The Scouts' Buzz: Why Alexander should make himself comfortable
One of the biggest offseason surprises has been the lack of interest in former league MVP Shaun Alexander. The nine-year veteran continues to sit on the sidelines despite boasting a Hall of Fame résumé that includes 9,429 rushing yards and 112 career touchdowns. Although Alexander had immediate visits with the Bengals and Saints after his release, he has yet to receive a solid offer from either team and hasn't made any other visits at this point. Critics point to his age and recent spate of injuries as concerns, but his career production suggests a team eventually will take a flyer on Alexander at the right price.
However, several scouts attribute Alexander's astounding production to an ultra-talented Seahawks' offensive line that featured two Pro Bowlers (Walter Jones and Steve Hutchinson) and many pointed out that he has "lost a step" in the two seasons following his MVP campaign. "He is a good player, but you wonder how many other runners could've had success behind that line," said a NFC personnel executive. "He never displayed great toughness between the tackles, so you naturally assume that a tough, hard-nosed runner would've been more productive." Alexander's finesse running style has drawn the ire of Seahawks' coaches in the past and his inability to pick up tough yards in various short yardage situations has led to questions about his toughness.
As a poor blocker and a marginal receiver, Alexander offers little as a complementary player. Thus, he is viewed throughout the league as a "stop-gap" solution for a team that suffers from a catastrophic injury or has a roster full of underperforming runners during the preseason. Don't expect to see Alexander sign with a team until after training camps are under way.
After earning his first Pro Bowl nomination at the end of 2007, Bills left tackle Jason Peters is currently boycotting all team activities to express his dissatisfaction with his contract situation. Peters, a former undrafted college tight end who successfully transitioned to offensive tackle, is currently ranked third on the Bills' offensive line in compensation, and he contends that he has outperformed his current deal, given the market for top tackles.
While Peters has a legitimate gripe regarding his stature on the team, the Bills run the risk of setting a bad precedent by renegotiating his deal at this time. "There is a growing trend by players of wanting to return to the table, if their team signs a free agent at their position to a big contract," said a NFC personnel executive. "Players fail to recognize that the respective player went through the free agent process and several factors could've contributed to the size of the deal." In this case, the Bills proactively identified Peters as a budding star at the position and rewarded him with a five-year, $15.5 contract in 2006. Thus, heading back to the table only two years into the deal would encourage several of his teammates to voice their displeasure about their contracts.
The Bills must handle the Peters' situation correctly to prevent an onslaught of holdouts from their promising young players. The best scenario for the Bills would be for Peters to play this season under his current deal with the notion of renegotiating the contract at the end of the year. This would allow the Bills to accurately assess the market and offer a deal commensurate with Peters' stature as one of the top tackles in the league.
The Broncos have reshuffled their linebacker corps in an attempt to boost their 30th-ranked rush defense. Boss Bailey and Niko Koutovides were signed as upgrades at strong side and middle linebacker, but the biggest move involves D.J. Williams returning to weak side linebacker.
Though it is Williams' third position change in his career, the move to Will 'backer gives him the opportunity to better utilize his athleticism as the Broncos' designated playmaker on defense. "Williams should definitely benefit from moving back to his natural position," said an NFC scout. "As a 'run-through' player he gets a chance to hit the gap from the backside and that should lead to more big plays from him."
Not all observers are sold on the rebuilt linebacker corps. "Bailey is a good athlete, but he is undersized and never developed into a consistent playmaker in Detroit," said another NFC scout. "Koutovides brings some toughness, but he isn't a great athlete or very instinctive in the middle... they may turn out to be a solid crew, but they all enter the season as question marks."
After missing the playoffs the past two seasons, the Broncos need their linebackers to step up to reverse the fortunes of an underachieving defense.
The Bears' signing of Robbie Gould to a five-year, $15.5 million extension caps an offseason that has seen several top placekickers agree to big money contracts. Josh Brown (five-year, $14.2 million) and Jason Elam (four-year, $9 million) raised the market value of the position, but Gould's contract makes him the highest paid kicker.
Despite the big contracts being passed out this offseason, several league officials expressed reservations about signing kickers to lucrative long term deals. "You want to be reasonable when considering re-signing kickers in this market," said a NFC personnel executive. "You never want to commit top money to the position because the position is so fickle. A top kicker can have a Pro Bowl season one year and spray the ball all over the place the following year... that's why it's better to pick up a young guy in the draft or off the street and move on when the guy is due to get paid."
The Cowboys are one of the franchises who have used an assortment of castoffs and street free agents to handle their placekicking duties for years. In fact, their only foray into the free agent market (Mike Vanderjagt) failed miserably during his tenure in Dallas and they subsequently replaced him with a rookie kicker (Nick Folk) who earned a Pro Bowl nomination in his first season.
In spite of this sentiment, teams are continuing to commit big money to kickers and another big deal is on the horizon with Pro Bowler Rob Bironas discussing a contract extension with the Titans. With a league-high 35 field goals made a season ago and a career percentage of .833, Bironas is in line to receive a contract that will rival the recent deals inked by Gould and Brown.