Since a lot of people in the league felt Tom Modrak was pretty much living on borrowed time since Buddy Nix took over as general manager last year, there was not a lot of surprise this week when the Buffalo Bills dismissed their vice president of college scouting, as part of a remaking of the club's personnel department. But the dismissal of Modrak, a 34-year NFL veteran, probably ends one of the best, if unheralded league careers as a talent evaluator.
In his stints with the Steelers and Eagles, before joining then-Buffalo general manager Tom Donahoe with the Bills, Modrak helped assemble several outstanding draft classes. He was one of the top "diggers" in the league, all the while maintaining a low-key and even-keeled style, and probably never got the credit he deserved.
A few years ago, Modrak seemed to be in favor with Buffalo owner Ralph Wilson, but he took the brunt of the blame for some mediocre drafts the past few seasons, like the choice of end/linebacker Aaron Maybin in 2009, and last week paid the price. The odds are that Modrak will retire, perhaps do some part-time bird-dogging for a team, but the truth is that the league will be the lesser if he departs entirely.
Pittsburgh officials appear very confident that the club will be able to retain pending unrestricted free agent Ike Taylor, clearly the Steelers' top cornerback, but it's difficult to fathom the origins of that assuredness. For all of his perceived deficiencies in coverage, Taylor figures to have a pretty healthy market for his services, once free agency begins, even in a fairly average pool of players.
CB Ike Taylor
Timothy T. Ludwig/US Presswire
It will not be surprising, given the pricey contract extension Oakland awarded Stanford Routt two months ago, if Taylor draws offers of $9 million per year or more. It will be surprising, though, if the Steelers go to such levels to compete with that kind of money.
This marks the third straight season in which Pittsburgh chose at least one cornerback in the draft - taking Curtis Brown of Texas in the third round and The Citadel's Cortez Allen in the fourth - but none of the youngsters has yet to play well. One of them, Joe Burnett, is no longer with the team.
There's not much after veterans Bryant McFadden and William Gay, both of whom struggled in 2010, and losing Taylor would leave a considerable void. But, its confidence aside, Pittsburgh sure looks like it will lose the eight-year veteran, who will be eligible for unrestricted free agency no matter the resolution of the CBA.
Noted football factories Bethel (defensive lineman Michael Jasper), California, Pa. (cornerback Tommie Campbell), Florida A&M (Holcomb), Hampton (Ellis), Lehigh (guard Will Rackley), Montana (safety Jimmy Wilson), Montana State (offensive lineman Michael Person), Mount Union (wide receiver Cecil Shorts), Portland State (tight end Julius Thomas), Tennessee-Chattanooga (cornerback Buster Skrine), The Citadel (cornerback Cortez Allen), Slippery Rock (center Brandon Fusco), and Yale (fullback Shane Bannon), each had as many players drafted last weekend as powerhouse Notre Dame (tight end Kyle Rudolph).
--Ravens officials concede the team took a chance on drafting talented but troubled cornerback Jimmy Smith in the first round. They are confident, though, that the team's veteran makeup, and the locker room presence of established elder statesmen like Lewis and others will benefit the rookie cornerback.
--The Raiders certainly embrace the "need for speed" axiom: The choice of Miami cornerback Demarcus Van Dyke in the third round made it three straight years in which Oakland has taken the player who clocked the fastest 40-yard time at the combine. Van Dyke covered 40 yards in 4.28 seconds. In 2009, the Raiders picked wide receiver Jacoby Ford (4.22), and in 2008, the first-round selection was wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey (4.25).
--The selection of defensive tackle Marvin Austin the second round, potentially one of the draft's biggest steals, could prompt the New York Giants to consider offers for five-year veteran Barry Cofield. It remains to be seen just what Cofield's free agency status will be, pending a resolution of the CBA, but he was not all that happy when the team tendered him as a restricted free agent. Remember, the Giants had a trade all but completed with New Orleans last year, but Cofield foiled the deal when he balked at the contract the Saints were offering.
--Washington chose a league-high 12 players last weekend, the franchise's most picks since taking 12 in 1985, when the draft was 12 rounds. In the 17 seven-round drafts 1994-2010, Washington chose five or fewer prospects four times. They picked seven or more players just seven times.
--Congratulations to longtime buddy and player agent Joe Linta, named this week as head football coach at Linden Hall, a private school in Connecticut. Linta is a former coach who initially made his mark in the agent business by charging players an hourly rate, rather than a percentage, and has quietly become one of the NFL's top representatives. Coaches and scouts have gained a great appreciation for Linta's eye for talent, and his recommendation, based in large part on his coaching background.
--Congratulations, too, to good buddy Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, for his selection as the McCann Award winner by the Pro Football Writers. McGinn, who has covered the Packers for 32 years, has long been the best and most diligent beat writer in the country. Grabbed by Jacksonville in the fourth round, Shorts was the highest Division II player taken since Tennessee drafted Wisconsin-Stout cornerback Tony Beckham in 2002, also in the fourth round.
--It was noted in this space several weeks ago that Fox would make a big push to land potential Carolina unrestricted free agent Charles Johnson, who registered 11 1/2 sacks at left end in 2010. But with the choice of Von Miller with the second overall pick in the first round last week, that seems less likely. Miller will probably play the strong-side spot in Fox's 4-3, but the Broncos seem satisfied with the undersized pair of Elvis Dumervil and Robert Ayers, both linebackers in the 3-4, at end. Fox, who has had success in the past in getting solid production from undersized ends, is focusing in on improving a pass rush that generated only 23 sacks in 2010.
--While the Broncos seem to have cooled on the potential pursuit of Johnson, don't rule out the Atlanta Falcons if the CBA permits the four-year veteran to become an unrestricted player. Last week, The Sports Xchange identified Minnesota veteran Ray Edwards as the defender Atlanta had tabbed as its most preferred free agent target - provided, again, that Edwards is unrestricted - but Johnson is the Falcons' fall-back guy at left end.
--Tampa Bay has no plans for future knee surgery to address the knee problems of second-round pick and possible draft steal Da'Quan Bowers. But some Bucs officials feel that the former Clemson standout defensive end will be used more as a situational rusher, than an every-down player, as a rookie.
--With the switch back to a 4-3 in 2010, a lot of NFL observers are curious to see just how the Cleveland Browns use first-rounder Phil Taylor, the former Baylor behemoth a lot of scouts felt was best suited to the 3-4 nose tackle spot. The Browns, however, feel that Taylor and incumbent nose tackle Ahtyba Rubin will transition well to the 4-3 and provide solid inside push.
The last word
"Hey, he deserved every bit of it." –Philadelphia quarterback Michael Vick, on the death of Osama bin Laden
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.