Around the league
*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
How Did Suggs Get Injured?
*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.
A Renunion Of Sorts
*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
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
*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.
Returning Home Not Appealing
*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
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
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
Drop in Talent At HBCU?
*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
In the last five years now, only 16 players from HBCU programs have
been chosen, and the schools haven't reached double-digit prospects
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.
Signing On The Dotted Line
*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
McCluster scored only twice from scrimmage under Haley's stewardship
and he struggled with ball security, fumbling six times and losing four
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.
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
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
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