Tip sheet: Patriots all set at tight end

Rob Gronkowski(Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Rob Gronkowski had an impressive preseason for the Patriots.
Sports Xchange Len Pasquarelli, The Sports Xchange
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Sometimes, the best trades are the ones you don't make, and that could be the case in New England.

The Patriots could have dealt in March for former Chicago first-round choice (2007) Greg Olsen, but didn't and went the draft route instead, taking Rob Gronkowski in the second round and stealing Aaron Hernandez in the fourth.

Last week, this column cited Hernandez as one of the 2010 draft's biggest heists. We're back this week to hail Gronkowski as a keeper, too.


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.

The pair combined for 15 receptions, 181 yards and five touchdowns (four of them by Gronkowski) in preseason, and they appear to have assimilated well the nuances of the Patriots' passing game. New England, which hadn't drafted a tight end since 2006 and hadn't selected one above the second round since tabbing Daniel Graham and Benjamin Watson in the 2002 and 2004 first rounds, respectively, could be set at tight end now for the next several years.

None of that is intended as a slam at Olsen, who is very good, and whose catches, yards and touchdowns have increased every year since the former University of Miami standout came into the league. There are still rumblings that the Bears are dangling Olsen, but the price tag may be too high.

Wide in: The Sports Xchange has been told by Tampa Bay sources that the team's fourth-round pick in this year's draft, Mike Williams of Syracuse, has outplayed second-rounder Arrelious Benn, the former Illinois star at one time projected as a possible first-round selection.

It was originally felt Williams might take a while to work his way into the lineup, although it was assumed he eventually would, but he started the first three preseason contests and seems to have a lock on a No. 1 job. Williams led the Bucs in catches (seven) and receiving yards (157) in exhibition play, has flashed the ability to make plays, and has grasped the offense.

Benn, on the other hand, has had some problems with the transition to the pro game, and finished the preseason with four catches for 49 yards. The other starting spot could now go to second-year veteran Sammie Stroughter, who had 31 catches as a rookie in 2009.

This caveat: Stroughter, a seventh-round pick in '09, might be better working from the slot.

Why not Bulger?: With the Matt Leinart debacle -- the 2004 Heisman Trophy winner was released Saturday -- a lot of people are wondering why the Cardinals weren't more aggressive in pursuit of Donovan McNabb this spring. But the truth of the matter is, as confirmed by top sources from both franchises, the Cardinals never really got into the bidding for the former Philadelphia signal-caller.

A bigger question might be why the Cards didn't make more of an effort to sign Marc Bulger once he was released by St. Louis. Even as beaten up as he was, and despite rumors his work ethic had waned some, Bulger would have been, it seemed, a better alternative than Derek Anderson.

The Cards had a legitimate shot at Bulger, too. His agent, Tom Condon (the agent for Leinart, as well), attempted to interest the Cardinals' brass and thought he was making some progress, but a deal never materialized. The Cardinals signed Anderson on March 22, just 11 days after he had been released by Cleveland and two weeks before the Rams released Bulger.

Antoni-no: Even before Jason Cole's excellent story on Yahoo!, suggesting there are some people who feel wide receiver Antonio Bryant might never play in the league again, there were serious doubts among some Cincinnati officials about the seven-year veteran's future NFL viability.

Of course, that's an indictment of the Bengals, too, who awarded Bryant a four-year, $28 million contract despite the fact he was coming off a bad year and surgery to repair the meniscus in his left knee.

Yeah, you get what you pay for, that's the old saying. But, in this case, the Bengals shelled out more than $7 million for a guy who never got on the field, even in a preseason game. Truth be told, there were warning signs about Bryant. Only twice in his career has he caught more than 45 passes. Never did he last more than 2 1/2 seasons with the same franchise. And that came with the team that drafted him, Dallas, where his brief tenure ended after he tossed a shirt into the face of then-Cowboys coach Bill Parcells.

In college, Bryant was arrested once and twice suspended by then-Pitt coach Walt Harris. In the NFL, he served a four-game, league-mandated suspension in 2006 and 2007 (two games each year). The Bengals, ironically, tried to change his stripes, and it didn't happen. No one need feel sorry for Bryant, who has pocketed a reported $17 million the past two years.

Kindle care: Ravens second-round linebacker Sergio Kindle, who suffered a fractured skull when he fell down two flights of stairs in July, will arrive in Baltimore on Sunday or Monday, The Sports Xchange has confirmed, for club medical officials to evaluate his injury.

Ravens at a glance

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There is a good chance Kindle, the only 2010 draft choice who has yet to sign a contract, for obvious reasons, will go onto the non-football injury list. But people close to Kindle strongly claim his football career is not over.

Meanwhile, the Ravens' other second-round choice, defensive tackle Terrence Cody, recently underwent surgery to address a meniscus problem in his left knee. The Ravens, who dealt away their first-round choice in April, felt they got a couple steals in the two second-rounders, and both players would contribute for them as rookies.

Now the Baltimore scouting department, one of the best in the league under general manager Ozzie Newsome, has to wonder if it will get much of anything from the two defenders.

Dockett's deal: Actions typically speak louder than words, and that's a lesson that Arizona defensive tackle Darnell Dockett seemed to learn this year.

In 2009, Dockett skipped most of the Cardinals' offseason program, lobbying loud and long for a contract extension, even though club officials weren't about to award him one with three years remaining on his existing deal.

This year, for the most part (OK, there were some Twitter excesses, and Dockett even took an on-line shower), Dockett stayed quiet and kept mouthpiece/agent Drew Rosenhaus under control.

Almost as important, the six-year veteran diligently participated in the offseason program, and the new tack paid off handsomely when Dockett got a four-year, $48.5 million extension on Wednesday afternoon. Dockett will get a $15 million option bonus (essentially like a signing bonus) next spring.

He is under contract now through 2015. It will be worth watching to see how long Dockett, one of the NFL's premier defensive linemen, stays happy. Rosenhaus did an extension for Marcus Stroud (then in Jacksonville) a few years ago, and the veteran lineman was quietly griping a couple years later about the deal.

Dockett has 20 sacks the past three seasons, the most among all interior linemen in the league. He gets a $2.5 million escalator for 2014 if he has eight sacks in any of the seasons 2010 through 2013. Don't bet against him. Dockett has just one season with more than eight sacks, nine in 2007, but he can rush the passer from the inside as well as (perhaps better than) anyone else in the league.

On the move: It was noted in this space last week that two-year veteran tackle Tyler Polumbus was waived by Denver, and subsequently claimed by Detroit, because the Broncos have gone away from their longtime zone-blocking system and installed a new power-based scheme.

And because Polumbus, who went from 295 pounds in the offseason to 312, didn't play up to his newfound size. Polumbus was traded this week to Seattle, and much was made of the several deals of late between the Lions and the Seahawks.

But a lot of people missed this: In Seattle, Polumbus will be reunited with offensive line coach Alex Gibbs, basically the "father" of the zone-blocking scheme, and should be a better fit for what the Seahawks do.

He will also rejoin offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates, who was the quarterbacks coach at Denver in 2008, Polumbus' rookie season.

Line dance: Even if Polumbus was slow to adapt to the more physical style, the Broncos may regret jettisoning him so early in preseason. Once a model of stability, the Denver offensive line took another hit Thursday night when starting right tackle Ryan Harris sustained a left ankle injury.

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Center J.D. Walton is a rookie. The left guard will be either rookie Zane Beadles or first-year pro Stanley Daniels, who was a practice-squad player in '09 and has yet to start a regular-season game. Two-time Pro Bowl left tackle Ryan Clady is coming off an offseason torn patella tendon. And now Harris, who missed the second half of the 2009 season with a toe injury, when Polumbus filled in admirably, is dinged.

That leaves right guard Chris Kuper as the lone untouched/experienced guy. The Broncos have had just five rookie linemen start on opening day in their history, and never two at the same time. That could change next week.

Packers dealing?: We got a lot of calls and e-mails when we noted last week that the Green Bay Packers might be able to trade a veteran offensive lineman. Can't blame the skeptics, since Green Bay surrendered a league-high 51 sacks in 2009.

Packers at a glance

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The Sports Xchange has confirmed the Packers, suddenly flush with veteran linemen, have received feeler-type inquiries about center/guard Jason Spitz (45 career starts), and guard Allen Barbre, who currently is ailing.

Punts: Don't bet against the Bengals, who are still seeking a No. 4 safety, adding someone after Saturday's league-wide cutdown. Cincy auditioned former Dallas fifth-rounder (2006) Pat Watkins this week after the four-year veteran was released. ...

Atlanta 12-year veteran center Todd McClure has started 128 straight games, and will set a franchise record for consecutive starts in the regular-season opener. ... There are some Bengals  offensive players that feel the unit is much more effective in its no-huddle scheme and are urging coordinator Bob Bratkowski to use more of it. ...

The Bills coaches are quietly excited by the play of strong safety Donte Whitner. ...

The league average for the number of undrafted rookies for the past five years is 30 to 32. But this year's undrafted crop seems especially talented, and one veteran personnel man told The Sports Xchange he felt there could be 40 undrafted players on opening-day rosters. ...

The Bengals had defensive tackle Jonathan Fanene get six sacks in 2009, and might have added an inside rush to pair with him. Fourth-round rookie Geno Atkins of Georgia, had a surprising 4.5 sacks in preseason play and, while stout versus the run, can also compress the pocket from the inside. ...

Last season, Ryan Grant logged 75.4 percent of the rushing attempts by a Green Bay running back. Help could be on the way. Fourth-year pro Brandon Jackson, a second-round pick in 2007 who got 75 carries as a rookie and had that total diminish in each of the past two seasons, seems ready now to assume some of the workload. The very talented Jackson has matured quite a bit in the summer and finally gained the confidence of the coaching staff. ...

One of the recruiting pitches that New York Jets coach Rex Ryan made to Jason Taylor in the spring was that the former Miami star would get 15 sacks if he signed with the Jets. Only one defender who ever played for Ryan, Peter Boulware in 2001, managed 15 sacks. As a coordinator and head coach, Ryan has never had a player with 15 sacks. Taylor, who leads all active players with 127.5 sacks but has one season with 15 or more, may be forced to play full-time now because of the broken foot Calvin Pace sustained last week. ...

Jets 2008 first-round pick Vernon Gholston, who has drawn praise from Ryan in camp and is said to be playing better since his switch to end, is one of just two front-seven first-round picks from 2008 who still hasn't notched his first sack. The other is tackle Kentwan Balmer, recently traded from San Francisco to Seattle. ...

The quarterback situation isn't the only thing troubling the Arizona coaches. The two-time defending NFC West champions figure to have as many as six new starters on defense, and that could be a problem. One area to watch is at inside linebacker, where Karlos Dansby departed in free agency and steady Gerald Hayes is still rehabbing from back surgery. The new starters appear to be journeyman Paris Lenon and rookie Daryl Washington. The latter was drafted in the second round, mostly because of his pass coverage skills, but he may be thrust into a starter's role, and he weighs only 230 pounds. ...

At least three players -- Seattle linebacker Leroy Hill, San Francisco safety Michael Lewis, and Jets quarterback Kellen Clemens -- accepted salary reductions this week to keep their jobs. Expect more of the same in the next few days. Hill, who took a huge slash of nearly $4 million, is expected to be the backup to two-year veteran David Hawthorne, despite being only 27 years old and once having been a Pro Bowl-caliber player.

The last word: "They thought it was one thing, (then) he ended up finally getting a second opinion three weeks later, and we found out it was something a heck of a lot worse than they ever thought it was. So we're here babying Malcolm, saying, 'He's a baby, get out there and play,' when he (really) has a Grade 2 strain. And they're around here saying it's a Grade 1 (strain) and (saying) there ain't nothing wrong with him." -- Ever-talkative Washington cornerback DeAngelo Hall, claiming the Redskins misdiagnosed Malcolm Kelly's hamstring strain, after the two-year veteran wide receiver was placed on injured reserve.

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.

Tagged: Bills, Bears, Bengals, Broncos, Packers, Patriots, Saints, Giants, Jets, Seahawks, Buccaneers, Redskins, Ravens, Cardinals, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Darren Sharper, Marc Bulger, Jason Taylor, Mike Williams, Calvin Pace, DeAngelo Hall, Darnell Dockett, Mike Williams, Ryan Grant, Jason Spitz, Matt Leinart, Brandon Jackson, Ryan Harris, Greg Olsen, Ryan Clady, Malcolm Kelly, Tyler Polumbus, Malcolm Jenkins, Rob Gronkowski, Sergio Kindle, Daryl Washington

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