AROUND THE LEAGUE
Len Pasquarelli, The Sports Xchange
--As characterized by an excellent Wall Street
Journal piece this week, the NFL has experienced a problem in getting
fans out from in front of their television sets - where folks have
access to replays, wireless and Red Zone network updates - and into the
stadiums. The WSJ piece cites a 4.5-percent decrease in ticket sales
over the past four years in detailing the NFL's new effort to maximize
the stadium experience via wi-fi, increased replays and players wearing
But the problem isn't just in a dip in ticket
sales; it's a decrease in, well, actual stadium attendance. By policy,
most franchises no longer report actual, in-stadium attendance publicly
or to the media. The Sports Xchange is working to compile the actual
figures, at least from the stadiums owned or operated by local
government entities, but some officials privately concede a few clubs
averaged 5,000 or so "no-shows" in 2011.
And there are some league and team officials who
consider the problem of people buying tickets and still staying away
from games nearly as critical as the issue of fans not purchasing
tickets at all.
Former 2nd Rounder Testing Schiano
--The non-nonsense approach of Tampa Bay rookie
coach Greg Schiano could be tested a bit, even before training camp
begins, with the felony DUI arrest of corner Eric Wright last week. But
some Bucs officials insist that Schiano won't waiver in his emphasis on
character, and running a much tighter ship, and on expecting plenty of
personal accountability from his players.
"The (Wright) deal could be a tough one, but
(Schiano) is serious about cleaning some stuff up," one team official
told The Sports Xchange this week.
The Bucs invested a five-year, $38 million
contract in Wright, so that might complicate matters a bit. And the
team may still have to deal with league discipline for fellow
cornerback Aqib Talib, even though authorities have dismissed an
aggravated assault charge against him.
"It's something Greg is going to have to work
through, but his message won't change," the official said.
Who's Kicking The 'Dam' Ball?
--Apparently, the debate over whether a kicker
handles kickoff duties was not a factor in the four-year, $13 million
contract that Denver's Matt Prater signed this week.
The Tip Sheet suggested last week that the
four-year, $13.2 million contract to which Tampa Bay recently signed
Connor Barth might be a negotiating point in some of the other
kicker-related negotiations, because the Bucs' standout landed the deal
even though punter Michael Koenen kicks off.
But Prater, who does kick off, and had 47
touchbacks in 2011, took a deal worth $200,000 less in total
compensation than the one Barth got. Over the past 41 games, which
corresponded to the same period in which Barth played for Tampa Bay,
Prater connected on 81.0 percent of his field-goal attempts. Barth was
slightly better, at 84.0 percent.
It will be interesting to see how much the kickoff
factor impacts Josh Scobee's contract negotiations with Jacksonville,
which have resumed after a long hiatus. Scobee has privately noted the
kickoff role and its importance in discussions with Jaguars officials.
The other two "franchised" kickers, we're told,
Phil Dawson of Cleveland and Cincinnati's Mike Nugent, probably aren't
as affected. It's doubtful the Bengals will have any kind of long-term
discussions with Nugent before the start of the season. Cleveland and
Dawson appear content to work off the one-year franchise tender, as
they did last season.
Of course, the caveat is that the Browns, because
of the recent ruling in favor of Drew Brees, would have to pay Dawson
144 percent of his $3.81 million salary if he was designated a
franchise player for a third time. That would be $5.49 million. So for
Dawson, who will be 38 before next year's franchise deadline, there
probably won't be a third franchise marker, or maybe a long-term deal,
Wilson Has An Uphill Battle
--In the past few weeks, Seattle rookie
quarterback Russell Wilson - his height (or lack thereof), initial
contract (still the best in the third round), and potential as a
starter in his NFL maiden voyage - has been a popular Tip Sheet
There's no direct allusion to the former
Wisconsin/North Carolina State star this week, but it might be worth
noting how difficult it is for a player chosen after the second round
to start on Opening Day in his rookie season. The last time a rookie
selected after the second round started a season opener was way back in
2005, when Kyle Orton, a fourth-rounder with the Bears and the 106th
prospect off the board that year, opened the campaign.
"Believe me, it's really on-the-job training,"
Orton, now the backup to Tony Romo in Dallas, told The Sports Xchange.
The former Purdue quarterback was 10-5 as a
starter his rookie season, including an eight-game winning streak.
There were 46 quarterbacks picked after the first
two rounds in the six-year stretch 2006-11, and none started the season
opener as a rookie for his respective team.
The undersized Wilson, plucked by the Seahawks in
the third round, with the No. 75 overall choice, has overcome long odds
most of his career. And the past isn't necessarily a prelude to the
future or a predictor of how he'll eventually fare in the league. But
the strong endorsement of coach Pete Carroll aside, Wilson will have a
rough time overcoming the recent history of passers taken in the third
round or later.
So it's no surprise that Carroll has tabbed
six-year pro Tarvaris Jackson to take the first-team snaps at the
outset of camp. A much bigger surprise will be if it's Wilson at the
top of the depth chart for the Seahawks' opener at Arizona on Sept. 9.
Win For Alabama State
--Speaking of Tarvaris Jackson, the Seattle
quarterback is the last player from Alabama State to be chosen higher
than the fourth round, having been grabbed by Minnesota in the second
round in 2006. Over the past 25 years, Alabama State had only two
players chosen as high as the second round.
The FCS-level school may have landed another
possible high-round choice on Thursday, however, when former Georgia
tailback Isaiah Crowell transferred to the school after being booted
off the Bulldogs' squad by coach Mark Richt following an arrest.
There is a big "but" that's attached, though, to
the back. Crowell, the highest-rated high school runner in the country
a year ago, and the SEC freshman of the year in 2011 when he rushed for
850 yards and five touchdowns, "might have" first-round potential,
according to one NFC area scout. But the scout, and several colleagues,
emphasized that Crowell, who suffered disciplinary problems in his
first college season, will have to rehabilitate his image considerably
over the next few seasons.
"A guy as good as he was supposed to be ... yeah,
you start filing away some mental notes even at this early point in his
career," a personnel director indicated on Thursday evening. "And the
word we're getting was that he was a royal pain at Georgia. He's got a
few years now before he's draft-eligible, and (scouts) will be watching
him as much for what he does of the field as how well he plays on it.
Here's hoping this (matures) him."
Bills O-Line Improving
--The recent remarks of Buffalo center Eric Wood,
regarding his solid rehabilitation from the knee injury that limited
him to nine games in 2011, magnified the confidence of the Bills' staff
about an improved line this year.
Buffalo coaches feel that if Wood can stay healthy
- the former first-rounder has suffered two major injuries in three
seasons, a fractured leg in '09, and an ACL last year - he can be a Pro
The Bills still have a question at left tackle,
where second-year veteran Chris Hairston and rookie second-rounder
Cordy Glenn should compete for the starting job, but right tackle Erik Pears seems to have solidified that position. And the coaches also feel
that left guard Andy Levitre might be one the most unheralded linemen
in the league.
Down To Four Teams
--Four teams - Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Miami
and Washington - each have a draft pick involved in the logjams of
unsigned prospects at the top of both the first (top eight players
unsigned) and third (first nine players without contracts) rounds - and
none have seemed to make much progress lately.
The first round stalemates involve so-called
"offset language" and the hurdle in the third stanza is the players'
attempts to maximize the 25-percent increases in their base salaries.
It appears that in all the cases, the negotiations won't be resolved
quickly but should be completed before training camps begin in roughly
An agent for multiple first- and third-round
picks, however, allowed this week that discussions are "slow going"
with "little movement" from the franchises involved. There were, on
Friday morning, just 32 of 253 picks who were still unsigned: 14 in the
first round, three in the second, 13 in the third and one each in the
fourth and fifth rounds. The rookie wage scale certainly has
accomplished part of its intent, in getting deals done on time, but
there could still be a straggler or two, given the slow pace in the
first and third rounds.
One of the more puzzling aspects at this late
juncture of free agency is the lack of action on unemployed veteran
kicker Ryan Longwell, released by Minnesota after the Vikings chose
Blair Walsh of Georgia in the sixth round. Longwell is a 15-year
veteran and will turn 38 next month, but he's got a lifetime conversion
rate of 83.2 percent, kicks off and should at least be on the "short
list" of a few teams. ...
There is a glut of veteran free agent punters - Jason Baker, Brad
Maynard, Mat McBriar, Daniel Sepulveda and Matt Turk - whose names are
on the speed dials of a few personnel directors should their teams
struggle in camp or preseason. ...
With only about three weeks until The Opening of camp, there has been
no progress, and, in fact, very little negotiation, toward a resolution
of wide receiver Mike Wallace's contract situation in Pittsburgh. ...
Despite the aforementioned concerns at cornerback, there has been
little talk so far among the Bucs' staff about moving Ronde Barber back
outside. The 15-year veteran is slated to move to free safety in 2012
and worked very little at corner in "base" situations in the spring.
Moving him back to cornerback probably remains a possibility, but not
until the team's off-field issues at the position are resolved, and not
until coaches have a chance in camp to evaluate some other players. ...
The arrest of Wright calls to mind a note from much earlier in the
spring, suggesting that the Bucs' three high-profile free agency
additions could be problematical in some ways. Jackson, of course, had
a contentious history in San Diego over the past few years. Guard Carl Nicks experienced some issues in college. And Wright wasn't always
known as a leader in Cleveland or Detroit. ...
The Houston defensive staff isn't apt to suggest again that free agent
addition Bradie James will give the team the same level of play as
DeMeco Ryans, who was traded to Philadelphia in the offseason. But the
Texans are heartened by the play of James, a nine-year veteran who
groused at times in Dallas about his playing time. James has pretty
much established himself as the starter next to Brian Cushing in
Houston's 3-4 scheme. ...
So Miami wide receiver Chad Ochocinco, 34, wants to play until he's 40,
huh? Funny, but the New England Patriots, for whom Ochocinco caught
only 15 passes in 15 games in 2011, thought he'd retired in 2011. ...
It appears that more defensive coordinators are working this offseason
on nickel coverage designs that include three safeties. The emphasis,
of course, remains on No. 3 cornerbacks, since so many clubs now play
with three corners for 50 percent or more of the snaps. But the success
of multiple-tight end looks, and the continued trend toward bigger wide
receivers, has prompted a look at three-safety packages as well. The
emphasis in general on locating safeties with some corner-type coverage
abilities is increasing.
THE LAST WORD
"I really do not believe it's a big deal. I just
think that they don't, in general, give (short quarterbacks) the
opportunities, or stick with them. A guy that's undersized has to prove
himself right away. And if you don't have success right away, you're
out the door. (It's) similar to a (Tim) Tebow situation. If Tim Tebow
had taken over the Broncos last year and lost his first two or three
games, he'd never have seen the field again. Instead, he won whatever
it was - five, six in a row - and they kept doubting him until next
week, until next week, until next week. (But) if he were the 6-4 guy
who was a true pocket passer, drafted in the first round and the
franchise decided, 'This is our guy,' then he goes out and loses his
first three or four starts . . . well, there is a learning curve
involved. And they have patience with him. And that's my frustration
with it." - former NFL quarterback Doug Flutie, per NFL.com, on the
league's perceived bias against short quarterbacks
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