Lewis a Cowboy? Cassel a Chief? Previewing the start of free agency
Jets and Cowboys could be in the market for Ray Lewis
How teams are finding new ways to get to know players at combine
A closer look at Nnamdi Asomugha's contract and 10 Things I Think
INDIANAPOLIS -- The draft is in the air, yes. But it's 61 days away, and when you get the coaches and general managers together in one place, as they were this weekend here at the Arctic Circle, you can just tell they're in first grade in 2009 Draftology 101.
(So how cold was it? Friday morning around 7, Jim Mora and the Seattle staff were getting ready to open the front door of the downtown Marriott, and they all buttoned up and pulled their collars tight, and Mora said, "Get ready for an Arctic blast!'' And they all hustled outside, on their way to Lucas Oil Stadium and the combine. By Saturday night, the wind was howling at 20 or 25 mph, and it was snowing sideways, and it was 5 or 10 degrees wind-chill, and I walked by a delegation of Jaguars in their leather Jag jackets, and they looked like walking, tanned ice cubes. It always snows sideways here in late February.)
So we'll get to the draft, and to the first impressions left by the next wave of stars. First let's hit the NFL stories that feel the most interesting to me heading into a newsy week of free agency, which kicks off Friday morning at 12:01 a.m.:
I think Ray Lewis will seriously consider leaving the Ravens.
Will he go? Don't know. But my guess -- and it's an educated guess, nothing more -- is Lewis, who turns 34 in May, will not get a deal done with the Ravens before Friday, and he'll take a couple of visits on the first weekend of free-agency. Where? Dallas and the Jets are the teams that seem the most logical; I never thought under the salary cap they'd be able to clear enough room to go after a big player like Lewis. But the Jets, after some Chris Baker-type housecleaning last week, stand about $18 million under the cap this morning; I believe if coach Rex Ryan and GM Mike Tannenbaum wanted to, they could certainly afford both Lewis and fellow Ravens free-agent linebacker Bart Scott. The Cowboys are $12.3 million under.
Wouldn't that be amazing: Ray Lewis with the star on his helmet. Or Ray Lewis coming to the Jets. Or Ray Lewis and Bart Scott to Jersey.
Again, I'm saying this is an educated guess. But either one makes a lot of sense to me. Jones always loves a new star, particularly with a tarnished team readying for a move into the new Cowboys stadium. Tannenbaum and owner Woody Johnson proved last year with the Brett Favre gambit that they're not afraid to take a chance on a big-name veteran.
The Ravens without Lewis would be as different as the Colts without Manning, or the Yanks without Jeter. And had Baltimore known Lewis would have played as great as he did in year 13 last fall, they'd certainly have gotten this deal done last spring or summer. But now there are two teams in major need of defensive intensity and team leadership out there. Rex Ryan would love to have him in New Jersey, and I think Jerry Jones would view Lewis as the solution to all the me-first stuff plaguing his team. This could be a case where the Ravens -- with $19.4 million to spend under the 2009 cap -- might be forced to match a financial package that would simply be too much for the new Ryan-less regime to stomach. It'll be an interesting week in Baltimore.
There's no long line waiting to pry Albert Haynesworth from the Titans.
In fact, Washington might be the logical landing spot. Hmmmm. I wonder why Redskins owner Dan Snyder was having dinner with the agent for Haynesworth, Chad Speck, at Morton's here Saturday night. I'm sure they were just talking about how it was colder here than at the Arctic Circle. But I kept asking all weekend: "Who wants Haynesworth -- or, more appropriately, who's going to pony up for him?'' And I got the old "it only takes one'' answer a few times. But one coach told me the smartest thing, and this was a coach who has some interest in getting Haynesworth at the right price, which is about half of what Haynesworth is hoping to get. "Everybody I've asked this weekend says, 'We're out of that,' or 'I don't think you'll see us involved in Haynesworth.' ''
Sad, really, because he's a great football player, an impactful player who can change a game from the interior defensive line spot. The downer stuff about Haynesworth:
He's never played a full season. He's started three, 11, 10, 14, 10, 12 and 14 in his seven seasons.
He's never played more than 65 percent of the Titans' defensive snaps in a season. You might say a Nnamdi Asomugha is tremendously overpaid at $15-million a year (much more on him later in the column), but Asomugha or a quarterback is going to play 95 percent of his unit's plays in the course of a year, barring injury. Even if healthy, Haynesworth's going to come off the field a third of the time, minimum. So do you want to pay quarterback money to a player who never touches the ball and plays two-thirds of the snaps a franchise quarterback plays? It makes no sense.
He's got a reputation for coasting on some plays.
He'll be 28 on opening day. You want to pay a 335-pound guy who's never started more than 14 games and is entering his eighth year $13 million or $15 million a year? Good luck.
In the end, my guess is Snyder will pay up and grab him. He's the kind of trophy player Snyder would love to have, and the kind of player, if healthy, who will really help the Redskins close the gap on the Giants in the NFC East.
The Falcons are going to release Michael Vick.
Now here's a surprise: No one's beating down the Atlanta door to give Vick his get-out-of-jail-free card. All Atlanta would have been able to get for Vick anyway is a low-round conditional pick, even if they continued to press for some compensation. (By the way, a very wise media man who works for a competing medium texted me the other day, telling me I was wrong to say Vick will be suspended by the commissioner for a year as his NFL punishment for dog-fighting. Wrong, media man said. "It'll be time served,'' he said.) So in a few weeks, or maybe a few days, Vick should be free. Who wants him? Round up the usual suspects. I say the Raiders, even though that's ridiculously easy.