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Tip Sheet: Mangold helping kill NFL stereotypes

Sports Xchange Len Pasquarelli
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Inside edition: The monster seven-year, $55 million contract awarded this week to Nick Mangold probably wouldn't be negotiated by a team that doesn't run the ball as much as the New York Jets, who led the NFL in rushing and lowest percentage of overall pass plays in 2009.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 
Len Pasquarelli
Len Pasquarelli is a Senior NFL Writer for The Sports Xchange. He has covered the NFL for 33 years and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee. His NFL coverage earned recognition as the winner of the McCann Award for distinguished reporting in 2008.
 

But there are a lot of interior players, centers and guards (Mangold, Jason Brown of St. Louis, Minnesota's Steve Hutchinson, Alan Faneca of the Jets/Arizona Cardinals, and the New Orleans Saints' Jahri Evans, to name a few), who have gotten a lot richer the past few seasons because of the trend toward putting quicker players inside to rush the quarterback against what are perceived as slower blockers.

"You want your inside guys to be power blockers, stout at running the ball," said one NFC offensive line coach. "But the way the game is played now, they have to be decent in (pass) protection, too."

The rationale used to be that in assembling a line a team paid big money for tackles (particularly on the left side), and just filled in at guard. And some clubs still follow that tack. The Indianapolis Colts, for instance, used 20 starting guards in the first 12 years of Peyton Manning's career, and that number could further increase in 2010. But the days of just having "road-graders" or "grunts" at the three interior spots might be over.

Contingency plans: Speaking of guards, it could be that the New England Patriots, who are experiencing a negotiating impasse with Logan Mankins, have essentially moved on from the two-time Pro Bowl blocker. At least it appears that way to The Sports Xchange, and more importantly to several pro scouts who monitor such things.

Mankins has refused to sign his one-year restricted free agent tender of $3.268 million, and earlier this spring rejected a proposal of $45.5 million over seven years, shy of the seven-year, $56.7 million deal Jahri Evans got from the Saints. And The Boston Herald had a terrific story this week, citing some "friends" of Mankins who suggested he could sit out the season.

At a league meeting in Atlanta earlier this week, Bob Kraft was asked by The Sports Xchange about any update on the Mankins’ talks, and the New England owner just smiled and shrugged. No team in the NFL is any better than the Patriots at drawing a negotiating line in the sand, then sticking to it. The club backstopped itself this week by dealing for Quinn Ojinnaka from Atlanta, where the four-year veteran no longer fit because of some younger inside players the Falcons' coaches like.

So far, inexperienced four-year veteran Dan Connolly has held up OK at Mankins' left guard spot. Connolly played well enough in the Pats' first two preseason games. It will be interesting to review some tape of his Thursday night performance against the Rams. How come? Connolly's first two preseason outings came versus clubs, New Orleans and Atlanta, against whom the Pats had worked in combined-team practices in the week leading up to those respective games. He conceded that the practices against those teams allowed him to become more accustomed to the clubs' personnel and contributed to his play.

Cross(ed) owners: It would probably be hyperbole to suggest that the NFL's cross-ownership rules, which were back in the spotlight this week because of Stan Kroenke's purchase of the Rams, are archaic. The rule, which prohibits an owner from having a major stake in another sports franchise in a city other than the one in which the NFL club is located if there is an NFL team there, is aimed at ensuring that an owner directs his focus toward his football team and isn't competing against his NFL partner.

But a few owners, two of them on the league's finance committee -- which did much of the background work on Kroenke's bid -- told The Sports Xchange that it might be time to re-examine the cross-ownership rules.

"We may not have a choice, especially if the economic environment doesn't turn around," one owner said. "We can't be dismissing guys like (Kroenke), who obviously have the financial (wherewithal) for our league."

Kroenke, of course, owns the Denver Nuggets of the NBA and the NHL's Colorado Avalanche, among his several sports franchise holdings. He will turn the stewardship of those franchises over to his son, Josh Kroenke, and must come into full compliance with the cross-ownership rules by December 2014.

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Said Colts owner Jim Irsay, a member of the finance committee: "Stan is probably stretching things a little, but he is within the spirit of the rules, and he complies with things that have been done in the past. But it might be time to look at what we're doing."

One major factor in securing the support of Denver Broncos owner Pat Bowlen, also an influential finance committee member, is that Kroenke has owned the Avalanche and the Nuggets since 2000. And Bowlen and the Broncos have already been competing against those franchises the sports buck in The Mile High City. Whatever happened in St. Louis really didn't affect the Broncos, other than augmenting the security of another NFL team.

Kroenke, by the way, has a net value of $2.7 billion according to the Forbes magazine latest ranking of the 400 wealthiest Americans. That trails only Paul Allen of Seattle and Stephen Ross of Miami among NFL owners. Kroenke's wife, Ann Walton Kroenke, an heir to the Wal-Mart fortune, has a net worth of $2.9 billion.

The kid: He didn't always live up to his high school press clippings during his college basketball career, but Josh Kroenke, who will essentially run the Nuggets and the Avalanche as his father becomes increasingly occupied with the Rams and the NFL, isn't just some son-of-the-rich-guy offspring.

The younger Kroenke, 30, has served as the Nuggets' vice president of team development, handling many of the big negotiations, the past three years. Kroenke played four years as a guard at Missouri, and while he averaged only 2.6 points and 1.3 rebounds for his career, he was a team captain as both a junior and senior. Kroenke was a top 50 player nationally at the New Hampton (N.H.) Prep School, and then worked at Lehman Bros. in New York after his graduation.

Said the elder Kroenke on Wednesday: "He's not just a (caretaker). He's got knowledge and substance."

Low-background backups: A couple of No. 2 quarterbacks commanding a lot of interest around the league — and the names probably will surprise a lot of people — are Matt Flynn of Green Bay and New England's Brian Hoyer.

Flynn, a seventh-round pick from LSU in 2008, hasn't yet started a regular-season game — and might not in 2010 behind the very durable Aaron Rodgers. But there are some league people who feel he could be a great young quarterback around whom to build. He has thrown only 17 regular-season passes, and has just a 69.7 rating this preseason (27 for 48 for 279 yards, and was 8 for 13 for 80 yards on Thursday night), but scouts are high on him.

An undrafted free agent in 2009, Hoyer, the backup to Tom Brady, is good enough to have kept New England from running out and signing an experienced backup. He has thrown just 28 regular-season passes, and his preseason rating this summer is just as impressive at 96.8. And, like Flynn, scouts speak highly of him.

Tyler taken: There was some mild head-scratching this week when the Denver Broncos waived third-year veteran offensive lineman Tyler Polumbus, who started eight games in 2009, when Ryan Harris was injured. After all, Polumbus is young (25), has played in the league (31 appearances overall), is affordable (base salary of just $490,000 for 2010) and he plays a position -- offensive tackle -- where it's tough to find prospects.

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The skinny: Although Polumbus bulked up from 295 pounds to 312 pounds in the offseason, the Denver coaches didn't feel he played as rugged as his new size would indicate. And after years of operating in the zone-blocking run game made famous in Denver by Alex Gibbs, the Broncos are installing a power-based attack for 2010.

And so on Tuesday, Polumbus was deemed expendable. He was claimed on waivers (as expected) a day later by Detroit, a move that could put former first-rounder Gosder Cherilus in some jeopardy. Cherilus, the Lions' top pick in 2008, currently is battling veteran Jon Jansen (and said to be losing the fight) for the starting right tackle job. Houston and Seattle, both of which utilize zone-blocking schemes, also submitted waiver claims on Polumbus, who was awarded to Detroit, by virtue of a poorer record in 2009.

Titan(ic) line: You can't blame people for rolling their eyes when Tennessee tailback Chris Johnson suggests he could rush for 2,500 yards in 2010. After all, that would take an average of 156.25 yards per game, and Johnson has five outings of 150 yards or more in two seasons.

But there is at least one reason why "C.J." could be the first back in league history to post consecutive 2,000-yard seasons: The Titans' offensive line, if possible, might actually be a better run-blocking unit than a year ago. There is only one new starter, left guard Leroy Harris (former left guard Eugene Amano has switched to center to replace Kevin Mawae), but the three-year veteran, who has just three career starts, has been terrific in camp.

In fact, Titans' coaches feel Harris, a former center whom many assumed would someday supplant Mawae, is a potential Pro Bowl player. Harris is nifty enough to block at the second and third levels and that could mean some long runs for the explosive Johnson.

Foot fault: The Denver Broncos used two of their top five draft picks in April on wide receivers with foot problems, Demaryius Thomas of Georgia Tech (No. 1) and Minnesota's Eric Decker (No. 3b), and the results so far have been mixed.

Coming off a stress fracture, Thomas missed much of the offseason, returned for camp and was at times uncoverable, but sustained another foot injury this week. Tests showed that the problem was mostly attributable to scar tissue, not another fracture, but the timetable for his return is murky, and there are some fears among the coaches that the foot issues could linger for Thomas' rookie campaign.

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Decker has demonstrated no effects from the dreaded Lisfranc sprain that sidelined him for much of 2009, and has drawn plenty of comparisons to former Broncos standout Ed McCaffrey. He simply catches everything around him. Still, make no mistake, the staff is concerned with Thomas' problems, despite the tests this week.

Kandid Kamerion: The Cleveland Browns may have given up too soon on four-year veteran linebacker Kamerion Wimbley, who is making a strong impression during his first season in Oakland, after the Raiders acquired him in a March trade.

"I have a lot to prove and that certainly motivates me," Wimbley said.

Regarded as a one-dimensional "edge" rusher in Cleveland's 3-4, Wimbley was sent to the Raiders for a third-round pick -- despite having been the 13th overall player selected in 2006 -- and he has seemingly flourished in his new environment. Wimbley, 26, had four sacks in the Raiders' first two preseason games. More important, he played pass coverage, something the Browns' brass didn't feel he could do, pretty well.

"I don't want to just be a guy they feel is a one-trick pony," Wimbley said.

The backup plan: Until this offseason, when they traded for cornerback Bryant McFadden during draft weekend and signed wide receiver Antwaan Randle El as a free agent, the Pittsburgh Steelers hadn't been real big on reacquiring players who had departed the franchise.

But keep an eye on the Steelers if the Redskins release one or both of their backup tailbacks, Larry Johnson or Willie Parker. The Steelers are still deciding about a backup for starter Rashard Mendenhall -- third-down specialist Mewelde Moore almost certainly won't be the No. 2 guy -- and there are rumblings they could have some interest in either of the Redskins' potential castoffs. Parker played the first six seasons of his career in Pittsburgh, and was the leading rusher there in four of those years. Johnson was rumored to have been heavily considered by the Steelers in the first round in 2003, before Pittsburgh opted for safety Troy Polamalu, and the seven-year veteran is a Penn State product with whom the Steelers' brass is very familiar.

On the nose: As first reported by several Bay Area media outlets, San Francisco nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin will sign his "franchise" tender and report to work this weekend. Franklin, 29, will earn $7.003 million for 2010, and his deal reminds that, despite the lead note here about ends moving inside to tackle on passing downs, the nose tackle position is still critical to 3-4 defenses.

Of the six franchise players who were designated this spring, three were nose tackles, even though Ryan Pickett of Green Bay has since moved to end to make way for former first-rounder B.J. Raji. Another franchise guy, Richard Seymour of the Oakland Raiders, is a hybrid defensive lineman who has played inside.

The only non-defensive linemen who received the franchise labels were kickers Olindo Mare of Seattle and Pittsburgh's Jeff Reed. And the Steelers would have slapped the franchise tag on nose tackle Casey Hampton had he not signed a three-year, $21.3 million deal just before the franchise deadline.

Notable Newbies

Looking for a new jersey to sport? Peter Schrager's got your breakout players for 2010 -- one for every team.

Punts: Kudos to Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin, who on Sunday will hold free safety Ryan Clark out of a game at Denver for the second year in a row. Because of a blood condition exacerbated by the Denver altitude, Clark lost his spleen and gall bladder after a 2007 game in Invesco Field at Mile High. He didn't play in a regular-season contest there in 2009 and, while he will make the trip, won't participate in Sunday's preseason game. ...

Former first-round defensive end Jamaal Anderson (2007) has taken plenty of heat in Atlanta for his poor play and there are rumors he might not make the team. But also keep an eye on 11-year veteran weak-side linebacker Mike Peterson, who might need a solid showing in Friday night's preseason game at Miami to retain his job on the roster. Peterson is solid enough stopping the run but has been deemed a liability against the pass. No matter what becomes of Peterson, it's all but a given that rookie first-rounder Sean Weatherspoon will replace him in pass situations. ...

Just a reminder: The deadline for the NFL's first roster reduction, from 80 to 75 players, is next Tuesday. ...
Buffalo hasn't been to the playoffs since 1999, when the Bills won a wildcard spot. The 10-year drought with a postseason berth is currently the AFC's longest. ...

In case you missed it, defensive tackle Claude Wroten, reinstated by the league earlier this week, will hold a Combine-style workout audition for scouts in Jacksonville on Sept. 2. The thinking is that, with the Falcons playing the Jags that day in the preseason finale, there will already be plenty of scouts in town for the game. A one-time first-round prospect at LSU, Wroten slid to the third round of the 2006 draft because of drug issues. He was suspended for a year by the NFL and hasn't played in a regular-season game since 2007. But because of his talent level, age (26), and affordability, along with the fact defensive tackles are so hard to find, Wroten, who played last season in the UFL, could draw some interest. ...

With first-round pick Maurkice Pouncey seizing the starting job, the Steelers might be looking to deal center Justin Hartwig. The eight-year veteran, 32, has started all 32 games since coming to the Steelers in 2008. But he is due a $2.08 million base salary as part of the four-year, $10 million extension he signed in 2009, and that's a lot of money in Pittsburgh for a backup. ...

Time could be running out for New England tailback Laurence Maroney, who didn't play for a second straight game Thursday night, and who has only eight carries in the preseason. The 21st overall pick in 2006, Maroney has been an often-injured disappointment, with just 582 carries in four seasons. ...

One undrafted rookie to keep an eye on: New Orleans defensive end Junior Galette of Stillman, who has a great motor, super athleticism, and who Saints coaches feel could make the roster as a situational pass rusher. ...

Rumors continue that if coach Jack Del Rio doesn't keep his job in Jacksonville for 2011, University of Connecticut coach Randy Edsall might be a candidate to replace him. Edsall, who is 66-65 in 10 seasons at UConn, was the Jags' secondary coach from 1994-97. ...

Hard to believe after Green Bay surrendered a league-high 51 sacks in 2009, but the Packers suddenly have a surplus of veteran bodies on the offensive line and could trade one of them.

The last word: "Join the club." -- Rex Ryan, commenting on Tom Brady's observation that he doesn't watch "Hard Knocks" on HBO because he "hates" the New York Jets.

Tagged: Falcons, Bears, Broncos, Lions, Packers, Titans, Colts, Chiefs, Raiders, Rams, Vikings, Patriots, Saints, Giants, Jets, Seahawks, Buccaneers, Redskins, Ravens, Cardinals, Steelers, Brett Favre, Mike Peterson, Peyton Manning, Ryan Pickett, Randy Moss, Tom Brady, Alan Faneca, Ryan Clark, Antwaan Randle El, Larry Johnson, Chris Johnson, Sam Aiken, Michael Turner, Wes Welker, Derrick Johnson, Aaron Rodgers, Logan Mankins, Mike Williams, Jason Brown, Dan Connolly, Tarvaris Jackson, Claude Wroten, Kamerion Wimbley, Jahri Evans, Ryan Harris, Leroy Harris, Gaines Adams, Jamaal Anderson, Chris Johnson, Lawrence Jackson, Ray Rice, Matt Ryan, Matt Flynn, Tyler Polumbus, Percy Harvin, Louis Delmas, John Parker Wilson, Demaryius Thomas, Jason Pierre-Paul, Eric Decker, Taylor Price, Chris Johnson

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