Tip sheet: McDonald has attention of NFL GMs

Len Pasquarelli's weekly tip sheet finds potential 49ers free agent Ray McDonald getting call-back attention from a handful of general managers around the NFL to go along with loads of other information and tidibts from around the league.

After the tip sheet referred last week to a handful of four-year veterans who might get surprisingly good play as unrestricted free agents, a number of league general managers called to mention another: Niners defensive end Ray McDonald.

A third-round draft pick by San Francisco in 2007, McDonald has only nine starts in four seasons, but he's just 26 years old, and the onetime Florida standout is a solid 3-4 end.

McDonald was an integral part of San Francisco's defensive line rotation last year, which was perhaps his best season. He finished the year with 57 tackles and was second on the team with 56 quarterback pressures and 26 quarterback hits.

Coincidentally, McDonald told The Sacramento Bee this week that he wants to get to a situation where he can start. There is divided opinion regarding whether McDonald is of starter quality for the defensive scheme the 49ers plan to run. While he has been a solid pass rusher in the 3-4 scheme, some believe he'd have trouble holding up against the run as an every-down player.

At 290 pounds, McDonald might be better suited at end in a 4-3 scheme, and several teams that run that scheme could come calling with attractive offers for his services while also promising him a shot to compete for a starting role.

That shot also could come from the 49ers, particularly if nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin departs and starting left end Isaac Sopoaga slides over into the middle.

McDonald has been clear that he wants to remain with the 49ers, but now it looks like the team will have some competition for his services if he indeed hits the open market once the lockout ends.

Small-market Brown coming around?

For years, Cincinnati owner Mike Brown has been a whipping boy for critics of the Bengals, and those who skewer the franchise for a perception of years of penurious spending habits. To suggest that outsiders consider Brown and the Bengals as cheap would be a gross understatement.

But Brown, who was one of only two owners to vote against the expired collective bargaining agreement in 2006 (Buffalo's Ralph Wilson was the other), looked a lot smarter when, just two years after approving the labor deal, league owners voted unanimously to opt out of it. And he might be slowly changing his perceived stance on the NFL's latest supposed proposal, unveiled on Tuesday to owners.

The widely held assumption has been that Brown, because he is a small-market owner, might oppose many of the financial tenets that were presented Tuesday to owners in Chicago as the possible foundation for an agreement. But word from the meeting, where there was admittedly little leakage about the sentiments of some individual owners, is that Brown is actually on the fence about several of the elements of a possible accord.

According to the presumptive details first reported by Chris Mortensen of ESPN, and subsequently confirmed by several owners, one of the proposed stipulations is that clubs spend close to 100 percent of a year's salary cap "FLOOR" number in terms of real payroll. The spending floor would be about 90-93 percent of the total cap limit. And, of interest – and, frankly, surprise – to many of his critics, Brown already has done so.

Unlike many of his free-spending peers, Brown and the Bengals don't believe in investing future money. The collective mindset of the Bengals is to prefer a "pay as you go" philosophy, one that attempts to avoid so-called "dead money." It might surprise a lot of people, but Cincinnati often comes closer to the cap, in terms of actual payroll, than some franchises with higher cap numbers.

According to several owners with whom The Sports Xchange spoke after the meeting's adjournment Tuesday, there seemed to be less opposition than had been portrayed by the media before the caucus. One suggested that, based on his unofficial "nose count," there was nothing close to the nine opposition votes it would take to scuttle a deal.

Of course, as commissioner Roger Goodell pointed out and owners emphasized – and NFLPA executive director De Smith noted in a conference call to player reps later in the week – there remains considerable work to be accomplished.

Just in terms of the practical work involved – committing an agreement from a handshake to contract language, having attorneys review the pact, ensuring court approval and having the rank-and-file vote on an accord – is time consuming. But there may not be as many owner/roadblocks as people thought there might be.

None of that is to suggest that Brown's "no" vote of 2006 will turn into a "yes" five years later, but it might.

Not going campin'

The first shoe fell Wednesday, when the Baltimore Ravens regrettably announced that they will not convene training camp this summer at McDaniel College in nearby Westminster, Md. The Jets followed suit with the news that they will hold camp at the Atlantic health Jets Training Center rather than at SUNY Cortland, where they have held training camp the past two years.

Expect a few more clodhoppers to hit the floor in the next few weeks. Even though there is optimism in the labor talks, some clubs are already perilously close to "drop dead" dates for having camps at smaller colleges, where roughly half the league's 32 franchises train in the summer.

At least three more teams, The Sports Xchange has confirmed, are within two weeks of taking the same step the Ravens enacted this week. The city of Westminster will suffer, by the town's accounts, a $2.2 million hit. The Sports Xchange hasn't reached representatives for all of the cities or college in peril of losing camps, but the going rate for lost revenues seems to start at seven figures.

Another ramification of the Ravens not going to McDaniel College is that some fans will be unable to see the club in workouts. Roads leading to the team's Owings Mills complex can't accommodate the traffic typical for camp. So fans will either see the team in preseason, in one of the workouts at M&T Bank Stadium (the number may be increased), or not at all.

Tutoring Pryor

Former Cincinnati quarterback Ken Anderson (1971-86), who retired completely from the game after a three-year stint as a Pittsburgh Steelers' assistant (2007-2009), has gotten a lot of ink this spring as a potential candidate for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But it could be in another role – possibly as the one-on-one coach who prepares former Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor for his exposure to the NFL scouts before the supplemental draft – that merits Anderson almost as much attention.

Anderson is one of several candidates under strong consideration, The Sports Xchange has learned, to work with Pryor on the physical side of his game. The possible short-list of personal tutors also includes George Whitfield, the passing-games expert who prepped top overall pick Cam Newton for the combine and the draft.

There are some other names being recommended to agent Drew Rosenhaus, including one who was an offensive coordinator for a team in 2010, and it's expected a decision will come in the next week or so.

As for Anderson's Hall of Fame pursuit, the onetime Bengals star is in his first year of eligibility as a seniors candidate, a status that might actually help his cause. Members of the seniors subcommittee of the selection board will meet in Canton in August to choose the two seniors finalists for the ballot. Anderson is the only man in NFL history to win four league passing titles who is not in the Canton shrine.

More Pryor

In case readers missed it, The Sports Xchange reported on Wednesday night that longtime NFL personnel director Ken Herock would meet with Pryor in South Florida by the end of the week. The two men had dinner on Wednesday and then had a long one-on-one session Thursday in which Herock helped to ready Pryor for interviews in advance of the supplemental draft.

In his retirement, Herock has founded a company, ProPrep, which counsels draft prospects on what to expect from the interview process. Herock always declines to comment on players with whom he works, but early indications are that Pryor impressed him with his demeanor and his knowledge of the game.

Pryor continues to work out with a number of other clients represented by agent Drew Rosenhaus, including wide receivers like Chad Ochocinco, Plaxico Burress, Antonio Brown and Donte Stallworth. His Thursday workout is said to have been very impressive, and he demonstrated a surprisingly quick release. Of course, it might not have hurt that Pryor was throwing alongside Pittsburgh quarterback Byron Leftwich. The eight-year veteran is a tremendous guy, a real gentleman, but has always been known for having an elongated delivery.

Deja view

The revelation that owners want the ability to have a right of first refusal on some pending unrestricted players, as reported by ESPN and Howard Balzer of The Sports Xchange, is strangely reminiscent of Oakland owner Al Davis' stance in 1993. Davis argued that every team should annually have 4-5 franchise tags at their disposal, and his stance probably delayed the CBA agreement for a while.

Despite his legion critics, Davis has been a league visionary, but he was wrong about that one. Most clubs don't even employ the one franchise designation at their disposal. The concept isn't likely to fly. Nor is an argument that clubs should be able to get a "second bite" at applying the franchise marker to four- or five-year veterans that they didn't tag back in February at the deadline.

Bulg(er)ing with competiveness

Pending free agent quarterback Marc Bulger has been consistent during the offseason in not addressing rumors about where he might play in 2011, and even remained mum last week when Kurt Warner suggested that, at this point in his career, the 11-year veteran might be content to simply be a backup.

But people close to the 34-year-old Bulger, whose father was an old high school classmate of yours truly, took some umbrage at Warner's remarks.

"He still has the fire to play," said one member of the Bulger camp. "Last year, when he didn't get off the bench (in Baltimore), it wasn't like he got completely cozy with being the No. 2 guy. The situation, though, will have to be the right one."

The last part of the equation – identifying a spot where Bulger would be able to compete for a starting job – might be the hardest. The dearth of quality quarterbacks in the NFL aside, there simply aren't a ton of starting jobs available. The Tip Sheet reported two months ago that Arizona would be Bulger's most logical landing spot – and cited some reports that a few NFL officials actually felt there might be an "understanding" between the two parties – but other media reports have linked the Cardinals to a trade for Philadelphia backup Kevin Kolb.

Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt recently suggested that he preferred to get a younger veteran quarterback, so he might not be in the market for an older guy like Bulger. But people close to Bulger continue to insist that he still retains a competitive streak and has not just settled in to a No. 2 quarterback mentality.


--- The inclusion of four-year veterans as unrestricted free agents would really enhance the depth of the wide receiver pool, with guys such as Steve Breaston (Arizona), James Jones (Green Bay), Sidney Rice (Minnesota), Mike Sims-Walker (Jacksonville), and Steve Smith (N.Y. Giants). That's especially true if Smith, one of the league's best third-down receivers, is healthy. The 49ers could be in the market to add another young veteran receiver who could push starters Michael Crabtree and Josh Morgan and, particularly, No. 3 receiver Ted Ginn.

--- RIP Clarence Clemons, aka "The Big Man," the Bruce Springsteen sidekick and saxophonist who died this week after battling two recent strokes. A standout center and defensive end at Maryland State, now Maryland-Eastern Shore, Clemons was to have a tryout with Cleveland in the early 1960s when an automobile accident and knee injury ended his football career. "God had another plan for me," Clemons, a longtime NFL fan, told The Cleveland Plain Dealer a few months ago.

--- When it was mentioned to a Detroit operative that some people scoffed when it was noted in this space that the Lions considered it a priority to extend the contract of left tackle Jeff Backus, who will be 34 in September, the club official replied: "Two words. Chad Clifton." The 11-year veteran Clifton, 35, was thought to be on his way out in Green Bay before the start of the '10 season, but played well for the Super Bowl-champion Packers last season.

--- It has been noted in this space that there is only one Nnamdi Asomugha and that, in lieu of pursuing the former Oakland star, teams might be inclined to target Pittsburgh's Ike Taylor in what is perceived as a weak free agent cornerback market. Include Johnathan Joseph of the Bengals as a corner apt to get a lot of play as well, personnel directors say. The big problem for Joseph has always been his health, but the consensus is that someone will overpay for the former first-rounder. If they decide not to retain veteran Nate Clements, the 49ers will be looking for a starting cornerback and could be in line to make an offer to one of the top performers at that position in free agency.

The last word

"How can marriage be marriage for thousands of years and now, all of a sudden, because a minority, an influential minority, has a push or an agenda, and totally reshapes something that was not founded in our country? It's something that's holy and sacred and I think there's nothing more honorable than fighting for it. If (the New York state legislature) passes this bill ... what I know will happen if this comes forth is, this will be the beginning of our country sliding toward, it's a strong word, but anarchy. That will be the moment when our country in itself loses its grip with what's right. I do believe that there is right and wrong. I do believe there is good and evil. ... (But) marriage is one of those things that is the backbone of society. So, if you redefine it, that changes the way we educate our children, it changes the perception of what is good, what is right, what is just." – Former New York Giants wide receiver David Tyree, on same-sex marriages

Len Pasquarelli is a Senior NFL Writer for The Sports Xchange. He has covered the NFL for 33 years and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee. His NFL coverage earned recognition as the winner of the McCann Award for distinguished reporting in 2008

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