Monthly Archives: May 2010

FR: May signings

This post compares free-agent signings from the beginning of the NFL draft to the end of May. For past signings, check out the April signings post and work your way back.

10 – Saints (kept UFA FS Darren Sharper; added LB Clint Ingram and FB Jason McKie) – Sharper returns on another one-year deal after a spectacular first year with the Saints. Sharper not only provided veteran wiles and stability to a secondary that had long been a trouble spot for the Saints; he also was a playmaker who picked off nine passes and returned three of them for touchdowns. Sharper is 34, but he showed he can still perform at a high level in the league. After taking Patrick Robinson in the first round of April’s draft, the Saints could have moved ’09 first-rounder Malcolm Jenkins to free safety, but it’s a far safer bet to spend a couple of million dollars to keep Sharper in place and use Jenkins as a jack of all trades. Eventually, Jenkins will replace Sharper, but the Saints don’t need to be in any hurry to make that switch because Sharper’s play is still superb. Ingram started for the Jaguars last year, but Jacksonville pulled his tender off the table after the draft. After the departure of Scott Fujita, the Saints are thin at outside linebacker, so Ingram becomes a low-cost addition who could conceivably start and hold his own. McKie is a traditional fullback who played well in Chicago but was out when the Bears moved to a Mike Martz offense this offseason.

10 (con’t) – Cardinals (added OG Alan Faneca and CB Justin Miller; kept UFA NT Bryan Robinson) – Faneca, whom the Jets cut just after the draft, now plugs into a system he’s familiar with through head coach Ken Whisenhunt and line coach Russ Grimm, both of whom coached Faneca in Pittsburgh. Faneca, who got a one-year, $2.5 million deal, will actually bring home more cash this year than he would had the Jets held onto him, will be a great leader for the Cards’ line, which has been one of the team’s weaker units in recent years. He’ll give Herman Johnson help developing and will stabilize the interior of the line, and Faneca’s style also fits the run-first persona Whisenhunt is trying to implement in the desert. Beanie Wells and Tim Hightower should high-five team execs for bringing Faneca on board. Robinson is a long-time veteran who will move to a backup role with the arrival of first-rounder Dan Williams. Keeping him around for a year to spell and mentor Williams is a good idea for the Cards. Miller has bounced around in recent years, and he’s not a great defensive player, but he can add some punch to the return game.

9 – none

8 – none

7 – Bengals (added S Gibril Wilson, CB Pacman Jones, and PK Mike Nugent; kept UFA TE Reggie Kelly) – The secondary was a strong suit for the Bengals last year, but they brought in reinforcements. Wilson started for the Dolphins last year, and while he’s not a dynamic player, he’s at least OK. If he starts, he’ll be OK for the Bengals, and the team finally has a good price on a guy who has been overpaid the past two seasons in Oakland and Miami. Cincy also took a shot at Pacman Jones, who didn’t play last season. The former first-round pick has had plenty of off-field problems, but the bigger problem was his mediocre play in Dallas. Nugent, the long-time Jet kicker who filled in with the Cardinals at the end of last year, signed on with Cincy during the draft. He’ll compete against ex-Packer Dave Rayner to replace Shayne Graham. Kelly missed the entire 2009 season with an Achilles injury, but he’s a solid block-first tight end who fits well into Cincy’s run-first approach.

7 (con’t) – Redskins (added WRs Bobby Wade and Joey Galloway, DE Vonnie Holliday, LB Chris Draft, and DT Darrion Scott) – The Redskins are painfully thin at receiver, with Santana Moss aging and Devin Thomas and especially Malcolm Kelly as developmental prospects. So they brought in vets Wade and Galloway to add depth. Galloway no longer has special speed, and he was a bust in New England last year. Wade is not as well known, but he was productive as a Chief last year and could still fit in as a good third or fourth wideout for a contender. Draft is a capable starting linebacker who’s always replaceable but never horrible. He provides a good option for a team moving to a 3-4 in need of linebackers. Scott played for new Skins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett in the UFL last year, and so he could fit in as a backup as Washington moves to a 3-4 defense. Holliday, who played for Denver last year, can step in and start as a 3-4 end. He doesn’t make a ton of plays, but the long-time vet holds up really well against the run.

6 – Broncos (added LB Akin Ayodele and OT Maurice Williams, kept UFA LB Nick Greisen) – Ayodele was a veteran who brought stability but not tons of ability to the Dolphins the last two years. He knows the 3-4, though, and so can replace Andra Davis in the starting lineup. Greisen missed the ’09 season with a knee injury, but Denver’s going to take another look at him as a backup linebacker and special-teams cover guy. With Ryan Clady hurt, the Broncos brought in Williams, a disappointment as a second-round draft pick in Jacksonville who is athletic. Williams provides depth if he can recover his potential.

5 – Seahawks (kept UFA S Lawyer Milloy; added S Quinton Teal and QB J.P. Losman) – Milloy returns for a second season in Seattle, and in doing so he’ll be reunited with his first NFL coach, Pete Carroll, who returns to the pros after nearly a decade at USC. It’s been seven seasons since Milloy starred for the Patriots on their first Super Bowl winning team, but even though Milloy has been on lower-profile teams in Buffalo, Atlanta, and now Seattle, he remained a starter until last season. Milloy should be able to serve as a mentor to first-rounder Earl Thomas, and he provides veteran stability at a position where the only other player with NFL experience is Teal. Keeping Milloy at safety is a safe move that provides a sense of security for Seattle as they seek to develop Thomas into a defensive leader. Teal played some for the Panthers the last three years, but he wasn’t tendered a restricted free-agent contract this offseason.  Teal will provide veteran depth behind rookies Thomas and Kam Chancellor. Losman, a first-round bust in Buffalo, played well in the UFL last year and deserves another shot in the NFL. But he looks like little more than a No. 3 in Seattle behind Matt Hasselbeck and Charlie Whitehurst.

4 – 49ers (added UFA CB William James) – James (formerly known as Will Peterson) started 14 games for the Lions last year and played pretty well, picking off two passes. The nine-year vet steps into a spot that Dre Bly struggled in last year.

4 (con’t) – Patriots (added DT Gerard Warren; kept UFA OLB Derrick Burgess) – Warren, a former No. 3 overall pick in the NFL, never became a huge impact player, but he’s been a regular starter in recent years in Oakland. Now he moves to New England, where he could spell or even play alongside Vince Wilfork. After nine years in the league, Warren isn’t an ideal starter at this point, but he can provide quality as a rotation player. Burgess struggled in his adjustment to New England last year, but he began to produce late in the year with three of his five sacks over the last three games.

3 – Texans (added UFA LB Danny Clark and TE Michael Gaines) – Clark, most recently with the Giants, returns to Houston to help fill the gap after Pro Bowler Brian Cushing was suspended for the first four games of the season. Clark isn’t dynamic, but he makes the plays in front of him, and so he’ll be a dependable option for the Texans until Cushing returns. Gaines is a veteran tight end who faces an uphill battle to make a roster stocked at tight end by Owen Daniels and draft picks Dorin Dickerson and Garrett Graham.

2 – Dolphins (added OG Cory Procter) – Procter isn’t a dynamic player, but he provides nice depth at guard and can start in a pinch. He played OK in Dallas but was let go earlier this month when Dallas rescinded his restricted free agent tender to try to save some money. Procter was a waiver-wire find by Bill Parcells and Tony Sparano in Dallas, so his new team will know what he can do and what he can’t. At the least, Procter will provide insurance in case third-round pick John Jerry needs an adjustment period to the NFL as the Dolphins try to replace the traded Justin Smiley.

2 (con’t) – Jaguars (added LB Freddie Keiaho and LB Teddy Lehman) – Keiaho is a small but speedy linebacker who started two years in Indianapolis but was always a guy the Colts were looking to replace. He wasn’t tendered as a restricted free agent, and now he moves to Jacksonville to compete for a job. Lehman, a former Lion, tries to return to the NFL after playing the UFL last season.

2 (con’t) – Lions (added S C.C. Brown) – Brown started for the Giants much of last year but didn’t play well in that role. But he can help provide depth for the Lions, who have one terrific safety in Louis Delmas but little else at the position. Brown will have to beat out several similarly talented players to win a job, but he at least has a shot of doing so.

1 – Ravens (added CB Travis Fisher) – Fisher has bounced around a ton lately, and he played only part of the year in Seattle last year. But given the Ravens’ problems at cornerback in 2009, it’s worth it for Baltimore to get a look at a guy who has started a bunch of games in the NFL to see if he can help.

1 (con’t) – Browns (added TE Alex Smith and PK Shaun Suisham) – Smith played for the Eagles last year, and he still has a bit of ability as a receiver. Smith will fight for a backup job behind free-agent addition Ben Watson in Cleveland. Suisham is a low-level NFL kicker, but he provides insurance in case the Browns can’t work out Phil Dawson’s contract situation.

1 (con’t) – Cowboys (kept UFA OG Montrae Holland) – Holland didn’t play at all for the Cowboys last year, but the team still brought him back as veteran depth on the offensive line. He’s a marginal backup who knows the system, but if he plays it’ll be a sign of trouble in Dallas.

1 (con’t) – Raiders (added FB Rock Cartwright, RB Michael Bennett, and OG Daniel Loper) – Cartwright, a long-time Redskin, got cut in Washington’s RB overhaul. Now he moves to Oakland, where he’ll provide depth behind Darren McFadden and Michael Bush at running back and behind Luke Lawton (who’ll miss the first two games of the season) at fullback. Cartwright can also return kicks, which helps his chances to stick. Bennett, a former first-round pick, will have to show he still has speed to stick around. Loper started five games for Detroit last year but is better as a backup at guard.

1 (con’t) – Bears (add LB Brian Iwuh) – Iwuh spent four years with the Jaguars, mostly as a backup outside linebacker. He comes in to provide depth on defense and special teams, perhaps filling the role that Jamar Williams had before he was traded to Carolina.

1 (con’t) – Bills (added RB Chad Simpson) – Simpson, an ex-Colt, can provide a little burst in the return game, but he’s not good enough to beat out C.J. Spiller or Fred Jackson or Marshawn Lynch for many carries on offense.

1 (con’t) – Packers (added CB Charlie Peprah) – Peprah, who played in Green Bay from 2006-08, returns to the Pack after a year in Atlanta. He’s got a chance to claim the team’s last CB roster spot.

1 (con’t) – Panthers (added TE Jamie Petrowski) – Petrowski missed the ’09 season with the Colts due to injury, but the block-first tight end gets a chance now to come back in Carolina.

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On a cold-weather Super Bowl

The big NFL talk this week has been the decision to send Super Bowl 48 in February 2014 to the New York/New Jersey area. Many pundits have expressed outrage about this, in part because they don’t want to be cold.

Being cold isn’t the end of the world. Believe me.

I’ve covered one college bowl game and two NFL playoff games in my career.

The NFC Championship Game in January 1997 happened in Green Bay, Wisconsin, between the Panthers and the Packers. It was about 5 degrees at kickoff and cold enough that I had to wear thermal underwear in the press box.

Super Bowl 34 was played indoors in Atlanta in January 2000, but the week leading up to the game was plagued by an ice storm that really slowed down that southern city. As a southerner turned Chicago resident, the cold wasn’t that bad, and the path from our hotel to the media headquarters went through an indoor food court that had a Chick-fil-A. So not only could I get warm; I could also get my Sweet Tea fix. The weather didn’t impact the game (a great one between the Rams and Titans), and while it slowed the week before, it didn’t kill that either.

In December 2001, I covered my one and only college bowl game. It was the Humanitarian Bowl in Boise, Idaho, which I like to call the Blue Turf Bowl. Among the excursions for players during the week was a snowmobile trip. The media braved the cold to play touch football on the blue turf, just to say that we did. It snowed on game day, and the Clemson band made a snow sculpture to replicate Howard’s Rock that’s so famous at Clemson’s home field. Clemson beat Louisiana Tech in the game, and in the award ceremony after the game the team celebrated by flinging snowballs at the band and the crowd.

Cold weather won’t kill the Super Bowl. It may inconvenience media members, but media members always complain about the situation at the Super Bowl. It happened in Atlanta, in Houston, in Jacksonville, and it’ll happen into perpetuity. Sportswriters are a cranky bunch, and they’re going to complain if they have to walk or climb stairs or do anything else that adds one iota of extra effort to their jobs.

But the game will go on. If it snows, it’ll look great in HD. If it’s ice cold, it’ll be memorable. And the sportswriters will get their jobs done and file to newspapers (if any are left in four years).

So all this bluster about potential blustery conditions is nothing but filling talk-radio time. Personally, having survived big cold-weather games, it’s not going to be a big deal. Bring on NY/NJ for Super Bowl 48.

And if it’s freezing cold, and if history is any indicator, somehow, I’ll end up in the auxiliary press seating freezing my tail off. Wonder if I still have that thermal underwear from 1997?

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Miami quits smiling

The Dolphins started an offensive line shuffle Monday by finally trading OG Justin Smiley to Jacksonville for a late-round pick and signing OG Cory Procter. Here are thoughts on the moves.

Smiley got a big-dollar deal from the Fins when Bill Parcells first arrived in 2008, but he didn’t provide the kind of smashmouth approach in the running game that Miami hoped. Shoulder injuries limited Smiley’s playing time, but what he put on the field wasn’t stellar. So Miami moves on with free-agent signee Cory Procter or rookie John Jerry as a starting option. For Jacksonville, Smiley joins young tackles Eben Britten and Eugene Monroe on a line that is coming together. Smiley doesn’t have to be dominant to help Jacksonville, because the tackles are what makes that line go.

Procter isn’t a dynamic player, but he provides nice depth at guard and can start in a pinch. He played OK in Dallas but was let go earlier this month when Dallas rescinded his restricted free agent tender to try to save some money. Procter was a waiver-wire find by Parcells and Tony Sparano in Dallas, so his new team will know what he can do and what he can’t. At the least, Procter will provide insurance in case Jerry needs an adjustment period to the NFL.

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Sayers says

The big sports-radio topic of the day is the hubbub that erupted between Hall of Fame RB Gale Sayers and current Bears LB Brian Urlacher. At a speaking event, Sayers was asked a question about the Bears’ prospects for 2010, and his review was honest and critical. Urlacher bristled at the criticism, questioning the Hall of Famer’s credentials because he never won a playoff game.

(If you want to go beyond the basics, many words have been said about this media-blown controversy. Check out the Chicago newspaper sites and the writing/audio on ESPN’s Chicago site to see how vast the punditry has become.)

When I heard what Sayers said, it surprised me – but not because of why you think. It surprised me because my personal experience is that Sayers honestly isn’t that plugged into today’s NFL.

This impression may not be fair, because it’s a first impression. But back in my days at Pro Football Weekly, I met Sayers, and he ended up asking me more questions about the NFL of the current day than I could ask him about the league in his day. It happened at the ESPN Zone in Chicago soon after it opened in the late 1990s. I was invited, along with a colleague, to sit on a football expert panel discussion at the restaurant that was taking place before a Monday Night Football game. It was the restaurant’s way of trying to establish itself as a great place to watch MNF, and they went all out – inviting two of us from PFW, four radio hosts from ESPN 1000 in Chicago, and long-time Chicago sportscaster Mark Giangreco. But the big attraction to the panel was Gale Sayers. We all introduced ourselves just before the discussion began, and I got the chance to introduce myself and shake Sayers’ hand. This was a great deal, even though I didn’t grow up a Bears fan.

When the six “experts” went up front for the panel discussion, Sayers was put in the middle, and somehow I ended up right next to him. And as the discussion began, one thing became clear – Sayers didn’t really keep up with the NFL. Sure, he had had experiences that none of the rest of us on the panel had. He was the only Hall of Famer there. But Sayers ended up asking me more questions about what I thought of today’s NFL than he did commenting on it.

It was strange, sitting there answering questions from a Pro Football Hall of Famer about pro football. And that’s why I was so surprised that Sayers had such a strong opinion about today’s Bears – because he seemed a lot more plugged into the NFL than he was when I sat beside him for an hour a decade ago.

Maybe Sayers has started watching more NFL, or at least more Bears games. Maybe I should pay more attention to what Sayers said.

But even if he hasn’t, he’s probably right about the Bears – Hall of Famer or not.

One tangent as we end – during that panel discussion, I was able to get off a one-liner that I’m still proud of. The Dallas Cowboys, while they were starting to drift downward from their mid-90s peak, were still a preeminent team, and so they were the subject of one of the questions. This was also an era where the Cowboys were known, much like the Bengals in recent years, as a team that had its share of legal problems and more.

One of the radio hosts was a Cowboys fan, and as he talked about his team his voice raised, and he concluded a grandiose statement by talking about the hole in the Texas Stadium roof, and how “Someone’s looking down from above on the Dallas Cowboys!”

My response was this – “Yeah, it’s called a parole officer.”

Maybe you think it’s funny. Maybe you had to be there. But dangit, I’m still proud I came up with that on the spot.

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Zach attack won’t be back

Zach Thomas signed a one-day deal with the Dolphins so he could retire with the organization. Below are some thoughts on his career and his football legacy; you can see how it compares to other players who have retired this offseason in this accumulated post.

Thomas was an undersized middle linebacker who fell to the fifth round of the 1996 draft because teams were skeptical if he was big enough to make an impact in the NFL. But this smallish linebacker made a huge impact during his 12-year career with the Dolphins, which included five All-Pro nods and seven Pro Bowl berths. Thomas was a tackling machine who made the all-decade team for the 2000s and ended up being the perfect middle ‘backer for the Tampa 2, 4-3 defense that was so prevalent through the decade. Thomas was cut when the Dolphins moved to a 3-4 under Bill Parcells, and he started one season in Dallas before being cut there. Thomas is a borderline Hall of Fame player who made the most of his chance and his ability – and who should be thankful that he landed in the perfect situation for a player with his skills.

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Fixing the NFL’s overcrowded offseason

Posts have been a bit sparse here at Football Relativity, and that’s because it’s a slow time in the NFL. OTAs (organized team activities) are going on, but the only news is about holdouts that aren’t really holdouts because these practices aren’t required.

So instead of getting involved in mid-May hyperbole that means nothing in the long run, I thought we’d address what NFL teams should have the right to require of their players during the offseason. Right now, all that’s required of veterans is one three-day minicamp (or two if your team has a new head coach), but coaches encourage/compel players to attend far more activities. Requiring more of players but limiting coaches and teams to those stated requirements could actually lead to players doing less throughout the offseason.

Moreover, as a byproduct of requiring more visits from players during the offseason, teams would be required to pay players at least 5 percent of their upcoming season salary by May 1 upon completion of the required meetings. Any negotiated workout bonuses would be in addition to this salary. This would serve as guaranteed money for any player going through the offseason program. Any player who missed any required session would forfeit no more than 5 percent of his upcoming season’s salary.

So here’s a suggested offseason schedule for NFL players and teams:

January – Rehab. For teams that miss the playoffs (or as teams are eliminated), each player would receive a trainer’s report that created a basic offseason training plan. This plan would include specific injury rehab exercises as well as suggestions on reaching any contractual weight clauses. Teams could not mandate a course of training but could mandate certain baseline results in terms of weight. Once trainers assign plans to each player, the team weightlifting and exercise facilities would be open and available to players, but players could also train elsewhere. Players would only be required to report to the facility to receive their plan and for periodic weight or injury rehab check-ups.

March – Spring school. In March, a team would have the ability to require a four-day classroom session with all veterans. This could happen during a week (Monday through Thursday) or over a weekend (Thursday to Sunday). No on-field activities would be permitted, but coaches could have film sessions, team meetings, and any other non-contact, non-physical meetings. The goal of this would be to introduce players to new systems or updates to the playbook. The earliest this session could happen would be two weeks after the Super Bowl, so that all teams start from equal footing, and it would have to be completed by the end of March. Any other film work or playbook study would be completely voluntary on a player’s part.

April – Minicamp. Most fans think of all OTAs as minicamps, but the minicamp is one weekend of on-field activity that teams are currently allowed to require. Under our new plan, teams would go from having three required minicamp days to having five required days, with the provision that these five days must take place within nine calendar days and that one day off was required after three days of practice. So a team could have consecutive minicamp weekends that are requried, or have one set of Monday through Saturday practice with a day off. These practices would be on field and use helmets and shells, but contact would not be permitted (not even in Eric Mangini-esque “competitive sessions”). A team with a new head coach would be permitted seven minicamp days that happen within 12 calendar days, with no more than three consecutive practice days. These minicamps could take place starting the Friday after the completion of the draft.

May – Rookie minicamp. Teams often have rookie minicamps to help players adjust, and this plan would allow teams to allow rookies to participate. If a team offered rookie minicamps, it would have to offer salary protection to any rookie participating who is not under contract. Veterans could not be required to attend rookie minicamp, and if they attended they would not be allowed to take part in on-field drills. Rookie minicamp would be limited to two days and would have to take place on a Saturday and Sunday so that any players who had not yet graduated would theoretically not have to miss class time.

June – No-contact walk-through. At the end of May, teams would be allowed two days of non-contact walk-throughs. No helmets or shells would be allowed, but players would be able to walk through plays on the field. This would be a two-day camp designed as a refresher before players break for the summer. This walk-through would have to take place between Memorial Day and the fourth of July, and immediately after it the team facility would be closed to players for four weeks (except for workout facilities). This is designed to allow coaches to give players one last look at the playbook and a few teaching points for the players to take into their summer vacations before training camp begins in August.

So there you have it – a limit of five days of practice, two days of walkthroughs, four days of meetings, and two days of rookie camp during the offseason. All would be required, and players would be paid for participating as a way of guaranteeing a small portion of their salaries. The rest of the time, players would have to be self-motivated to work out and learn the playbook, and coaches would have to give players time off.

Would this plan work? Maybe. At the very least, it would force coaches to be more organized and focused and put the burden on the coaching staff to make best use of time instead of throwing the burden on players to be available at the organization’s every whim. With a new CBA coming up, ideas like this need to be considered so that we no longer have to read about players skipping practices that are technically voluntary in the first place.

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FR: 2010 suspensions

In this post, we compare the significance of the NFL suspensions that will play out as the regular season begins. The 10 level denotes the most significant league-issued suspensions, while the 1 level marks the least damaging. We’ll continue to update this post as more suspensions (perhaps including Minnesota’s Williams Wall) are announced.

10 – QB Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers (4-6 games for violating league’s personal conduct policy) – One of the biggest stories of the offseason was Roethlisberger’s fall from grace following a second accusation of sexual impropriety. While Roethlisberger dodged prosecution in the Georgia case this year, just as he did in Nevada last year, his image was tarnished to the point that commissioner Roger Goodell levied a six-game suspension on the two-time Super Bowl winning QB. Roethlisberger becomes the best known and most important player to be benched by Goodell for tarnishing the NFL’s shield, and his absence (whether it stays at six games or is shortened to four) will severely inhibit the Steelers’ chances for a good start. In Big Ben’s absence, the Steelers will turn to second-year player Dennis Dixon or veterans Charlie Batch or Byron Leftwich. None are good options for a multiple-game scenario.

9 – OLB Brian Cushing, Texans (4 games for violating league’s performance-enhancing substance policy) – Cushing, the defending defensive rookie of the year, was flagged for four games for a performance-enhancing substance. He denies using steroids, as so many who are flagged for this offense do, and the fact that rumors about Cushing date back to high school make his denials seems hollow. But while this seems like a big deal, it won’t cling to his career over the long term. After all, who remembers that Julius Peppers got a similar suspension in a similarly fine rookie season? How many of us count Shawne Merriman among this offense’s alumni? It’s a shame that Cushing tested positive, because it does taint his fine rookie season. But our hunch is that five years from now, play and not positive tests will be what we think of when we consider Cushing. For the Texans, meanwhile, losing perhaps their most impactful defensive player is a blow. Houston finally broke the .500 barrier for the first time last season, and the offseason was designed to take the next step and make the playoffs. But without Cushing, impact defensive plays will have to come from DeMeco Ryans and Mario Williams. Cushing’s versatility will be missed, and four games – including Houston’s home shot against the Colts – are more than enough to impede a playoff run before it even begins.

9 (con’t) – WR Vincent Jackson, Chargers (3 games for violating league’s substance-abuse policy) – Jackson, who made his first Pro Bowl last season, has emerged as a No. 1 receiver for the Bolts over the past couple of years. The former second-round pick out of Northern Colorado has become Philip Rivers’ No. 1 option, and he had a career-high 68 catches for 1,167 yards in 2009. But even as his role has increased, Jackson has kept his big-play potential, and his whopping 17.2 yards per catch average in 2009 actually matched his career number. But Jackson has also had two DUI convictions, and his guilty plea in February in the second case is what opened the door to league discipline. He’ll miss three games, which is a big blow to the Chargers, who don’t have another receiver nearly as accomplished as VJax. But it may not be as big of a deal to Jackson, a restricted free agent who has refused to sign his tender and has threatened to hold out through the 10th game of the season. Now a holdout may actually seem more palatable, since he’ll already miss three game checks whether he signs or not. This wasn’t the NFL’s intent, but since he can serve his suspension while holding out, the league might have actually motivated Jackson to stay out of Charger land a little longer.

8 – DE Johnny Jolly, Packers (at least a full season for violating league’s substance-abuse policy) – Jolly, who started as a defensive end and thrived as the Packers moved to a 3-4 defense last year, was suspended for at least the 2010 season by the league for violating the substance-abuse policy. Jolly is also engaged in a codeine-possession case in Texas. Jolly, a four-year veteran, emerged as a starter after being a sixth-round pick, and his size and sturdiness against the run made him a great fit for the Packers’ new scheme. But now, facing a suspension that indicates at least two positive tests, he’ll have to convince league officials to let him return to the NFL when he is first eligible to apply for reinstatement after the season. Reinstatement is not a guarantee, and that means Jolly is facing a steep uphill climb to make it back into the league. It’s a blow for the Packers to lose a starter in this manner, but with second-year man B.J. Raji and rookie Mike Neal added in the last two drafts to join Cullen Jenkins as 3-4 ends, there’s at least some depth at the position in Green Bay.

7 – WR Santonio Holmes, Jets (4 games for violating league’s substance-abuse policy) – Holmes was flagged by the league for a violation of the league’s substance-abuse policy, and that no doubt had something to do with his trade from Pittsburgh to the Jets. On the field, Holmes is emerging into a legitimate No. 1 receiver, but the problems he’s had off the field could curb his potential. Now Holmes will have to prove his worth to the Jets in just 12 games and earn a new contract as he enters the last year of his deal four games late.

6 – none

5 – RB LenDale White, Broncos  (4 games for violating league’s substance-abuse policy) – White had two good years out of four in Tennessee, but the Titans tired of his weight problems and attitude issues and dealt him to Seattle during the draft to move up a few spots in the fourth and sixth rounds. That light price in itself was a sign, but it appeared that White would be able to live up to his potential with his former college coach Pete Carroll. But when White was flagged for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy, which will shelve him for the first four games of the season, the Seahawks decided White wasn’t worth the hassle and released him. White has talent, but if Carroll, under whom White thrived at USC, doesn’t see White as worth a roster spot, then it’s possible that no one else will either. White now faces a huge crossroads, and if he doesn’t dedicate himself to performing on the field, he may not make the team in Denver, where he signed late in training camp.

4 – NT Jason Ferugson, Dolphins (8 games for a second violation of league’s performance-enhancing substance policy) – The Dolphins re-signed Ferguson for 2010 even though he’ll miss the first half of the season for his second violation of the performance-enhancing substance policy. (The first happened in 1999.) Ferguson, who’s also seeking to recover from a November knee injury, decided in July that he would retire rather than face rehab plus a suspension.

4 (con’t) – OLB Gerald McRath, Titans (4 games for violating the league’s performance-enhancing substance policy) – McRath emerged as a starter by the end of his rookie season, and the fourth-round draft pick had at least six tackles in each of the last three games. He had a shot to beat out David Thornton to become the starting strong-side ‘backer, but this suspension likely means the Titans will hold onto Thornton for one more year. This suspension is a blow for a Titans defense that is looking to get younger and more athletic.

4 (con’t) – OLB Leroy Hill, Seahawks (1 game for violating league’s substance-abuse policy) – Hill, a starter for the Seahawks who signed a $6 million-plus one-year contract earlier this offseason, now faces a one-game suspension for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy following a misdemeanor drug possession guilty plea. Hill’s absence could spell doom for him under a new coaching regime in Seattle under Pete Carroll, especially with David Hawthorne and Aaron Curry showing promise last year. Hill has been a good but not great player for the Seahawks, and with him facing further potential discipline stemming from a pending domestic-violence case, his future in Seattle is starting to look as cloudy as the Seattle sky usually does.

4 (con’t) – DT Jonathan Babineaux, Falcons (1 game for violating league’s substance-abuse policy) – Babineaux drew a one-game suspension from the league following a marijuana possession arrest. Losing him for one game hurts, because he’s started every game for the last two years and been a penetrating presence. He had six sacks last year, which is a lot for a defensive tackle. Babineaux will return in Week Two, but his absence will hurt Atlanta quite a bit in its opener at Pittsburgh.

4 (con’t) – CB Aqib Talib, Buccaneers (1 game for violating league’s personal-conduct policy) – Talib, who started 15 games in his sophomore season last year, will sit one game as punishment for an incidient in which he punched a cab driver. The former first-round pick has promise, but off-field questions continue to circle and tarnish his potential.

3 – OL Quinn Ojinnaka, Patriots (1 game for violating league’s personal conduct policy) – Ojinnaka drew a one-game suspension after a 2009 arrest for simple battery against his wife that apparently was resolved. Ojinnaka started five games last year, and New England traded for him during the preseason to help with depth at its injury-plagued guard position.

3 (con’t) – DT Hollis Thomas (8 games for a second violation of league’s performance-enhancing substance policy) – Thomas, who played for the Panthers last season, had a previous violation of the performance-enhancing-substance policy in 2006, which is why his current suspension is eight games. It may be academic, because Thomas, a 13-year veteran, hasn’t signed anywhere yet . But he may still be good enough to at least be a part-time run-stopping tackle who could have been a late addition for someone were this suspension not looming.

3 (con’t) – TE Shawn Nelson, Bills (4 games for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy) – Nelson had 17 catches as a rookie last season, as he started 12 games for the Bills. Now he will miss the first four games of the season after violating the league’s substance-abuse policy. That’s a blow for a Bills offense that needs playmakers wherever it can find them.

2 – FB Luke Lawton, Raiders (2 games for violating league’s performance-enhancing substance policy) – Lawton has two games remaining on his suspension for violating the league’s performance-enhancing substance policy last year. He has just five carries in five years but sees regular action in two-back sets. However, Oakland’s signing of Rock Cartwright could fill Lawton’s spot not just for the first two games but more permanently.

2 (con’t) – WR Ed Gant, Cardinals (4 games for violating league’s performance-enhancing substance policy) – Gant, who spent his first pro season on Arizona’s practice squad, got flagged for violating the league’s performance-enhancer policy. The suspension makes Gant’s road to a roster spot almost insurmountable.

2 (con’t) – LB Robert James, Falcons (4 games for violating league’s performance-enhancing substance policy) – James, a 2008 fifth-round draft pick who spent the last two seasons on injured reserve, will miss four games for violating the leagues’ performance-enhancer policy. That makes his uphill road to a roster spot even steeper.

2 (con’t) – CB Cary Williams, Ravens (2 games for violating league’s personal-conduct policy) – The Ravens claimed Williams off waivers late last season, and he has a chance to make the team as a backup defensive back and special-teamer this season. But a two-game suspension for violating the league’s personal-conduct policy hurts his chances to make the team. The Ravens knew of this issue when they claimed Williams, but it’s uncertain whether they’ll stick with Williams through this suspension.

1 – OT Ryan Tucker (8 games for a second violation of league’s performance-enhancing substance policy) – Tucker, most recently a Brown, was flagged eight games for his second performance-enhancing substance positive test, but the veteran opted to retire instead of play a half season at age 35. He hadn’t been on the field since 2008.

1 (con’t) – WR Maurice Purify, Bengals (1 game for violating league’s personal-conduct policy) – Purify, who played five games as a rookie last year, got a one-game suspension for violating the league’s personal-conduct policy. Purify faced an uphill battle to make the Bengals roster even before the suspension.


Filed under Football Relativity, NFL Suspensions

Sweed sidelined

The Steelers put WR Limas Sweed on injured reserve this week in a transaction that may prove to be more significant than it appears. Below are thoughts on Sweed’s injury; we’ll compare its significance to other minicamp injuries in an upcoming post.

Sweed, a former second-round pick who has been a disappointment thus far for Pittsburgh, injured his left Achilles tendon in a May minicamp and needed surgery. The team subsequently put Sweed on injured reserve, shelving him for the season. For a Steelers team that dealt starting WR Santonio Holmes and needed Sweed (or rookie Emmauel Sanders or someone else) to step up behind Hines Ward and ’09 rookie surprise Mike Wallace, this injury is a blow. Even though Sweed has been inconsistent, he at least provided a downfield threat. But with him gone, Wallace now must become a starting-quality receiver in his second year, and retreads Antwaan Randle El or Arnaz Battle must make more of an offensive impact than they have in years. We believe in Wallace, but the rest of this equation is now even shakier than it was before Sweed’s injury.

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Filed under Football Relativity, NFL Injuries

Cushing crushed

Texans OLB Brian Cushing, who made the Pro Bowl and won defensive rookie of the year honors last season, will miss the first four games of the 2010 season after violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy. Below are some thoughts on what this suspension means to Cushing and the Texans; we’ll compare this suspension to others in effect at the start of the 2010 season in a later post.

Cushing, the defending defensive rookie of the year, was flagged for four games for a performance-enhancing substance. He denies using steroids, as so many who are flagged for this offense do, and the fact that rumors about Cushing date back to high school make his denials seems hollow. But while this seems like a big deal, it won’t cling to his career over the long term. After all, who remembers that Julius Peppers got a similar suspension in a similarly fine rookie season? How many of us count Shawne Merriman among this offense’s alumni? It’s a shame that Cushing tested positive, because it does taint his fine rookie season. But our hunch is that five years from now, play and not positive tests will be what we think of when we consider Cushing.

For the Texans, meanwhile, losing perhaps their most impactful defensive player is a blow. Houston finally broke the .500 barrier for the first time last season, and the offseason was designed to take the next step and make the playoffs. But without Cushing, impact defensive plays will have to come from DeMeco Ryans and Mario Williams. Cushing’s versatility will be missed, and four games – including Houston’s home shot against the Colts – are more than enough to impede a playoff run before it even begins.

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Rolle retires

One of our favorite players retired officially this week as CB Samari Rolle hung up his cleats. Below are some thoughts on his career; you can see how he compares in impact to other players who have retired this offseason in this post.

Rolle only made one Pro Bowl, but he was a long-time asset at corner for the Titans and the Ravens. During his best years, he was a No. 1 caliber corner who was both physical and fast. He was a big reason the Titans made the Super Bowl, and he also played on some of the great Ravens defenses of the last decade. He won’t make the Hall of Fame, but Rolle leaves knowing he made the most of a fine NFL career.

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