It's a year of huge cornerback contracts, with A.J. Bouye and Stephon Gilmore breaking the bank. But will these big-money contracts, and the big-time gambles associated with them, pay off?
30 Mar 2006
by Mike Tanier
Did you miss the first 2006 edition of Four Downs: AFC West? You'll find it here.
You know the details of the big trade: the Broncos gave up one of their two #1 picks -- the 29th overall -- along with a third-round pick this year and a fourth-round pick next year in exchange for the Falcons' #1 pick, the 15th selection in this year's draft. The Falcons then sent the Broncos' old pick to the Jets, who sent the Falcons John Abraham.
You also probably found a copy of that draft pick value table on the web. Yep, the Broncos got a sweet deal. That 15th selection is worth 1,050 points on that mysterious table. They gave up at most 880 points of draft value, and probably less, depending on the Broncos' 2006 record (and therefore, the value of that fourth-round selection).
So there's a good chance that the Broncos saw an opportunity to earn a tidy brokerage fee and made the deal without a specific first round agenda. But many experts believe that the Broncos have something up their sleeve. The Denver Post dissected the trade on March 22 with the help of the ubiquitous Mel Kiper. Kiper figured that the Broncos traded up to land a specific player who wouldn't be available 22nd overall, when the Broncos make their second selection of the round. Kiper mentioned two possible targets: Florida WR Chad Jackson and USC running back LenDale White.
Jackson would fill a need for a team that relies too much on aging Rod Smith, but Jackson could also be available 22nd overall. White is a Colorado native, so his name caused a stir in Denver. He's also a power back who would have a hard time finding a role now that Ron Dayne has been re-signed, and he has been a draftnik Mexican jumping bean, bouncing all over the first round because he didn't participate in the Combine and has a tendency to gain weight (USC Pro Day is April 2; we'll all know more then). So count White out for now.
Other observers are hoping the Broncos package the two first-round picks to move up. Dave Krieger of the Knoxville News-Sentinel noted this week that the Almighty Draft Chart equates sum of the 15th and 22nd picks with the fourth pick overall. That might be pushing it, but the Broncos could easily trade into the Top 10. Krieger wants either Vanderbilt QB Jay Cutler or North Carolina State DE Mario Williams. Everybody covets Cutler these days -- let's face it, all of us know a lot about him after watching Vanderbilt so closely over the past three years -- but Williams would certainly be an asset in Denver.
This is all window-shopping, but Broncos observers all agree that the team is one or two true impact players away from getting over the playoff hump. They have no need to mess around with third- or fourth-round picks right now; the team is stocked with good starters and effective role players. Whether it's Jackson, Williams, or one of the players listed below, they need someone to provide an extra jolt. Trading up in the draft was a great move.
The Football Outsiders spin on the players coming and going from Denver:
Defensive Line Moves: The Broncos signed Gerard Warren to a six-year contract, then acquired yet another former Cleveland Browns lineman: Kenard Lang inked a three-year deal to come to Denver. Oh, and another: former Browns DE Amon Gordon also signed with Denver. Warren was the big prize from last year's Cleveland roster raid; Lang replaces Trevor Pryce in the starting lineup but can also drop into coverage as a DE/OLB hybrid. The Broncos' defense ranked 15th in the NFL in Adjusted Line Yards (explained here) and dead last in Adjusted Sack Rate, so they aren't finished making upgrades on the defensive line.
Ron Dayne: Dayne is the next Tyrone Wheatley. Wheatley was a power back from a Big 10 school who produced jaw-dropping stats at the NCAA level and was drafted in the first round by the Giants, just like Dayne. The Giants discovered that Wheatley had below-average instincts, rudimentary skills as a blocker and receiver, and no value on special teams, so they wrote him off and cut him loose, just as they did with Dayne. After a brief pit stop in Miami (Where he never played a regular season game), Wheatley landed in Oakland, where he was used, effectively, as a committee back. Dayne's instincts have improved, and he still runs with great power and above-average speed. Mike Shanahan won't dwell on what he can't do, and he won't be disappointed in what he gets if he gives Dayne about 10 touches per game, more when the Broncos are killing the clock.
Mike Leach: Gotta have a long-snapper.
Lets's start with an overview of the names being tossed out by the Internet's mock draft community, in addition to those listed above: Kamerion Wimbley, DE/OLB, Florida State; Jason Allen, S, Tennessee; Tamba Hali, DE, Penn State; Santonio Holmes, WR, Ohio State; Davin Joseph, G, Oklahoma; Laurence Maroney, RB, Minnesota. The latest FoxSports.com mock draft (version 5.0) lists Chad Jackson and Virginia Tech DB Jimmy Williams.
Many draftniks have Allen pegged as the ideal "second first-round pick" type of player: he has outstanding potential, but a 2005 hip injury makes him a huge risk. He and Williams are both safety/cornerback hybrids who could help most teams, but the Broncos invested heavily in their secondary last year. Hali and Wimbley are both logical choices who would upgrade the pass rush. Joseph is also a possibility, particularly with that second first-round selection; he's quick, smart, and well-suited to the Broncos scheme.
Assuming the Broncos don't spend an early-round pick on a running back (they won't), look for them to draft a runner on Day Two. Later picks will be used to create competition at wide receiver and round out the special teams.
Priest Holmes is fine.
Don't believe it? Just ask him. He might tell you. But that's all he'll tell you.
Yes, the enigmatic Holmes is impersonating Johnny Tight Lips again. Does "fine" mean that the neurological tests he underwent in late February were negative? Does it mean that he's cleared to play? Does it mean that he plans to play? You can hear Holmes now: "Back injury? Who says I have a back?"
Holmes has kept the media and his team in the dark. Search the Internet long enough, and you'll be able to find some players' grocery lists, but accurate health information on Holmes is nonexistent. Even Holmes' immediate family is playing a guessing game, according to an article in the San Antonio Express last month. "He hasn't been carrying on as if he's going to play," Holmes' stepfather told the newspaper.
The Chiefs' offseason conditioning program began on Monday, and Holmes was one of the few no-shows. But that's nothing new: Holmes rarely earned any frequent flyer miles traveling to off-season functions in the past. "He'll be in and out, probably more 'out' than 'in,'" Herm Edwards told the Kansas City Star. In a March 28th report in the Florida Sun-Sentinel, columnist Ethan J. Skolnik says that Edwards isn't expecting Holmes to return.
The Chiefs are preparing for life without Holmes. Larry Johnson, of course, is now the team's featured back. Last week, the team signed Quentin Griffin as a possible backup to Johnson. Griffin had the greatest game of his career against the Chiefs, a 23-carry, 156-yard, two-touchdown effort in the 2004 season opener. Griffin then came down with a case of fumble-itis, and has spent the last two years getting cut and re-signed by the Broncos. Backs who fumble six times in 179 carries have a hard time finding work.
Then again, just how often will Johnson need a change-up runner? Johnson is big and durable, and he catches the ball well enough to be a weapon on third downs. If Holmes returns, Edwards will give him a role, and Griffin will be relegated to special teams. Even as the second-string running back, Holmes will find himself in and out of the team's gameplans. Probably more 'out' than 'in.'
The Football Outsiders spin on the players coming and going from Kansas City:
Defensive Line Re-signings: The Chiefs re-signed DT Lional Dalton and DE Carlos Hall. Neither player lit up the stat sheet last season, but Dalton was effective at clogging up the middle, while Hall forced a pair of fumbles while battling neck, back, and hamstring injuries. Dalton will start opposite either Ryan Sims or Junior Siavaii; Hall is better suited to come off the bench as a pass rusher. At press time, the team was negotiating a contract extension for Jared Allen, their best defensive lineman. Smart move.
Huard and Collins: After backup quarterback Todd Collins signed with the Redskins, the team placed a premium on re-signing third-stringer Damon Huard, who eventually inked a one-year deal. Huard has thrown one pass in the last five years (incomplete), so he's a blank slate. The Chiefs may be in the market for a developmental passer, but keep your eye on James Kilian, the former Tulsa quarterback who is playing in Europe this spring.
Tony Richardson: The longtime Chiefs fullback who once blocked for Marcus Allen signed with the Minnesota Vikings last week. Richardson used to get a few touches per game as a change-up to Priest Holmes, but when Larry Johnson took over, Richardson was used exclusively as a blocker. Look for the Chiefs to use more two-tight end sets this season in an effort to get Kris Wilson more involved in the offense.
Kendell Garmon: Gotta have a long-snapper.
An overview of the names being tossed out by the internet's mock draft community: Tye Hill, CB, Clemson (the current FoxSports.com pick); Ashton Youboty, CB, Ohio State; Jonathan Joseph, CB, South Carolina; Gabe Watson, DT, Michigan; Tamba Hali, DE, Penn State.
What, no running backs?
Seriously, the Chiefs obviously need either a cornerback to pair with Patrick Surtain or a defensive lineman to improve their overall pass rush. Youboty is very similar to fellow Buckeye Chris Gamble, who blossomed in his second season with the Panthers. Youboty has a rep for brain cramps and confidence lapses, but Surtain and Herm Edwards will be able to help him through the tough times. Hill and Joseph are also good fits; it may come down to who is available in the #20 slot.
The Chiefs need help at wide receiver, and they need depth on the offensive line. If Kilian doesn't impress in Europe, the Chiefs may select a quarterback like Fresno State's Paul Pinnegar at the end of Day Two. Don't be surprised if the team also picks up a kicker near the end of the draft, as Lawrence Tynes nearly drove Dick Vermeil to distraction in training camp last year.
When researching the background of a new offensive coordinator, you don't expect to wind up at a Bed 'n' Breakfast blog. But that's exactly where the routine Football Outsiders background check led us for new Raiders offensive coordinator Tom Walsh.
Walsh was a Raiders assistant throughout the 1980s and early 1990s. He was their offensive coordinator in Art Shell's final year with the team; the Raiders finished 19th in the NFL in points and 17th in total yards under Walsh in 1994. When Shell and his staff were fired, Walsh disappeared from the NFL scene.
Walsh resurfaced in 1996 as the head coach of the Idaho State Bengals. The team finished 3-8 in their first season under Walsh. When the Bengals started the 1998 season 2-6, Walsh was fired.
Walsh soon reappeared as the head coach and director of football operations for the Mobile Admirals in something called the Regional Football League. The RFL billed itself as the "major league of spring football," but it lasted just one season. The Admirals went 6-2 and won the only championship in RFL history, defeating the Houston Outlaws 14-12.
When the RFL folded, Walsh left the bright lights and pressure of spring football. He became owner and proprietor of the Hansen Guest Ranch in Swan Valley, Idaho. Bed 'n' breakfast aficionados and avid fly fishermen know all about the Hansen Guest Ranch; the place is, by all accounts, sweet. "Featured on this scenic property is a 110-year-old barn that recently has been renovated to include three downstairs suites, each with a queen size bed and a private bath," says the resort's website. "The loft includes a spacious area with whiteboards suitable for meetings as well as a lounge and a big screen TV. The remodeled Wrangler's Cottage is the original 'hired man's' house, and its spacious floor plan includes two bedrooms, each with a queen size bed, one bath, a sitting area with a pull-out sofa and a kitchenette with a microwave and a mini refrigerator."
We had to quote the ranch website, as the Raiders website is understandably reticent about Walsh's recent whereabouts. "Walsh most recently held the post of head coach at Idaho State," the site demurs. You know, "recently." Like 1998.
The official team site is also quiet about how Walsh's last tenure with the team ended. Walsh was loyal to Shell during the 1993 season, when several other Raiders coaches wanted Shell fired. Late in the season, as the Raiders were piling up 50 sacks and 146 penalties (an NFL record), quarterback Jeff Hostetler stopped listening to Shell and Walsh and began to call his own plays.
Readers can make their own conclusions about the Walsh hiring. We don't have DVOA or DPAR figures for the early 1990s or a Regional Football-to-NFL projection system.* And while Hansen Guest Ranch earned a 45.6 QBAR rating (Queen-sized Beds Above Replacement) in 2005, that doesn't tell us much about the Raiders. Maybe Walsh has been breaking down film in the 110-year old barn for six years. Maybe this is just a cash grab for one of Shell's buddies. One thing is sure: it's the highest-profile innkeeper-to-sports-coach transition since Manchester United hired Basil Fawlty back in 1983.
*(Ed. note: It's on my project list, right after the Eastern Football League-to-NFL projection system. Don't sleep on those Marlborough Shamrocks.)
The Football Outsiders spin on the players coming and going from Oakland:
Aaron Brooks: Many observers believe that the Raiders will draft Vince Young, and that Brooks will mentor (snicker) the young passer, imparting his vast wealth of football knowledge (snort) and helping Young develop into a great decision ma ... (burst into tearful laughter).
Brooks is very similar to Kerry Collins: both are rifle-armed, both avoid injuries and rack up impressive passing stats, both are turnover-prone. Key differences: 1) Brooks has the scrambling ability to run away from (and into) trouble. 2) When Collins was forced to deviate from the script, he would take a sack or throw a 30-yard interception. When Brooks deviates from the script, he does something interesting, like lateral the ball to his right tackle.
Secondary Changes: The Raiders lost Renaldo Hill to free agency but signed Tyrone Poole, a 34-year-old who has been healthy for six games in the past two seasons, and Duane Starks, a 32-year-old (in May) who has been healthy for 22 games in the last three years. Poole was very effective for the Patriots in 2003, and Starks showed he still had something left in seven starts for the Patriots last year. Between the two of them, the Raiders may have one starting cornerback to replace Charles Woodson. Hill was a starter for most of last season, playing a CB-safety hybrid position in the 4-2-5 scheme Rob Ryan used for much of the year. Ryan hopes to scrap the 4-2-5 this season as an early-down defense.
Ronald Curry: The Raiders re-signed the forever-injured Curry to a cap-friendly deal. The Raiders are deep at wide receiver, but if Curry can stay healthy, Shell and Walsh will be able to deploy a deadly four-wideout formation.
An overview of the names being tossed out by the internet's mock draft community, in addition to Young (who gets the nod in the latest FoxSports.com mock draft): Michael Huff, DB, Texas; Vernon Davis, TE, Maryland, Haloti Ngata, DT, Oregon; DE Mario Williams, North Carolina State.
All of these players qualify as "Al Davis types," because they are the biggest, fastest, or strongest at their positions (Davis loves superlatives). Vernon Davis makes no sense for a team that already has too many receiving threats, but the devil will get his due if he wants another top athletic specimen. Huff is an outstanding athlete who can play cornerback or safety, and the Raiders need both. Ngata wouldn't be a bad selection; you can never have too many defensive tackles. Williams would also fit: the Raiders have depth on the defensive line, so the gifted-but-raw pass rusher wouldn't be asked to do too much as a rookie.
As for Young, well, he might be too good to pass up if he is on the board at #7. But didn't the Raiders select Andrew Walter with a third round pick last year?
The Raiders need to add depth on the offensive line and at linebacker. One mock draft has the team selecting UTEP linebacker Thomas Howard in the second round. Howard is very quick and fast but doesn't have a natural position and has a rep for making mental mistakes. Sounds like a Raiders defender to me.
Chargers general manager A.J. Smith and coach Marty Schottenheimer spent much of early March engaged in a bitter war of words, spilling invective across the pages of the San Diego Union Tribune, the North County Times, and other Southern California newspapers. Eventually, team president Dean Spanos called them both into his office and dressed them down. Case closed ... for now.
The Drew Brees/Philip Rivers controversy was at the center of the dispute: Marty wanted Brees, Smith preferred Rivers. The larger issue was a lack of communication between the veteran coach and a well-regarded member of the NFL's executive community. Smith reputedly has an inner circle of confidents, and Schottenheimer isn't part of it.
Most news outlets gave the story a predictable spin: Schottenheimer is an obstructionist martinet, unwilling to embrace the forward-thinking, cap-conscious philosophies of the more progressive Smith. With former offensive line coach Carl Mauck still taking schotts at Schottenheimer over his dismissal, it was easy to point fingers at the head coach.
But the "Smith is right, Marty is wrong" slant doesn't add up. Since when does it make sense to let a reliable starting quarterback skip town with no compensation? Rivers may be ready to step up, but when we last watched him, he still looked a little like Foster Brooks leaving the bar at closing time whenever he dropped back to pass. The kid is clumsy. But with Ben Roethlisberger winning a Super Bowl and Eli Manning developing nicely, the GM may have decided to push up the timetable for his hand-picked prospect. Brees indicated several times this offseason that he felt someone in the organization was pushing him out the door, and that "someone" was the guy who drafted the other quarterback.
Smith and Schottenheimer can share blame for what became an ugly situation. Smith could have put together a sign-and-trade package if he insisted on moving Brees, and Marty shouldn't have gone public with his frustrations. What's sad is that two smart football men are fighting over some tiny turf: a "franchise turnaround" that consists of 21 wins in two years and one playoff appearance. If they cannot get along, the Chargers could easily slip back into their 4-12 funk. Smith is taking a heck of a gamble; it stands to reason that Schottenheimer is keeping his eyes on his chips. United, the Chargers stand. You know the rest.
The Football Outsiders spin on the players coming and going from San Diego:
Aaron Shea: Shea is an H-back who will replace tight end Justin Peelle, who signed with the Dolphins. Shea is a reliable receiver in the flat and an effective pass blocker. Look for the Chargers to run lots of two-tight end sets, with Shea staying in to block while Antonio Gates has all the fun.
Marlon McCree: McCree signed a five-year deal with the Chargers. He's a tough-but-undersized safety who reads plays well and makes a lot of tackles in run support. He's rarely injured, so the Chargers shouldn't have to play musical chairs in the secondary this year, but they still need help at cornerback. McCree can play either safety position, but he has a strong safety's mentality.
Departures: WR Reche Caldwell and LB Ben Leber were second and third round picks in the 2002 draft; A.J. Smith took over the following season, though he had a hand in the 2002 selections (Peelle was also drafted in 2002). Both Caldwell and Leber showed flashes of potential, but Caldwell couldn't beat Eric Parker for the #2 receiver spot last year, and Leber will be adequately replaced by Shaun Philips (and, of course, Shawne Merriman). The Chargers now only have Quentin Jammer to show for their 2002 draft, and Jammer hasn't developed into a shut-down cornerback.
An overview of the names being tossed out by the internet's mock draft community: Jonathan Joseph, CB, South Carolina (the current FoxSports pick); Eric Winston, tackle, Miami; Santonio Holmes, WR, Ohio State; Chad Jackson, WR, Florida; Tye Hill, CB, Clemson; Donte Whitner, S, Ohio State.
A quick note about most mock drafters: they have zero memory. The Chargers selected WR Vincent Jackson as a project in the second round last year, and while he battled injuries and was slow to catch on, he's still in the team's plans. Mock drafters tend to forget that teams (successful ones, anyway) often draft a year or two ahead of their needs. The Chargers may draft a receiver on Day One, but not in Round One.
The other picks make more sense, though Winston would be a reach with the 19th pick. Whitner and McCree would make a fine 1-2 punch at safety: Whitner has the skills of a cornerback and can cover most slot receivers. The speedy-but-undersized Hill would also fill a need, as would Youboty. Basically, if he plays cornerback, the Chargers need him.
The Chargers need offensive linemen and defensive backs but are deep at most other positions, thanks in part to Schottenheimer's ability to get the most from late draft picks and street free agents. If wheeler-dealer Smith needs to trade up a few spots to get the player he wants, the Chargers won't hesitate to move their second- or third-round pick.
Next Tuesday: NFC South by Darrel Michaud
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