In his typically insightful NFL column, Rick Gosselin of The Dallas Morning News this week opined that the 2009 draft, with one-third of its 257 choices already waived, traded or retired, probably rates as one of the worst in modern league history.
No argument here. But how about the first round of the recent drafts? Well, the top round in 2007, we think, was pretty poor. To label that 2007 first round as "disappointing" would be an understatement. The initial overall choice that year was quarterback JaMarcus Russell. And while we noted in this space last week that the former LSU star is now working with a trainer in Houston and said to be down in the range of 260 pounds, until (maybe unless) he gets back into the league and redeems himself, Russell will be ranked as one of the worst top picks of all-time. ‘Nuff said.
But while Russell may have been monumental as a bust, he was hardly alone. Five of the 32 picks in that ’07 first round — the late defensive end Gaines Adams (No. 4), wide receiver Ted Ginn (No. 9), defensive lineman Adam Carriker (No. 13), safety Reggie Nelson (No. 21) and quarterback Brady Quinn (No. 22) — have already been traded by the franchises that drafted them. Marshawn Lynch (No. 12) is arguably only the third-best tailback in Buffalo and has been the subject of a lot of trade rumors.
Defensive ends Jamaal Anderson (No. 8) and Jarvis Moss (No. 17) are backups, and the latter has started one game in three-plus seasons. Green Bay just placed defensive tackle Justin Harrell (No. 16) on injured reserve for the second consecutive season, and his mind-boggling assortment of injuries (back, hip, ankle and knee) means the former University of Tennessee star will have appeared in just 14 games in four seasons and still doesn’t have a sack. The tragic death of Adams cut short his career, but the former Clemson star was regarded as an underachiever before Tampa Bay shipped him to Chicago.
"A real dart-board kind of year," one AFC general manager assessed the 2007 first round this week.
By the way, 49 of the 63 prospects chosen in the first rounds of the 2008 and 2009 drafts are starters. None of the ’09 first-rounders has been traded. Two picks from the first stanza of the ’08 lottery, defensive linemen Lawrence Jackson and Kentwan Balmer, have been traded.
As poor as the 2007 first round has been, the top round of this year’s draft could be really good. At least it’s, collectively so far, off to a pretty good start. There were 36 rookie starters in the first week of the season, and 20 of them, including the top five players taken and 12 of the first 14, were first-round choices. Seven of the starters came from the second round, five from the third and two from the fourth.
A pair of undrafted free agents, cornerbacks Sam Shields of Green Bay and Detroit’s Aaron Berry (since placed on injured reserve with a bum shoulder), were starters as well. Beyond the two free agents, the lowest-drafted player to start was New England tight end Aaron Hernandez, the 113th player to go off the board five months ago. Nine clubs had no rookie starters, and the teams with the most were Detroit, New England and Oakland, with three each. Three first-round picks were inactive for their respective openers, but the only healthy scratch was Indianapolis defensive end/linebacker Jerry Hughes.
Vincent van go
The Thursday settlement that could potentially reduce the time lost by holdout wide receiver Vincent Jackson, and which might facilitate a trade, has caused some mixed feelings in the San Diego organization. The Chargers should be able to cut a deal by next week’s deadline, and there is plenty of time for a suitor to finish a contract with Jackson, but there is said to be a mixed opinion by Chargers officials.
The team is weighing what it might receive in compensation from any of the teams interested in Jackson versus the third-round choice that it will likely be awarded if he becomes a free agent and departs that way. Of course, there is still some question about the CBA and whether Jackson, a sixth-year veteran, becomes a free agent next spring. Under just about any circumstance, Jackson would be an unrestricted free agent in 2011.
About this, there is no organizational duality: The Chargers, including several key players, have written off Jackson and are ready to move on without him. If the players had a vote about which of the two San Diego holdouts they would prefer to have back, one veteran told The Sports Xchange this week, it would be for left tackle Marcus McNeill.
The early contract negotiations between Denver general manager Brian Xanders and Champ Bailey’s camp take into account that the 12th-year veteran cornerback likely will move to safety later in his career.
Bailey, 32, is in the final season of the landmark seven-year, $63 million contract he signed with the Broncos when they acquired him from Washington in a 2004 trade. There aren’t many star-caliber performers who have played through an entire contract of that length without a re-do at some point.
But Bailey, who is set to earn $13 million in 2010 between base salary and bonuses, is that rare bird. Bailey and agent Jack Reale are more focused on what the player will make in the first three or four years of any deal, when he still figures to be at cornerback, than they are the total average.
Bailey, who amazingly has played under nine different defensive coordinators and eight head coaches in his career, has publicly acknowledged he will move inside to safety, like Rod Woodson, at some point. But he feels he still has 3-4 more good seasons left on the edge of the secondary and expects to be paid as a corner and not a would-be safety.
In 11 previous seasons, Bailey has been to the Pro Bowl nine times and twice been an alternate.
Secret agent man
A couple weeks ago, The Sports Xchange reported that federal authorities were closely monitoring the NCAA investigations against some player agents accredited by the NFL Players Association. The same sources cited in that story told TSX that the feds have started to dig even deeper now.
At the same time, there is word that the NFLPA is snooping around the activities of a veteran agent located west of the Mississippi and the alleged actions of one of his clients. No names here, because we don’t want any agents going ballistic on us like they did on another Internet reporter this week — or threatening to some day own the reporter’s house if a retraction to a recent story isn’t published.
As of Friday morning, there was no retraction. No house deed switched hands, either.
No Romeus regrets
One of the biggest decisions for University of Pittsburgh defensive end Greg Romeus to make in the offseason was whether or not to declare himself available for the 2010 draft.
In the end, Romeus chose to return to school for his final season, but now he has undergone back surgery and won’t return until the end of the season.
A pure upfield rusher and a prototype "edge" defender, Romeus had eight sacks in 2009, but most scouts felt the former basketball player needed more weight and better technique versus the run. He may gain neither with his surgery to repair a disc, and scouts see him now as an even bigger gamble.
"But if I had to do it again," Romeus said, "(the choice) would be the same."
If Romeus does return for the final month or so of Pittsburgh’s schedule, he’s going to have to play lights-out to dispel doubts and demonstrate to scouts his back isn’t a chronic problem.
Matt Ryan set the bar exceptionally high when the Atlanta quarterback, on his first pass attempt in his first regular-season game, threw to wide receiver Michael Jenkins for a 62-yard touchdown connection.
But the long ball has been lacking from the Atlanta offense of late, and the Falcons would like to start stretching secondaries again.
It’s not that Ryan can’t throw the deep ball well. In 2008, as a rookie, he completed 13 passes for more than 30 yards and nine for more than 40 yards. Those numbers weren’t far off in ’09 — 12 connections for 30 yards or more and five of 40-plus yards — and Ryan didn’t have nearly as poor a season as some of the locals (who went into the year with elevated expectations) feel.
But his average per attempt and average per completion have diminished, and it’s time for Ryan to more regularly air things out again. His averages in 2008 were 7.93 yards per pass and 12.98 yards per completion. In ’09, they shrunk to 6.46 yards and 11.09 yards, respectively.
In last week’s overtime loss at Pittsburgh, Ryan averaged a paltry 5.73 yards per pass and 9.33 yards per completion. The coaches want Ryan to be more accurate, but since his rookie season, his completion percentage is actually about three points less.
Part of the reason is that Ryan often fixates on tight end Tony Gonzalez. Another factor: The coaches want Ryan to throw the ball more to his backs, and while he hasn’t done it yet, the suggestion definitely is in his head.
Atlanta fans often denigrate the play of wideout Michael Jenkins, a first-round pick in 2004. Granted, Jenkins has never caught more than 53 passes in a season and he frequently suffers some drops, but he is a good complement to Roddy White and stretches the field when he’s in the game.
The Falcons are just 5-6 since Ryan arrived when Jenkins is injured and doesn’t play. Jenkins sat out last week with a shoulder injury and likely won’t play Sunday, but Atlanta is 15-7 with him in the lineup since the start of the 2008 season.
Much to his credit, Indianapolis wide receiver Reggie Wayne, who missed most of the Colts’ offseason activities because he wants his contract to be enhanced, hasn’t let the matter affect his play.
Good thing, since the Colts aren’t likely to restructure his deal, which runs through 2011, anytime soon. Wayne is due base salaries of $5.47 million this season and $5.95 million in 2011, but the sticker is that he’s 31 years old and will be 32 in November.
There’s no argument the 10-year veteran has outplayed the six-year, $39.5 million extension he signed in late 2006, but his age is a factor.
"He still makes all those other guys better," Houston rookie cornerback Kareem Jackson told The Sports Xchange after the season opener last week.
"He’s still scary."
Maybe so, but Indianapolis brass is leery of just how much it should pay Wayne at his age.
Arizona strong safety Adrian Wilson, one of the league’s best blitzers from out of the secondary, entered his 10th in the NFL with almost as many sacks (20.5) as interceptions (23).
But as demonstrated in last weekend’s opening win at St. Louis, Wilson is becoming more adept at the pass coverage aspect of the game. At age 30, Wilson, a three-time Pro Bowl defender, is learning some new tricks.
"I’m dropping more now (under second-year coordinator Billy Davis) and getting a better break on the ball," Wilson said.
In the opener, he intercepted two passes, and that was as many or more than Wilson had in four of his 10 years in the league. Of course, typical of Wilson, he also had two tackles, a sack, a hurry and a blocked kick.
In just 17 games under Davis’ tutelage, Wilson has now registered seven interceptions and is being used as more than just an "in the box" safety, one who was most dangerous when he crept close to the line of scrimmage.
"He could always do it all; now he’s being asked to do it all," said Cardinals secondary coach Donnie Henderson.
Oddly, Wilson has started 116 games before last Sunday, but the victory over the Rams was only his second multiple-interception performance. He had three pickoffs against Dallas in 2002.
Dallas offensive coordinator Jason Garrett took the lion’s share of the blame for the play-calling in the season-opening loss to the Redskins, but that noble public admission didn’t keep the veteran coordinator’s star from dropping a bit with some teams who might be making a head-coaching change after this season.
Just two years ago, Garrett, 44, was one of the hottest commodities on the interview circuit, and he turned down at least two job offers to run his own show.
He’s still on the "A-list" one owner said and could still succeed Wade Phillips in Dallas if the former doesn’t retain his job after 2010, but he isn’t as strong in the minds of some officials around the league as he once was.
Assessed one owner: "It’s not a slam dunk (that Garrett lands a head-coach gig) anymore."
Come back, Carson
It wasn’t all that long ago that Cincinnati quarterback Carson Palmer was being hailed as one of the league’s premier players at his position. That was after Palmer threw for more than 4,000 yards each in 2006 and 2007 and posted a combined 54 touchdown passes those years.
Then, Palmer suffered a right elbow injury in 2008, limiting him to four starts, and a lot of NFL observers feel that he hasn’t been the same since.
Palmer started all 16 games in ’09, but his passing yards (3,094) were the second-fewest of his four 16-game seasons. And his touchdown passes (21) were the fewest.
With a solid group of wide receivers in ’10 — provided Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens stick around until the scoreboard clock hits 0:00 in each half — this was viewed as a bounce-back season for the eighth-year veteran. And it may still be, since one game is hardly a viable barometer.
But Palmer seemed uncertain and overly tentative in last Sunday’s defeat at New England. Some might even suggest he appeared confused in stretches, especially early on, when Patriots coach Bill Belichick employed six different packages in the first 30 snaps.
Palmer is going to have to play better if the Bengals are to claim consecutive division titles for the first time in franchise history.
Speaking of quarterbacks on the rebound, it was widely believed that Jason Campbell, the sixth-year veteran acquired by Oakland after the Redskins’ deal for Donovan McNabb, would have a good season in the Bay Area and might help the Raiders become one of the NFL’s most improved teams in 2010.
But Campbell is hamstrung by a Raiders’ offensive line — left tackle Mario Henderson, left guard Robert Gallery, rookie center Jared Veldheer, right guard Cooper Carlisle and right tackle Langston Walker — that just isn’t very good right now.
The Raiders were outplayed and "out-physicaled" by Tennessee in their season opener and were beaten for four sacks. Campbell is light-years better than his predecessor, but he’s going to have to get some help from the line for he and the Raiders to move forward.
People close to Percy Harvin, who has been limited in practice this week by a sore hip, expect the second-year veteran wide receiver to play in Sunday’s game against Miami. … Colts officials hold out some hope that strong safety Bob Sanders, who underwent surgery this week on a torn biceps, might be able to return for the end of the season or the playoffs. For now, they will monitor Sanders’ recovery, and he won’t go on injured reserve. But Sanders is scheduled to earn $3.275 million this season, then his salaries climb to $5.5 million for 2011 and $7.0 million for ’12. Tough to see him still around unless they adjust those salaries. The 2007 league defensive player of the year and the two-time Pro Bowl defender appeared in just 45 games the past six seasons. Sanders has never played a 16-game schedule and in four of his first six seasons, played no more than six games. … With second-year veteran William Beatty sidelined after surgery on his right foot, the New York Giants will use Shawn Andrews as their No. 3 tackle, behind starters David Diehl and Kareem McKenzie. Released by Philadelphia after appearing in just two games the past two years, Andrews played mostly guard for the Eagles. … Baltimore rookie linebacker Sergio Kindle, who has been sidelined since the preseason after suffering head injuries falling down the stairs, hopes to hear in the next few days about a battery of neurological and cognitive tests that he was recently administered. The second-rounder still has not abandoned hope for being able to play at some point in 2010. … It’s a passing game, as the 2009 season demonstrated, but teams with a 300-yard passer in the opening weekend were just 1-2. Teams that had a 100-yard runner were 3-1. … The Miami Dolphins worked out 10-year veteran linebacker Adalius Thomas last week and according to one club official, "weren’t overwhelmed" by the two-time Pro Bowler. … For those keeping score of the Westbrook Brothers sibling rivalry: Younger brother Byron Westbrook of Washington, who some reports had being waived in the final cutdown, didn’t have a tackle from scrimmage in the opener but did have one special teams stop. Older brother Brian Westbrook of San Francisco, alleged to be the top backup to starting tailback Frank Gore, was eligible for the first game at Seattle but didn’t play. … Rather than flip right tackle Flozell Adams to the left side to compensate for the ankle injury to starter Max Starks, Pittsburgh will use journeyman Jonathan Scott on the weak side against Tennessee on Sunday. Adams started the previous 12 seasons at left tackle but is just starting to get comfortable on the right side, and the feeling is that Starks won’t be sidelined for as long as was originally thought. … Dallas right tackle Alex Barron, flagged for holding to negate what would have been the winning touchdown at Washington last week, has been penalized 66 times in his six-year career. … With a victory over Chicago on Sunday, Dallas will join the Steelers as the only franchises with 400 wins since the merger. … The Cowboys, by the way, have not allowed an offensive touchdown in three consecutive regular-season games.
The last word
"It’s like stabbing you in the heart." — Indianapolis weak-side linebacker Clint Session on the Houston Texans’ ability to run the ball in the regular-season opener