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Caplan mailbag on Reggie Bush, draft

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Adam Caplan

Adam Caplan is our newest NFL reporter/insider at FOXSports.com. He has spent the past 10 seasons covering the league, specializing in player personnel, injuries and contracts.

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Even during labor uncertainty, NFL fans still are thinking about the upcoming season and the futures of their favorite teams.

We’re taking questions on everything from the future of veteran players to why we graded certain teams lower than others in post-draft grades.

And with that, here’s the first installment of the post-draft email bag. (You also can send your questions on Twitter @caplannfl)

 

The future of Reggie Bush

 

Question: I’m a huge Saints fan, so I’m concerned with what’s going to happen with Reggie Bush. When they drafted Mark Ingram in the first round, it would seem to me that Bush could be on his way out. What do you think will happen? — Max G.

Answer: Max, this is one of the most interesting situations in the NFL “offseason” because Bush is a popular player on one of the NFL’s marquee teams. It’s clearly a situation that must be resolved quickly once the labor situation is settled.

But in the end, the Saints are going to offer him a major base salary reduction from the $11.8 million he’s set to earn this season. It will be up to Bush to either accept what they want to pay him or he’ll have to play elsewhere.

Even with Ingram in the fold and with the re-signing of veteran Pierre Thomas, the Saints still need a back like Bush to handle some passing situations and a change of pace role. So you can see why they still would want him around since they don’t have another back like him on the roster. That’s the type of role that he’ll likely be looking at elsewhere if he won’t rework his deal with the Saints.

Bush does not have much discernible leverage because he has missed so much time due to injury since his 2006 rookie season. According to a pro personnel source, Bush has participated in only 622 out of a possible 2,170 offensive snaps the past two regular seasons, or 28.7 percent.

 

Will Mallett be Brady’s successor?

 

Question: Many are saying Ryan Mallett is being groomed as Tom Brady's successor. However, Mallett is likely to get a four-year deal and Brady just signed the four-year extension. So I ask, what’s the over/under for the total number of meaningful snaps Mallett takes as a New England Patriot: 0.5? It would not surprise me if Mallett is flipped for a 2012 draft pick or two. I see his path identical to that of Matt Schaub. Agree or disagree? — Gary L.

Answer: Gary, I find it interesting that the Mallett selection has caused such a stir with fans. It seems whether it’s via Twitter or on the airwaves, there are strong opinions on the decision to select him in the third round.

Brady is signed through 2014, and if under the new collective bargaining agreement, non-first-rounders are signed to four-year deals, yes, you would be correct. And if Brady hasn’t signed a new deal by 2014, he’ll be 37 in the final year of his latest contract.

Brady will not be taken out of any game unless there’s a huge blowout or he’s injured. So you would have to define what meaningful snaps are. There’s no way Brady will lose the starting job to anyone.

But one thing lost in all of the Mallett hysteria is the fact that No. 2 quarterback Brian Hoyer is in the final year of his three-year rookie deal. If the free agency rules going forward make him a restricted free agent for 2012, then he could be around for another season.

I don’t see any way Mallett is traded next year considering he won’t take a snap unless Brady and Hoyer are injured. He would need to put together at least a few years of good preseason tape in order to establish any real value. But Mallett has great tools to be an effective passer. The reason he dropped in the draft had nothing to do with his throwing ability.

 

Rams’ free-agency targets

 

Question: If you were the St. Louis Rams GM, which free agents would you target? My list would be as follows:

• Running back — One of the following: Marion Barber (after he's released by the Dallas Cowboys), Ronnie Brown (Miami Dolphins) or Darren Sproles (San Diego Chargers).
• Guard — Robert Gallery.
• Defensive tackle — Brandon Mebane or Barry Cofield.
• Outside linebacker — Julian Peterson to compete with Na’il Diggs on strong side.
• Safety — Quintin Mikell.
— Greg D.

Answer: Greg, the Rams are one of the up-and-coming teams, so their fans (I assume you are one) should be pretty excited with what General Manager Billy Devaney has done with the roster the past few years.

I’ll at least give you some strong opinions on your lengthy list in regard to potential fits.

Barber is an interesting fit because they must find a reliable backup who could handle a lot of touches. Getting a strictly third-down back won’t provide adequate insurance for Steven Jackson. As I recently first reported, Barber’s $500,000 roster bonus is due June 3. Assuming the lockout isn’t over by then, the Cowboys’ decision on whether to pay it will be made once the new league year starts. However, Barber has had injury issues the past three seasons. Barber, if healthy, can handle 12 to 15 touches per game, and he turns just 28 in June. His yards-per-carry average dropped significantly last season, but he handled a decent amount of short-yardage work.

Brown, who turns 30 in late December, would be a good fit because he can handle a lot of carries. However, it's a bit concerning that his yards per carry dipped to 3.7 last season. But some of that could be attributed to poor interior offensive line play.

Sproles could fill a change-of-pace/third-down role, but not the key insurance role should Jackson get hurt. They must have a back behind Jackson who would be capable of handling 10 or more carries. However, new offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels has preferred a committee approach at running back in the past.

As for Gallery, I don’t think he would fit because he’s best in zone blocking and McDaniels’ scheme uses man-on-man blocking.

Mebane and Cofield could be restricted free agents if the 2010 free agency rules apply again. If 2009’s rules are in effect, both of those very talented players would be unrestricted free agents. Either player could really help the Rams since one of their biggest weaknesses is the interior of the defensive line. And Cofield played under Rams head coach Steve Spagnuolo for two seasons with the Giants.

Peterson is an interesting player because he can cover and also rush from the strong-side position. But Peterson and Diggs turn 33 in July, so I’m not sure if they want to sign another older player.

Mikell, who turns 31 in September, is a smart player, and he did play under Spagnuolo with the Eagles. I could see him signing there for a short-term deal (one to two seasons) in a leadership type of role at strong safety.

 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers draft grade

 

Question: If you consider Tampa's draft only a C, you need to step back and re-examine. Picking up the top two ends (Da’Quan Bowers and Adrian Clayborn) with only minor concerns was brilliant. Then picking up the top tackler in the draft (Mason Foster) with their next pick only added to the genius. — Mike A.

Answer: Mike, I hear you, but you need to look at why Bowers slipped way down and why Clayborn wasn’t selected any higher.

In Bowers’ case, it’s hard to argue with the belief that he should have been a top-10 pick based on talent alone. But his knee surgery, which some teams believed was microfracture or close to it, caused his drop. And many of those teams questioned whether he’ll be able to have a long enough career to warrant selecting him in the first round. Medical issues come down to risk. Thirty-one teams believed the risk was too high in the first round. The Buccaneers waited until they thought the risk was worth it in the second round. Time will tell if he turns out to be a steal or not.

As for Clayborn, I had him pegged there, I believe, in all four of my mock draft updates. And the reason is I had a strong feeling that based on his medical issue (Erb’s palsy), he wouldn’t be selected within the first half of the first round. The interesting thing is that on tape, you really can’t tell there was an issue. But that condition affects one side of his body, and sources said you could see that with his shirt off, the affected side wasn’t as developed as the other side. Many teams were concerned that he could play on only one side of the defensive line. It will be interesting to see how he does in the NFL.

As for Foster, he’s an intriguing player. He could play middle or strong-side linebacker in Tampa’s 4-3 defense. He’ll bring a physical presence. And there could be jobs open at both positions depending on the rules of free agency.

 

Eli Manning’s interceptions

 

Question: Do you think Eli Manning’s interceptions will go down this year? Why is the INT progression so up and down? I feel like it's keeping him from being a definite top QB. — Jim V.

Answer: Jim, I know Manning’s performance in 2010 frustrated many New York Giants fans. But there’s a reason why he had 25 interceptions.

Keep in mind his top passing target, wide receiver Steve Smith, missed seven games and was not healthy for parts of others. Smith has been almost used like a tight end in the Giants’ offense over the years. He’s so reliable and is capable of going over the middle. And don’t forget wide receiver Hakeem Nicks missed three games. Both of them are starters.

Despite that, Manning still threw for 31 touchdowns. The high interception total was a result of not having those two guys in the lineup every week. And Smith is coming off of major knee surgery and could leave if he’s ruled an unrestricted free agent. That’s part of the reason the team selected wide receiver Jerrel Jernigan in the third round.

Tagged: Cowboys, Rams, Dolphins, Patriots, Saints, Giants, Eagles, Buccaneers, Chargers, Steven Jackson, Eli Manning, Marion Barber, Reggie Bush, Barry Cofield Jr., Steve Smith, Adrian Clayborn

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