Losing cornerback Nate Clements, their best playmaker on defense, to the San Francisco Giants as an unrestricted free agent has put the Bills into full scramble mode.
Coach Dick Jauron said the team would turn over every stone to hopefully find his replacement, and he wasn't kidding.
Former Bill Nate Clements
The addition of seven-year veteran Jason Webster, a free agent bust with the Atlanta Falcons, is the latest move, albeit one with long odds.
But adding Webster, who has 73 starts in his career, 11 interceptions and 55 passes defended, does add more intrigue to what will easily be the most contested position in training camp this summer.
"It's a good team with a good offense and good defense. I'm just looking forward to being a part of it," said Webster after his first workout with the team at the start of organized team activities at Ralph Wilson Stadium. "I am coming here to do my best. Hopefully, my work ethic and my best will help the team."
The Bills figure they've got nothing to lose now that they've lost Clements.
The depth chart before Webster arrived included Terrence McGee holding down the left corner job, with Kiwaukee Thomas, Jabari Greer and second-year pro Ashton Youboty lining up to compete for Clements' old right corner spot.
While the Bills have high hopes for Youboty, the former Ohio State standout they drafted in the third round of 2006, Thomas and now Webster are the odds on favorites to emerge as the starter due to their experience.
With any luck, Webster will find his game and shake a bad injury bug that has dogged him in his new surroundings.
A second-round pick (48th overall) in the 2000 draft by San Francisco, Webster signed a huge free agent deal with Atlanta in 2004 worth $18 million over six years. But the 5-9, 187-pounder couldn't stay healthy and appeared in just 33 games with four interceptions in three seasons.
He had a good 2005 campaign with 91 tackles, but last year he appeared in just eight games due to a groin muscle tear. In fact, Webster hasn't played a complete season since 2002 with the 49ers.
The Falcons had seen enough and after drafting Chris Houston in the second round this spring, cut Webster lose to save paying the $2 million salary he was due.
It's believed that his deal with Buffalo is one year for not much more than the veteran minimum. It's up to Webster to earn his next big payday. He had an interception during Organized Team Activities that he returned for a touchdown.
"It's a privilege to be in the NFL; a real privilege," Webster said. "Tomorrow is not promised for anybody, so what I have learned is to take full advantage of today and not look at the past.
"Coming into the season, you don't expect to get cut. You want to be a part of a team and help that team do better. To not be a part of that is tough.
"You don't use it as the sole motivation, but it helps you understand where you're coming from and you want to build on what you've already started in the past."
--Coy Wire's switch from strong safety to outside linebacker appears complete. Even though he's just 6-foot, 220 pounds, the former Stanford LB is suited for Buffalo's Tampa 2 scheme that emphasizes athleticism and speed over size. "I'm definitely a linebacker within this scheme, and I feel real comfortable there," said Wire, who re-signed with Buffalo rather than test the free agent market. "I know my skills are more catered to this type of defense as a linebacker. It really plays to my abilities."
--The Bills signed WR Donovan Morgan, who spent part of 2006 on the Kansas Chiefs' practice squad. He's also been with Houston and the New York Jets and played Arena 2 football. He's 6-2, 195. The Bills are looking to add more size to a smallish receiving corps.
--RB Marshawn Lynch and LB Paul Posluszny ran with the second teams during Buffalo's first OTA, but don't be fooled. The coaches are playing politics with veterans while easing the two prized recruits into the pro game. If Anthony Thomas and John DiGiorgio are starters at RB and MLB, respectively, in Week One of the NFL season, not only would Buffalo's scouting be called into question, ticket buyers might revolt. Lynch and Posluszny looked like blue-chippers around the veterans but there's a lot to learn and sometimes the best way is by watching at first.
--As expected, the Bills had almost 100 percent participation in their first OTA, which is voluntary for veterans. Eighty of 84 players took part with the only vets staying away being DE Aaron Schobel and DT Darwin Walker. WR Scott Mayle and PK Chris Jackson were the only rookies missing. Both had good excuses. Mayle's exams weren't completed yet at Ohio University and Jackson starts at third base for the LSU baseball team.
--The Bills have lost national college scout Marc Ross, who left to become director of college scouting for the New York Giants. Ross worked for the Bills for three seasons. With the Giants, he'll be in charge of college scouting and running the team's draft, a nice promotion. "We liked Marc's skill set," GM Jerry Reese told Giants.com. "He has been a college scouting director. He was the youngest college director in the league when he was with the Philadelphia Eagles. So he understands the management and the dynamics of the department. Marc is an outstanding scout himself. We like that about him. All of the references that we called were very high on him. We think he is going to be a perfect fit for us." Said Ross: "I'm extremely excited about the opportunity to work with this organization and also work with Jerry. I hope I can be a part of getting this organization back to the Super Bowl."
THEY SAID IT: "In talking to the people who were pretty close to the draft, they were saying that I would go earlier than I wound up going, so those expectations were there. But the guys who make the mock drafts and the analysts aren't the guys actually doing the picking. I had that full awareness going into it. I'm thrilled to be in the position I'm in, playing for a coaching staff that wants me and a general manager that wants me." --Rookie QB Trent Edwards of Stanford, picked in the third round.
Miami's minicamp on June 8 will provide a good measuring stick as to where the team's quarterbacking situation stands.
In a perfect world for the Dolphins, a deal with Kansas City will be completed that would allow Trent Green to receive some critical off-season practice snaps with the team he ultimately plans to join for the 2007 campaign. Green is instead taking those snaps in Kansas City, where he reiterated again last Tuesday that he wants to play for the Dolphins.
Chiefs QB Green
Green said he believes the Chiefs' quarterback competition is skewed because of coach Herm Edwards' desire to make Brodie Croyle the starter. Green already agreed to contract parameters with the Dolphins after he was allowed to seek a trade in March that has failed to materialize because Miami and Kansas City are unhappy with the compensation being discussed.
"Because of my knowledge of the offense and the quarterbacks that are there and their knowledge of the offense, I just think that it would be a much more fair competition (with the Dolphins)," Green said after completing his first Chiefs Organized Team Activity practice.
In 2006, former Dolphins coach Nick Saban thought it was so important for a potential starting quarterback to receive offseason work with Miami's offense that he agreed to send what proved a fifth-round pick to Detroit for Joey Harrington, even though his release from the Lions was imminent because of salary cap reasons.
So where does this leave Daunte Culpepper? Although his departure seems imminent once Green is acquired, Culpepper said he should be healthy enough to participate in Miami's June minicamp.
Like Green with Kansas City, that would put the Dolphins in an awkward spot because Miami would be responsible for Culpepper's $5.5 million base salary in 2007 if he were injured in a mimicamp or OTA practice. Culpepper wasn't cleared to participate in Miami's April and May minicamps while he recovered from a second surgery performed on his problematic right knee.
Culpepper did work on a limited basis during a mid-May OTA session but was kept out of team drills.
Recently asked about his future with the Dolphins, Culpepper said, "The thing is I'm under contract. That's what I've been told and how I'm looking at it. Individually, I'm going to work to get better and mentally and physically get into the best shape I can and go from there.
"The main thing is to get as healthy as I possibly can before we do the bulk of the things we do out there. Every day is a small step forward. I feel a lot better than I did last year at this time."
--Strong safety Yeremiah Bell will have to prove he is worthy of a lucrative contract extension.
After agent Drew Rosenhaus was unable to hammer out a long-term deal with Miami management, Bell has signed his one-year, $1.3 million tender offer from the Dolphins.
Bell's penchant for big plays helped lead to improved play in Miami's secondary after he replaced Travares Tillman midway through the 2006 season. Bell had two forced fumbles, two fumbles recovered and two sacks along with 65 tackles. Plus, he was a core special teams player.
A sixth-round pick, Bell is the only remaining member of Miami's nine-player draft class in 2003 still on the roster.
--Quarterback Cleo Lemon is the only remaining restricted free agent who has not signed his tender offer. Like Bell, Lemon is in line for a one-year, $1.3 million contract.
Lemon has received the bulk of the snaps with the starting offense this offseason with Daunte Culpepper (knee) sidelined and Joey Harrington (Atlanta) being released early in the free-agent signing period.
--Wide receiver P.K. Sam is enjoying a standout season for Rhein in NFL Europa. Sam is second in the league in receiving yards (388) and also ranks near the top in catches (24) and touchdowns (three).
Defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson, a 2005 seventh-round pick, also is having a productive NFL Europa season with 18 tackles and 2.5 sacks in six games for Cologne.
--Dolphins coach Cam Cameron said CB Andre' Goodman isn't expected to practice again until training camp after recently undergoing shoulder surgery. DT Keith Traylor (ankle), DE Matt Roth (groin), RB Patrick Cobbs (hamstring) and Ts Anthony Alabi (knee) and Joe Toledo (foot) have been held out of some of the team's OTA sessions.
THEY SAID IT: "We've kind of moved on. Ricky is a good person. I can't judge that man. I just know you have to play by the rules in football ... I'm a little selfish because I would like him on the team. But I'm moving on and trying to worry about what we've got instead of going, 'Man,' every year. I'm not going to do that any more." -- Dolphins middle linebacker Zach Thomas on suspended running back Ricky Williams.
When Junior Seau came out of a temporary retirement to sign with the Patriots last August, many expected the future Hall of Fame linebacker to play a reserve role in New England. But the former Charger and Dolphin's contributions early last fall exceeded all expectations, as he started 10 of the first 11 games. Seau arguably served as Bill Belichick's most consistent linebacker before breaking his arm and ending up on injured reserve.
Buoyed with that knowledge that Seau seemingly still has plenty to offer a defense, the Patriots re-signed the 12-time Pro Bowler May 21 to return for an 18th NFL season. Seau inked a one-year deal for $1 million and could reportedly earn another $100,000 through incentives.
The 38-year-old recorded 70 tackles in 2006, ranking fifth on the team despite missing the final five games of the year after breaking his arm Nov. 26 against Chicago. In his 11 games last season he led the team in tackles twice. He also finished the year with one sack, three quarterback hits and a pass defensed.
Seau rejoins an aging but talented New England linebacking corps. New England added prized free agent Adalius Thomas this offseason and returns starters Tedy Bruschi, Rosevelt Colvin and Mike Vrabel. All four proven veterans will be past the age of 30 by the time opening day rolls around.
But with the return of Seau and addition of Thomas, New England's 3-4 base defense has something it lacked last fall -- depth, with five proven players to play four spots at linebacker. A year ago, unproven types like Tully Banta-Cain and Eric Alexander were thrust into the lineup at times for a unit that still ended up setting a franchise record for points allowed. Banta-Cain signed with the 49ers as a free agent this spring and Alexander returns for a special teams/reserve role.
Despite the elevated age that the top five linebackers bring with them to the depth chart, New England has arguably one of the most talented groups of linebackers in the game. If they can all avoid injury, the group should allow the ever creative Belichick to use the players in a variety of ways throughout the season, especially considering the impressive versatility that both Thomas and Vrabel bring to the position.
--CB Randall Gay re-signed with New England, finally inking his one-year, $1.3 million restricted free agent tender on May 24. The three-year veteran participated in Patriots organized team activities last week. Gay had visited with the Jets this spring, but New York never offered the former undrafted free agent a contract. Gay has missed the bulk of the last two seasons on injured reserve with ankle and hamstring issues, playing in just eight games. For his career 5-11, 190-pounder out of LSU has started 11 of 23 games played recording 50 tackles, two interceptions and two fumble recoveries.
--The Patriots released undrafted safety Denny Poland on May 20. The former Air Force defender had signed with the team as an undrafted free agent May 14 after impressing in a tryout during the team's rookie mini-camp May 12-13. Poland spent 2006 serving as a second lieutenant in the Air Force.
--In announcing his retirement and subsequent fall employment as an NFL analyst for ESPN former Jets, Cowboys, Buccaneers and Panthers wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson listed the Patriots among the teams that had shown interest in his receiving services this spring.
"Those guys were terrific, from Lane Kiffin to Bill Belichick to Jeff Fisher." Johnson said of the Oakland, New England and Tennessee coaches who were among a half-dozen teams to call the former No. 1 overall pick. "They all wanted me to play football for them. At the end of the day, it just didn't fit into what I wanted to do now."
Johnson reportedly agreed to a multi-year contract with ESPN to appear on multiple telecasts for the network.
--The Patriots are in the process of creating a new team Hall of Fame facility as part of a huge development project going on at Gillette Stadium. New England's Hall of Fame currently has 11 members led by Pro Football Hall of Famers John Hannah, Mike Haynes and Nick Buoniconti. Other members include AFL WR/K great Gino Cappelletti, LBs Andre Tippett and Steve Nelson and scrambling quarterback Steve Grogan. The last member inducted was tackle Bruce Armstrong in 2001.
Under guidelines the new four-story, $15 million facility will induct a new member each year. Candidates, players or coaches who've been out of the game for at least four years, will be nominated by a 27-man panel of media members and former players and then voted on by secret ballot to determine three finalists to be put to a fan vote via the team's website. This year's three finalists will be announced on Patriots.com on June 1 and the newest team Hall of Famer will be announced Aug. 1.
The modern, fan-friendly, state-of-the-art Patriots Hall of Fame and museum is currently under construction. "The Hall at Patriot Place is expected to open in the fall of 2008.
THEY SAID IT: "I'd have no problem having him baby-sit my kids. ... (they) would have a great time with him." -- University of Miami Sports Information Director Rick Korch, downplaying Patriots first-round pick Brandon Meriweather's character issues.
Part-time cornerback and kickoff returner extraordinaire Justin Miller is in hot water after being charged with third-degree assault for allegedly punching a woman in the face outside a New York City nightclub at about 4:40 a.m. on May 20.
DB/ KR Justin Miller
"I want to apologize to everyone for this situation, including my family, my teammates, the Jets organization, our fans and the entire NFL," Miller said in a statement released by the Jets after he was arraigned. "I understand that serving in the NFL is an honor and that I have an obligation to behave in a manner that reflects that privilege I have been given."
According to police, Miller and two friends left a Manhattan nightclub and got into a shoving match with a group of men outside a club called the Maritime. Police said the 5-10, 196-pound Miller punched a 26-year-old woman in the face. Witnesses said Miller was trying to hit a man, but he ducked the punch and Miller wound up hitting the woman instead.
The New York Daily News identified the woman as Kristen Jarvis, who is an assistant to Pete Rouse, chief of staff to Illinois Senator and presidential candidate Barack Obama. Jarvis hasn't commented on the incident, and has instead referred all questions to her attorney, Judy Smith.
Miller, who returned two kickoffs for touchdowns in 2006 and one in 2005, is due back in court on June 25. But will he also have to appear in front of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell at some point?
In this post-Player Conduct Policy NFL, incidents such as this one certainly can lead to a suspension, although the fact that this alleged offense is Miller's first since entering the league certainly works in his favor. Still, Goodell has stated that he has a 'zero tolerance' policy, so a suspension is quite possible.
The other major question is what will the Jets do? They also could suspend him for at least a game or two, if the league doesn't. Miller doesn't embody all of the 'core Jet values,' but Pro Bowl kickoff returners aren't easy to find, so the Jets won't try to trade him right now, especially because they wouldn't be likely to get full market value. And if they released him, rest assured he would be claimed by another team within a matter of minutes.
He'll need to redeem himself with coach Eric Mangini, however, or else he could eventually be sent packing. Miller undoubtedly wouldn't have been drafted by the Jets had Mangini and GM Mike Tannenbaum been in charge in 2005.
About a week before the Jets drafted him, Miller was charged with disorderly conduct while at Clemson, and he also pleaded guilty to a drunk-driving charge in 2002.
--The Jets signed former Kansas City DE Eric Hicks, the fifth DE/OLB type they have signed this off-season, joining Kenyon Coleman (Cowboys), David Bowens (Dolphins) and Michael Haynes and Andre Wadsworth, both of whom were out of football. Hicks, a 6-foot-6, 280-pounder who will be 31 in June, signed with Kansas City in 1998 as an undrafted free agent and spent nine seasons with the Chiefs before being released in early May.
It will be interesting to see how the Jets divvy up the reps for all these players come July. To make room for Hicks, the Jets released DT Keyonta Marshall, a practice-squadder last season.
--If CB/KR Justin Miller receives a suspension from the NFL or the Jets for his third-degree assault charge, the likeliest option as the No. 1 kickoff returner would be RB Leon Washington, who also saw duty on kickoff returns last season. The Jets will have plenty of time in the summer to audition other returners as well.
--Coach Eric Mangini will host his sixth annual Football Fundamentals Mini-Camp for kids on June 2 at his alma mater, Bulkeley High School, in Hartford, Conn. The Football Fundamentals Mini-Camp is one of many initiatives of the Carmine and Frank Mangini Foundation that Eric and his brother, Kyle Mangini, named in memory of their father and uncle. More information on the camp can be found at cfmfoundation.com.
This event also attracted several reporters last season, because it gave them a chance to speak with Mangini in the middle of the team's voluntary workouts, which were closed to the media. However, NFL rules now mandate that teams must open at least one out of every three of these workouts to reporters. The first two open ones for the Jets will be May 31 and June 1, so there probably won't be such a big media turnout for Mangini's Hartford camp this season.
THEY SAID IT: "We had three guys fall over the bags yesterday. Nobody fell over them today. That's improvement." -- Coach Eric Mangini on the progress the Jets' rookies made from the first to second day of their first mini-camp.