NFC North: 09 owners' meeting
It took a few days, but we're back with the second part of our post on Condoleezza Rice's talk at the NFL owners' meeting last Sunday. One of her messages was particularly applicable during draft season.
Rice urged owners and other team officials to "have a sense of history's long arc." In other words, she said, it's helpful to remember that instant reaction to decisions aren't always reconcilable with the way history ultimately metes out judgment. A choice made for short-term consequences won't always prove the wisest over time.
"If you're always chasing the day's headlines," Rice said, "you won't always do the right thing. Or, at least, you won't do the difficult thing."
The message applied during Rice's diplomatic career and in creating foreign policy, but it also is another way of looking at all sorts of decisions that NFL general managers and coaches make each day. Should you draft the player who is ready to contribute right away, or take the one with less refinement but higher upside? Do you impact your salary cap by paying a veteran large sums of money? Or do you spread the wealth on younger players who could be part of a longer building process?
Both Rice and NFL employees face similar obstacles: If they devote too much of their attention to the long-term future, they could face the short-term consequence of getting voted out or fired. But ultimately, Rice urged NFL types to ignore the lure of instant gratification and take, well, the road less traveled.
DANA POINT, Calif. -- It was a nice four-day run here at the St. Regis Hotel, where I got my daily exercise by walking up the marble staircases. Most league and team officials have scattered and the business of operating the National Football League will resume soon in 32 cities across the land.
As for me, I made one of those "it-sounded-good-at-the-time" decisions to book a red-eye flight back home Wednesday night. I'll be getting in sometime during rush hour Thursday morning and am expecting a mental haze that could further diminish my capacity for rational thought.
I'll try to set up a few posts for you to chew on the meantime. Until then....
DANA POINT, Calif. -- When I asked Lovie Smith on Wednesday how many new starters he expected on his offensive line this season, he paused and said: "For sure, we'll have two."
|Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images|
|Former Browns tackle Kevin Shaffer will replace John St. Clair, who signed with Cleveland earlier this month.|
Now I know what the pause meant. (And it wasn't to give him extra time to decide between a smorgasbord of fruit on his breakfast plate.) The addition of free agent lineman Kevin Shaffer, whose three-year contract was announced a few hours after the conclusion of the NFL owners' meeting, means the Bears are likely to have three new starters when training camp opens this summer.
Shaffer had been Cleveland's right tackle for most of the past two seasons, and ESPN's John Clayton reports he will receive $2.75 million in 2009 and up to $8 million over three years. Those numbers suggest he will get every opportunity to win the Bears' right tackle job, allowing fellow newcomer Frank Omiyale to settle in as the left guard.
The ascension of second-year left tackle Chris Williams gives the Bears 60 percent turnover along the offensive line for 2009. In this likely scenario, the only returning starters will be center Olin Kreutz and right guard Roberto Garza.
If Shaffer doesn't measure up, he would likely serve as a swing tackle with Omiyale starting on the right side and Josh Beekman at left guard. It's also possible, but unlikely, the Bears could draft an immediate starter at right tackle.
Shaffer was signed in 2006 to be Cleveland's starting left tackle. That experiment failed and after Joe Thomas was drafted Shaffer moved to the right side, which clearly fits him much better. Shaffer is very strong and has the size and skill set needed to best play on the right side. On the left side, his athletic ability was exposed, but he has performed admirably on the right side because he doesn't have to consistently face elite speed-rushers. He isn't very nimble or fluid, but does work hard. His pad level is a problem and he lacks the ability to consistently play the game low. He is a powerful man and pushes defensive linemen backwards as a power blocker. He is a thumper who plays to the whistle and is bright enough to get the most out of his physical abilities.
DANA POINT, Calif. -- Throughout all the recent discussion on Detroit's quarterback situation -- Daunte Culpepper? Jon Kitna? Matthew Stafford? Jay Cutler? -- one prominent name has been overlooked. USC quarterback Mark Sanchez is generally considered the second-best quarterback in the draft, and the Lions have the ammunition to draft him if they want.
Lions officials will attend Sanchez's April 1 pro day, which is one day after the team's private workout with Georgia quarterback Stafford. The Lions won't give Sanchez a private workout, but coach Jim Schwartz said Wednesday they will host him on a visit to their practice facility in Detroit. The Lions also hope to tack some drills of their own onto his pro day throwing session, Schwartz said.
Typically, the schools control the workout procedure and plan the drills. Schwartz said the Lions hoped Sanchez will give Detroit the option of, say, throwing into the wind instead of with the wind.
"I'm sure his agent will be open to it," Schwartz said.
The Lions are in an interesting spot with Sanchez. Even if they prefer him over Stafford, it's unlikely they will choose him at No. 1. It's also risky to assume he will be available with their No. 20 overall pick. More than likely, the Lions would have to make some sort of trade -- either down from No. 1 pick or up from No. 20 -- to draft him in an appropriate slot.
That's the impression I got Wednesday morning after speaking with coach Lovie Smith on the last day of the NFL owners' meeting. Smith's eyes lit up when I asked about Bennett, and he downplayed any concern about relying on rookie receivers for immediate production.
Bennett didn't catch a pass last season after the Bears selected him in the third round of the 2008 draft. Nevertheless, Smith said he has Bennett penciled in as the starter opposite Devin Hester. The only way that status changes, I'm guessing, is if the Bears bypass their current philosophy and sign a veteran free agent (Torry Holt?) or draft a player who blows him away from the first day of training camp.
On Bennett, Smith said:
"We liked what he did in the preseason. He didn't get a chance to do a lot as a wide receiver last year. But in practice, we saw a change in him last year. He'll get an opportunity. We list him as our starter right now at wide receiver, so he'll get a chance to prove what he can do. He had a lot of success at Vanderbilt. He'll do everything possible to become a good football player in the league."
When asked about the strengths of the 2009 draft, the first position Smith named was receiver. And the Bears have been actively scouting that group, setting up private workouts for North Carolina's Hakeem Nicks and Rutgers' Kenny Britt, among others.
Rookie receivers don't typically contribute right away, however. In 2008, for instance, a total of 35 receivers were drafted. Only four, however, averaged more than two catches per game: Denver's Eddie Royal, Philadelphia's DeSean Jackson, Miami's Davone Bess and St. Louis' Donnie Avery.
Smith, however, said the Bears won't be afraid to play young receivers in 2009:
"I'm not one that thinks you have to have four or five years to be [ready] in this league. We've had success playing guys. [Tailback] Matt Forte was our starter from Day 1. Especially some of the skill positions, especially if they have a veteran group around them. You realize that there's going to be some growing pains you go through, but eventually they get it. So I don't really see that being much of a problem at the receiver position."
Smith has been nothing if not consistent on this issue. He said Wednesday he would like to have at least three playmaking receivers when the season begins. If that's going to happen, it almost certainly will have to be Hester, Bennett and a highly-drafted rookie.
DANA POINT, Calif. -- Hi there. Just returned from the NFC coaches breakfast here on the final day of the NFL owners' meeting, enjoying some fine Southern California eats with Chicago's Lovie Smith, Minnesota's Brad Childress and Detroit's Jim Schwartz.
I spoke with Smith about his commitment to backup quarterback Caleb Hanie (high), his hope for improvement from receiver Earl Bennett ("He's listed as our starter right now") and whether he thinks it's reasonable to assume a rookie receiver could contribute immediately (Yes).
Childress gave us a blow-by-blow account of the now-infamous telephone conversation between quarterback Tarvaris Jackson and free agent receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh. But Childress offered no reason why Houshmandzadeh perceived Jackson was the team's likely starting quarterback.
Schwartz, meanwhile, said the Lions hope to squeeze in a private workout with USC quarterback Mark Sanchez at the end of his pro day April 1.
As we noted earlier, Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy left the meetings Tuesday to attend to a family matter.
I'll flesh out all of the above nuggets as the day progresses.
DANA POINT, Calif. -- Three of the NFC North's four coaches are scheduled to attend a media breakfast Wednesday morning. Our plan is to spend time with all three and bring you multiple posts as the day progresses.
One note: Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy left the meetings Tuesday afternoon to attend to a family matter. We'll continue to bring you snippets of Monday's interview with him.
DANA POINT, Calif. -- In a fortuitous bit of corporate synergy, the NFL and ESPN Sports Poll collaborated on a study to determine the nation's most popular individual pro sports franchises.
Owners and team executives viewed the results of the poll this week during their opening gathering at the St. Regis Hotel. NFL teams captured six of the top 10 spots in the poll, including the Black and Blue's own Green Bay Packers at No. 2.
By one measure, the poll means that in 2008, the Packers had the second-highest percentage of supporters among all U.S. pro sports franchises.
"We're a very recognizable brand and I think we still have a national following," Packers president/CEO Mark Murphy said. Here's the full list for 2008:
DANA POINT, Calif. -- Monday's compensatory draft pick awards allow us to solidify the 2009 draft order. You can view the entire draft order here, download it here or just look below for each pick in the NFC North. Enjoy:
Chicago Bears (Total: 9)
Round 1: No. 18 overall
Round 2: No. 49 overall
Round 3: No. 84 overall
Round 3: No. 99 overall
Round 4: No. 119 overall
Round 5: No. 154 overall
Round 6: No. 190 overall
Round 7: No. 246 overall
Round 7: No. 251 overall
Detroit Lions (Total: 8)
Round 1: No. 1 overall
Round 1: No. 20 overall
Round 2: No. 33 overall
Round 3: No. 65 overall
Round 3: No. 82 overall
Round 6: No. 174 overall
Round 6: No. 192 overall
Round 7: No. 255 overall
Green Bay Packers (Total: 9)
Round 1: No. 9 overall
Round 2: No. 41 overall
Round 3: No. 73 overall
Round 3: No. 83 overall
Round 4: No. 109 overall
Round 5: No. 145 overall
Round 6: No. 182 overall
Round 6: No. 187 overall
Round 7: No. 218 overall
Minnesota Vikings (Total: 6)
Round 1: No. 22 overall
Round 2: No. 54 overall
Round 3: No. 86 overall
Round 5: No. 158 overall
Round 7: No. 221 overall
Round 7: No. 231 overall
DANA POINT, Calif. -- As we work through a brief lull here at the NFL owners' meeting, I thought it was worth noting that a player who could be a target of two NFC North teams showed up decidedly, uh, bigger at his pro day workout this week.
North Carolina receiver Hakeem Nicks weighed in with 226 pounds packed on his 6-foot-1 frame, a full 14 pounds heavier than his number at the scouting combine about a month ago. Nicks figures to be available when Chicago picks at No. 18 and Minnesota at No. 22, and ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. had Nicks going to the Vikings in his most recent mock draft. As Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times has noted, the Bears have planned to give Nicks a private workout.
NFL.com draft analyst Gil Brandt noted in this report that most scouts were surprised to learn Nicks had gained so much weight. Nicks ran the 40-yard dash in 4.63 seconds at the combine but did not run it again at his pro day.
What to make of these numbers? Whether he's 212 or 226 pounds, Nicks is not going to be a speed burner. Instead, Nicks will be a possession receiver who could play tough in the slot and make catches reserved for tight ends in some offenses. Is a receiver who runs the 40 in the mid-4.6s worth a No. 1 draft choice? You would think he would need great hands and outstanding instincts to compensate.
Does Nicks? That's for the scouts to decide.
DANA POINT, Calif. -- I've gotten a lot of questions about Green Bay's situation at right tackle, especially as it relates to incumbent Mark Tauscher.
Tauscher, of course, tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee Dec. 7 and is now an unrestricted free agent. Considering the late date of the injury, there is no guarantee he will be medically cleared when training camp begins. A typical ACL recovery takes anywhere from eight to 10 months to recover from.
So what will the Packers do? There had been some thought the Packers could move veteran Daryn Colledge to right tackle, but on Monday coach Mike McCarthy projected Colledge as his starting left guard. That leaves the right tackle position open, for now.
The Packers aren't eager to move on without Tauscher and seem prepared to give him some time to recover. But they also can't leave themselves exposed to a depth problem when training camp begins. Here's how McCarthy explained the situation Monday:
"It's a medical condition. It was a late injury. You do the math and you're looking October 1 [for a full recovery]. That's what the math tells you. Mark would probably tell you differently because he feels great. He's attacked his rehab and he's in there every day. We'll see what happens. Clearly it's a medical. Leadership-wise, can't say enough great things about him. It's a medical condition that's going to make for a tough decision."
|Scott Boehm/Getty Images|
|Little progress has been made toward securing a new stadium for the Minnesota Vikings, and the team's current Metrodome lease expires in 2011.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert
DANA POINT, Calif. -- There is an empty hill about 50 miles from here. A real estate magnate wants to dig into the side of it and build an NFL-sized stadium for the nation's second-largest city. He's got a Web site and preliminary local approval and everything else. All he needs is a team.
Conveniently, there is a team that plays in an outdated stadium halfway across the country. Its lease there expires in two years. Only incremental progress has been made toward a new facility, and it's now clear there won't be a new stadium to move into when the lease expires in 2011.
It's only natural to connect the dots between Ed Roski's Los Angeles Stadium project and the Minnesota Vikings, who have lobbied unsuccessfully for 10 years to secure approval for a new stadium. Isn't it possible the Vikings will go the way of the old Minneapolis Lakers and move west? Or, at the very least, couldn't that possibility provide ample leverage to motivate Minnesota politicians to action?
The answer, based on the current buzz here at the NFL owners' meeting, is no. The Los Angeles option is such a low priority for the league that it's not even on the formal agenda for this annual session, despite the geographic proximity to a possible solution. The league appears skeptical of Roski's project, which would not begin until a team formally committed to moving, and this week commissioner Roger Goodell downplayed its existence while emphasizing the necessity for Minnesotans to work it out among themselves.
"We've got a number of issues we're addressing this week," Goodell said in explaining why an NFL return to Los Angeles isn't one of them. "You know the climate we're operating under here. It's clearly a challenge. And I think as it relates to L.A., and I've said it before: Until there is a solution that works for the community and works for the NFL, we're obviously not going to pursue that."
DANA POINT, Calif. -- Green Bay is dealing with the absence of safety Nick Collins from its offseason program because of contractual issues. But the Packers are pleased that cornerback Tramon Williams has decided to attend despite his own unsettled financial situation.
Williams has yet to sign his exclusive-rights tender and therefore technically is not under contract with the Packers. (The Packers own his "exclusive rights" because he has less than three years of accrued experience.) Williams has hopes of negotiating a long-term extension, but regardless he is participating in team's strength and conditioning program in Green Bay.
According to Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Williams signed an insurance agreement to protect him against loss of wages if he is injured in the program. That commitment is not lost on coach Mike McCarthy, who praised Williams during an interview Monday at the NFL owners' meeting:
"He's taking care of his football aspect of it. Tramon has benefited as much as anybody in our offseason program. He's an individual you'd love to point to of a young player coming in and maximizing the extra time in the weight room with his coaches. Just look at the gains he's made over the years."
We'll continue to sprinkle McCarthy's comments into the blog this week. For now, let's take a quick jaunt around the division:
- Detroit won't compromise on its No. 1 overall pick in the draft, according to Nicholas J. Cotsonika of the Detroit Free Press. Coach Jim Schwartz: "I don't know that you can draft a player at No. 1 without feeling good about everything."
- The Lions are giving their smallish linebackers a clean slate in 2009, most notably Ernie Sims and Jordon Dizon. John Niyo of the Detroit News has more.
- Chicago receiver/kick returner Devin Hester has plans to be involved in a unique commercial. Fred Mitchell of the Chicago Tribune explains.
- Chicago will open its season on Sunday night football for the second year in a row, notes Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times.
DANA POINT, Calif. -- Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy was kind enough to step into the Black and Blue late Monday afternoon here at the NFL owners meetings. We'll sprinkle his comments into the blog all week, but here are the newsiest portions of the interview:
McCarthy acknowledged that safety Nick Collins, who is entering the final year of his contract, hasn't yet participated in the offseason program. Collins is hoping to jump-start negotiations for an extension but thus far the Packers have not acquiesced. McCarthy predicted the sides will "work it through" but offered no timetable for Collins' return.
"He's got [the contract] on his mind," McCarthy said. "That's obvious to everybody. It's important, really, in my conversations with Nick, we both agreed you need to separate football from business. And that's what we're going to do here in the near future."
McCarthy said Collins has kept "everybody in the building" informed of his plans.
"What you always ask from players when you have disagreements is to make sure there is constant and open communication. He's done a very good job of that. He's talked with [safeties coach] Darren Perry. He's talked with everybody he's needed to talk to. I've talked to him a couple times."
McCarthy also provided some insight into the evolving situation at offensive line, confirming that free agent Duke Preston visited Lambeau Field last week. If signed, Preston would provide depth at guard and center.
Daryn Colledge is likely to wind up at left guard rather than right tackle, McCarthy said, and Jason Spitz is expected to compete with Scott Wells for the starting center job. Overall, McCarthy reiterated he plans to elevate the competition along the offensive line with the hope that it "will take a big step" in 2009.
"I've said it over and over again and I'm going to say it again," McCarthy said. "I do want to create competition upfront and let those guys do their jobs, and try to get a little more continuity in the way we practice and the way we play."
DANA POINT, Calif. -- The NFL likes Chicago, too.
On the same day that Green Bay was awarded a pair of national television games for 2009, the Bears received three extra draft choices as part of the league's compensatory program. Included in the haul was a third-round pick, the No. 99 pick overall.
The Bears also will get two additional seventh-round picks, Nos. 246 and 251 overall, to bring their total number of selections in the draft to nine. The additional picks are "compensation" for losing free agents Brendon Ayanbadejo, Bernard Berrian and John Gilmore last year.
Detroit was the only other NFC North team to receive a compensatory pick. The Lions received a seventh-round pick, the No. 255 overall.