Inside the Rams' war room and more draft thoughts
ST. LOUIS -- When you spend a round in a team's war room, as I did Thursday night with the Rams, you understand why so many players, coaches, scouts and executives are magnetized to this game and cannot give it up.
Being with the coaches, GM, scouts and execs of the Rams for Round 1, I saw and heard what a rush the draft is for football-freak 30- and 40-somethings. There's a fun sort of tension. There's gambling -- which the Rams did especially well in moving from pick 22 to pick 30. There are big-screen TVs, and the occasional chuckle at a Kiper or Mayock statement, and catered swordfish and strip steaks, and you're with all your friends (mostly), doing what guys love to do: talk football.
I was here to write a story on the Rams for this week's issue of Sports Illustrated (shameless plug -- on iPads Wednesday and newsstands Thursday!). How would the Rams try to close the gap with the supernova Seahawks and 49ers, and could they close the gap? Well, I lucked out, as you'll read in the story this week, because GM Les Snead, coach Jeff Fisher and COO Kevin Demoff made stuff happen.
You saw the Rams trade twice -- from 16 up to eight, to take wideout/returner Tavon Austin, and from 22 down to 30, to take versatile linebacker Alec Ogletree -- but what you didn't see was the glee in the room when both picks were made. That was good. Twenty-five or so football people in the room, not in cliques or camps, but together, and pretty excited when the moves were made. Case in point: When Ogletree was picked, special teams coach John Fassel and linebackers coach Frank Bush high-fived and considered the impact of the first two picks.
"Can I have Ogletree for punt blocks?'' Fassel asked.
"Yeah, he blocked six punts in college,'' Bush said. "He's great at it."
"Wait,'' Fassel said. "I don't want him to block the punts -- I want to see Tavon return 'em!''
And they both laughed the kind of laugh you hear in a draft room when you've just had a good day.
Will Austin be the electric player he was at West Virginia? Don't know. Will Ogletree be all player and no distraction, which made him tumble down the board in Round 1? Don't know that either. But for one night, the Rams seemed to help their team quite a bit, and it's obvious from the view I got why football's such a drug to so many.
Now onto the rest of what was a very eventful draft weekend.
Topics of the day:
1. I admire what Doug Marrone did. I think passing on the quarterback who helped him get an NFL head-coaching job was tough -- but it was the loyal thing to his organization, and the honorable thing to do once he found he liked E.J. Manuel more than his own Ryan Nassib.
2. Who doesn't love what the Vikings did? Sharrif Floyd 23rd? The most dangerous deep-threat receiver in the pool, Cordarrelle Patterson, 29th? A physical corner who may not cover the way Antoine Winfield did but just may be as physical, at 25, in Xavier Rhodes? I know a few decision-makers who worry about Patterson's maturity, but no team came out with three players as potentially impactful from day one as GM Rick Spielman did with the Vikings.
3. Take a bow, Ravens. (More about the weekend's underrated draft in Tuesday's column.)
4. Cleveland does the Belichickian thing, trading into the future.
5. The quarterbacks didn't go 6-29-31-33-40, the way we were sold that they might. They went 16-39-73-98-110. They fell because we all bought the hype -- me included -- from agents and team whisperers that the game has become even more quarterback-centric, and teams were going to take shots even if they weren't sold on all the merits of the passers in this draft. Cleveland, Jacksonville, Kansas City and Minnesota, all candidates to take one, drafted a total of zero passers. As one personnel man told me Sunday: "I think we just couldn't believe there wasn't a run on them late in the first round, and it's because it turned out teams just didn't see them as their quarterbacks of the future.''
6. One skill player -- Tavon Austin -- went in the top 15. Some of that has to do with the running back position. Here will be one of the great trivia questions five years from now: Who was the first running back picked in the 2013 draft? Even this morning, you have to think hard to say Giovani Bernard (37th, to Cincinnati). This was the first time since 1973 a runner wasn't picked in the first round, and no wonder. In 2010, an undrafted back (Arian Foster) won the rushing title. In 2011, the top five in the rushing race were drafted 60th, 55th, 154th, 53rd and not at all. And of course last year, the 173rd pick, a rookie, Alfred Morris, finished second in the rushing race to Adrian Peterson.
There can still be great running backs picked high, but why do it unless you have a combo speed/power guy like Peterson -- especially when rushing gems drop out of the sky on Day 3? But some of it had to do with the fact that there wasn't a sure thing on and off the field like Andre Johnson or Calvin Johnson.
7. Love what Green Bay GM Ted Thompson did with his position of greatest need.
8. Seattle did what it does in the secondary -- take a big and physical guy on Day 3 -- and GM John Schneider, as he is wont to do, overlooked the off-the-field stuff in LSU cornerback Tharold Simon.
9. Oakland had picks in each of the first four rounds for the first time since 2010. That's good. And the Raiders dealt down to get the two they lost in the Carson Palmer deal. (Is it really necessary for me to use the compound adjective "ill-fated'' before "Carson Palmer deal?") But the D.J. Hayden pick is pretty risky. Can he still have the same physical drive after the last time he was on the field for a football practice, in which he nearly died?
10. Denard Robinson, running back.
11. Riskiest picks of the top 100: Dion Jordan, Tyrann Mathieu. The Dolphins jumped ahead of Philadelphia and former Oregon coach Chip Kelly to snap pass rusher Dion Jordan; it cost Miami the 12th and 42nd picks overall, though I'm told the Eagles weren't going to choose Jordan fourth overall. Jordan could be Aldon Smith. He could be Mike Mamula. (Look him up, kids.) ... Hope the Cardinals know what they're doing, picking the Honey Badger 69th. More about him later.
12. Even if Detroit fans on a pass rusher with 4.5 career college sacks at the top of the draft (and I get the Ziggy Ansah risk), I say the Lions got two starters for the next eight years in Rounds 2 and 3.
13. Two Philly thoughts: I have no idea what Chip Kelly's going to do on offense, and I think he likes it that way. If two of his three quarterbacks (Nick Foles and Matt Barkley) are pocket guys, is he really going to make his quarterback pocket a movable feast? I think Tony Dungy's right (his son played for Kelly at Oregon) when he says he expects Kelly's NFL offense to be like Buffalo's under Jim Kelly -- very fast-paced, but not necessarily with a quarterback who has to run to win ... And from the amount of fact-finding Eagles GM Howie Roseman has been doing over the past couple of months on switching to the 3-4 defense, I was surprised Philadelphia, which had five picks in top 200, used only one on a front-seven player, defensive tackle Bennie Logan of LSU, the 67th overall pick.
14. Stop killing the Cowboys. Just stop. Dallas got the No. 1 center on many boards at 31 (Travis Frederick), filling a gaping hole; an offensive tight end to someday replace Jason Witten (Gavin Escobar) at 47; and a 51-game starter at wideout from Baylor, Terrance Williams (who averaged 19 yards a catch last year) at 74. As one GM told me Sunday: "Frederick might be a reach, but if you get a starter for your team for six or eight years -- at any position -- isn't that worth the 31st pick overall in a lousy draft?"
15. Be careful, Cincinnati. Or we'll start to think you know how to draft.
The Cardinals say: If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.
When Arizona took Mathieu early in the third round, I immediately thought that was the kind of move other teams in the NFC West would have tried. Seattle went the risky route with Bruce Irvin in the first round last year (and took cornerback Tharold Simon two days after he was arrested this year). St. Louis -- Janoris Jenkins last year, Alec Ogletree this year -- doesn't flinch at taking checkered-past guys. Mathieu was kicked off the LSU team for multiple positive drug tests last August, then arrested in October for marijuana possession, ruining any chance he had to be reinstated to the team. "It's uncharacteristic of our organization to take chances on guys with troubled pasts,'' Cardinals general manager Steve Keim told me Sunday night. "But we thought this was a good player and person for us to take.''
The Cardinals, one league source told me earlier Sunday, will randomly drug test Mathieu as often as weekly after he signs his NFL contract -- a contract, I'm told, that will not include any guaranteed money. Rather, Mathieu will earn bonus money in the form of roster bonuses, to ensure that the club is protected in the event that he lapses and the team chooses to cut him. If that happens, the Cardinals will be out a prime draft choice, but not any guaranteed money. Last year's 69th pick, wideout T.J. Graham of the Bills, signed a four-year deal with a $671,000 bonus. For Mathieu to make that money, he'll have to be a member of the Cardinals in good standing week to week -- and clean.
Keim said he's counting on one of the Cardinals' cornerstone players, Patrick Peterson, to be a mentor to Mathieu, who is likely to play free safety; they were teammates at LSU in 2010. He said he's comfortable with how important football is to Mathieu, and that he thinks being an NFL player -- and staying one -- will be a powerful motivator. "I'm not naïve about this,'' Keim said. "I know the risk. But the risk to reward was enticing. His passion for the game is off the charts."
Some team was going to take Mathieu, and others were interested somewhere in the middle of the draft. The risk is high. We'll see if Mathieu can keep up his end of the bargain now that Arizona has invested a valuable pick in him.
Speaking of risks ...
The D.J. Hayden story makes him the kind of player you have to root for. Hayden, a cornerback for the University of Houston, collided with a teammate in practice last November and ruptured a large vein near his heart. He nearly died. He lost so much blood he had to get all of his own replaced with transfusions. His weight plummeted in the weeks after, and his football future was in doubt. Which makes the fact that, five months later, Hayden was the 12th player picked in the draft all the more amazing. "It's amazing the Raiders would have so much faith in me, and I truly appreciate it,'' Hayden told me from Oakland over the weekend.
Oakland GM Reggie McKenzie said the health scare "became a non-issue for us'' once Raiders medical officials cleared him. But I can tell you there are teams -- more than one -- who were concerned with Hayden's future. Not physically as much as mentally. After the incident and the life-saving surgery, as Hayden told NFL Network's Andrea Kremer in her compelling telling of his tale, "I was scared every time my heart beat fast." One team that was interested in Hayden pulled back and decided not to consider drafting him after officials couldn't be sure Hayden would be the same aggressive player in the NFL that he was before the incident happened.
Can he? Hayden hasn't been in a football practice or game since that fateful day last November in Houston. He said he's rough-housed with friends around his home, but hasn't had the kind of contact he'll have come July in Raiders camp. Will he be able to put the accident out of his mind when bigger, stronger and faster players come at him from all directions?
"Great question,'' he said. "I definitely understand that. You don't know 'til you get out there. The chance of it happening again are slim and none. But I can tell you I think the more reps I get, the more comfortable I will be and the better I will do. I am not worried about it.'' Hayden should be one of the great stories of this NFL season. And Reggie McKenzie's faith in him will be a good story too.
Doug Marrone did what he had to do.
Doug Marrone knows he got his head-coaching job in Buffalo in large part due to the success he had in turning around the Syracuse program. And the player who contributed the most to that success was Marrone's quarterback Ryan Nassib. We all know what happened now: Buffalo general manager Buddy Nix and Marrone (and the 33-year-old offensive coordinator he brought from Syracuse, Nathaniel Hackett, to a lesser extent) studied the quarterbacks in this spring's flawed quarterback market, knowing the Bills would likely pick one high in the draft ... and they chose Florida State's E.J. Manuel over Nassib.
Nix has the final personnel say in the traditional general manager/coach relationship in Buffalo. But I'm also told it wouldn't have mattered who had the last call in picking the quarterback in Buffalo: Nix and Marrone both judged Manuel the best quarterback in the crop. Buffalo traded from No. 8 t in the first round to No. 16, picked Manuel at 16, and stashed an extra second-round pick in the process.
When I talked to Marrone on Sunday, it was apparent that even though the pick was three days old, the impact of it -- all of it -- was still fresh. And it still bothered him.
"I don't know if words can explain it,'' Marrone said from his office.
"In one sense, you study all the quarterbacks and you get the one you believe is the best one, and you're happy. You're ecstatic,'' Marrone said. "In another sense, you're hurting about Ryan. And it did hurt. You're hurting in a different way for the other quarterbacks too, because you spent a lot of time with them too, and there was a lot to like about all of them. But with Ryan, it was very difficult after what we did together. It hurts. It definitely hurts. He's a special kid. Unbelievable worker. So smart. Very, very good quarterback with all the intangibles. He will win games in this league.
"The responsibility I had was to get the best player we could get. There are a lot of people relying on me to get the best players we can get here -- all the people in the organization and all the fans who buy tickets to see us play.''
Add this to the difficulty: The Bills told no one outside the organization what their plans were; they didn't want to give away any strategic advantage, and certainly didn't want another team figuring who they liked to jump them and pick Manuel. So Marrone couldn't pick up the phone a few days before and tell Nassib he wasn't the guy.
I don't see it as disloyal. I see it as a coach who got a job and whose new job is to look at a pool of players and pick the best one. Why would he automatically pick the one he'd been with, just because he'd been with him and had success? Should he put on blinders because he'd won with one player and pick a player he felt deep down was inferior to another one? No. His loyalty is with the Buffalo Bills now, not to the players had at Syracuse.
In the fifth round, the Bills went looking for a safety. On many strong safety boards in the league -- and on Mike Mayock's -- Syracuse safety Shamarko Thomas was rated above Nevada's Duke Williams. Keep in mind the final say is Nix's on Buffalo players. But the Bills, with Williams and Thomas both on the board, picked Williams 105th overall. The next safety to go, to Pittsburgh with the 111th choice, was Thomas.
It's a tough business. "I thought the situation in Buffalo was going to go a little bit different ... I was a little disappointed,'' Nassib told the media covering the Giants in a conference call after being their fourth-round pick Saturday. I've heard Nassib was more than "a little disappointed." I've heard he was wounded by it. That's no surprise. He's a talented player. With Nassib under center, Syracuse won bowl games in his last two seasons, and beat West Virginia three straight years. Of course it's going to hurt if your coach chooses to draft someone else.
Now about the Manuel pick. Marrone didn't want to get into comparison shopping here, because saying what one guy does better than the other is going to leave the second guy looking like a loser. But Manuel, though a questionable decision-maker, was more accurate last season. He's two inches taller and a better athlete. Now, there are things Nassib did better. He's more instinctive in the pocket and appears to be better at picking the right target downfield.
Marrone has been cryptic about exactly what his offense is going to be -- he said Sunday he won't know exactly what it is until he begins practicing with his team and knows better the strengths and weaknesses of the players. "We'll have tempo -- everyone knows that,'' Marrone said. Clearly, the fast-paced and spread style appealed to Marrone after Syracuse went to that style and won with it last fall.
Manuel told me, "I think they felt I fit their offensive system the best when I met with them. I caught on quickly to the protections, and that's one thing that will help show all my talents in this system. Mostly, I feel I fit well with this team. The coaches are all about business, not about perceptions or the media or anything other than what will help us win. I like that. I think it's the kind of player and person I am.''
"He's very multiple,'' said Marrone, "and that always helps any quarterback. But having said that, [veterans] Kevin Kolb and Tarvaris Jackson are multiple in their skills too. So I think we'll be able to do the variety of things in the offense, however we decide to run it.''
Marrone said he kept a book with all the stats and information and scouting reports on each quarterback. He also kept hand-written notes on all the quarterbacks after each encounter with them. Asked if he'd share some notes about Manuel, Marrone got the book out and read from it over the phone.
"Met at Senior Bowl,'' he began. "Wow. That was impressive. Didn't seem schooled-up. Genuine. Bright-eyed. Willing. If he was in a room, he'd be the kind of guy you'd want to go up and talk to. Yes-sir, no-sir guy. Seemed to be raised correctly. Will follow up to make sure he wasn't schooled-up ...'' and so on.
"Very impressive person,'' said Marrone.
It's been 16 years since Jim Kelly retired, and the Bills have never adequately replaced him. Manuel, barring a huge comeback season from Kolb, will get the next shot. Nassib, for the first four years of his career, barring an injury to Eli Manning, will be an understudy. No one expected Manuel to be the first quarterback picked this year, and that bit of drama just added to the mayhem of the 2013 draft.
At least Matt Barkley has his humor intact.
Line of the weekend, 45 minutes after the Eagles made the plummeting Barkley the first pick of the fourth round, and the first choice on day three:
"Does this count as the first pick?" Barkley said to me.
No. But who wouldn't be impressed with Barkley's demeanor after he was the 98th overall pick, a year after choosing to stay in school when he could have been a top 10 pick after his third straight standout season at USC? Then his line stunk, his team fell to earth, he was more pedestrian than he'd been, and he hurt his shoulder in 2012. So much for the NFL axiom, "Stay in school, kid." Why, exactly?
Barkley told me he absolutely didn't regret staying at USC for the final year. Life lesson, he said; it'll pay off in the long run. He said he was excited about relocating to Philadelphia and playing for Chip Kelly. "I knew wherever I went I'd be on a team with players I've followed and watched over the years,'' he said. "But it's going to be pretty cool being with Michael Vick." He considers Nick Foles a friend. The disappointment -- crushing at times on Thursday and Friday -- will fade in time.
"Onward and upward,'' he said.
"Every pick that went by, especially [Friday, in Rounds 2 and 3], the cut got deeper and deeper. I got impacted by it. We had gotten some calls, three or four of them, teams calling and saying, basically, if you're there we're going to pick you. And they didn't, of course. It hurt. It was a roller coaster. But last night, we went on a family hike, just to get away from it, and I wasn't sulking. I had a lot of emotions, and I knew at some point there'd be a team for me.
"Whether I'm the first pick or whether I'm Mr. Irrelevant, I'm in the NFL now. My jersey's not going to say, 'Fourth round Barkley.' It's going to say, 'Barkley.' ''
The Eagles had no plans to pick Barkley when the draft started. Chip Kelly was content to go into training camp with a pocket guy, Foles, and a mobile guy with a big arm, Vick, battling it out. I doubt Barkley makes it a three-way race at the start, but you never know. "Repetitive accuracy is the No. 1 quality we're looking for in a quarterback,'' Kelly said Saturday, and when he was asked about Barkley's average arm strength, he said, "We're not trying to knock over milk cartons at the county fair.''
Barkley said he assumed Kelly will run "a hybrid system. But whatever it is, it is. I am ready to embrace it. I have never been to Philadelphia, but I can see the fan base is incredible. What a great football city. I will have to prove myself to the team and to the fans, but I plan to."
P.S.: Wondering what that extra year of school cost Barkley? He went 98th overall. Let's say he'd have been the eighth pick a year ago -- that's where Ryan Tannehill went. It's all speculation, of course. But the consensus was he'd have been a top 10 pick. Tannehill's deal: four years, $12.7 million. The 98th pick last year, Ravens center Gino Gradkowski, signed for four years and $2.58 million. Turns out it was a $10.1 million year of school for Matt Barkley.
A few final notes ...
On Cleveland's weekend. I like that the Browns landed a good slot receiver, Davone Bess (he was in Wes Welker's league two years ago), for a swap of draft picks. And there were only three trades for 2014 picks in this draft, which goes against the trend of more and more of those future deals in recent drafts.
Cleveland made two of the three trades for next year's picks, which is something Bill Belichick always has liked to do -- and Cleveland GM Mike Lombardi goes to the Belichick school of draft maneuvering. The Browns dealt their fifth-rounder for Indy's fourth- next year, and Cleveland dealt its fourth- for Pittsburgh's third- next year. The Steelers? The horror! Browns fans: Just remember when Josh Gordon is crushed over the middle by the heir to Troy Polamalu, Syracuse strong safety Shamarko Thomas, Thomas is the guy your team let the Steelers have.
On Ted Thompson's patience. Green Bay entered the draft needing a running back or two. GM Ted Thompson, one of the most self-effacing and laconic men to ever do his job, chose to take a classic 3-4 defensive end, Datone Jones. No way his favorite back, Eddie Lacy, would be there in the second round. Then Thompson, with Lacy on the board, traded from the Pack's spot at 55 in the second round down to 61, with San Francisco, picking up a sixth-round pick. Thompson got Lacy -- the top-rated back by most teams, at 61. Then Thompson traded down twice more with his third-round pick and ended up with a fourth-round tackle, David Bakhtiari, and a fourth-round back, Johnathan Franklin ... as well as two seventh-round picks to take fliers on a pair of wide receivers. "That's Ted,'' one of his peers said Sunday. "Most of us would have had a need like that and just filled it without risking the trade-downs. It doesn't work all the time, but it seems to work for him more often than not."
On a trade you paid no attention to. It's well-known how smart Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome and his staff are at working the draft. But on Friday, they quietly made a deal that could pay dividends for years. Baltimore had the 62nd pick overall, late in the second round. In the first round, they'd gotten the safety they liked most, Matt Elam. Now as the picks ticked by, they knew they risked losing the linebacker they liked most at this point, Kansas State's Arthur Brown. So the Ravens dealt the 62nd pick along with fifth- and sixth-round picks to Seattle for the 56th pick. They picked Brown.
Sources tell me Brown was going to be Houston's pick at 57, and he was a strong consideration for Denver at 58. Brown's a potential captain, the kind of leader the Ravens hope two or three years down the road will start to fill the void left by Ray Lewis. Great trade.
Speaking of trades ... I write quite a bit in the magazine in my Rams story about the trade from 22 to 30 for Alec Ogletree. The Rams coveted Ogletree, and they took a calculated risk they'd lose him by not picking him at 22. In fact, had they lost Ogletree between 22 and 30, it would have cast a pall over the entire draft. But that's why they pay Jeff Fisher and Les Snead the big dough. The trade brought back Atlanta's third-round pick, and with that pick, the Rams picked West Virginia wideout Stedman Bailey, who led college football with 25 touchdown catches last year. Bailey and Tavon Austin could remake the Rams' attack into a latter-day Greatest Show on Turf with their quickness and playmaking ability downfield. And it never would have happened if Snead and Fisher hadn't taken the risk of potentially losing Ogletree. Win some, lose some. But the weekend, as I'll explain in my story this week, was a big win for the Rams -- assuming Ogletree is a solid citizen as well as a playmaking linebacker.
"I'm all in for Week 1, just like you guys are."
-- Robert Griffin III, the rehabbing Washington quarterback, at the club's draft party for fans over the weekend. He jumped up and down on stage, and the crowd reacted like a packed house at a Jay-Z show.
"I told them, I'm willing to put my neck on the line for the kid. I promise you he will definitely walk a straight line. He will not get in any problems with us. I want to see him succeed as well, as much as he wants to see himself succeed. They came to me and I told them that. The past is behind him.''
-- Arizona cornerback Patrick Peterson, after the Cards made one of the riskiest picks of the weekend, evicted-from-the-LSU-roster defensive back Tyrann Mathieu, with the 69th overall selection. Peterson and Mathieu played together at LSU in 2010.
"... Poor teammate and a poor risk. I don't know why you would want him at any price.''
-- Former NFL GM and current ESPN NFL analyst Bill Polian, on Mathieu.
"I plan to watch the game on my couch with a beer in my hand, the way God intended.''
-- Larry Felser, longtime Buffalo News Bills beatman and columnist and one of the journalists who covered the American Football League from its inception, in his Buffalo News obituary penned by Mark Gaughan Thursday, commenting on whether he'd continue to go to the Super Bowl even after retiring.
"He can skedaddle."
-- Kansas City coach Andy Reid, after the selection of fleet Arkansas running back Knile Davis in the third round Friday night.
Speaking of skedaddling:
I enlisted SI college football guru Andy Staples to help me with the math on something that amazes me about the smurfy Austin, the first pick of the St. Louis Rams and the only offensive skill player to be picked in the top 15 of the 2013 draft. Austin told me he missed one practice in his four years at West Virginia. Doing the math with Staples, if you figure Austin went through three sets of spring practices (15 per year, 45 total), four preseasons (25 per year, 100 total), four bowl games (15 per year, 60 total) and about 50 regular-season practices per year (100 total), that adds up to 405 practices.
Austin practiced 404 out of 405 West Virginia practices, then, and played in 52 of 52 WVU games.
That's 456 of 457 football events for which the kid showed up. The only one he didn't: a Sunday practice in 2011 ... when he was being operated on for a broken pinky suffered the previous day. He was back for the practice after that one.
More bonus facts about Austin: In his first 48 college games, he rushed the ball only 51 times, mostly on end-arounds and options. In his 49th game, against Oklahoma, he rushed 21 times for 344 yards. Imagine having a game with runs of 74, 56, 54 and 47 yards ... in one half (the second).
The Big 12 record for all-purpose yards in a game prior to that game was 375. Against Oklahoma, Austin had 572.
Speaking of Tavon Austin:
Buffalo GM Buddy Nix and Rams GM Les Snead orchestrated the trade that that led Austin to the Rams Thursday night, St. Louis acquiring the eighth pick for second- and seventh-rounders and a swap of third-rounders.
Snead was born in Eufaula, Ala. (pop.: 13,137) in 1971.
The high school football coach at Eufaula High until 1967 was Buddy Nix.
"Buddy was a big deal in my hometown,'' Snead said.
Snead went to Auburn. A good buddy of his, the backup quarterback on the football team, married Nix's daughter.
On Thursday, Nix, the big man in Snead's town when Snead was but a gleam in his father's eyes, handed Snead the most dangerous weapon in this draft to compete with the power boys, San Francisco and Seattle, in the NFC West. And Snead handed Nix the pick to draft the player, E.J. Manuel, the Bills hope becomes the successor to Jim Kelly.
I wonder if anyone in Eufaula realized that over the weekend.
The first names of the seven Denver draft picks: Sylvester, Montee, Kayvon, Quanterus, Tavarres, Vinston and Zac.
Up next at the quarterback pay window: Matt Ryan.
With the news that Aaron Rodgers' long-awaited contract extension got done Friday by the Packers, the last 10 months have produced the five most expensive contracts currently on NFL rolls. Two asterisks here: Tom Brady's average deal was $19 million a year before he agreed to a reduction when he signed a three-year, $27 million extension with the Patriots in March; now he's not among the top five anymore. And Manning's deal, to me, is cut into three separate sub-deals -- the first year (2012), the second two years (2013, '14) that were activated when he passed a club physical in March, then the final two years in 2015 if the Broncos keep him after his third season in Denver.
Thus, my contention that every one of the richest contracts in the league has been done since last Independence Day. And the Falcons will likely be next, with Matt Ryan's rookie deal expiring after this season. I'm guessing he'll end up somewhere right around Joe Flacco's deal.
|The highest-paid players in the game|
Here in St. Louis, with a couple of hours free Thursday afternoon and not wanting to obsess about the draft, I took a walk from my downtown hotel over to the Gateway Arch. I've seen it before, but not really up close. I walked around both bases of it -- it's much wider than I thought. And there was a tour group of what looked to be junior-high kids hearing a guide give some of the facts and figures of the Arch, so I loitered in the back and listened. Fun Arch facts:
• It's 630 feet high -- and the bases are 630 feet apart.
• The two bases are embedded in 23 tons of concrete apiece.
• Construction started 50 years ago, and it was finished 47-plus years ago.
• It signifies the gateway to the western United States.
• Ten small planes, in violation of the law, have flown under the top of the arch since it opened in 1965.
It's beautiful, by the way.
"After '03 Draft, scout yelled out to room 'Anyone want to sign this QB Tony Romo? He's from Wisc, wants to sign here.' Silence."
-- @adbrandt, the football business writer Andrew Brandt, former executive with the Green Bay Packers.
"Husband and wife drafted in same month. Landry Jones to Steelers in #NFLDraft and Whitney Hand to WNBA's San Antonio Silver Stars"
-- @GilBrandt, the NFL.com draft analyst, on Saturday.
-- @ChrisJohnson28, the Tennessee running back whose dissatisfaction with his offensive line is well-known, right after the Titans picked guard Chance Warmack with the 10th pick of the first round Thursday night.
"Every room is now a Green Room for Aaron Rodgers."
-- @ScottHanson, minutes after Rodgers signed the richest contract in NFL history on Friday, playing on the fact that Aaron Rodgers once sat for hours in the NFL green room at the draft waiting for his name to be called.
1. I think all the scribes in our business owe thanks to Larry Felser, the longtime Buffalo News Bills beat man and columnist, who died Thursday at 82. Larry was a guy I grew up reading in the Sporting News, the same way I grew reading Will McDonough in the Boston Globe. And when you get in the business and meet them, you just hope they're the good people and great reporters that you'd looked up to over the years.
My regard for McDonough is clear; I loved him, and he's a huge reason our business, particularly the multimedia aspect of it, has flourished over the last 20 years. And Felser, who reported on the founding of the American Football League, was a veritable Welcome Wagon host anytime I saw him in a Buffalo press box. The first Pro Football Hall of Fame meeting I attended as a voter two decades ago, Felser came up to me and said, "Anything you need, just ask me. I know how intimidating this has to be." A terrific guy who I'll miss as a writer and a person. As will Bills owner Ralph Wilson.
"Larry was there at the beginning of the American Football League and along with fellow reporters such as Will McDonough and others, played an important role in the growth of our league. He was the consummate professional -- tough, but fair, and never one to shy away from clearly stating his opinion. I had tremendous respect for Larry,'' Wilson said in a statement on Thursday.
2. I think if I'm Mark Sanchez, I ask John Idzik very respectfully to put me out of my misery and release me.
3. I think for those of you who say the Jets can't cut Sanchez, even with a post-June 1 designation, you need to understand something. Of course they can. They may choose not to, but they certainly can cut him, and I believe it would be the best move for team unity and the future of the franchise.
The Jets currently have $20.1 million in dead money that will count against the 2013 cap, which means, more or less, they have about $103 million to spend on players this year. If they cut Sanchez and designate him a post-June 1 cut, he would count $12.35 million on this year's cap and $4.8 million next year. So the Jets would be down to about $91 million to spend on players this year. Impossible? Hardly. Washington will defend its NFC East title and have about $99 million to spend this year because of an NFL sanction and dead money. The Raiders will have about $76 million to spend.
Point is, is it worth having Mark Sanchez and the buttfumble jokes and the mayhem headlines and the almost certain knowledge that he's gone in 2014 around to infect 2013 and the new franchise quarterback, Geno Smith? Whether you think it was smart to take Smith or not, the fact is he's in Jersey now, and the Jets are going to give him a fair shot to be the long-term quarterback. It's silly to think it's not going to be a total zoo around that team if Sanchez stays this season. I'd rather have a prayer with team peace while developing a new quarterback and spending $91 million on players than mayhem and spending $103 million.
4. I think those who would be derisive of mock drafts this year, deride away ... but keep these things in mind: This year was going to be awful anyway, because of the new people running drafts up top (seven new GMs or coach/GM combinations), and because of the wide disparity of opinions (Justin Pugh ahead of Sharrif Floyd) on some boards.
5. I think this illustrates the bizarre nature of this year's draft: One team I spoke with Friday, not in the market to draft a quarterback but stunned at the descent of Ryan Nassib, told me Nassib was the second-rated quarterback on its board. And one team I spoke with Sunday had 10 quarterbacks rated higher than Nassib.
6. I think these are the four things I liked about what the Jaguars did:
a. Not reaching for a quarterback, even though they know they probably need one. Build the team first, then go get a passer you like, not one you hope might work out in a zit-filled class of them.
b. GM David Caldwell saw Denard Robinson for what he was -- a versatile weapon who loves football -- and plucked him 135th overall. What will he be? A running back, probably. Or a slot receiver, or a wide receiver, or a Brad Smith-esque quarterback/receiver. What I've said about Tim Tebow for a year holds true for Robinson: Just get the guy on your team and find something for him to do. He'll find a way with his hands on the ball to be a factor.
c. Skeptical about the smurfy (5-7, 173-pound) receiver/returner Ace Sanders in the fourth round? Understandable. But Sanders was the guy the Rams would have targeted in the third or fourth round if they weren't able to move up for Tavon Austin.
d. I've heard Luke Joeckel's not mean, and Eric Fisher was the top pick because he has a mean streak. OK, fine. But Joeckel played left tackle at the highest level in front of a pocket passer, Ryan Tannehill, in 2011 (the Texas A&M line allowed nine sacks all season), and he gave up no sacks of the mobile Johnny Manziel in the last 12 games of 2012. Joe Thomas isn't mean either. Just great.
7. I think, not that it's going to tell the tale of the guy's career, there was a little bit too much woe-is-me head-hanging out of Geno Smith Thursday night. Buck up, fella.
8. I think the fact that the Patriots will have four defensive backs from Rutgers in camp this summer (if prospective free agent Brandon Jones is signed and hangs around until July) is obviously freaky. Three draft picks from Rutgers out of seven total? Freaky too. But Bill Belichick deserves the benefit of the doubt for now -- and I say for now because he's been a poor cornerback picker over the last five years.
9. I think Manti Te'o at 25 would have been eminently justified. Manti Te'o at 38 is a value pick for San Diego.
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. Been a little busy with football thoughts this week to have non-football ones, but I'll give it a go.
b. If you write for the Boston Globe on the news side, and you run into me any time before I die, please allow me to buy you a beer. Or four. You are covering the Boston Marathon bombing with such distinction. Congratulations.
c. There is a special place in columnist heaven for you, Kevin Cullen. This column puts you there.
d. Front page of the week: That would be Sunday's New York Post, with a creepy-looking photo of the mom of the Boston bombing suspects, with the subhead "Boston bomber, mom taped by Russians talking jihad." The big headline: "MOMMY FEAREST."
e. Thanks for putting Houston in the American League, whoever did that.
f. Red Sox and Yankees, 33-16. Rays and Jays, 21-30. Wasn't it supposed to be the other way around this year?
g. Coffeenerdness: St. Louis has Peet's coffee, which automatically makes it a place worth visiting. It's in the casino down by the Arch. Worth the walk.
h. Beernerdness: Had a couple of O'Fallon Wheat beers while in town. OK; nothing memorable. No fruit in the beer, but it had a lemon taste to it. Very smooth and easy to drink, but the taste was meh.
i. Excellent 60 Minutes Sunday night, with a riveting tale of a male nurse of death and a story about a female jockey, Rosie Napravnik, who apparently has a chance in the Kentucky Derby Saturday.
j. Forgive me my limited non-football notes this week. I'll be better next week.
Vikes picked a punter.
Chris Kluwe, endangered dude?
Come write for SI.