Authored by Jeff Risdon - 26th March, 2012 - 1:03 pm
Normally this space is reserved for my cents, ten during the season and anywhere between four and eight during the offseason. I try to toss out a few paragraphs on various NFL subjects that go a little deeper than just plain reaction. But this weekend I spent an inordinate amount of time with my children, ages six and three. And the 5-year-old neighbor. And the 3-year old neighbor. And the other 3-year-old neighbor. And the 5-year-old neighbor's 4-year-old cousin. All of these kids wound up in my backyard for a handful of hours that seemed like full college years and made my hair visibly greyer.
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One of the things you learn in hanging out with young children is that they lack attention span. Just when everyone gets into playing with bubbles, along comes a spider and now we're all playing Spiderman. Then a cloud that looks like a juice box means it's snack time, except one kid is back to the bubbles and another is hosing down my son's vast collection of construction equipment. In the spirit of the children, I give you the more rapid-fire, short attention span version of my weekly column.
1. So Denver thinks Caleb Hanie is the best solution to backup Peyton Manning. Did they see Hanie in action in Chicago last year, throwing 9 INTs, and getting sacked 19 times in 102 pass attempts?! I know Manning doesn't like to have even a remote threat to his practice reps on the roster, but at his age and with his neck issues and inactivity this is a risk the Broncos are foolish for taking. Honestly, Caleb Hanie is the best you can do?
2. Quite a week for Drew Stanton. He signed with the Jets with the thinking that he had a real chance to beat out Mark Sanchez for the starting role if the fight was truly fair. Then the Jets trade for Tim Tebow and Stanton goes back to being a #3 with no chance of ever seeing the field, just like in Detroit. After venting his obvious frustration, the Jets dealt him to the Colts, where he will serve as Andrew Luck's caddy on a team that everyone will want to lose every game if for some reason Luck has to miss even a snap. I feel bad for Stanton.
3. One of the huge draftnik assumptions this year is that the Vikings are definitely taking USC tackle Matt Kalil at #3 overall, with the apparently obligatory comment that Kalil reminds the various draftniks of Joe Thomas or Jake Long. I'm going to paraphrase Lloyd Bensten here; "I have seen Joe Thomas. I have extensively scouted Jake Long. Mr. Kalil, you are no Jake Long or Joe Thomas." Anyone who vociferously sells that argument needs to go back and watch those guys in college. Kalil is a real good player but he's not even close to Long or Thomas when they came out. Not. Even. Close.
4. I know I'm a football guy, but I am obliged to mention my alma mater Ohio University and their amazing Sweet Sixteen run in the NCAA hoops tourney. It was a great week to be a Bobcat. It was also great to see so many people so happy with the near-miss loss to North Carolina and how positive everyone remains. My Facebook page looked like a shrine to Ohio basketball Friday night, and Twitter was much the same. Here's hoping Coach Groce can keep building on the strong foundation and we can become the next Xavier or Gonzaga, expecting wins every March Madness instead of reveling in them.
5. With the very real prospect of Jonathan Vilma being the most prominent player to get penalized for Bountygate, the Saints got proactive and signed former Falcon Curtis Lofton to man the middle. He no longer fit in Atlanta because the Falcons didn't feel he was a 3-down LB, and the offers he got elsewhere indicated most people felt the same. Now New Orleans has two two-down MLBs that can't play outside. The only way this signing makes any sense, aside from hurting the division rival Falcons by denying Lofton's return, is if the Saints are expecting a prolonged league-mandated absence by Vilma.
6. Miami owner Stephen Ross revealed this week that his team never had much interest in free agent Matt Flynn even though Flynn's offensive coordinator in Green Bay, Joe Philbin, is now the head coach of the Dolphins. A lot of pundits took this as Ross spouting off in bitter cover-your-asset mode, but I strongly believe him. As I tweeted a couple of weeks ago, I talked to a Browns front office person and he told me his team did not view Flynn as any sort of upgrade over embattled incumbent Colt McCoy. It also speaks a lot about the league-wide perception of Flynn that the team which ultimately signed him, Seattle, is widely purported to still have interest in drafting a quarterback next month.
7. I am compelled to speak out against whatever car ad it is that features the Spandau Ballet song. I'm sure many people appreciate the soft-rock beauty of that 80s gem, but it harbors terrible memories for me. That song takes me back to my 11th grade homecoming dance at Columbus Northland High School, when shortly after that song capped a wonderful slow dance period my girlfriend informed me she was no longer my girlfriend. Every time that ad comes on I see her auburn-haired gorgeousness, smell her enchanting scent, see her captivating green eyes and hope her life has turned out a disappointing slog for causing me such pain. Thanks for the shining moment, Chevrolet!
8. The Bengals finally got Derrick Harvey, signing him to a make-good free agent contract as the draft bust hopes to breathe some life into his career. Cincinnati coveted Harvey with their #9 overall pick back in 2008, enthusiastically projecting what he could do to help bolster their pass rush. Jacksonville absolutely stunned the Bengals brass (read: Mike Brown) by trading way up from #26 overall to #8 and swipe Harvey from them. Harvey held out all summer, did nothing on the field for years before the Jaguars and Broncos both left him for dead. The Bengals scrambled in that draft and wound up with the somewhat less disappointing Keith Rivers. The Bengals also signed the disappointing #8 overall pick from the 2007 draft, DE Jamaal Anderson, another guy they really coveted at draft time.
9. One day after Robert Griffin III knocked his pro day out of the ballpark, Andrew Luck knocked his own out of the stratosphere. As if anyone should have expected any different. Quarterback pro days are an exercise in complete frivolity. I'm nearly 40 and haven't thrown a football in pads in over 20 years. Give me three weeks of four-hours-a-day practice to nail 70-some carefully choreographed throws and I could complete at least 63 of them, even in a breeze. The only thing that would ever be newsworthy about a QB pro day is if the passer didn't look amazing.
10. Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon helped himself at his pro day, running an impressive 4.46 forty after skipping out on running at the Combine. Blackmon has taken some lumps for not being either tall or especially fast, leading many to question how the Browns could possibly consider him at #4 overall. At that speed and with his obvious physical strength and style, Blackmon should have ameliorated those doubts. Alas, dropping two well-thrown balls from Brandon Weeden gave the critics more fodder. I've said it before, I'll say it again: Blackmon is a better overall prospect than Julio Jones was a year ago, but not to AJ Green's level.
11. Word is out that the Eagles are trying to trade CB Asante Samuel. Again. Samuel is 31 and will make $8.4M with a $9.5M cap hit this year. He is the third-highest paid corner in the league, yet he's probably only the third-best corner on his own team if Dominique Rodgers Cromartie is healthy. Samuel still has some game left for the right team, but at that price any trade seems like a pipe dream. Then again, Washington got a taker for Albert Haynesworth and Cincinnati got a taker for Ochocinco. Maybe a return to New England is in order...
12. Green Bay took an unexpected plunge into the free agent pool by signing former Colts center Jeff Saturday to a two-year deal. It's a curious signing for the team. The Packers run a zone blocking scheme that values athleticism and quickness, the two things that Saturday most definitely does not have anymore. Saturday has almost zero lateral range anymore, and playing in space has never been his strong suit. He's essentially a phone-booth pass blocking specialist with diminished flexibility, and he is a downgrade from Scott Wells in this system. Of course the Packers deserve credit for not overpaying to keep Wells, a decidedly average player who got big money (four years/$24M) from the Rams. Saturday's two-year/$7.75M deal is right in line with what fellow 36-year-old Matt Birk got from Baltimore.
13. Hines Ward announced his retirement this week. Thank God. I always applaud when a great player knows when to call it a career, and Ward did just that. I don't think he's a Hall of Fame receiver, however, despite his impressive numbers and beloved icon status with the Steeler Nation and fans of Dancing With the Stars. If Andre Reed and Tim Brown--both clearly better receiving threats--are having so much trouble getting in (not to mention Cris Carter) I don't see Ward getting in until he hits the veteran's committee. If that body even still exists in 25 years.
14. I've had more time to reflect upon the Tebow-to-New York move, and I am warming to the idea. I do like the concept of using Tebow as a red zone package player and wildcat weapon on 10-20 plays per game. I think he can thrive in those situations and make the Jets unimpressive offense a more viable threat. The problem is that I do not trust Rex Ryan to have the discipline to stick to that plan. Nor do I trust the Jets fans to not seize upon the first bad drive by The Sanchize and call for his head with a relentless vitriol that only the New York City media can create. This is one of those ideas that works better in Madden football than reality, I'm afraid.
15. LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne had his workout season ended with recent wrist surgery. I talked to a couple of different team sources and neither said it was a big deal at all, and both confirmed what everyone already knows: Morris Claiborne is the best corner prospect in this draft. And last year's draft too, as the top CB a year ago was his former teammate Patrick Peterson and both teams confirmed to me they have a higher grade on Claiborne as a corner than they had for Peterson. Of course Peterson augmented his value with freakish return skills, which he aptly parlayed into Pro Bowl status as a rookie for Arizona last year. Claiborne doesn't have that, but he is as close to Darrelle Revis skill-wise as any corner since Revis Island hit the league.
16. The league meetings are going on right now and I'm very curious to see what comes out regarding the salary cap punishment levied upon Washington and Dallas. I'm not a legal expert but I've heard enough people who claim to be saying that something smells very wrong about this case. I know the teams were warned several times not to take advantage of the uncapped situation and load bonuses and bulk payments last year. Many in the NFLPA are very concerned that this smacks of collusion. Owners Daniel Snyder and Jerry Jones are threatening legal action of their own, and it will be very interesting to see how it plays out.
17. I've spent some hours recently breaking down lower-rung prospects at some positions. One of those is Louisville RB Victor Anderson, and he is a great case study in why the NFL doesn't want players who haven't spent at least three years out of high school. Anderson was fantastic as a freshman in 2008, rushing for over 1000 yards and showing a nice burst coupled with good patience and vision. Injuries really took their toll and he didn't get 1000 more yards total until the 7th game of 2011. His inability to stay healthy is a big flag, but he has shown he can reliably catch the ball and was once among the best kick returners in the nation. He merits a long look in a camp just to see if he can recapture the magic. His 61-yard tear against Rutgers last fall showed he's still got some juice.
18. One of the questions I get asked a lot is what attribute I consider the most vital for a quarterback prospect. I consider that a bit of a trick question, because for every answer there is an obvious case where that simply doesn't hold water. So my pretty generic cop-out answer is that I value a quarterback who understands his own physical abilities and has no glaring weaknesses in arm strength, accuracy, touch, intelligence, drive, or mechanics. That's not asking too much, right...?
19. Carolina signed former Chargers running back Mike Tolbert in a bit of a surprise move. Given the team already has DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart in the backfield, many are speculating that Stewart could be traded. He certainly has real value, an about-to-be 25-year-old former first rounder that averaged over five yards per carry last year (on 142 attempts) and also caught 47 passes. He has missed just two games in his four years and comes at an affordable rate, albeit the final season of his rookie contract. One intriguing potential landing spot is Pittsburgh, which needs insurance in case their own 2008 1st rounder, Rashard Mendenhall, doesn't fully recover from late-season knee surgery.
20. If you are a Pittsburgh Steelers fan, on Monday I want you to raise a glass of whatever you like to drink in honor of one of your own. A very close friend of mine, Terry Clutter, passed away one year ago of rapidly metastasized brain cancer. He found out in January and was gone by the end of March. Terry was a wonderful man who willingly and enthusiastically gave everything of himself to be a great friend to everyone. He's the nicest person ever to have a "Bite Me" tattoo, and he was a Steelers fanatic despite growing up and living in West Michigan. You are missed, my brother.
Follow me on Twitter @JeffRisdon or email me at Jeff.Risdon@RealGM.com