It wasn't long ago when the Buffalo Bills thought they had their next set of star "triplets" in place. Quarterback J.P. Losman, running back Willis McGahee and wide receiver Lee Evans were supposed to be the second coming of Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas and Andre Reed.
And then there were two.
Despite his immense talent, youth and potential, the inconsistent and sometimes controversial McGahee was traded to the Baltimore Ravens on March 8 for three future draft picks.
In addressing the media at the start of the Bills' 12-week off-season conditioning program, Losman treaded carefully when discussing the McGahee trade, hinting he understood why the deal was made but making it clear the Bills lost a very good player that won't be easily replaced.
"They just felt that maybe he wasn't correlating with other teammates or personnel or maybe he wasn't the type of player that they wanted here, maybe a personality trait or something. I don't know," said Losman, referring to general manager Marv Levy and coach Dick Jauron. "As for me, he was a great teammate of mine."
Losman said he had a great view watching the powerful McGahee carry the ball. He was a person who earned his respect, particularly after McGahee played last season through an assortment of injuries, including broken ribs.
"I got to see this guy play extremely hard for quite some time. I thank him for that," Losman said. "He taught me a lot and I am sad to see him go. And I do wish him well in Baltimore. He played extremely hard for us."
On cue, Losman also voiced his support for the running backs left on the roster.
The Bills have re-signed veteran Anthony Thomas and Shaud Williams, will give young veteran Fred Jackson a long look this off-season, and are expected to draft a running back next month with one of their four picks on day one.
Losing McGahee after spending lavishly to sign three veteran offensive linemen (Derrick Dockery, Langston Walker and Jason Whittle) doesn't make sense in a lot of circles, but Losman -- the guy who has to hand the ball off to somebody -- is keeping a positive outlook.
"A hole is a hole and if somebody can hit it, they can hit it," he said. "I have confidence in Anthony (Thomas). He did a great job when he was in there last year. I really think that Shaud Williams can hit the hole. And then there are options with the draft and we'll see how things go."
Putting a smile on Losman's face was meeting the 6-6 Dockery, his new starting left guard, and 6-8 Walker, his new starting right tackle.
"They are huge, they are enormous," said Losman, who was sacked 47 times last season. "It can be intimidating walking up to the line of scrimmage. We are probably going to have to change the huddle a little bit, I don't know if (5-9) Roscoe (Parrish) could see over them."
Losman planned to take his new bodyguards out to dinner soon. As if they weren't big enough.
--QB J.P. Losman had an early off-season of travel and adventure, taking trips to Mexico and Australia. Losman, who is of Mexican descent, traveled through the country with his cousin, Michael Soto, who speaks Spanish. Losman, a native of Southern California, enjoyed seeing the Mayan ruins and pyramids and the hustle and bustle of Mexico City. But he clearly liked Mexico's Pacific coast beaches the best. "Nicer people," he said. "The women were prettier. It was a great experience for me."
--Free agent LG Derrick Dockery, who started 61 consecutive games for the Redskins, knows the pressure is on after signing a seven-year, $49 million contract, richest in Bills' history. "I think there's a lot of expectations with that size of a contract," he said. "They expect you to come in and be a leader. And I welcome it."
--Former Bills RB Thurman Thomas, who will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this summer, was recently honored by his second favorite team, the Buffalo Sabres. Thomas, who married a Buffalo girl, is a huge hockey fan. The Sabres presented him an honorary No. 34 jersey at a game and he got to sit in owner Tom Golisano's luxury box. Speaking to reporters, Thomas weighed in on the trade of Willis McGahee to Baltimore. "I wasn't really surprised," Thomas said. "I just think Marv (Levy), and the fans, and some of the people in the organization just had had it with his attitude. As a former player I would never say something like the team should move to Toronto, or say I'm the best running back in the league no matter what. I just think Marv wants character guys and he said that from day one."
--The Bills website reports that RB Fred Jackson arrived for the start of off-season conditioning work at a buffed 216 pounds. Jackson, who starred in NFL Europe a year ago, said he has added five pounds of good muscle and he hopes the added mass helps him compete for playing time at running back with the Bills. The position is a cloudy one after the trade of Willis McGahee to Baltimore.
They Said It:
"We have a lot of different personalities in here, and some guys want to beat on each other now and then. Instead of getting frustrated, we put on the gloves. I take on all comers. ... Lennox Lewis, Evander Holyfield. I've got a little bit of Ali in me, only I don't sting like a bee, it's more like a mosquito." -- Bills TE Robert Royal who likes to put on the boxing gloves and playfully spar with teammates.
Miami's brass headed into the NFL owners' meetings in Phoenix with its eyes on Kansas City's Trent Green and David Carr, who was released Friday by Houston.
Despite the fact he will be 37 when the 2007 season begins, Green is an intriguing fit for the Dolphins on several levels. Green has familiarity with Dolphins coach Cam Cameron's offense from when both were with the Washington Redskins in the 1990s. Cameron also is close with new Dolphins quarterbacks coach Terry Shea, who held that position with Kansas City for five of the past six years.
"Trent would like to be there," agent Jim Steiner told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. "It's an offense he's familiar with and there would be an excellent working relationship. It's a team that has a great defense that with a few tweaks on offense would have a pretty darn good chance of succeeding this season."
Green also is reportedly drawing interest from Detroit, although he could potentially block a trade by refusing to restructure his contract. Steiner said that wouldn't be an issue for the Dolphins with Green, who is set to earn $7.2 million in base salary in 2007.
At 27, Carr is eight years younger than Green and has the physical tools that made him the No. 1 overall selection in the 2002 draft. But Carr has struggled for much of his five NFL seasons, which is why the Texans acquired Matt Schaub as their new starter in a trade with Atlanta.
The interest in Green and Carr seemingly leaves Daunte Culpepper's status with the Dolphins in limbo. Dolphins coach Cam Cameron said Culpepper is continuing to rehabilitate his surgically repaired right knee, which underwent another procedure in December, and should be ready to participate in the team's first minicamp April 13 to 15 at team headquarters.
But whether Culpepper is still on the roster if Green or Carr is acquired isn't so certain. The Dolphins can cut Culpepper, who was unimpressive in his four starts in 2006 before being sidelined for the rest of the season with ongoing knee problems, and save $1.3 million against their salary cap. The Dolphins, though, would have to swallow $5.6 million in dead money should Culpepper get released.
Regardless of who is on the roster in the preseason, Cameron essentially said there will be an open competition to find a starting quarterback during the preseason.
"Whoever our quarterback winds up being, it will be a guy that has earned the job," Cameron said. "The great quarterbacks don't want it any other way. I've never been around a quarterback that was given a job. That's our approach."
--The regular-season matchup between Miami and Cincinnati got a lot more interesting last week when Dolphins linebacker Joey Porter was cited for misdemeanor battery after allegedly punching Bengals left tackle Levi Jones while both were at a Las Vegas casino.
Jones filed a police report against Porter and claimed he had several chains stolen during the melee, which happened at the Palms Casino. The bad blood appears to stem from the times Porter and Jones have faced each other when Porter was with the Steelers.
Porter faces potential punishment from the NFL under the league's personal conduct policy and could be sentenced to up to six months in prison and/or fined if found guilty, a police spokesman said.
The incident further cements Porter's reputation as one of the NFL's most hot-headed players.
--Arguably the biggest Dolphins fan in the franchise's 41-year history died last Friday at the age of 72.
"Dolfan" Denny Sym began following the Dolphins from the team's inaugural season in 1966, leading fans in cheers while wearing outrageous rhinestone clothing. Sym's enthusiasm didn't go unnoticed by Dolphins officials, who later began paying him to cheer on the sidelines.
Sym served in that role until 2000 and was given a new Dodge pickup truck as a parting gift.
--Dolphins owner H. Wayne Huizenga has gotten involved in the 2008 presidential race, joining the Florida finance team for Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. Despite the Dolphins having never reached an AFC Championship game during his 13-year tenure as owner, Huizenga is considered one of the world's top business entrepreneurs.
They Said It:
"I'm not upset that he left. He was 15-17 here, so I don't think that they're losing anything as far as coaching success is concerned. He made a lot of statements about how he wanted to stay here and build this program up and then all of a sudden he's gone. I think that he should be held accountable and judged the same way that I was held accountable. I always tried to say the right thing and be honest to the people that I'm responsible for, and I think he should have done the same thing." -- Former Dolphins coach Don Shula talking about Nick Saban to Sun Sports. Saban left the Dolphins after the 2006 season to replace Shula's son Mike as head coach at the University of Alabama.
Holding the 24th and 28th selections, the Patriots are sitting pretty in the first round of this year's draft. After it's free agency feeding frenzy, New England now has a number of different options it can explore on draft day. The Patriots can package picks and move up to grab a player they're targeting, trade down and acquire extra selections or just stay put and come away with two players that should come in help the team immediately. Whatever the final decision turns out to be, the Patriots will be major players in the upcoming draft.
Other than free agent gem Adalius Thomas, the Patriots spent most of their money this off-season on the offensive side of the ball. With needs at linebacker and defensive back, New England will most likely focus on defense early on in the draft.
There's no question the Patriots need to get younger at linebacker, especially on the inside. Starters Tedy Bruschi and Mike Vrabel are getting long in the tooth and there's little depth behind them. Thomas was brought in from Baltimore to get after the quarterback on the outside but a young inside linebacker is still high on the Patriots' priority list.
There's little debate that Mississippi's Patrick Willis is the top inside linebacker in this year's draft. Willis was a tackling machine in college, finishing his career at Ole Miss with 355 total tackles and 11 sacks. After a great senior season and an impressive Combine, Willis has propelled himself into the top half of the first round. He would be a perfect fit for the Patriots because he's a big, run-stuffing linebacker who has great instincts on the field. However, it looks like if the Patriots want Willis, they'll need to trade up to get him.
On the surface, Beason looks like a Tampa 2 outside linebacker but that's not necessarily the case. People at the Combine said Beason had the physical ability to move inside in a 3-4 scheme. That would give the Patriots the luxury of grooming Beason behind Tedy Bruschi and using him on passing downs as a rookie because of his good coverage abilities. Beason is also a big hitter and solid special teams player. He would add some much needed youth and athleticism to an aging position.
Harris is probably the fastest inside linebacker in this draft. His speed allows him to make plays all over the field. He's so fast that Harris can even run down receivers in the open field. He's also effective in coverage, sticking to tight ends and running backs. Harris had 103 tackles and four sacks as a senior. He would be a good fit for the Patriots because of his ability to both play the run and cover in space.
If the Patriots trade down into the second round, Florida's Brandon Siler could be an attractive option. Siler would be a very good fit for the Patriots because he's a pure run-stuffing linebacker. He doesn't have the overall athletic ability that Willis, Harris and Beason are blessed with but Siler possesses all the qualities to make him a very productive linebacker in the 3-4 defense.
The Patriots' need at cornerback isn't as big as it could have been after the team tagged Asante Samuel as its franchise player. In Samuel and Ellis Hobbs, the Patriots have two pretty good starting corners. The problem is New England has a lot of question marks behind its two starters. As of right now, the Patriots really don't have a consistent third cornerback they can depend on.
Arkansas' Chris Houston was the star of the Combine after running a 4.32 40-yard dash and doing 27 reps of 225 pounds. Some may think Houston is just a workout warrior but that's not the case. In 2006, he went up against Dwayne Jarrett, Robert Meachem and Dwayne Bowe -- all possible first round receivers -- and held them to a combined 14 receptions for 168 yards and one touchdown. That's pretty impressive considering all the hype surrounding those three receivers. Houston has amazing physical ability and could turn into a shutdown NFL corner in the near future.
Leon Hall played in every game during his four-year career at Michigan. He saw time in a reserve role as a freshman before becoming a starter midway through his sophomore season. Last year, Hall led the Big 10 with 15 passes defensed and shutdown one-half of the field for most of the season. However, Hall's poor performance in the last two games against Ohio State's Ted Ginn Jr. and Southern Cal's Dwayne Jarrett has some people wondering about his ability to cover the elite receivers. Still, when you look at Hall's overall body of work at Michigan, he still warrants a first round selection.
Texas' Aaron Ross won the Jim Thorpe last year, given out to the nation's best defensive back. He's a big-play corner that likes to gamble and take chances. With Ross, teams will have to take the good with the bad. He might guess wrong and give up a long gain but could just as easily pick off the next pass and return it for a touchdown.
So far, most of Ross' risks have been worth taking. He's coming of a 2006 season where he had 77 tackles, 18 passes defensed and 10 takeaways (five interceptions, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries). Ross also has experience returning kicks and says he would like to continue doing that in the NFL. He could be the kind of young, athletic cornerback who could grow into the Patriots' defense and become an elite defensive back for years to come.
--After bringing in three new receivers this off-season, the Patriots took care of one of their own when they re-signed exclusive rights free agent Bam Childress. Childress, 24, has played in three NFL games during his career -- one in 2005 and two in 2006 -- and has caught a total of five career passes for 39 yards. He has spent the majority of the last two seasons as a member of the Patriots practice squad.
--One day after wrapping up Childress, the Patriots re-signed four more players: S Rashad Baker, ILB Corey Mays, OL Gene Mruczkowski and DL Mike Wright. Baker and Mruczkowski were restricted free agents, while Mays and Wright were exclusive rights free agents.
The most important player in that group is Wright, who saw an increase in playing time during his second season with the team. Wright played in all 16 games with four starts last year, totaling 47 tackles (32 solo), including a team-high 12 stops in the regular-season finale at Tennessee on Dec. 31.
Jackson has been primarily a nickel back and special teams contributor during his three years in the NFL. He tore his ACL last season on Christmas Day against the Jets and according to Jackson's agent, Raymond Lee Savage, his client may not be fully recovered until October.
--Patriots LB Mike Vrabel was in Dorchester, Mass. recently to help Bank of America honor community service workers in the Boston area. Vrabel gave a speech in which he recognized the "Worker Bees", a community service club of sixth, seventh and eighth grade students from the Broad Meadow School in Quincy. The "Worker Bees" volunteer with the Cradles to Crayons program. Currently, the program has helped over 40,000 under-privileged children.
They Said It:
"The one word I can use to describe it is 'real.' I watch MSNBC, Fox News and CNN all the time, and know the names and places, but to actually be there and to interact with the guys who are out there fighting and protecting our freedom is just another level." -- Patriots TE Ben Watson on going over to Iraq as part of the NFL-USO tour to visit US troops.
While the Jets went after and landed an unrestricted free agent this week, he's hardly the type that will excite the fan base.
Marques Tuiasosopo, a career backup quarterback with Oakland, has signed a one-year contract with the Jets. He is expected to challenge second-year player Kellen Clemens for the No. 2 job behind incumbent Chad Pennington. The Jets needed someone for that role after they released Patrick Ramsey earlier this month.
Jets fans who remember their one exposure to Tuiasosopo certainly won't be impressed. On Dec. 11, 2005, then-Oakland coach Norv Turner benched then-starter Kerry Collins in favor of Tuiasosopo, hoping to jump-start the Raiders' moribund offense.
The results: 14 completions in 26 attempts for 124 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions in a 26-10 Oakland loss. The performance led to one Bay Area reporter asking Turner after the game, "Your supposedly mobile quarterback was sacked six times. What does that say about your offensive line?"
Apparently, Turner didn't care much for any of Tuiasosopo's performance, as his era as the starter lasted only for that game, and Collins was reinstated as the starter for the next game. Tuiasosopo, a 6-foot-1, 220-pounder, was a second-round pick by Oakland in 2001. In his career, he has completed 48 of 88 passes for 550 yards with two touchdowns and seven interceptions. In 2006, he completed six of 13 passes for 68 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions in two games.
With those numbers, Tuiasosopo didn't attract very much interest, although he also visited with Carolina and Cleveland before signing with the Jets. He is considered to be mobile with the ability to throw deep, but accuracy has been a problem in his limited playing time.
The Jets probably are hoping that Clemens, whom they project as the heir apparent to Pennington, will beat out Tuiasosopo for the No. 2 job. Coach Eric Mangini and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer were impressed with Clemens' performance in practice last season, so much so that they elevated him to No. 2 for one game in December and listed Ramsey as the third quarterback that day.
--The Jets re-signed Anthony Clement, who was their starting right tackle last season after coming over from San Francisco as a free agent. Clement started all 16 games last season and was serviceable, although certainly not spectacular.
GM Mike Tannenbaum said in early March that the Jets would let Clement test the free-agent market, although he didn't rule out re-signing him. Evidently Clement didn't generate much interest. Still, he has good character and was a positive presence in the locker room, so this isn't a bad move.
--The Jets signed veteran DE Michael Haynes as they continue to stockpile defensive lineman, which perhaps means they will use more 4-3 alignments in 2007. They've also signed Dallas' Kenyon Coleman and re-signed Bobby Hamilton after releasing him.
Haynes was a first-round pick, 14th overall, out of Penn State in 2003. He was a disappointment, playing in 43 games with the Bears from 2003-05 but making only four starts.
He was released before last season and claimed by the Saints, who later released him. Haynes had back problems last season and perhaps the Jets feel that a healthier Haynes might be able to unlock some of his potential.
They Said It:
"In the right time, the right situation, he's going to really be a good player." -- Then-Oakland coach Norv Turner in Dec. 2005 on Marques Tuiasosopo, after he demoted him after only one start