Uneven Steve(n): He probably won’t say so publicly, but one veteran runner who probably would welcome a trade once the lockout ends, sources tell The Sports Xchange, is Houston fourth-year tailback Steve Slaton.
The former West Virginia star, a third-round choice in the 2008 draft, rushed for a team-best 1,282 yards and nine touchdowns as a rookie. But a shoulder injury has plagued him the past two seasons, and limited Slaton to 150 rushes and 530 yards. Last year, after losing the starting job to Arian Foster, Slaton logged just 19 carries and 93 yards, and didn’t score a touchdown.
Slaton is only 25 years old, doesn’t have a lot of tread rubbed off the tires yet, and is a good receiver, so he could be an attractive No. 2 back for some team seeking to bolster the position. Rumors have linked him to St. Louis, where the Rams could use a reliable back capable of getting six to eight touches per game, to reduce the workload for Steven Jackson. But the talk has been unsubstantiated.
Slaton is under contract for 2011 at the league minimum base salary, and then would be eligible for free agency next spring. For the right price, though, he would provide a solid, experienced back for a year. The Texans already have Foster and reports have been good on the recovery of 2010 second-rounder Ben Tate, who missed his entire rookie campaign because of a fractured ankle, so Slaton may be expendable.
Not going campin’: The first shoe fell last Wednesday, when the Baltimore Ravens regrettably announced that they will not convene training camp this summer at McDaniel College in nearby Westminster, Md. The Jets followed suit with the news that they will hold camp at the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center rather than at SUNY Cortland, where they have held training camp the past two years.
Expect a few more clodhoppers to hit the floor in the next few weeks. Even though there is optimism in the labor talks, some clubs are already perilously close to "drop dead" dates for having camps at smaller colleges, where roughly half the league’s 32 franchises train in the summer.
At least three more teams, The Sports Xchange has confirmed, are within two weeks of taking the same step the Ravens took this week. The city of Westminster will suffer, by the town’s accounts, a $2.2 million hit. The Sports Xchange hasn’t reached representatives for all of the cities or college in peril of losing camps, but the going rate for lost revenues seems to start at seven figures.
Another ramification of the Ravens not going to McDaniel College is that some fans will be unable to see the club in workouts. Roads leading to the team’s Owings Mills complex can’t accommodate the traffic typical for camp. So fans will either see the team in preseason, in one of the workouts at M&T Bank Stadium (the number may be increased), or not at all.
Tutoring Pryor: Former Cincinnati quarterback Ken Anderson (1971-86), who retired completely from the game after a three-year stint as a Pittsburgh Steelers’ assistant (2007-2009), has gotten a lot of ink this spring as a potential candidate for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But it could be in another role — possibly as the one-on-one coach who prepares former Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor for his exposure to the NFL scouts before the supplemental draft — that merits Anderson almost as much attention.
Anderson is one of several candidates under strong consideration, The Sports Xchange has learned, to work with Pryor on the physical side of his game. The possible short-list of personal tutors also includes George Whitfield, the passing-games expert who prepped top overall pick Cam Newton for the combine and the draft.
There are other names being recommended to agent Drew Rosenhaus, including one who was an offensive coordinator for a team in 2010, and it’s expected a decision will come in the next week or so.
As for Anderson’s Hall of Fame pursuit, the one-time Bengals star is in his first year of eligibility as a seniors candidate, a status that might actually help his cause. Members of the seniors subcommittee of the selection board will meet in Canton in August to choose the two seniors finalists for the ballot. Anderson is the only man in NFL history to win four league passing titles who is not in the Canton shrine.
More Pryor: In case readers missed it, The Sports Xchange reported last week that longtime NFL personnel director Ken Herock would meet with Pryor in South Florida by the end of the week. The two men had dinner on Wednesday and then had a long one-on-one session Thursday in which Herock helped to ready Pryor for interviews in advance of the supplemental draft.
In his retirement, Herock has founded a company, ProPrep, which counsels draft prospects on what to expect from the interview process. Herock always declines to comment on players with whom he works, but early indications are that Pryor impressed him with his demeanor and his knowledge of the game.
Pryor continues to work out with a number of other clients represented by agent Drew Rosenhaus, including wide receivers like Chad Ochocinco, Plaxico Burress, Antonio Brown and Donte Stallworth. His Thursday workout is said to have been very impressive, and he demonstrated a surprisingly quick release. Of course, it might not have hurt that Pryor was throwing alongside Pittsburgh quarterback Byron Leftwich. The eight-year veteran is a tremendous guy, a real gentleman, but has always been known for having an elongated delivery.
Deja view: The revelation that owners want the ability to have a right of first refusal on some pending unrestricted players, as reported by ESPN and Howard Balzer of The Sports Xchange, is strangely reminiscent of Oakland owner Al Davis’ stance in 1993. Davis argued that every team should annually have 4-5 franchise tags at their disposal, and his stance probably delayed the CBA agreement for a while.
Despite his legion critics, Davis has been a league visionary, but he was wrong about that one. Most clubs don’t even employ the one franchise designation at their disposal. The concept isn’t likely to fly. Nor is an argument that clubs should be able to get a "second bite" at applying the franchise marker to four- or five-year veterans that they didn’t tag back in February at the deadline.
Bulg(er)ing with competiveness: Pending free agent quarterback Marc Bulger has been consistent during the offseason in not addressing rumors about where he might play in 2011, and even remained mum last week when Kurt Warner suggested that, at this point in his career, the 11-year veteran might be content to simply be a backup.
But people close to the 34-year-old Bulger, whose father was an old high school classmate of yours truly, took some umbrage at Warner’s remarks.
"He still has the fire to play," said one member of the Bulger camp. "Last year, when he didn’t get off the bench (in Baltimore), it wasn’t like he got completely cozy with being the No. 2 guy. The situation, though, will have to be the right one."
The last part of the equation – identifying a spot where Bulger would be able to compete for a starting job — might be the hardest. The dearth of quality quarterbacks in the NFL aside, there simply aren’t a ton of starting jobs available. The Tip Sheet reported two months ago that Arizona would be Bulger’s most logical landing spot – and cited some reports that a few NFL officials actually felt there might be an "understanding" between the two parties – but other media reports have linked the Cardinals to a trade for Philadelphia backup Kevin Kolb.
Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt recently suggested that he preferred to get a younger veteran quarterback, so he might not be in the market for an older guy like Bulger. But people close to Bulger continue to insist that he still retains a competitive streak and has not just settled in to a No. 2 quarterback mentality.
NFLPA symposium: In another "in case you missed it" item, The Sports Xchange reported Thursday that the NFLPA has had nearly 70 percent of the 2011 draft class register for its Rookie Symposium, which begins Monday in Bradenton, Fla. Without the mandatory status that the NFL’s annual Rookie Symposium entails, and minus the threat of fines for those who do not attend the event, the NFLPA has received registrations from 177 of the 254 drafted players (69.7 percent) for its alternative seminar, The Sports Xchange confirmed.
"We’re pleased," NFLPA senior regional director Jason Belser told The Sports Xchange on Thursday via e-mail. The league announced last month that it was cancelling the 2011 Rookie Symposium, originally slated to begin June 26 in Canton, Ohio, because of the lockout. Just eight days later, the NFLPA said it would hold its own rookie session.
The symposium was at first scheduled for Washington, D.C., and then subsequently moved to Bradenton, in part because of the IMG Academy facilities there. Created in 1997, ostensibly to help young players transition to the professional game, the seminar has been lauded as successful by NFL and NFLPA officials.
During its 14-year run, the NFL Rookie Symposium has had near-100 percent attendance, in part because it is mandatory for all drafted players. Attendance has been at 100 percent, in fact, for each of the past six years. It is believed that no player has been fined for either not attending or for departing early without an excuse, since 2004.
Musical chairs: The agent-jumping in the 2011 rookie class continues. New York Jets third-round defensive tackle Kenrick Ellis has left Howard Shatsky for Brian Levy. A former Hampton star, and one of only four players from historically black schools to be selected this year, Ellis still faces a July trial on felony assault charges for an incident at Hampton (maximum penalty: 20 years) in which he allegedly broke a man’s jaw in an altercation. Ellis was previously dismissed from the South Carolina squad for non-divulged violations of team rules believed to have involved positive marijuana tests.
The epidemic of changing agents apparently is not limited to only rookies. Second-year Baltimore defensive tackle Terrence Cody, a second-round choice in 2010 who Ravens’ general manager Ozzie Newsome recently suggested will be the club’s most improved player in ’11, reportedly has left Alvin Keels and joined the Athletes First (David Dunn, Joby Branion, primary agents) lengthy client list.
Punts: Former University of Florida cornerback Janoris Jenkins this week officially transferred to North Alabama, as had been previously anticipated, to finish his college career. The Sports Xchange reported two months ago that Jenkins would seek to play at a lower level, and be immediately eligible for 2011, rather than enter the supplemental draft. Various outlets then subsequently reported that Division II North Alabama would be his landing spot. Draft analysts Rob Rang and Chad Reuter of The Sports Xchange rated Jenkins as the No. 3 cornerback prospect in the 2012 draft, before first-year coach Will Muschamp dismissed him from the Gators’ squad. … After this space referred last week to a handful of four-year veterans who might get surprisingly good play as unrestricted free agents, a number of league general managers called to mention another: San Francisco defensive end Ray McDonald. A third-round pick in 2007, McDonald has only nine starts in four seasons, but is just 26 years old, and the onetime Florida standout is a solid 3-4 end. Coincidentally, McDonald told The Sacramento Bee this week that he wants to get to a situation where he can start. That might actually be the case in San Francisco if nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin departs and end Isaac Sopoaga slides over into the middle. … Speaking of four-year veteran free agents, the inclusion of the four-year group really enhances the depth of the wide receiver pool, with guys like Steve Breaston (Arizona), James Jones (Green Bay), Sidney Rice (Minnesota), Mike Sims-Walker (Jacksonville), and Steve Smith (N.Y. Giants). That’s especially true if Smith, one of the league’s best third-down receivers, is healthy. … The Atlanta Falcons’ veterans have been even more impressed by first-round wide receiver Julio Jones’ precise route-running and attention to detail than his explosiveness so far in unofficial workouts. … RIP Clarence Clemons, aka "The Big Man," the Bruce Springsteen sidekick and saxophonist who died this week after battling two recent strokes. A standout center and defensive end at Maryland State, now Maryland-Eastern Shore, Clemons was to have a tryout with Cleveland in the early 1960s when an automobile accident and knee injury ended his football career. "God had another plan for me," Clemons, a longtime NFL fan, told The Cleveland Plain Dealer a few months ago. … Although Tennessee first-year offensive coordinator Chris Palmer emphasized this week that first-round quarterback Jake Locker will start if he is "the best guy," the Titans still plan to add a veteran to the mix, and have included former starter Kerry Collins in the mix of possibilities. … Four-year veteran Marshal Yanda performed admirably for Baltimore at right tackle in 2010, but some coaches still believe that guard is his best position. The Ravens would like to move Michael Oher, who struggled at left tackle at times in ’10, back to right tackle and bump Yanda inside to guard. The problem is, the Ravens don’t have a real quality left tackle candidate right now. … When it was mentioned to a Detroit operative that some people scoffed when it was noted in this space that the Lions considered it a priority to extend the contract of left tackle Jeff Backus, who will be 34 in September, the club official replied: "Two words. Chad Clifton." The 11-year veteran Clifton, 35, was thought to be on his way out in Green Bay before the start of the ’10 season, but played well for the Super Bowl-champion Packers. … It’s been noted in this space that there is only one Nnamdi Asomugha and that, in lieu of pursuing the former Oakland star, teams might be inclined to target Pittsburgh’s Ike Taylor in what is perceived as a weak free agent cornerback market. Include Johnathan Joseph of the Bengals as a corner apt to get a lot of play as well, personnel directors say. The big problem for Joseph has always been his health, but the consensus is that someone will overpay for the former first-rounder.
The last word: "How can marriage be marriage for thousands of years and now, all of a sudden, because a minority, an influential minority, has a push or an agenda, and totally reshapes something that was not founded in our country? It’s something that’s holy and sacred and I think there’s nothing more honorable than fighting for it. If (the New York state legislature) passes this bill … what I know will happen if this comes forth is, this will be the beginning of our country sliding toward, it’s a strong word, but anarchy. That will be the moment when our country in itself loses its grip with what’s right. I do believe that there is right and wrong. I do believe there is good and evil. … (But) marriage is one of those things that is the backbone of society. So, if you redefine it, that changes the way we educate our children, it changes the perception of what is good, what is right, what is just." – Former New York Giants wide receiver David Tyree, on same-sex marriages
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.