ESPN.com Friday Tip Sheet
By Len Pasquarelli
Unlike baseball's winter caucus, traditionally a breeding ground for trade discussions, the annual NFL meetings have never generated much swap-mart action. That will probably be the case again when owners, coaches and general managers convene Sunday in Phoenix.
But any time you get all of the league's power brokers in the same place at the same time, anything is possible. And since some trade possibilities were bumped to the back burner when free agency began, there is at least the right atmosphere for some wheeling and dealing next week.
Tebucky Jones had 50 tackles and an interception last season.
Look for talks between New England and New Orleans, on a deal that would send "franchise" free safety Tebucky Jones to the Saints, to get jump-started again. The teams discussed a trade, but the Saints have balked at the second-round draft choice New England wants in return, preferring to part with only a third-rounder.
That intransigence could change now, however, with the Saints having now gained an extra second-round choice via the Friday night trade that sent offensive tackle Kyle Turley to the St. Louis Rams. They could certainly use that pick to acquire Jones from the Patriots.
Word is that coaches Bill Belichick and Jim Haslett will get together at some point to see if they can hammer something out. Agent Gary Wichard and New Orleans general manager Mickey Loomis are close enough to a contract accord that a five-year deal could be finished quickly if the teams agree on compensation. The groundwork has been laid for a contract that would pay Jones about $3.5 million per year. Haslett says Jones, who has yet to consistently play up to his physical potential, can definitely upgrade the Saints' secondary.
If the two sides can't come together, the Pats will simply keep Jones even though they already have Lawyer Milloy and Rodney Harrison at safety. Because the Pats play so many three-safety alignments, Jones isn't as superfluous in New England as some people think, and team officials have no plans at this juncture to rescind the "franchise" tag to reclaim some cap room.
But that could change if the Patriots decide to sign any free agents. And certainly the club will need more room to add draft choices. With the "franchise" marker, Jones is taking up $3.043 million of cap space. As of Friday morning, the Pats were only $444,079 under the spending limit.
Had the Friday night swap for Turley not been completed, Loomis likely would have used the meetings to try to rekindle trade talks with other teams about the nasty offensive tackle. The Miami Dolphins had expressed an interest in Turley and the two teams have done business in the past (see: Ricky Williams) involving big-name players. But the Dolphins seemingly lacked the wherewithal to acquire Turley and the Rams beat them to the punch.
One other element that could at least spark a little trade talk: There are four teams -- New Orleans, New England, the New York Jets and Oakland -- that own two picks each in the first round of next month's draft. And there are plenty of franchises with selections in the top 10 who want to trade back from the lofty perches. It would not be surprising if some of those teams tried to lay a foundation for a draft-day swap or two.
"Look, it still figures to be a week of all talk and no action, because that's how it usually comes down," said the general manager of a team looking to move down in the first round. "But at least if there's some legitimate talk (in Phoenix), maybe it will lead to some action down the line."
Around The League
McGahee already cashing in:
There is plenty of skepticism about the ability of former University of Miami tailback Willis McGahee to recover from the catastrophic knee injury he suffered in the Fiesta Bowl and get back on the field in 2003.
But Nike apparently does not share in it. Nike recently reached a promotional and endorsement contract with McGahee that is believed to be one of the biggest ever negotiated with a draft prospect. The four-year deal pays $50,000 annually and is also worth $12,000 in shoes and apparel merchandise. McGahee also has the ability to earn $25,000 in incentives. McGahee recently had his knee examined by Dr. John Uribe, the renowned South Florida orthopedist who performed his surgery. "He looked me right in the eye," said agent Drew Rosenhaus, "and told me that Willis right now has a normal knee."
McGahee will be one of several prospects who travel to Indianapolis next month for a league-organized medical re-evaluation. The consensus remains that he will be a second- or third-round draft choice. But if his knee checks out well in Indianapolis, there could be a team or two willing to gamble a first-round selection on him.
In a draft regarded as having plenty of second-round tailback prospects but few worthy of first-round consideration, Larry Johnson of Penn State might have moved away from the rest of the pack with his Thursday on-campus workout. Six pounds lighter than the 228 he weighed in at the combine last month, Johnson didn't look nearly as soft and was more athletic, said scouts in attendance. He ran the 40-yard dash in the 4.41-4.45-second range, had a stunning 41-inch vertical jump and caught the ball well.
There are still some backs who could move into first-round contention -- Justin Fargas (Southern California), Lee Suggs (Virginia Tech) and Onterrio Smith (Oregon) -- but Johnson certainly helped himself with a superior workout. There remain some scouts, however, who are skeptical, since Johnson had just one huge season in college.
NFL Europe still scheduled:
Despite the onset of war, the league presently has no plans to modify its overseas schedule. Players in the NFL Europe League are slated to leave next Tuesday and Wednesday, with the schedule to begin April 5. "There has been no instruction by the U.S. government to close western Europe offices and head back home," said NFL International vice president Doug Quinn. "What we are hearing from pretty much everybody is that it's business as usual." Quinn will huddle with owners on Sunday at the league meetings, however, and it is believed that they will discuss a contingency plan, which would be to simply play in Florida this spring and abandon the overseas schedule.
In addition to the NFL Europe schedule, there are currently no plans to cancel the preseason game slated to be played in Tokyo. "We're still planning to go," said Tampa Bay general manager Rich McKay. "And we've maintained our schedule for the (early) start of training camp, and all our travel plans, as if the game will be played."
Taking it slow:
Sources close to Emmitt Smith told ESPN.com this week that the NFL career rushing leader "isn't in much of a hurry yet" to find a new team. The Arizona Cardinals are the only team to visit with Smith and the lone franchise to make him a contract proposal. It may well be that Smith eventually signs with the Cards, but in his view there may be another team or two that will demonstrate interest. "There isn't much out there in free agency, it's a bad draft (for tailbacks) and someone may decide Emmitt is a more attractive alternative than they originally thought," said one source. "Plus he wants to see how serious the Cardinals really are before he jumps at anything." There is a chance Tampa Bay and New England will contact Smith, but he would have to accept a time-sharing role with either team, and neither could pay him commensurate to the Arizona offer.
What's next for Sehorn?
Things should begin heating up on the Jason Sehorn front. He could have a new team by next week. The former New York Giants star has visited with Carolina, Jacksonville, Cleveland and St. Louis officials, and it is split among the teams that want him to play cornerback or safety. Sehorn was close to a deal with the Jaguars last week, then got shoved to the back burner when the team made its frenetic, 11th-hour pursuit of defensive end Hugh Douglas. The conventional wisdom is that Carolina, because of the relationship between Sehorn and coach John Fox, is the frontrunner for the defensive back's services. But the Panthers, who seem to be sitting back and seeing where the market goes for him, shouldn't assume anything. Don't be surprised if the Rams make a pretty strong push for Sehorn.
Boller on Bears' radar:
Conventional wisdom has been that the Chicago Bears, having acquired Kordell Stewart in free agency last week, would eschew all the quarterback prospects that will be available to them with the fourth overall choice in the draft. The consensus opinion is that the Bears will choose between two defensive linemen, Penn State tackle Jimmy Kennedy and Arizona State end Terrell Suggs.
Well, the Bears probably won't take a quarterback if they remain at the No. 4 spot in the first round, but it is no longer a given they will choose in that slot. ESPN.com learned that Chicago officials have begun to consider moving down in the first round and have contacted teams slotted in the middle of the stanza about a possible trade-back. Chicago officials first phoned counterparts with the Redskins about the 13th overall choice, a pick Washington subsequently sent to the New York Jets as compensation for signing wide receiver Laveranues Coles. Then the Bears dialed up the Jets.
Word is that Chicago scouts have fallen hard for California quarterback Kyle Boller, who followed up a superb combine performance with a scintillating campus workout last week. The problem is, there is now a chance that Boller might not be on the draft board by the middle of the first round. He is a hot commodity, for sure, and teams that might not otherwise have considered a quarterback in the first half of the opening round are now scrutinizing him closely. There is even a chance that Boller could leap-frog Byron Leftwich for the No. 2 quarterback spot behind Carson Palmer of Southern California, especially if the Marshall star stumbles in his April 7 workout. The one caveat: Like most of the quarterbacks in this draft, Boller has just one strong college season on his resumÃƒÂƒÃ‚Â©. Leftwich was a productive player his entire college career.
Signals point to QB-heavy first round:
Only two weeks ago we opined in this spot that there might not be as many quarterbacks chosen in the first round as some folks anticipated. Oops. Things might have changed in the past fortnight. The continuing rapid ascent of Boller, and some possible juggling in the order at the top of the first round, where both Houston (No. 3 overall pick) and the Bears (No. 4) are trying to trade back, could certainly change that. While the Cincinnati Bengals are not 100 percent sold yet on Carson Palmer, they could still take him with the top overall pick, since it appears they have no tradeoff options.
The Baltimore Ravens are said to be very interested in Byron Leftwich. And let's say, for the sake of discussion, the Bears deal back to the middle of the round and select Boller. That could force a team in the second half of the round, perhaps Green Bay (also said to like Boller), to grab Rex Grossman. The former University of Florida star had a great campus workout on Wednesday, far better than his combine performance, and really impressed scouts. He threw with a better sense of timing at the campus workout, clearly getting into a rhythm, and two personnel directors in attendance used the term "outstanding" in the audition.
Not giving up a half inch:
One note, or maybe a "tall tale," on Grossman: At the combine, we noted he gained a critical half-inch, measuring 6-feet-1, when even he felt he would be 6-0ÃƒÂ‚Ã‚Â½. Well, he held onto that half-inch at his workout, declining to be measured again. It's not unusual for scouts to get different heights on guys at different times. Grossman wasn't about to take a chance he might be shorter this time around and politely told teams to accept his height as it was at the combine.
Make no mistake about this:
Cincinnati rookie coach Marvin Lewis, who will attend a Carson Palmer workout, isn't totally sold yet on the USC star and Heisman Trophy winner. Fact is, some Bengals assistants actually like Kyle Boller more and have made their feelings known. Don't dismiss entirely the possibility that the Bengals could take another prospect -- Michigan State wide receiver Charles Rogers, corner Terence Newman of Kansas State or Arizona State defensive end Terrell Suggs -- with the first overall selection.
Lewis is a defensive-oriented coach and must love the potential of Newman, perhaps the best player in the draft, and of Suggs, certainly the top pass-rusher available. Bengals offensive staffers, and Lewis as well, wouldn't mind having an explosive playmaker such as Rogers. Certainly the Bengals, who are loathe to invest a $14 million-$15 million signing bonus on the quarterback spot, would realize a discount if they took a player from another position with the top pick. Such a move is the big fear of player agents with clients who are consensus top-10 choices. In a "slotted" system, where signing bonuses are tiered according to where players are chosen, not having a quarterback at the top of the draft could blunt the upfront money for ensuing picks.
Last week, we noted that tailback Stephen Davis certainly had his lofty expectations obliterated by the five-year, $15.5 million contract that he signed with the Carolina Panthers, and that the headlines suggesting he could more than double that amount with incentives were absurd. Now we know exactly how absurd they were. In theory, Davis can bank nearly $4 million in added income every season if he reaches certain performance standards and the Panthers become a Super Bowl team. In reality, he isn't likely to realize much, or maybe not even any, of the incentive income.
For instance, Davis will earn $1.5 million if he rushes for 1,500 yards. Uh, times he has done that in his career to date: None. He will collect $500,000 if he ranks among the NFL's top three rushers in a season. OK, he's accomplished that twice (1999 and 2001), but he's a longshot to do so again at age 29. There are payments of $250,000 each if he catches 40 passes or has more than 350 yards in receptions. His career high in receptions is 33, and he has never had more than 313 receiving yards. If the Panthers win the Super Bowl, he will be $200,000 richer. Ditto if he wins most valuable player or offensive player of the year honors. Both longshots, right? For sure, if he's healthy, Davis has an excellent chance of reviving his career with the Panthers. Coach John Fox has a pretty rudimentary formula for success, one that worked well in 2002 when Carolina won seven games: Pound the ball between the tackles and play great defense. Davis could provide him a human bludgeon but must demonstrate he still has something left at 29, an age when most tailbacks are close to used up.
The basic contract numbers for Davis include a $2.5 million signing bonus and base salaries of $1 million (2003), $2 million (2004), $2.5 million (2005), $1.8 million (2006) and $2.7 million (2007). There is a $500,000 report bonus this year and annual workout bonuses of $100,000. In 2006 and 2007, there are roster bonuses of $1 million each. Given the structure of the contract, it essentially looks like a three-year, $8.8 million deal.
Bruener on the outs in Pittsburgh?
Nothing is imminent, but the Pittsburgh Steelers are concerned about the recent injury problems of tight end Mark Bruener, and it would not be at all surprising if the eight-year veteran is released later in the offseason. The Steelers bolstered the position earlier this week with the signing of veteran Jay Riemersma, released by the Buffalo Bills last month, and invested an $850,000 signing bonus in him. Riemersma has always been a far better receiver than blocker, the exact opposite of Bruener and hardly a precise fit for a Pittsburgh offense that rarely throws the ball to the tight end. But the Steelers coaches like him and told him they have big plans for him. The club could realize a cap savings of just over $2 million if they release Bruener after June 1, or a modest savings of $250,000 if they cut him now. He has finished the past two seasons on injured reserve after rotator cuff (2001) and knee (2002) injuries. This offseason, Bruener underwent the controversial "microfracture" surgery on his knee, and results have been mixed with that procedure. Also, word is the Steelers are very high on Tennessee tight end Jason Witten and might consider using their first-round draft choice on him.
Giant rebuilding task for McNally:
Once again, New York Giants offensive line coach Jim "Mouse" McNally turned chicken feathers into chicken salad last season, taking four nondescript players and Luke Petitgout and fashioning them into one of the best young units in the league. Looks like McNally, one of the premier line coaches in the league for many years now, will have to repeat that feat in 2003. New York has lost its right side in free agency, with tackle Mike Rosenthal signing with Minnesota on Thursday evening and guard Jason Whittle having moved on to Tampa Bay earlier in the signing period. The left side of the line, with Petitgout and guard Rich Seubert, remains solid, but the whole right side must be rebuilt.
Every scout seems to agree that the top two wide receivers in the draft are Charles Rogers of Michigan State and Miami's Andre Johnson. But for weeks there has been considerable debate about who ranks No. 3, and two players, Bryant Johnson of Penn State and Florida's Taylor Jacobs, staked their claims to the spot this week. Both had outstanding workouts and, along with Kelley Washington of Tennessee, could sneak into the first round.
Johnson was clocked in 4.38-4.4 by scouts to whom we spoke. At 6-feet-2 and 211 pounds, he provides the kind of size-speed dimension teams covet. "Much better speed than we felt he would have," said one AFC personnel chief. "He made himself some money with that workout." Jacobs was very impressive as well, running in the low to mid-4.4s and catching the ball well.
He who hesitates:
Latest example of a free agent who hesitated in signing a deal and then ended up getting a lesser contract is Kordell Stewart. The former Steelers starter dragged his heels on a Chicago proposal, with agent Leigh Steinberg apparently convinced he could get an agreement at $5 million or $6 million annually. But he lost his leverage when Arizona, with whom he was also negotiating, decided instead to sign Jeff Blake. So Stewart settled on a two-year, $4.75 million contract with the Bears. And Blake, who signed a three-year contract in Arizona, will actually earn more than Stewart, $5.5 million, in the first two seasons of his deal .
Henson on the radar:
Despite all the talk about the quarterback crop in the '03 draft, one guy has been overlooked by most pundits, but not by most teams. Former Michigan star Drew Henson, now in spring training with the New York Yankees, is eligible for next month's lottery. And two teams acknowledged this week that they will consider selecting Henson, simply to acquire his football rights for a year, in about the fourth or fifth round.
Apparently cognizant of the fact they need quantity as much as quality, the Cardinals are trying to deal back from their current No. 6 spot in the first round. The team might be willing to exercise its choice if Arizona State defensive end Terrell Suggs were available at that slot, but he likely will be gone. ... Great move by the Atlanta Falcons to secure the services of consultant Bobby Beathard for another year. His retention further fuels speculation that current personnel director Ron Hill will eventually get the general manager position owner Arthur Blank keeps insisting the team will fill at some point. ... Frustrated by the pace of negotiations in Tampa Bay, offensive left tackle and unrestricted free agent Roman Oben is tentatively scheduled to visit with Jacksonville officials. The Bucs want to retain Oben but must complete the restructuring of Keyshawn Johnson's contract before they can afford to sign him. ... One player moving rapidly up draft boards, particularly with clubs that use a 3-4 defensive alignment, is Wake Forest defensive end Calvin Pace. At his workout this week, Pace weighed 267 pounds, ran in the mid-4.6s and demonstrated surprisingly good skills in linebacker drills. Pace isn't getting as much attention as some of the "edge" rushers in this draft, but his ability to play with his hand on the ground or in a two-point stance is earning him plenty of looks from the 3-4 clubs. ... Free agent quarterback Jim Miller, the former starter in Chicago, is still close to a deal with the Tampa Bay Bucs. The long hangup is a clause involving $250,000 in injury protection. ... Free agent tailback Dorsey Levens enjoyed his visit with New York Giants officials this week but he is uncertain of his own interest in the team. Levens suspects that one reason the Giants invited him to town was to pressure reluctant Ron Dayne to attend the team's offseason workouts, which he is boycotting.
The last word:
"All of this could have been avoided. There should have been no cat-and-mouse game. Don't try to say, 'We'll give you six (million dollars in a signing bonus),' if I'm asking for 10 (million). You don't have to treat me like a guy you just met off the street. Let's not even go through the game, the talking back and forth. Just pay me my money."
-- Wide receiver Laveranues Coles, now of the Washington Redskins, on early negotiations aimed at keeping him with the New York Jets
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.
ESPN.com Friday Tip Sheet
I like that they\'re saying it is going to be a QB heavy first round. I hadn\'t heard that very much, but it just means more defense for us. I\'m glad to hear it.
What about Bruener? He could be a decent late off-season pick up with Pitt releases him, don\'t you think? Even if we draft a tight end, he could still fill in for Sloan if Sloan\'s play continues to be sub-par. What do you guys think?
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