By Jeff Risdon
The first session of Official Team Activities, or OTAs, are now in the books for every team. There will be many, many more significant things going on as the offseason progresses, but there are some things that stood out around the league.
$.01--The Dallas Cowboys lost the best player on its historically inept defense when middle linebacker Sean Lee tore his ACL on the very first day of OTAs. This is a devastating loss for a unit that is trying to overcome already losing Pro Bowl pass rusher DeMarcus Ware to free agency.
This is not Lee’s first rodeo with major injury. He’s missed significant time throughout his career with neck, knee, wrist and toe issues. He fell in the 2010 draft because of his propensity for getting hurt at Penn State, too.
The Cowboys gambled that he could get healthy, and now it’s blown up in their face. Rod Marinelli’s vanilla 4-3 defense desperately relies on talented players making plays within the scheme, and Lee was the playmaker in the middle. Now they’ve lost him for the year. They don’t have anyone who can replace him at all. I like second-year backer Devonte Holloman a lot, but he’s an outside cover backer, not an inside thumping presence.
Here’s how desperate things are: rumors of Brian Urlacher coming out of retirement are generally viewed as the best option to replace Lee. That’s the same Brian Urlacher who had visibly lost at least a full step in his last season in Chicago back in 2012. Dallas does have some time to find a replacement, be it a trade or a preseason cut (Kelvin Sheppard?), but there’s no denying they are going to sorely miss Lee in the middle of the defense.
$.02--The New York Giants released bad boy safety Will Hill after his latest drug-related suspension. It’s his third since entering the league in 2012 after a career at Florida that might have taken years off then-coach Urban Meyer’s life. For a great look at his dubious history as a human being, check out this fine timeline from Jordan Raanan of NJ.com.
It’s always a shame to see talent wasted; it’s one of the biggest frustrations of covering sports. But when a guy cannot stop smoking pot after at least three failed tests, there is zero sympathy.
One of the bigger arguments I hear from marijuana advocates is that “it’s not addictive” like cocaine or even caffeine. Okay. Try going one single month without smoking it and see what it does to your body, your brain, your attitude. Will Hill apparently cannot, or will not, accept that challenge.
It’s too bad, because his former Gator pothead teammate Janoris Jenkins was able to overcome his chronic abuse of the chronic. One person with knowledge of a failed drug test at Florida told me before Jenkins was drafted that the levels of pot measurable (THC) in his system was that of someone “who is habitually stoned beyond any sense of general sobriety”. Jenkins has kept himself clean in his two seasons with the St. Louis Rams. Maybe St. Louis should take a flier on Hill and hope that Jenkins can lead him into the world of the clear-headed. Of course, the opposite could happen too, so perhaps it’s better that Hill’s NFL dreams go up in smoke.
$03--In previous years, one of the bigger issues at this time on the calendar was getting all the first-round draft picks signed. It wasn’t uncommon to have no more than a handful signed in the first month following the draft, and there were typically at least that many who remained unsigned into training camp.
That has changed with the latest CBA, as the rookie contracts are no longer the mega-deals that crippled many a salary cap. Sam Bradford, the first pick in the 2011 draft, made $50M guaranteed in his rookie deal. Last year’s top pick, Eric Fisher of the Chiefs (remember him?) got a smidge over $22M guaranteed.
For many years, the last team to sign its first-round pick was a lock to miss the playoffs. This year’s candidates for that distinction are few: San Diego, Detroit and Kansas City all have cap issues that could cause a delay in signing their picks. Detroit’s situation is the most acute; the Lions have just $1.1M in cap room but will have to count a little more than double that when they sign top pick Eric Ebron. Yet even that is expected to be wrapped up before training camp begins in July.
The new CBA has its significant detractions, but getting rookies signed and into camp is one of the more underpublicized positives.
$.04--Longtime readers know my disdain for Dan Marino, who I find one of the most overrated athletes of my lifetime. Marino put more fodder in my cannon this week by apparently joining the concussion lawsuit against the NFL by accident.
Much fanfare celebrated such a prominent name joining the long list of plaintiffs suing the NFL for head trauma suffered while playing in the league. Marino never had a documented concussion even though he played for almost two decades, which raised some eyebrows. He has later said he believes he suffered two concussions.
But just as he did when he accepted a front office job with his beloved Dolphins, Marino couldn’t handle any of the negatives that went along with the positives and quickly bailed. His statement on the issue, that he didn’t know his name would be attached to the existing suit, ironically proves that he probably did suffer irreparable brain damage. How could he not understand that? He either needs new advisors around him or to listen to the ones he already has, because the ignorance here is staggering.
There are rumors that Marino quickly withdrew when he realized that his involvement might hinder his ability to work in a front office. Not that there are teams beating down his door after his abortive experience in Miami, where Marino is still revered by fans who like to overlook his lousy playoff record. If he were a politician, opposing candidates would throw flip flops at him.
It’s a shame, really, because if Marino is indeed one of the multitude of former players suffering, he deserves to be part of the massive lawsuit. Adding his name certainly lends more sizzle and credibility to the cause. He’s a prominent figure with a platform, from being a living legend to working for CBS. Casual fans know and respect Dan Marino, and that means something here. If suddenly being thrust out as the face of the lawsuit spooked Marino, that’s simultaneously understandable and unfortunate.
$.05--The first week of June is a tough time to be at the bottom of the roster. This is a very active time for roster churning, and that can make it a very aggravating time for agents whose clients reside in spots 87-90 on the current 90-man roster limits.
The maddening process of trying to secure a tryout with another team is tedious and often humiliating for agents, who are employed in part because they have to believe in the dream too. Often those tryouts consist of one sole practice session in front of a position coach with far more important decisions to make than who is the 7th cornerback on his roster. It’s a longshot of a longshot, but it requires several phone calls and very little chance of financial reward for the agents. Many of these guys don’t have a big “meal ticket” client to lean on.
For folks like me who spend countless hours breaking down draft prospects and fits, it can be very frustrating as well. Lots of these guys are seeing their dreams die. They might not get signed by another team, and unlike the other pro sports, there is no minor league or overseas options to continue playing. Names like Luke Marquadt or Spencer Hadley might not ring a bell for most people, but it’s tough to see their NFL aspirations end when I’ve seen legit glimpses of viable NFL talent in watching their college tape.
Dallas Cowboys, Detroit Lions, Miami Dolphins, New York Giants, St. Louis Rams