending of the first week of Free Agency, I thought it was a good time to take a look back at the initial feeding frenzy around the NFL. 

Remember there is still a long way to go before training camps open in July so teams have plenty of time to reshape their rosters.  But I am a firm believer in using the NFL Draft to build a team.  Having a nucleus of homegrown talent fortified by draft picks builds cohesion, which is essential in building perennial winners.  Too often history has shown too many new free agents is usually not the best way of catching up with the rest of the league.

 Best Signing

St. Louis Rams C/G Jason Brown — The St. Louis Rams signing of versatile center/guard Jason Brown from the Ravens showed that new head coach Steve Spagnuolo was looking for a cornerstone player and he got one.  Coming off a stellar 2008 season, Brown wanted to be paid as if he was one of the NFL’s top centers and he was by the Rams. Brown signed a five-year, $37.5 million (w/ $20 million guaranteed) contract. The Rams beat the Ravens and Eagles to the punch for one of the NFL’s ascending interior lineman, who barely missed out on the Pro Bowl in ’08.  The Rams offensive line got a much-needed boost and often-injured quarterback Marc Bulger should be feeling better.

Honorable Mention:  Cardinals re-signing QB Kurt Warner, Jets signing LB Bart Scott from the Ravens, and Washington Redskins signing DT Albert Haynesworth

Worst Signing

Washington Redskins CB DeAngelo Hall – I know that Redskins owner Dan Snyder puts his checkbook where his mouth is, but he went overboard signing inconsistent DeAngelo Hall to a six year, $55 million deal ($23 million guaranteed) when there was really no clamoring for the talkative corner was unnecessary.  If you remember back in November of 2008, Hall who had been traded to the Raiders –signed seven-year, $70 million contract with $24.5 million guaranteed — was released by the Oakland after “he failed to adapt to the Raiders’ man-to-man style of defense.  Hall was regularly beaten and was known to be a malcontent in the locker-room.  Hopefully the Redskins get more out of him than $8 million ($7 million signing bonus and $1 million in base salary) for eight games that the Raiders got.

Winners

Denver Broncos – New head coach Josh McDaniels is going about building his team in free agency as the Broncos signed 8 players and counting.  Among the top-level players relocating to the Rockies were S Brian Dawkins (Eagles), RB Correll Buckhalter (Philadelphia), RB JJ Arrington (Arizona), RB LaMont Jordan (Patriots), WR Jabbar Gaffney (New England), S Renaldo Hill (Miami), LS Lonie Paxton (New England), DT Darrell Reid (Indianapolis), CB Andre Goodman (Miami), DT Ronald Fields (San Francisco) and LB Andra Davis (Browns).  I like the signing of Dawkins, as he will bring leadership to a young team and coach.  Now McDaniels will need to soothe quarterback Jay Cutler’s ego as his star learned he was almost out of town for Matt Cassel.

Kansas City Chiefs — The Chiefs boosted their roster by adding 2008 wonder quarterback Matt Cassel for the value price of a 2nd round pick going to New England.  Chiefs new GM Scott Pioli knew that the Chiefs needed a signal-caller, so he called his old buddy Bill Belichick and got the Patriots “franchised” quarterback.  Cassel should work well with young receiver Dwayne Bowe plus boost the spirits of malcontent tight end Tony Gonzalez.  The Chiefs also brought in veteran LB Mike Vrabel (traded for a conditional pick) to teach the “Patriot” way to a young locker-room.

New York Jets — New head coach Rex Ryan waited in the driveway of prized linebacker Bart Scott to get a deal done.  Ryan knew Scott well from their days with the Ravens and now Scott, who was six years younger than veteran LB Ray Lewis, will bring his swagger to the Big Apple.  Scott was also joined by another former Ravens teammate, safety Jim Leonhard.  The hard working Leonhard replace injured starter Dawan Landry well in Baltimore and did a great job returning kicks.  Leonhard will join existing Jets starter Kerry Rhodes to form a tough combo for Ryan’s new attacking defense. The Jets also acquired CB Lito Sheppard from the Eagles for a 5th Rd pick and he should be rejuvenated playing next to Pro Bowl corner Darrell Revis.

New York Giants – Proving you can never have enough defense, Giants head coach Tom Coughlin brought in more disruptors.  The G-Men signed Cowboys DE Chris Canty, Seahawks DT Rocky Bernard and Falcons LB Michael Boley to go with Umenyiora, Tuck, Kiwanuka, Robbins and rest of the gang.

Losers

Baltimore Ravens – Got leader LB Ray Lewis back and signed veteran center Matt Birk, but they have a lot of holes to fill with the loss of Scott, Brown, and Leonhard.  Also I am not sure if corner Dominique Foxworth is physical enough to replace departed corner Chris McAllister.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Entered free agency with the most under the cap in the NFL ($41 Million under) and visions of signing Albert Haynesworth, but all they have to show for it so far is RB Derrick Ward (NY Giants) and K Mike Nugent (Jets).  They also spent a lot on signing underachievers QB Luke McCown, WR Michael Clayton, and DT Ryan Simms.  It will be real interesting to see how franchised WR Antonio Bryant and recently traded for TE Kellen Winslow (Browns) get along.

Philadelphia Eagles – The Birds have let go of too many quality veterans this off-season in RB Correll Buckhalter, S Brian Dawkins, and OT Tra Thomas when the younger players at their positions may not be ready to step up.  However I did like signing veteran right tackle Stacy Andrews (right guard Shawn Andrews’ older bro) to replace broken-down warrior Jon Runyan.

 Best Available 

1. QB Byron Leftwich – This big (6’6) passer has the arm and smarts to still be a starter in the NFL.  If he doesn’t receive a good offer soon look for him to go back to being a backup in Pittsburgh.

2. OT Tra Thomas – Even at age 34, Thomas still is a quality left tackle in the NFL.  He only allowed 2 sacks in 2008 and this former Pro Bowl player is an excellent pass blocker.

3. DE Demetric Evans — A versatile two-way end, who can rush the passer and hold his ground on running plays.

4. LB Kevin Burnett – Came on strong for Dallas at the end of the 2008 season.  Very good in the nickel and on special teams plus can get after the quarterback on blitzes.

5. FB Leonard Weaver – Great hands, Solid Blocker, and is good in short yardage.  Probably would still be in Seattle if Mike Holmgren stuck around.

Others: OT Mark Tauscher QB Chris Simms, RB Kevin Jones, WR Ronald Curry, DT Igor Olshansky, S Sean Jones,

Hoping for a Chance in Training Camp

WR Terrell Owens, S Mike Brown, LB Willie McGinest, QB JT O’Sullivan, QB Jeff Garcia, RB Ahmad Green, TE Darnell Dinkins, LB Mike Peterson, CB Adam Jones, CB Duane Starks, S Lawyer Milloy, and K John Kasay

Status of 2009 Notable Free Agents

 Quarterbacks

Kyle Boller, UFA Baltimore Ravens  (Unsigned as of 3/3)

**Matt Cassel, UFA New England Patriots (Traded to Chiefs for a 2nd Rounder, #34)

Kerry Collins, UFA Tennessee Titans  (Re-Signed w/ Titans)

Jeff Garcia, UFA Tampa Bay Buccaneers  (Unsigned as of 3/3)

Rex Grossman, UFA Chicago Bears  (Unsigned as of 3/3)

Byron Leftwich, UFA Pittsburgh Steelers  (Unsigned as of 3/3)

J.P. Losman, UFA Buffalo Bills  (Unsigned as of 3/3)

Dan Orlovsky, UFA Detroit Lions (Signed w/ Texans)

JT O’Sullivan, UFA San Francisco 49ers (Unsigned as of 3/3)

Chris Simms, UFA Tennessee Titans  (Unsigned as of 3/3)

Kurt Warner, UFA Arizona Cardinals  (Re-Signed w/ Cardinals)

Running Backs

J.J. Arrington, UFA Arizona Cardinals (Signed w/ Broncos)

Tatum Bell, UFA Denver Broncos (Unsigned as of 3/3)

Cedric Benson, UFA Cincinnati Bengals  (Re-Signed w/ Bengals)

Correll Buckhalter, UFA Philadelphia Eagles (Signed w/ Broncos)

Warrick Dunn, UFA Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Unsigned as of 3/3)

DeShaun Foster, UFA San Francisco 49ers (Unsigned as of 3/3)

Ahmad Green, UFA Houston Texans (Unsigned as of 3/3)

Brandon Jacobs, UFA New York Giants (Re-Signed w/ Giants)

Edgerrin James, UFA Arizona Cardinals  (expected to be released)

Rudi Johnson, UFA Detroit Lions (Unsigned as of 3/3)

Kevin Jones, UFA Chicago Bears (Unsigned as of 3/3)

LaMont Jordan, UFA New England Patriots (Signed w/ Broncos)

Deuce McAllister, UFA New Orleans Saints (Unsigned as of 3/3)

Chris Perry, UFA Cincinnati Bengals (Unsigned as of 3/3)

Dominic Rhodes, UFA Indianapolis Colts (Unsigned as of 3/3)

**Darren Sproles, UFA San Diego Chargers (Franchised)

Fred Taylor, UFA Jacksonville Jaguars (Signed w/ Patriots)

Derrick Ward, UFA New York Giants  (Signed w/ Buccaneers)

Fullbacks

Heath Evans, UFA New England Patriots  (Unsigned as of 3/3)

Lorenzo Neal, UFA Baltimore Ravens  (Unsigned as of 3/3)

Tony Richardson, UFA New York Jets  (Re-Signed w/ Jets)

Leonard Weaver, UFA Seattle Seahawks  (Unsigned as of 3/3)

Wide Receivers

Miles Austin, RFA Dallas Cowboys  (Tendered by Cowboys)

Hank Baskett, RFA Philadelphia Eagles (Tendered by Eagles)

Drew Bennett, UFA St. Louis Rams (Unsigned as of 3/3)

**Antonio Bryant, UFA Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Franchised)

Michael Clayton, UFA Tampa Bay Buccaneers  (Re-Signed w/ Bucs)

Ronald Curry, UFA Oakland Raiders (Unsigned as of 3/3)

Jabar Gaffney, UFA New England Patriots (Signed w/ Broncos)

Joey Galloway, UFA Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Unsigned as of 3/3)

Marvin Harrison, UFA Indianapolis Colts (Unsigned as of 3/3)

Devery Henderson, UFA New Orleans Saints (Re-Signed w/ Saints)

T.J. Houshmandzadeh, UFA Cincinnati Bengals (Signed w/ Seahawks)

Michael Jenkins, UFA Atlanta Falcons (Unsigned as of 3/3)

Bryant Johnson, UFA San Francisco 49ers (Signed w/ Lions)  

Brandon Jones, UFA Tennessee Titans (Signed w/ SF 49ers) 

Brandon Lloyd, UFA Chicago Bears (Unsigned as of 3/3)

Dane Looker, UFA St. Louis Rams (Unsigned as of 3/3)

Justin McCareins, UFA Tennessee Titans (Unsigned as of 3/3)

Shaun McDonald, UFA Detroit Lions (Unsigned as of 3/3)

Lance Moore, RFA New Orleans Saints (Tendered by Saints)

Terrell Owens, UFA Dallas Cowboys (Unsigned as of 3/3)

Jerry Porter, UFA Jacksonville Jaguars (Unsigned as of 3/3)

Amani Toomer, UFA New York Giants (Unsigned as of 3/3)

Javon Walker, UFA Oakland Raiders (Re-Signed w/ Raiders)

Nate Washington, UFA Pittsburgh Steelers (Signed w/ Titans)  

Reggie Williams, UFA Jacksonville Jaguars (Unsigned as of 3/3)

Tight Ends

Mark Bruener, UFA Houston Texans (Unsigned as of 3/3)

Dominique Byrd, RFA St. Louis Rams (Tendered by Rams)

Desmond Clark, UFA Chicago Bears (Unsigned as of 3/3) 

Tony Curtis, RFA Dallas Cowboys (Tendered by Cowboys)

Owen Daniels, UFA Houston Texans (Unsigned as of 3/3)

Darnell Dinkins, UFA Cleveland Browns (Unsigned as of 3/3)

Bubba Franks, UFA New York Jets (Unsigned as of 3/3)

Jeff King, RFA Carolina Panthers (Tendered by Panthers)

Jim Kleinsasser, UFA Minnesota Vikings (Re-Signed w/ Vikings) 

Ben Patrick, RFA Arizona Cardinals (Tendered by Cardinals)

Leonard Pope, RFA Arizona Cardinals (Tendered by Cardinals)

**Bo Scaife, UFA Tennessee Titans (Franchised)

L.J. Smith, UFA Philadelphia Eagles (Unsigned as of 3/3)

Jerramy Stevens, UFA Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Unsigned as of 3/3)

Daniel Wilcox, UFA Baltimore Ravens (Unsigned as of 3/3) 

Offensive Line

OT Stacy Andrews, UFA Cincinnati Bengals (Signed w/ Eagles)

OT Khalif Barnes, UFA Jacksonville Jaguars (Unsigned as of 3/3)

C Matt Birk, UFA Minnesota Vikings (Signed w/ Ravens) 

C Jason Brown, UFA Baltimore Ravens (Signed w/ Rams)  

C/G Nick Cole, RFA Philadelphia Eagles (Tendered by Eagles)

OT Marc Colombo, UFA Dallas Cowboys (Unsigned as of 3/3) 

OT Willie Colon, RFA Pittsburgh Steelers (Tendered – 1st Rd by Steelers) 

OG Jahri Evans, RFA New Orleans Saints (Tendered by Saints)

OT George Foster, UFA Detroit Lions (Unsigned as of 3/3) 

C Melvin Fowler, UFA Buffalo Bills (Unsigned as of 3/3)  

OG Pete Kendall, UFA Washington Redskins (Unsigned as of 3/3) 

OG Richie Incognito, RFA St. Louis Rams (Tendered low by Rams) 

OG Seth McKinney, UFA Cleveland Browns (Unsigned as of 3/3)   

OT Jon Runyan, UFA Philadelphia Eagles (Unsigned as of 3/3)    

C Jeff Saturday, UFA Indianapolis Colts (Re-Signed w/ Colts) 

OT Marvel Smith, UFA Pittsburgh Steelers (Unsigned as of 3/3)     

**OT Max Starks, UFA Pittsburgh Steelers (Franchised)

OT Jon Stinchcomb, UFA New Orleans Saints (Re-Signed w/ Saints) 

OT Mark Tauscher, UFA Green Bay Packers (Unsigned as of 3/3)      

OT Tra Thomas, UFA Philadelphia Eagles  (Unsigned as of 3/3)    

C Ben Wilkerson, UFA Atlanta Falcons  (Unsigned as of 3/3)     

Defensive Line

Victor Adeyanju, RFA St. Louis Rams (Tendered low by Rams)

Rocky Bernard, UFA Seattle Seahawks (Signed w/ Giants)

Bertrand Berry, UFA Arizona Cardinals (Unsigned as of 3/3)   

Demetric Evans, UFA Washington Redskins (Unsigned as of 3/3)   

Chris Canty, UFA Dallas Cowboys (Signed w/ Giants)

Tommie Harris, UFA Chicago Bears (Unsigned as of 3/3)   

Albert Haynesworth, UFA Tennessee Titans (Signed w/ Redskins)    

Tank Johnson, UFA Dallas Cowboys (Unsigned as of 3/3)    

Stanley McClover, RFA Carolina Panthers (Tendered by Panthers)

Jerome McDougle, UFA New York Giants (Unsigned as of 3/3)    

Igor Olshansky, UFA San Diego Chargers (Unsigned as of 3/3)    

**Julius Peppers, UFA Carolina Panthers (Franchised) 

Kenny Peterson, UFA Denver Broncos (Unsigned as of 3/3)     

DeWayne Robertson, UFA Denver Broncos (Unsigned as of 3/3)     

Antonio Smith, UFA Arizona Cardinals (Signed w/ Texans)

**Terrell Suggs, UFA Baltimore Ravens (Franchised) 

Jason Taylor, UFA Washington Redskins (Unsigned as of 3/3)

John Thornton, UFA Cincinnati Bengals (Unsigned as of 3/3)     

Gabe Watson, RFA Arizona Cardinals (Tendered by Cardinals) 

Linebackers

Eric Barton, UFA New York Jets (Unsigned as of 3/3)    

Monty Beisel, UFA Arizona Cardinals (Unsigned as of 3/3)      

Michael Boley, UFA Atlanta Falcons (Signed w/ Giants)

Keith Brooking, UFA Atlanta Falcons (Signed w/ Cowboys)

Derrick Brooks, UFA Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Unsigned as of 3/3)    

**Karlos Dansby, UFA Arizona Cardinals (Franchised)

Andra Davis, UFA Cleveland Browns (Signed w/ Broncos)

Kalimba Edwards, UFA Oakland Raiders (Unsigned as of 3/3)   

James Farrior, UFA Pittsburgh Steelers (Unsigned as of 3/3)      

Tyjuan Hagler, UFA Indianapolis Colts (Unsigned as of 3/3)     

**Leroy Hill, UFA Seattle Seahawks (Franchised)

Napoleon Harrison, UFA Minnesota Vikings (Unsigned as of 3/3)     

Larry Izzo, UFA New England Patriots (Unsigned as of 3/3)       

D.D. Lewis, UFA Seattle Seahawks (Unsigned as of 3/3)     

Ray Lewis, UFA Baltimore Ravens (Re-Signed w/ Ravens)

Willie McGinest, UFA Cleveland Browns (Unsigned as of 3/3)     

Quentin Moses, ERFA Miami Dolphins (Tendered by Dolphins)

Mike Peterson, UFA Jacksonville Jaguars (Unsigned as of 3/3)     

Junior Seau, UFA New England Patriots (Unsigned as of 3/3)     

Bart Scott, UFA Baltimore Ravens (Signed by Jets) 

Zach Thomas, UFA Dallas Cowboys (Unsigned as of 3/3)       

Jonathan Vilma, UFA New Orleans Saints (Re-Signed w/ Saints)

Nate Webster, UFA Denver Broncos (Unsigned as of 3/3)      

Cornerbacks

CB Phillip Buchanon, UFA Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Unsigned as of 3/3)    

CB/KR Chris Carr, UFA Tennessee Titans (Unsigned as of 3/3)   

CB Cortland Finnegan, RFA Tennessee Titans (Tendered High by Titans) 

CB Domonique Foxworth, UFA Atlanta Falcons (Signed w/ Ravens)

CB Chris Gamble, UFA Carolina Panthers  (Re-Signed w/ Panthers)

CB Andre’ Goodman, UFA Miami Dolphins (Signed w/ Broncos)

CB Charles Gordon, RFA Minnesota Vikings  (Tendered by Vikings)

CB Jabari Greer, UFA Buffalo Bills (Signed w/ Saints) 

CB DeAngelo Hall, UFA Washington Redskins (Re-Signed w/ Redskins)

CB Joselio Hanson, RFA Philadelphia Eagles (Re-Signed w/ Eagles)

CB Corey Ivy, UFA Baltimore Ravens (Unsigned as of 3/3)   

CB Adam “Pacman” Jones, UFA Dallas Cowboys (Unsigned as of 3/3)    

CB Eric King, UFA Tennessee Titans  (Signed w/ Lions)

CB Ty Law, UFA New York Jets (Unsigned as of 3/3)   

CB Bryant McFadden, UFA Pittsburgh Steelers (Unsigned as of 3/3)      

CB R.W. McQuarters, UFA New York Giants (Unsigned as of 3/3)   

CB Justin Miller, UFA Oakland Raiders (Unsigned as of 3/3)     

CB Deltha O’Neil, UFA New England Patriots (Unsigned as of 3/3)    

**CB Dunta Robinson, UFA Houston Texans (Franchised)

CB/KR Allen Rossum, UFA San Francisco 49ers (Unsigned as of 3/3)      

CB Duane Starks, UFA Oakland Raiders (Unsigned as of 3/3)    

Safeties

FS Mike Adams, UFA Cleveland Browns (Unsigned as of 3/3) 

FS Will Allen, UFA Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Unsigned as of 3/3)  

**FS Oshiomogho “O.J” Atogwe, UFA St Louis Rams (Franchised)

SS Atari Bigby, RFA Green Bay Packers (Tendered by Packers) 

SS Mike Brown, UFA Chicago Bears (Unsigned as of 3/3) 

FS Brian Dawkins, UFA Philadelphia Eagles (Signed w/ Broncos)

SS Rodney Harrison, UFA New England Patriots (Unsigned as of 3/3) 

FS Renaldo Hill, UFA Miami Dolphins (Signed w/ Broncos) 

SS Sean Jones, UFA Cleveland Browns (Unsigned as of 3/3)

SS Dawan Landry, RFA Baltimore Ravens (Tendered by Ravens)

SS/KR Jim Leonhard, UFA Baltimore Ravens (Signed w/ Jets)

FS Anthony Madison, RFA Pittsburgh Steelers (Tendered by Steelers)

SS Jon McGraw, UFA Kansas City Chiefs (Unsigned as of 3/3)

SS Lawyer Milloy, UFA Atlanta Falcons (Unsigned as of 3/3) 

SS Jermaine Phillips, UFA Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Unsigned as of 3/3)

SS James Sanders, UFA New England Patriots (Unsigned as of 3/3) 

SS Darren Sharper, UFA Minnesota Vikings (Unsigned as of 3/3) 

FS Anthony Smith, RFA Pittsburgh Steelers (Tendered by Steelers)

SS Roy Williams, UFA Dallas Cowboys (Unsigned as of 3/3)

FS Eugene Wilson, UFA Houston Texans (Re-Signed w/ Texans)

FS Gibril Wilson, UFA Oakland Raiders (Signed w/ Dolphins)

Kickers and Punters

PK John Carney, UFA New York Giants (Unsigned as of 3/3)    

PK Robbie Gould, UFA Chicago Bears  (Re-Signed w/ Bears)

**PK Shayne Graham, UFA Cincinnati Bengals (Franchised)

P Craig Hentrich, UFA Tennessee Titans (Unsigned as of 3/3)    

PK John Kasay, UFA Carolina Panthers (Unsigned as of 3/3)    

**P Michael Koenen, UFA Atlanta Falcons (Franchised)

P Sam Koch, RFA Baltimore Ravens (Tendered by Ravens)

PK Mike Nugent, UFA New York Jets (Signed w/ Buccaneers)

PK Matt Stover, UFA Baltimore Ravens (Unsigned as of 3/3)      

 

 

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)