Ten things I learned about the draft in the past few days.
1. Detroit really likes Da'Quan Bowers, bad knee and all, and could take him at 13.
2. One of the team doctors who recommended taking Bowers off its draft board (because of the health of his surgically repaired knee) suggested that he might need microfracture surgery.
3. Dallas does love 20-year-old USC tackle Tyron Smith and is seriously considering taking him at nine.
4. The Titans are torn between overpicking a quarterback at eight and being scared one of the quarterbacks they like won't be there when they pick again, at 39.
5. More and more teams seem to think TCU quarterback Andy Dalton has the "it factor'' he'll need to overcome modest size and an average arm.
6. It feels like Blaine Gabbert is fading. I keep thinking the Bengals might give him a parachute at number four.
7. The defensive line will be the dominant position group in the first round. "Minimum 13 defensive linemen in the first round,'' said ESPN's Todd McShay. "It's the strength of this draft, and it matches so many teams' needs.''
8. Why so much homework on questionable character guys in this draft? According to one prominent scout, "It's almost like someone's sending us a message this close to the draft, with the things that have happened to Aqib Talib [a suspect in a Texas shooting], Dez Bryant [unchecked, unpaid-for addiction to jewelry] and Chris Cook [suspected of brandishing a handgun at a man]. All those guys were top prospects, and it just makes us more skittish to take the questionable guys.''
9. Buffalo is a black hole of draft information. Von Miller's the odds-on-favorite there at number three.
10. Patrick Peterson may be the best cornerback in the draft, but he's not without a weakness. One team with a cornerback need (actually, what team doesn't have a cornerback need?) tells me Peterson's just an above-average "off'' corner because he has average turn-and-run ability. He'd be a better press corner because of his physicality.
The Patriots should come out of the draft with an extra 2012 first-round pick, unless I'm getting lied to a lot.
Last year, I thought the 33rd overall pick would generate heavy action in trade (as did the Rams, who held the first pick in the second round). The theory was that because the NFL took a 20-hour break after round one, teams would have all day Friday before round two kicked off to get desperate for a player they had rated as a first-rounder. But then the Rams really liked tackle Rodger Saffold of Indiana, and never really got much action on the pick because there wasn't a player teams felt they had to have. This year, I think that changes. New England has the 33rd pick (by way of the Panthers, who dealt it to acquire a Patriots' third-rounder last year so they could take Armanti Edwards). The way I read the draft right now, there could be as many as eight teams among the first 17 picks in the second round that will want a quarterback, and perhaps only three QBs left worth taking high in the second round.
The Patriots couldn't be in a better spot. There could be three second-round-caliber passers (Andy Dalton, Christian Ponder, Colin Kaepernick) available after day one, and a fourth if Ryan Mallett gets past Seattle at 25. Of course, teams could also trade up to the late first round too. New England is in prime position there, also, with the 28th overall choice.
On the universal draft-pick trade chart, invented a generation ago to standardize what value teams assign to each pick (though it's not gospel; some teams barely glance at it), the 28th pick is worth 660 points, and the 33rd pick worth 580 points. Teams trading for a pick in the following draft usually ascribe a choice one round higher to be fair. (Thus the Patriots' deal of a 2010 third-rounder for Carolina's second-rounder in 2011. Sometimes teams get lucky; New England moved up, as it turns out, 57 slots by making that deal a year ago.)
But the Patriots could successfully argue -- I believe -- that the 33rd pick is worth more than a 2012 first-rounder this year. The primary reason is they could have more than one bidder for the pick, because of the paucity of quarterback prospects and the need of more than one team by the time round one ends. Let's say the 49ers are desperate to move up for Dalton. The 49ers, picking 45th, might have to slip the Patriots extra value beyond what the trade chart says to move those 12 slots. Perhaps a first-rounder in 2012 and, say, a third- or fourth- this year. If they don't do it, some other team might.
Actually, starting around pick 26 in the first round, several teams are in good position to trade down. Baltimore (26th overall) may be willing to deal down for an extra three, and the Ravens could still take a cornerback with low-first, high-second-round value. Chicago (29) and the Jets (30) might be willing to trade down too.
Whatever happens, I think there will be a quarterback market at the end of day one, and I think the Patriots are positioned perfectly to take advantage of it. Will there ever be a year New England's won't be in position to control a draft? It's amazing the job Bill Belichick's done in consistently giving the Pats an edge there.
Why anyone who likes sports should make sure to go to the Masters.
Not long ago, I wrote out a bucket list of the sports events I'd like to attend before I die. One was the Masters, and I agreed that if I could make it, I'd try to take along the two big golf fans in the family who'd never been, my brother-in-law Bob and his 86-year-old golf-nut father, Jack. Lucky for us, Mark Scott, a VP of VIP Sports Marketing, which handles lots of Masters events, is a big MMQB fan (I always knew this column would come in handy for something), and he e-mailed to offer the three of us access to the final round this year. It didn't take long for us to say yes.
Scott's group sets up shop in a cabin across the street from the course, and we had a marvelous time Sunday. Can't thank him enough, in fact. And though, as I wrote at the top of this column, I'm angry about Tara Sullivan getting barred from interviewing McIlroy (Masters officials apologized to her Sunday and said it was an accident), I'm going to give you a few observations about the day on the course.
We went as fans only. Though I spent the last hour on the Westwood One radio tower on the 18th hole because I saw my NFL radio co-host Bob Papa there and he invited me up to watch from on high, the experience was just what the thousands who make pilgrimages here go through. We did what fans at the tournament do --set up our $29 chairs to reserve a spot somewhere, then used the rest of the day to walk around to see different parts of the course. That's one of the good traditions here. You set your chairs up in a spot, put your name on them and leave them, and that's your spot for the rest of the day.
We set the three chairs at a shady spot where Amen Corner turns on the par-five 13th hole. But how lucky were we? This was a day of drama, and because the course is not overrun with people -- it's crowded, but not oppressive -- we could move around and follow the storylines and leaders pretty well until about the last hour of the day, when crowds left the earlier holes to follow the last few twosomes. "It just doesn't seem like the same thing I've seen on TV,'' Jack said to his son Bob at one point.
"It's more beautiful than we see on TV,'' Bob said. "Just walking out here, seeing the 12th and 13th holes that I've seen on TV all my life, the creek, Hogan's Bridge ... just seeing all that makes it so fantastic.''
We all thought there was a little Fenway/Wrigley to Augusta. Maybe more than a little. I loved how no electronic stuff is allowed on the course. It's wonderful to not be tempted to look at your Blackberry every six minutes. Liberating. And it's great to not find yourself staring up at some big screen with instant scoring and video. The scoreboards around the course are operated manually, like the left-field scoreboard at Fenway Park, and when there's no way of following what's going on two holes away other than to wait for the scoreboard to change ... well, it generated the kind of noise Sunday that made Jack say that maybe hearing the roar of the crowd live was the highlight of the day for him; he'd heard it for years on TV, and now he was experiencing it live.
No one in the crowd knew what was going on elsewhere on the course because they couldn't monitor the game on radio or Blackberry. So the reaction to the news, which almost seemed withheld, was explosive. There were three kinds of roars: a Tiger roar, an enthusiastic wailing that would erupt quickly and be the loudest; a roar of sympathy, like the "OOOOOaaaaaaahhhhh'' that greeted the posting of a triple bogey for crowd favorite Rory McIlroy on 10; and a roar of appreciation ("Ohhh-aaaaaaaaaaayyyyy!'') when, for example, a fourth consecutive birdie, on 15, for the rallying Geoff Ogilvy was posted on the 18th green.
It's crazy to think a hand-operated scoreboard can be riveting, but imagine you're watching eight men in the last 10 holes either lead the tournament or be tied for the lead ... and imagine you've got time to look around and look at the sky and talk to the stranger next to you because there's lots of time to kill in golf, and you know that in the lulls in shot-taking everywhere on the course, you're going to be transfixed to see who's in the lead and who's close down the stretch.
Last Masters note: I know next to nothing about tournament history, but I do know that there can't have been many Masters rounds over the years with as much clutch shot-making as Sunday's fourth round. Charl Schwartzel finished the tournament with four straight birdies in the face of major pressure. "One of the most thrilling finishes to a Masters ever,'' Papa said on the radio. What do I know? But it sure seemed momentous to me, watching it up close.
My take on labor.
The other day, United States District Court Judge Susan Nelson, overseeing this new case from St. Paul, Minn., told the players and owners, "It seems to me that both sides are at risk. And this is a very good time for you to come back to the table.'' In fact, according to Adam Schefter on Sunday, she ordered them to talk ... but we just don't know yet if it'll be overseen by the federal court in Minnesota or a mediator in Washington, D.C. The players want the former, the owners the latter.
I just want to remind you (and I hope someone from each side reads this) just how close the two sides were when talks broke off a month ago this afternoon. The players said they'd never support an 18-game regular season, and the owners said in the next five years, there'd never be an 18-game season without player approval. Despite lots of rhetoric since, it'd be easy for the players to put it in stone that the 18-game slate is off the table for the term of this deal.
The other non-money things on the table that day -- an additional five weeks off during the offseason for players, third-party arbitration for drug and steroid appeals, a legitimate salary floor of 90 percent of the cap over three years, a cloudy but encouraging lifetime health-care proposal for all vested veterans going forward -- were either all the way or close to what each side could live with.
Now for the money. The league's last offer was a four-year cap proposal of $141 million to $161 million per team, with no chance for players to make more if the league exceeds current revenue projections. The players were asking for $151 million to $161 million over the four years, with a percentage of all extra revenue over the league's revenue projections. In year one, that's a negotiating gap of $320 million plus a percentage of excess profits; in year four, that's a gap of zero, plus a percentage of excess profits. Now, the league would likely see a major increase in year four, that being the first year of the next TV contract with the networks, cable outlets and satellite. In my opinion, that's a hard negotiation. But it's a negotiation certainly worth having.
I'll leave you with a tale of two jurists, two decades apart.
Before there was a system of real free agency in place in the NFL, United States District Court Judge David Doty, overseeing the case from Minneapolis, told the players and owners if they didn't reach an agreement on the issues, he would impose one that neither side would like and one side would find highly onerous. That led to both sides agreeing to players being free after four seasons if their contracts had expired, with one franchise-player exception per team, and a hard salary cap.
Now Judge Nelson is saying both sides are at risk and telling them to get back to the table.
There are differences between now and 1993, though. The players liked what they heard from Nelson last Wednesday and seem to feel good about taking the chance she'll force the owners to end the lockout. The players are not motivated to give an inch in CBA talks. And the owners, as I reported a couple of weeks ago, have a line-in-the-sand point they won't budge on. That's their desire to not have a federal judge be the referee in any future labor disputes that come with officiating the next CBA, the way Doty did with the last CBA over 18 years. So they don't want to let the federal courts officiate a settlement in this case, for fear that the same system would remain in place, a system they felt was tilted toward the players.
My guess is there won't be any real discussions toward a settlement until Nelson rules, and until the loser in that ruling appeals it to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, and that three-judge appeals panel rules. There is risk for both sides in that happening, but I don't see either side being motivated to throw out an olive branch now.
By the way, I'm glad to see the two sides practicing what Judge Nelson has ordered -- public silence, in effect. Nothing good came of the tit-for-tat Twitter and Internet games the players and league were playing during mediation in Washington, and since then.