Picks in the second and fourth rounds have already signed, and the new CBA is making that easier. Plus, the Steelers could be bucking their running back tradition, predraft visits didn't mean much at the end of the first round and more.
Through last 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 was coincidental only, and rookie signings in general likely will be much quicker this year.
On Sunday, Pittsburgh Steelers defensive tackle Almeda Ta'amu signed, as well.
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 will 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.
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.