TSX: Around the League

Len Pasquarelli discusses the crushing loss of Junior Seau, the myriad problems revolving around the New Orleans Saints, the injury to Baltimore LB Terrell Suggs, free agent RB Ryan Grant and more.

There is no denying the tragic nature of the death of linebacker Junior Seau on Wednesday afternoon, but the media, as it has done so far, needs to continue to practice the responsibility demonstrated to date, and to keep tapping the brakes on any rush to judgment about the potential role of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) on his suicide.

Chances are that head trauma, and the ancillary ramifications of it, played some element in Seau's decision to end his life at age 43. But the results of potential brain trauma -- even with the presence of CTE expert and forensic pathologist Bennett Omalu in San Diego for the Thursday autopsy -- may not be confirmed for months.

In the meantime, several sources close to Seau told The Sports Xchange over the past two days that the 20-year veteran linebacker had long ridden a financial roller coaster, that investment decisions frequently impacted him, and that late in his career, he was often delinquent in commission payments to representatives and in arrears on other fiscal responsibilities.

It would be irresponsible to conclude what weight those carried on any individual. And there's no reason for conjecture on whether such things prompted Seau's suicide, the same way it would be to suggest with any degree of certainty that 20 seasons of violent concussions did. Of course, given recent events and the enhanced knowledge with which pathologists now operate, it will also not be surprising if the head trauma played a part in Seau's death.

Now that his family has opted to donate his brain for research, experts should be able to determine the answer.

But Seau had other ancillary concerns as a compelling if unwanted element to his post-NFL life, too, and, while the easy conclusion anymore is to blame CTE, everyone would do well to wait for the results.

--There is still much work to be done, but federal sources told The Sports Xchange this week that it might be difficult, although not yet deemed impossible, for investigators to uncover any substantial evidence against New Orleans general manager Mickey Loomis in the ongoing "eavesdropping" case that was initiated by a state police and FBI task force.

A federal source not directly involved in the case, but familiar with the charges and the work accomplished to this point, said that it "might be problematic" for the evidence to rise to the level necessary to bring action against the general manager.

As a matter of course, federal authorities typically do not bring charges unless the evidence is solid enough to provide them a strong case of conviction. It is not known how the state police, who according to Louisiana law have jurisdiction any wiretap-related situations in the state, operate.

Loomis, of course, has denied the existence of a mechanism that allegedly allowed him to monitor the game-day transmissions of opponent coaches.

--For now, Baltimore officials are taking linebacker Terrell Suggs at his word, that he sustained an Achilles injury that could be season-ending (despite his contention that he will play in 2012) while doing conditioning work.

But once the dust settles, and the stunned Ravens determine how to replace the 2011 defensive player of the year in their lineup, team officials will dig deeper for answers.

The initial rumor was that Suggs sustained the injury while playing basketball, an offseason exercise he has frequently used in the past, but one he has denied in connection to the latest injury.

The Ravens' organization will do a lot more background work because the ramifications of the injury, in addition to leaving the club without one of its star defenders, impact Suggs' 2012 salary as well.

As for replacing Suggs, team sources told The Sports Xchange Thursday night that the Ravens won't make any "rash" moves, but will monitor the progress of younger players first.

And educated guess is that Baltimore will use a combination of three-year veteran Paul Kruger, rookie Courtney Upshaw, and second-year pro Pernell McPhee. Between them, McPhee and Kruger had 11.5 sacks in 2011, but that was as situational defenders.

--The possibility that New York Jets vice president of college scouting Joey Clinkscales will be reunited with longtime friend and new Oakland general manager Reggie McKenzie, much rumored last week, may still be a possibility.

Clinkscales, who has held his current position for four years, said late in the week that he "expects to remain" with the Jets, instead of joining McKenzie with the Raiders.

But the Raiders haven't abandoned the pursuit of Clinkscales, who is widely respected around the league and who interviewed earlier this year for the general manager post in St. Louis, and the statement on his future may have been more a matter of semantics than anything else.

League sources indicated that Clinkscales has a month or two remaining on his New York contract, that the Jets have approached him about an extension and he has declined, and that he will be a free agent, able to bolt to the Raiders, when the current pact expires.

The Raiders have hired former Green Bay assistant college director Shaun Herock to spearhead their college efforts, but the move will not preclude an addition of Clinkscales, who would have a bigger title in Oakland, from making a move. Herock was hired, not instead of Clinkscales, but potentially in addition to him. McKenzie had planned to bring Herock aboard, no matter what ensued with the Clinkscales pursuit.

--There have been reports that Green Bay tailback Ryan Grant is in negotiations with the Detroit Lions -- and an agreement could be finalized shortly -- but things remain quiet for most unrestricted free agent tailbacks even after the draft.

Veteran runners such as Cedric Benson, Jackie Battle, Joseph Addai and Tim Hightower haven't heard from many clubs, some of whom were expected to add runners after the lottery.

Hightower and Addai recently auditioned in New England, but there hasn't been any hard feedback from Patriots' officials. Battle appeared to be in demand early in the free agency process, but the market seems to have gone away from him.

With 19 tailbacks chosen in the draft, and the trend toward selecting younger players at a position noted for its short shelf-life, veteran backs may be forced to sign one-year, minimum salary contracts, if they are even offered deals at all.

--There are only three of the 42 original restricted free agents who have not se-signed with their incumbent teams -- Baltimore cornerback Ladarius Webb inked a five-year, $50 million extension and everyone else agreed to a one-year tender -- and the number figures to be reduced to one next week.

Pittsburgh wide receiver Mike Wallace is probably the most notable remaining restricted free agent without a deal and has said, even though the offer sheet period has expired and his exclusive rights have reverted to the Steelers, that he will not sign until he has to.

The reasons why Oakland defensive lineman Desmond Bryant has not signed his tender are unclear.

That leaves Ravens' cornerback Cary Williams, who figures to sign the one-year, $1.927 million tender this week, according to agent Marc Lillibridge. The two sides had been discussing a long-term contract for Williams, plucked by the Ravens from the Tennessee practice squad in 2009, but that may not happen now.

"The odds are that he'll sign the tender, play the season under the one-year deal, and then we'll both see what happens," Lillibridge told The Sports Xchange. "I think they want to see what they've got in (2011 first-round cornerback) Jimmy Smith before they make another big move. And that's fine with us."

Unlike with Wallace, the fact Williams has not signed his tender has nothing to do with his unhappiness with the club, but rather injury and logistics.

Williams, who started all 16 regular-season games and two playoff contests, underwent hip surgery after the season, has been rehabilitating in Tennessee, and unable to participate in any offseason workouts.

Said Lillibridge: "(Coach John) Harbaugh knew the story, understood that Cary would not be able to do anything, and was fine with that."

Williams is a great story, given his practice squad background, the fact he had started just one game prior to winning the starting job in Baltimore last year, and his newfound value in a league that places a premium on cover cornerbacks.

How valuable he is could be tested next spring, if he becomes an unrestricted free agent, which Lillibridge feels can happen if Smith plays well. Notably, Lllibridge and Harold Lewis represented Webb for his new $50 million contract, so they are familiar with the cornerback market.

--It's been a theme often repeated in this space, but this year's draft again magnified the diminished profile of the historically black colleges and universities in the NFL draft, with just one player, South Carolina State safety Christian Thompson being chosen last weekend.

The selection of Thompson, by Baltimore in the fourth round (130th overall), represented the fewest prospects from HBCU programs since the NFL implemented the common draft in 1967.

Talent evaluators, the latest being Ravens director of player personnel Eric DeCosta, insist their scouts spend just as much time at the HBCU schools as everywhere else. DeCosta's boss, general manager Ozzie Newsome has several times told The Sports Xchange the same thing. But there just don't seem to be as many "draftable" prospects at the schools as in the HBCU heyday, when the programs regularly produced a couple dozen candidates.

"It's still football," said Thompson, who began his college career at Auburn before transferring, "but you've got to really be good to be noticed."

In the last five years now, only 16 players from HBCU programs have been chosen, and the schools haven't reached double-digit prospects since 2000.

There have been just three HBCU players above the fourth round in the last five drafts.

In late February, The Sports Xchange noted that just two players from black schools, Thompson and Hampton cornerback Micah Pellerin, had been invited to the combine. Pellerin signed this week with Indianapolis as an undrafted free agent.

--Through Friday morning, two choices from last weekend's draft, wide receivers Alshon Jeffery (Chicago) and Stephen Hill (New York Jets), already had signed their initial NFL contracts. Both players are second-rounders, but that is coincidental only, and rookie signings in general likely will be much quicker this year.

This is the second year of the new CBA and the rookie wage scale means there is very little wiggle room for agents to negotiate -- indeed, top overall selection Andrew Luck probably get a deal with the exact same signing bonus ($14.518 million) as Cam Newton, the first pick in 2011 -- and so there isn't much reason to wait.

That Jeffery was the first player in the league to agree to terms from among the 253 players chosen in the draft shouldn't be too surprising.

Bears' senior director of football administration Cliff Stein, a onetime agent who has worked both sides of the bargaining table, annually is among the first in the league to have his entire rookie class under contract.

Word is that Stein has set mid-May as his target date for having all six of the Chicago picks completed, and no one should bet against him.

--When the Pittsburgh Steelers selected Florida tailback Chris Rainey in the fifth round last weekend, the 159th prospect chosen overall, some people rationalized the pick by noting that new offensive coordinator Todd Haley had a similarly versatile player, Dexter McCluster on the roster when he was the Kansas City head coach.

But Pittsburgh sources insist that Haley didn't lobby for Rainey, arguably one of the fastest players in the draft, even though the onetime Gators standout doesn't exactly fit the typical physical profile for a Steelers' running back.

Rainey is just 5-feet-8 3/8 and 180 pounds, and doesn't run all that tough between the tackles, the antithesis of what Pittsburgh usually is seeking. And while McCluster averaged 8.8 "touches" per game in the 27 contests he played while Haley was coach, with 6.26 of them from scrimmage, the coach sometimes struggled to get the ball to the do-it-all back.

McCluster scored only twice from scrimmage under Haley's stewardship and he struggled with ball security, fumbling six times and losing four of them.

As a return man, he averaged only a modest 22.2 yards on kickoffs, and while better on punts (13.8-yard average) had just 18 runbacks.

Word is that the Steelers, who figure to go with Isaac Redman if starter Rashard Mendenhall isn't fully recovered from knee surgery, were seeking a big-play back. That's out of character for the Pittsburgh offense, at least the old one. Haley might bring some fresh ideas to the Steelers, but he'd also better devise a way to get the ball in Rainey's hands.

Punts

-Pre-draft visits with teams, over which some of the media obsesses, may be important, but of the 32 first-rounders in the 2012 lottery, only 15 visited prior to the draft with the franchises that chose them. Only one of the final 10 players chosen in the opening round met before the draft with the club that selected him.

-The aforementioned Thompson, who dined this spring with Ravens' free safety Ed Reed, to soak up some of his wisdom, could end up being the backup to the eight-time Pro Bowl defender. Thompson has good size (6-0 1/2, 211), speed (4.47) and range, and the Ravens are in need of depth. The team lost a pair of safeties in free agency, including the versatile Tom Zbikowski, and Reed and fellow starter Bernard Pollard are each in their final contract years.

-Tampa Bay continues to add defensive tackle help, on Thursday signing unrestricted free agent Gary Gibson, a former starter in St, Louis, and the Bucs certainly have made an effort to bolster an inside position ravaged the past two seasons by injuries to Gerald McCoy and Brian Price. The Bucs' first- and second-round choices, respectively, in 2010, McCoy and Price were supposed to cement the position for the long haul. Because of injuries, though, the two have combined for only 33 of a potential 64 starts in two seasons. The Bucs already had Roy Miller, who started 16 games in 2010, and has filled in admirably the past two years. They added former first-round pick Amobi Okoye, released by Chicago in the offseason, but with 59 career starts. And now Gibson, who started 16 games two years ago, is on board. Certainly, the Bucs have been diligent about addressing the position.

-While the Bucs keep adding tackles, defensive interior players continue to wait for the phone to ring. Among the tackles released during the offseason who have garnered little interest are Albert Haynesworth, Anthony Adams, Fred Robbins and Remi Ayodele. All want to play in 2012.

-Odds are that cornerback Drew Coleman, released by Jacksonville on Thursday after only one season with the team, will re-join the Jets, for whom he played previously. But New York has some competition for Coleman, who has developed into a very good slot corner and blitzer off the edge. Likewise, there is early interest by several teams in nine-year veteran corner Drayton Florence, released by Buffalo on Thursday night. Florence has started 10 or more games in six of his nine seasons.

-On the subject of corners, Atlanta, which added Asante Samuel the day before the draft began, will use Dunta Robinson more as a slot corner than in the past. In three-corner situations, Samuel and Brent Grimes will play outside, with Robinson moving inside.

-Arizona will give fourth-round draft choice Bobby Massie, the offensive tackle from Mississippi what one coach termed "a very, very fair shot" to win a starting job on its suspect offensive line. Massie was considered at worst a mid-second round pick before the draft, but slipped badly. The Falcons thought long and hard about choosing Massie in the third round, but opted instead for a guy from a smaller school in Mississippi, Lester Holmes of Southern Mississippi.

-Hill, by the way, is expected to be an immediate starter for the Jets, perhaps even before first-round defensive end Quinton Coples. New York sorely needs the vertical dimension the former Georgia Tech star offers.

-Last weekend's draft included seven quarterbacks chosen in the first three rounds, including four in the first round, for the second year in a row. But there were only three quarterbacks tabbed in the final three rounds, the fewest since 1998, and, to some personnel directors, that was an indication of how the position has become so inflated by need.

-Seattle, by the way, doesn't plan to install a very ambitious rollout package designed for draft choice Russell Wilson, whose lack of physical dimension (5-feet-10 5/8, 204 pounds) scared off some potential suitors. Coach Pete Carroll claimed that Wilson had just four passes deflected at the line of scrimmage in 2011, and worked principally from the pocket. There are skeptics in the league, though, that wonder about the vision hurdles that Wilson will face.

The last word: "The average person wouldn't even be on this call." -- Seahawks first round defensive end/linebacker Bruce Irvin, on a draft night conference call with Seattle-area reporters, explaining the travails with which he was faced before he turned around his life.


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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