In the seemingly never-ending game of connect-the-dots, rumors continue that Philadelphia will be a real player in the anticipated trade market for Washington defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth after the lockout.
The rationale isn't just based on the Eagles' need for a dominating interior force, and a perception that Philly front office/general manager Howie Roseman is ready to go big in terms of making veteran additions via free agency or trade, but that a reunion of Haynesworth with former defensive line chief Jim Washburn could be the kick in the butt the talented but underachieving tackle needs to resuscitate his career.
Haynesworth played the first seven seasons of his career under Washburn in Tennessee. Now, Washburn, a throwback-type coach who gets great results, has been hired by Andy Reid.
While the Haynesworth-Washburn rumors prevail, here's another, perhaps more realistic, connect-the-dots name to tie to the Eagles: free agent defensive end Jason Babin. The seven-year veteran notched 12.5 sacks playing for Washburn and the Titans in 2010. Babin, 31, never had more than five sacks in a season until 2010.
The Eagles could use a pass rusher from the left side - and despite being undersized for the position, Babin started 16 games at left end in '10, and held up surprisingly well versus the run - almost as much as they need a play-making tackle.
Philly's top three left ends in 2010 combined for 12 sacks. The best of the bunch, Juqua Parker, is 33 years old and, while a try-hard defender, doesn't anchor against the run very well. Reid this week confirmed what everyone had pretty much expected, that 2010 first-rounder Brandon Graham won't be ready for camp, maybe not for the start of the season, because of knee surgery.
Since 2002, only one Philadelphia player besides right end Trent Cole has registered double-digit sacks. That was end Darren Howard, who had 10 sacks in 2008, but at least half of those came when he moved inside to tackle on third down. Philadelphia had only 39 sacks last season, its fewest since 2007. Haynesworth would fit much better into the Eagles' 4-3 front than the 3-4 the Redskins employ, and the Donovan McNabb trade last year showed that the two NFC East rivals can, indeed, do trade business, but taking on Haynesworth and his contract would be a big gamble. Babin better fits the character and hustle paradigm the Eagles gave laid out.
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As noted in a column by The Sports Xchange earlier this week, one of the ironies of the lockout is some endangered coaches might get a reprieve from the hot seat from owners who might be especially reluctant to make a switch after such a tumultuous stretch. That said, the fate of Houston's Gary Kubiak will be interesting to monitor.
Kubiak is going into his sixth season with the Texans, has never qualified for the playoffs and has only one winning record, despite being a chic playoff pick each of the past couple years. Only three other coaches in modern NFL history - Bart Starr (Green Bay), Jack Patera (Seattle) and Norv Turner (Washington) - failed to earn a postseason berth in their first five seasons with their teams and returned for a sixth year.
There were a lot of pundits who suggested near the end of last season that Houston owner Bob McNair would give Kubiak the pointed-toe boot, and it didn't happen. In essence, Kubiak got a mulligan.
It will be interesting to see if McNair is as patient, and grants Kubiak a do-over, if the Texans don't carve out a playoff spot in 2011. Even in the midst of a news slowdown because of the lockout, there are some rumblings McNair won't be as understanding.
Kubiak made headlines this week because he and Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt will travel to the Persian Gulf to visit U.S. troops there. It's a tremendous gesture on Kubiak's part, but goodwill might not be enough to overcome a bad record in 2011.
Only once in Kubiak's tenure, his first season of 2006, have the Texans failed to rank in the top half of the NFL offensively; and they have been in the top four each of the past three seasons. Only once since Kubiak became head coach, though, has Houston rated higher than 22nd on defense. The team brought in Wade Phillips to fix a unit that was rated No. 30 in 2010, and he could be Kubiak's salvation.
"He's here," said one coach when asked about some reports that Thomas -- who missed 10 games in 2010 because of an ankle injury, but who was the Saints' leading rusher in 2008 and 2009 - might now be expendable.
"We've seen firsthand that you can't have enough (backs)."
That said, the Saints have a real logjam at tailback, with Thomas, Ingram, Chris Ivory, Julius Jones and Lynell Hamilton, also returning from injury. And that doesn't even account for Reggie Bush, who sources from both sides still insist has a chance of returning to the club, despite a scheduled $11.8 million payout due in '11.
Thomas remains attractive to the Saints because, while not a great back, he is very good in the team's tailback-by-committee model, fits nicely into a scheme that is heavy in screen passes, and he's relatively cheap. The four-year extension he signed back in March is worth a modest $2.7 million per year and didn't include a signing bonus.
Of course, that could also make Thomas, who is due a $2.7 million roster bonus, attractive to other teams, if the Saints decided they wanted to deal him. But the club seems insistent that isn't the case.
Pants on fire
Great work by one of my several media alma maters, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, in determining that Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis was, uh, full of it when he suggested a few weeks ago that crime will increase if there is no season in 2011.
LB Ray Lewis
Mitch Stringer/US Presswire
In its Truth-O-Meter column, the AJC put Lewis' claims to the test, crunched some numbers and consulted with experts. The verdict: Lewis, who pleaded guilty to misdemeanor obstruction of justice charges in 2000 after being charged with a pair of homicides in Atlanta, was wrong. Any increase in crime when the NFL isn't playing is negligible.
The paper concluded that it "found no substantive evidence that Lewis has a point." The future Hall of Fame linebacker is, it appears, far better at ringing up tackle totals than he is crime stats.
Rumors aside, not a whole lot of substantive information about the details of a potential framework for a new CBA has leaked from the three week's worth of not-so-secret meetings between representatives from the NFL and its decertified players association. But there are rumblings that the guidelines for unrestricted free agency could be pushed back to the previous ones, which would mean a player would need four years - not the six accrued seasons stipulated in 2010 under the "uncapped year" rules - to become an unrestricted free agent.
Such a move would affect approximately 130 players and would dramatically alter the plans of many clubs toward free agency. Suddenly the unrestricted pool would include four-year veterans like tailback Ahmad Bradshaw; wide receivers Sidney Rice and Steve Smith (Giants); tight end Zach Miller (Oakland); offensive tackle Doug Free; guard Justin Blalock; center Ryan Kalil; defensive end Charles Johnson; defensive tackle Brandon Mebane; linebackers LaMarr Woodley and Stephen Nicholas; safeties Melvin Bullitt and Eric Weddle; and cornerback Josh Wilson.
Said one AFC personnel director, who believes the unrestricted limit will go back to four years, and who has evaluated all four-year veterans as if they will be unrestricted free agents (as have most franchises): "You're talking about a big jump in the caliber of the free agent class, believe me, if those (four-year) guys are in. A big jump."
A few other four-year veterans who are garnering interest as potential unrestricted free agents: Green Bay wide receiver James Jones, Atlanta guard Harvey Dahl, Carolina quarterback Matt Moore, Panthers defensive tackle Derek Landri, and Chicago cornerback Corey Graham.
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.