NFC North: St. Louis Rams
While Hill doesn't have the same knowledge of offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer's offense that Clemens did, he brings plenty of experience and a solid record of production as a backup.
Wagoner: The Rams actually began pursuing Hill in 2012 and were unable to get him signed when he opted to return to the Lions for a more lucrative, two-year deal. Although it might have flown beneath the radar, Hill had some success in Detroit. Did the Lions want him back and how much effort did they put into keeping him?
Rothstein: The Lions definitely had interest in retaining Hill, as the Lions consider him one of the top backups in the NFL. He also has a comfort with starter Matthew Stafford and has won games for the team in the past. But the one thing Detroit could not offer Hill is a chance to be any sort of starter, as the Lions hired head coach Jim Caldwell, offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi and quarterbacks coach Jim Bob Cooter simply to help develop Stafford into an elite starter. St. Louis is closer to Hill’s offseason home and gives him a chance to potentially start, so that might have been the reason for his move there.
Wagoner: Interesting that you point to the potential to start, though I suppose that could be as simple as waiting and wondering about Bradford's health. Given his track record, it's fair to wonder if health is going to be an issue for Bradford again in 2014 and Hill is a logical choice to play in his place, especially if it happens early in the season. For what it's worth, I believe the Rams still will look to add a quarterback in the draft, probably sometime in the middle rounds. That's been the plan all along and now Hill can help bring whoever that draft pick is along.
As for Hill, what are some of the things he does well and what are some of his weaknesses?
Rothstein: Let’s start with the negatives. Hill doesn’t have the strongest arm and he doesn’t have all that much mobility. But he is a smart quarterback and he won’t lose games for you off the bench, either. He is a good game manager and can make a lot of the short-to-intermediate throws. He hasn’t had to do much of that the past few years thanks to Stafford’s durability, so it would be interesting to see where his skills are now if he were placed in a regular-season game situation. Hill was also a good mentor to Stafford, and he could be the same for Bradford.
Wagoner: I'm glad you touched on that, Michael. A big part of what Hill will do in St. Louis is replace the leadership void left by Clemens. He might not have been a guy you'd want starting games, but Clemens' leadership for a young offense was really valuable. He was instrumental in helping Bradford and he was also really helpful for the team's young receivers and backs.
Although Bradford should be far enough along in his development where he is a leader, what type of locker room presence is Hill and how can he help a potential drafted rookie?
Rothstein: Going back to what I mentioned earlier, he proved a good mentor for Stafford and is extremely easy to get along with. He has a dry sense of humor but understands how to prepare as a starter and how to be a backup quarterback, so he has worked in either role. He can absolutely be a leader if need be and should be able to fill that void. It was a smart signing by the Rams and the Lions definitely would have liked to have him back in Detroit if the money and situation were right. Hill is a consummate pro and should be able to help in the development of any rookie.
“If I go line up at quarterback and take a couple of snaps, you are all going to say we are running the option or running the Wildcat,” Hester said. “That’s your job.”
“I did it to have fun,” Hester said. “Being a special-teamer now, I really don’t get as many reps as the normal guys do in practice since I’m a specialist now with the returns. That’s pretty much all I do now. To keep myself busy, I jump in every now and again to play around.
“We all hang out off the field, so whenever I come over there and play around with those guys, it gives them a little more energy and a little more excitement to go out there and work hard. When they see me in their group, it sparks them up a little bit. You have to make practice fun. You just can’t go through the same routine every day. When you joke around and have some fun, it goes by quick.”
While Hester seemed to enjoy the attention, he got serious for a moment when asked if he could cover Tavon Austin, the Rams' speedy rookie wide receiver, if the situation called for it.
“I can cover anybody,” Hester said before cracking a smile. “Just put a safety over the top, and I can shut anybody down. I need a safety over the top; I’m a Cover 2 man.”
Hester is likely an emergency option for the Bears if they suffer more injuries in the secondary Sunday. Cornerback Charles Tillman (triceps) has already been ruled out, while safety Craig Steltz is questionable with a concussion and starting nickelback Isaiah Frey is dealing with a fractured right hand that will require him to wear a cast during the game. The Bears also have reserve cornerbacks Sherrick McManis and Derrick Martin on the depth chart, and could theoretically elevate another defensive back from the practice squad before Sunday since the active roster stands at 52 (the max is 53).
“It’s like having a flat tire,” Paea said about the bad toe. “Imagine having to drive on a flat tire.”
Paea will continue to rest and receive treatment on the toe, but he’s unsure how long he’s going to be sidelined.
“It’s just frustrating right now,” Paea said. “It’s the same exact thing injury. I just re-aggravated it. The field was kind of wet (Sunday), so that (probably helped cause) it.”
With Paea down for at least a week, the Bears are expected to welcome back defensive end Shea McClellin (hamstring). McClellin participated fully in practice the entire week and is listed as probable.
Also probable for the Rams game: long-snapper Patrick Mannelly (calf) and right tackle Jordan Mills (quadriceps).
Safety Craig Steltz (concussion) is questionable, and had limited participation in practice on Friday.
Quarterback Jay Cutler (ankle), linebacker Lance Briggs (shoulder) and defensive tackle Jay Ratliff (groin) were all ruled out for Week 12. However, Ratliff practiced Friday (limited participation) and might be ready to make his Bears’ debut in Week 13.
The Bears' roster stands at 52 players (53 is the max). The open roster spot could be used to elevate a defensive back off the practice squad if Steltz is inactive on Sunday.
“Shea practiced full today so we feel good about that,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said. “[We feel good about] getting some people back. Isaiah worked noncontact [drills] today and was limited.”
Right tackle Jordan Mills (quadriceps) and long-snapper Patrick Mannelly (calf) also practiced without restrictions.
Safety Craig Steltz (concussion) and defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff were limited. Trestman effectively ruled out Ratliff for the Rams game, but Steltz appears to be making progress after being on the wrong end of a nasty collision while covering a kickoff last week versus the Baltimore Ravens.
Starting defensive tackle Stephen Paea (toe) missed practice for the second consecutive day and is unlikely to play Sunday in St. Louis.
The Bears officially ruled out weakside linebacker Lance Briggs (shoulder) and quarterback Jay Cutler (ankle) earlier in the week, but Cutler seems to be on the mend. The quarterback attended practice again Thursday without a hard cast on his left leg to protect his high-ankle sprain. Cutler simply wore a brace on the ankle and stood on the field for much of the workout that is open to the media.
Trestman was asked if Cutler is permanently out of the hard cast.
“I really don’t have an answer for you,” Trestman said. “It’s really a week-to-week thing. Really, on the cast or the brace he has, it might be a day-to-day thing. But I’m really not any more informed than that. Other than that, I know Jay is going to be week-to-week. I said day-to-day [Wednesday]; I meant week-to-week. … And we’ll see where he is. You see him in practice. You’re getting a good idea of where he’s at. You see him moving around, trying to move around during the individual periods that you’re out there to see and get a good idea of where he’s at. And hopefully he won’t have to have the cast put on.”
Much has changed over the years, with the Rams moving around before settling about 4 1/2 hours south on I-55.
Sunday's game between the teams will be the 89th in their history, but it represents much more for each.
At 6-4, the Bears are still in the hunt for the NFC North Division and, failing that, a potential NFC wild-card berth. The Rams are clinging to their playoff lives at 4-6 and probably need to win out to reach the postseason.
ESPN.com Rams reporter Nick Wagoner and Bears reporter Michael C. Wright take a closer look at Sunday's matchup.
Wagoner: There's been lots of talk about the quarterback situation up there, something that we can relate to in St. Louis. Josh McCown seems like he's done a good job filling in for Jay Cutler. What does he bring to the table that allows him to have success, and how do teammates view him?
Wright: Aside from the immense physical gifts such as athleticism and his ability to make up for whatever limitations he may have in terms of arm strength with anticipatory skills, McCown possesses an engaging personality that makes his teammates play hard for him. Bears general manager Phil Emery in the past has called McCown "a glue guy." Having played for several teams where he gained experience as a starter and worked behind quarterbacks such as Kurt Warner and Jon Kitna, McCown has taken what he's learned and applied it to his own play while relaying some of those experiences to Chicago's younger players. That's part of the reason McCown is widely considered a fatherly figure in the locker room. McCown's teammates respect him immensely because the veteran knows his role and works just as hard as starter Jay Cutler to be prepared to assume that role when the situation calls for it.
Speaking of backup quarterbacks, this game is certainly going to be a Backup Bowl and Kellen Clemens seems to be settling in as the replacement for Sam Bradford. What does he bring to the table and how confident is the team in his ability to get it done down the stretch?
Wagoner: After reading your response about McCown, I was tempted to just copy and paste it and simply sub in Clemens' name where appropriate. Clemens' numbers are about what you'd expect from a backup and fall in line with his career totals. He had pretty much the ideal game you'd want him to have against Indianapolis. He didn't have to throw much, but when he did, he made no mistakes and took advantage of big-play opportunities. What's more, he's completely unafraid to step up in the pocket and take a hit to deliver the ball or pull it down and try to make something happen with his legs. His teammates respect him and it shows in the way they battle for him week to week. To be sure, Clemens is no Bradford, but he has already given the Rams all they want on the field and has been a key mentor in the locker room for his many young teammates.
Switching gears a bit, Chicago's defense has taken an obvious step backward this year. How much of that do you attribute to the change in coaching staff and how much is a product of aging core players on the defense at large?
Wright: There's a little bit of all of that going on, but the biggest blow to the defense by far has been injuries. The Bears lost starting nickel corner Kelvin Hayden for the year before the season even started, then lost franchise defensive tackle Henry Melton with a torn ACL only to see his replacement, Nate Collins, lost for the season with the same injury. Two-time Pro Bowl cornerback Charles Tillman landed on the injured-reserve list due to a torn triceps suffered Nov. 10, and seven-time Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs has been out the past three games with a small fracture in a shoulder. Oh, did I mention the Bears also lost starting middle linebacker D.J. Williams for the season with a torn pectoral muscle, starting defensive tackle Stephen Paea has been in and out of the lineup -- and there's a chance he could miss Sunday -- with a nagging turf toe injury and defensive end Shea McClellin missed the past two games due to a strained hamstring? So injuries have destroyed chemistry for the Bears. Considering all the defense has gone through, it's somewhat a surprise it hasn't performed more poorly.
With the Rams coming off a bye, what areas needed the most work during the time away, and is the team confident it was able to sufficiently address them?
Wagoner: I suppose the simple answer to this question is they needed to work on everything during the bye week, but it's more detailed than that. The Rams are again the youngest team in the league and the thing they struggle with most is consistency. They simply haven't been able to string together good performances. So the mission over the bye was to get healthy, get their young guys extra reps in practice and try to position themselves to follow up a dominant win against Indianapolis with another strong performance this week against the Bears. Most notably, they must find a way to be better week to week on defense. They've had some thoroughly dominant performances surrounded by clunkers. Without Bradford, the margin for error is even smaller, so it falls on the defense to pick up the slack by putting up strong performances every time out. The Rams were riding high after the win against the Colts. They believe they can win every week. We'll see if the bye served them well or killed whatever momentum they might have built in Indy.
On the subject of that defense, the Rams clearly have a tall order coming Sunday. With Brandon Marshall and Matt Forte and the emergence of Alshon Jeffery and Martellus Bennett, this seems like as good a group of skill position players as the Bears have had in a long time. Do you view it that way and what does that mean for the team moving forward?
Wright: Absolutely, it's probably the best they've had collectively in the past 20 years and signifies a shift in philosophy for the organization. Prior to the addition of coach Marc Trestman; the Bears always spent their money to build elite defenses while sacrificing quality on offense. But Emery has made it clear the Bears want to start fielding more explosive offenses while continuing the tradition of strong play on defense. So the Bears have invested heavily on offense in free agency and the draft, and it appears they'll be able to keep the group together for a long time, especially if they can secure Marshall for the long term because his contract is set to expire after next season. So while it appears the Bears are set on offense, they've got to immediately turn the attention back to the defense, which is aging and has several players coming up on the end of their contracts at season's end. Tillman's deal is about to expire and the team must decide if it wants to continue to invest huge cap dollars in defensive end Julius Peppers. I'd expect an interesting offseason for the Bears this spring, and a radically changed defense in terms of personnel in 2014.
Last spring, it seemed that a good portion of the Chicago fan base really hoped that somehow Tavon Austin would fall to the Bears. He's obviously made plenty of noise recently for the Rams and seems to be ascending. How much is there that we haven't yet seen from this guy?
Wagoner: Austin is still just scratching the surface of his big-play potential. His breakthrough performance against the Colts was nice, but now it's up to him and the Rams to find a way for him to duplicate it on a more regular basis. Responsibility for Austin's early-season struggles was shared by all parties -- some of it was his struggles to catch the ball and run good routes consistently, some was a product of an offense unsure how to deploy him best -- but it seems things are opening up for him a bit. The Rams have made a more concerted effort to get him the ball down the field in recent weeks as opposed to throwing the short screens and hitches that went nowhere in the first half of the season. That doesn't even include his home run ability as a returner. Austin still has plenty of room to get better, but in the meantime, his breakout game should not only bolster his confidence but open some other things up for the offense.
But does this mean Hester, a former collegiate and NFL cornerback, is a candidate to line up on the defensive side of the ball Sunday in St. Louis?
“He’ll jump into (the drills) from time to time and get a little work in,” Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker said. “But there is really no news there. I’m not in the conversation business.”
Hester started games at cornerback and nickel back in college at the University of Miami and was a reserve cornerback for the Bears in 2006. Hester saw limited time on defense but did record 11 tackles and one pass break-up.
“We try to keep Devin as busy as we can throughout the course of practice,” Bears head coach Marc Trestman said. “But you never know. You never know. We certainly want to keep him doing what he’s been doing. But he does have value, certainly, doing other things. And who knows. Nothing’s out of the question. It’s not something we’ve spent a lot of time talking about.”
With Pro Bowl cornerback Charles Tillman on injured reserve and starting nickel back Isaiah Frey dealing with a fractured hand, perhaps Hester is an emergency option in the event the team suffers another injury at cornerback, or if Frey’s hand becomes an issue during the game. Tim Jennings is the logical candidate to bump inside and play the complicated nickel back position if Frey is unable to go. But given Hester’s experience, there is a remote possibly that he could be asked to step in at cornerback and play zone coverage. However, the Bears do currently have two reserve cornerbacks on the active 53-man roster: Sherrick McManis and Derrick Martin.
CHICAGO -- Despite all the additions and lofty expectations for the offense, defense -- as usual -- carried the Chicago Bears to a 23-6 triumph Sunday over the St. Louis Rams at Soldier Field.
Led by Israel Idonije (2.5 sacks), the Bears sacked Rams quarterback Sam Bradford six times and picked him off twice, with Major Wright returning an interception 45 yards for a touchdown, in addition to limiting the signal-caller to a passer rating of 39.2.
Coming off a meltdown in a Week 2 loss to the Green Bay Packers, Chicago’s offense -- which operated without starting running back Matt Forte -- sputtered, but showed small signs of improvement.
Here’s a closer look:
What it means: The entire NFC North entered this week’s games with 1-1 records, so the Bears needed a win to stay in the mix atop the division standings. Obviously, it’s still early in the race. But the Bears didn’t want to put themselves in a hole so early in the season and fall into a situation where they’re playing catch-up.
Besides that, winning is the best way to rebound from a devastating defeat like the one suffered on Sept. 13 at Green Bay.
Front four still fearsome: Chicago’s front four built on its impressive start to the season by generating six sacks of Bradford on Sunday to run up their season total to 14.
The Bears entered the game tied for second in the NFL with eight sacks, accounting for 47 yards in losses. Interestingly, every one of those sacks had come from the defensive line. But Nick Roach broke the string of sacks by defensive linemen by getting in on the action for the club’s linebackers.
Missed opportunity: Devin Hester's drop of a sure touchdown pass from Jay Cutler in the fourth quarter seemed to sum up a day of missed opportunities by the Bears' offense. The Bears had just driven 11 plays, and siphoned away close to six minutes off the clock only to settle for a 22-yard Robbie Gould field goal that made the score 13-6.
Hester’s miss was just one of many by the Bears, who suffered multiple dropped passes from Brandon Marshall and some errant throws by Cutler.
The offense hoped to rebound in front of the home crowd after last Thursday’s embarrassing performance. The unit showed improvement in several areas, but for the most part sputtered.
Major playmaker? Wright has dealt with his fair share of criticism throughout his three-year tenure with the team, ranging from questions about durability to his grasp of Chicago’s defensive system. Well, Wright finally seems to be dispelling the doubts.
In the fourth quarter Sunday, Wright intercepted a Bradford pass intended for Danny Amendola with 9:06 left to play and returned it for a 45-yard TD to make the score 20-6 after the extra-point kick. Tim Jennings, who also picked off a pass late in the game, tipped the ball right into Wright’s hands. But on the return for a TD, Wright showcased the physical traits the Bears raved about when they drafted him with a third-round pick in 2010.
Wright recently admitted that a lack of knowledge of the team’s system contributed to his problems over the first two years of his career. But in the offseason, Wright said he put forth more of an effort to gain a firm grasp of the intricacies of the defense, and that appears to be paying off.
Wright entered Sunday’s game with 15 tackles in three starts.
Windy City: Kickers took advantage of light east winds in the first half with Gould connecting on a 54-yard field goal in the first quarter, and Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein hitting on a 56-yarder with 27 seconds remaining in the second quarter.
Gould’s 54-yard bomb was his longest since Dec. 11 of last season when he booted a 57-yard field goal at Denver. Since Dec. 5, 2010, Gould is 6-of-6 on field goal attempts of 50-plus yards.
Two No. 1s down, three to go: Bradford marked the second of five No. 1 overall picks the Bears will face this season. The club faced 2012 No. 1 overall pick Andrew Luck in Week 1 and came away with three interceptions in 41-21 victory over the Colts and limited Bradford, the first pick of 2010, on Sunday to 152 yards, two interceptions and a passer rating of 39.2.
Each of the club’s first four home games features No. 1 overall picks. The next two are Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, the first pick of ’09, and Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, the top pick in ’11. The Bears wrap up matchups against No. 1s in Week 11 when they face Alex Smith (No. 1 overall in ’05) at San Francisco on Nov. 19.
Best actor goes to: No contest, Bears right tackle Gabe Carimi wins. After locking up with Rams defensive end William Hayes at the end of a Michael Bush run, Carimi flopped to the turf in an attempt to draw a penalty. If you recall, Carimi was called in the team’s loss to the Packers on Sept. 13 for a personal foul for continuing after the whistle was blown.
Hayes didn’t appear to be doing that when Carimi appeared to throw up his arms and basically launch himself backward onto the ground.
Bad acting, Gabe. You deserve a Razzie. It was certainly entertaining, though, drawing giggles throughout the Soldier Field press box.
What’s next: The Bears receive another opportunity on the national stage next Monday night when they face the Dallas Cowboys at Texas Stadium. Surely the memory of the meltdown at Lambeau Field on Sept. 13 will remain fresh on the club’s mind in preparation for the Cowboys. So the Bears will work hard to avoid a repeat performance in the national spotlight.
St. Louis owners Chip Rosenbloom and Lucia Rodriguez have signed an agreement to sell their 60 percent stake in the Rams to Illinois businessman Shahid Khan. No numbers have been confirmed, but the St. Louis Globe-Democrat reports that the franchise was valued between $725 million and $750 million for the purposes of this sale. (That means Khan would pay between $435 million and $450 million for his share, but the important number is the full value of the team.)
One of the primary obstacles the Vikings have faced in their stadium fight has been attempting to demonstrate financial crisis while the value of NFL franchises skyrocket. Former owner Red McCombs paid $254 million for the team in 1998 and solid it in 2005 for $600 million. Last fall, Forbes magazine valued the Vikings at $835 million.
While Vikings owner Zygi Wilf might not be making large annual profits, the argument goes, his investment had already grown by nearly 30 percent.
But that same Forbes analysis pegged the Rams at $913 million, far beyond what they reportedly fetched. So if we can compare the Vikings and Rams on relative terms, Thursday’s news means the Vikings are worth a number closer to $670 million. An 11 percent increase over five years is nothing to laugh at, but keep in mind owner Zygi Wilf and his partners have funneled at least $50 million of additional money into the franchise through a series of capital calls to cover player expenses.
So if the Globe-Democrat number is accurate, the Vikings will have another credible peg to stand on as they continue their stadium fight.
Cross-referencing Minnesota's 2009 schedule with Brett Favre's career performance produces this bit of projection: Favre will lead the Vikings to at least 11 victories this season.
Favre has a 70.2 career winning percentage against the Vikings' 16 opponents this season, including a combined 45-19 record against NFC North rivals Chicago and Detroit. That represents a notable uptick from Favre's overall 62.8 career winning percentage against all NFL teams, and gives the Vikings a little more reason to believe he will be the final piece in the puzzle of developing a Super Bowl contender.
|Joe Robbins/Getty Images|
|The Vikings hope Brett Favre is the final piece to making a deep playoff run.|
Favre might be past the days of routinely racking up 300-yard games. But the Vikings want him to win games, not put up gaudy stats in their run-first offense. So while we have the time, let's look at the Vikings' schedule through our patented FavreLens:
Sept. 13 at Cleveland
Favre record: 2-2
Comment: Favre played for Browns coach Eric Mangini last season in New York. Who will have more insight into the other's tendencies?
Sept. 20 at Detroit
Favre record: 23-9
Comment: Favre has lost to the Lions only three times this decade. That's right, he's 13-3 against them since the start of the 2000 season.
Sept. 27 vs. San Francisco
Favre record: 7-1 (Corrected from an earlier version.)
Comment: This doesn't include a 4-1 postseason record against the 49ers. For you non-math majors, that's 11 wins in 13 starts.
Oct. 5 vs. Green Bay (Mon.)
Favre record: 0-0
Comment: The big question in both matchups with the Packers this season: Even at 40, can Favre keep his emotions in check and play the kind of efficient game the Vikings need from him?
Oct. 11 at St. Louis
Favre record: 8-3
Comment: New Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo loves to blitz. That's why you sign a veteran quarterback: to handle pressure calmly. Favre has taken risks in his career, but he doesn't often panic.
Oct. 18 vs. Baltimore
Favre record: 2-1
Comment: This figures to be a physical, grind-it-out game -- and just the kind of game in which having Favre could give the Vikings an extra dimension. The Ravens' defense will be taking a risk if it focuses solely on tailback Adrian Peterson.
Oct. 25 at Pittsburgh
Favre record: 2-2
Comment: See Ravens entry. The threat of Favre's downfield accuracy will limit the Steelers' ability to stack the line of scrimmage. Tight end Visanthe Shiancoe could put up big numbers in this kind of game.
Nov. 1 at Green Bay
Favre record: 0-0
Comment: What a scene this will be, on multiple levels. You wonder if the ensuing emotion from the Packers and their fans won't ultimately trump the surge Favre will feel.
Nov. 15 vs. Detroit
Favre record: 23-9
Comment: You remember that Favre is 13-3 against the Lions this decade? He has NEVER lost a home game to them. And, while we're at it: The Lions haven't won at the Metrodome since 1997.
Nov. 22 vs. Seattle
Favre record: 3-3
Comment: This is how long Favre has been around: His first understudy, Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, will have turned 34 when this game is played.
Nov. 29 vs. Chicago
Favre record: 22-10
Comment: The first of two matchups between rivals who took different paths to upgrading their quarterback positions. The late nature of this game begs the question: How full will Favre's tank be at this point?
Dec. 6 at Arizona
Favre record: 4-1
Comment: For once, Kurt Warner won't be the oldest quarterback on the field. This could be a final matchup between two of this era's best quarterbacks.
Dec. 13 vs. Cincinnati
Favre record: 3-1
Comment: Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer was drafted in 2003 -- right about the time Favre started planning his retirement.
Dec. 20 at Carolina
Favre record: 6-3
Comment: The first of two late-season, outdoor night games that don't bode well for a quarterback who hasn't played well in cold weather for several years.
Dec. 28 at Chicago (Mon.)
Favre record: 22-10
Comment: Only God knows how cold it will be for a late-December "Monday Night Football" game at Soldier Field. Regardless of the stakes, Favre can't be looking forward to this one.
Jan. 3 vs. New York Giants
Favre record: 4-2
Comment: Another tough opponent, but at least this game will be indoors if the Vikings need it to secure a playoff spot.
Tuesday's post on "passing" in the NFL draft produced an interesting mailbag response. (Quick refresher: We discussed whether Detroit should intentionally allow its time allotment to pass at the No. 1 overall pick and then select lower in the first round to reduce contract costs.)
John Doe of Parts Unknown, Planet Earth wrote:
I have two questions. First, what stops St. Louis [at No. 2] and Kansas City [at No. 3] from doing the same thing and passing up their pick? Whoever chooses No. 1 would still have to pay the huge amounts of money given to that pick. Second, why can't Detroit negotiate a deal with a player most experts feel should go No. 5 or 6 and pay him as a No. 5 or 6? Is that possible, or are there limit to the minimum you can pay a No. 1 overall pick?
The first question -- suggesting the possibility of multiple passes -- intrigues me the most. So let's quickly deal with the second question.
The NFL slotting system calls for players to be paid based on where they were selected in the draft, not where they were ranked beforehand. There are occasionally adjustments based on position; Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan received a more lucrative contract last year at No. 3 than Miami offensive lineman Jake Long did at No. 1.
But in general your scenario would not work. There is no official minimum, but the agent for a player taken at No. 1 is justified in asking for No. 1 money. It's accepted practice and is backed by the NFL's "rookie pool," a rookie salary cap for each team based on its draft position in each round.
Meanwhile, J.D., you've hit on an interesting side effect of passing. There is nothing, to my knowledge, stopping the Rams and Chiefs from passing if they -- like the Lions -- believe they can get the player they want lower than No. 1 overall. Eventually, someone would step up and make the first pick, possibly a team that had considered trading up anyway to draft an elite player. Then, the ball would start rolling.
But a multi-pass scenario might be what forces the NFL finally to address its system for rookie contracts. If the money at the top of the draft is high enough to deter the league's neediest teams from drafting the best players, then the entire draft system is broken. The point of reverse draft order is to aid the teams that need the most help. If a stronger team eventually steps up to be No. 1, then the point is moot.
You would think we're eventually headed to a system that limits rookie contracts at the top of the draft. Paying a rookie one of the biggest contracts in the history of the league doesn't work for anyone. Having multiple teams pass at the top of the draft would probably accelerate the adjustment.
It's back. Every spring for the past six years, some wise guy has wondered when the mistake will transform into strategy.
It was an accident when Minnesota missed its turn in the 2003 NFL draft, slipping from No. 7 to No. 9 before grabbing defensive tackle Kevin Williams. But at what point will a team intentionally pass in order to lower its costs while still acquiring a talented player? And has there ever been better timing for it than at the top of the 2009 draft, which doesn't offer a clear-cut No. 1 pick?
Ross Tucker of SportsIllustrated.com penned a thoughtful argument last week suggesting that Detroit should pass on drafting No. 1 overall. Tucker noted the Lions' multiple options -- from Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford to Baylor offensive tackle Jason Smith to Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry -- and concluded:
"... The Lions could save a cool $4 million at least by letting the Rams and Chiefs pick first, while still landing a very good player who they were considering taking with the top pick anyway."
Tucker's piece instigated some Internet buzz, and recently Andrew of Traverse City, Mich., asked if the NFL would allow the maneuver. The answer, Andrew, is that it's an entirely legal move under league rules. If it happened, that team's rookie pool would be adjusted to correspond with the new position of its pick.
It seems to make perfect sense. If you look at the chart below, you can see how rookie contract values decreased in 2008 with the exception of Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan. (Quarterback contracts generally don't adhere strictly to the slotting system.) The difference between the No. 1 and No. 4 picks last season was $4 million in guarantees and $1.55 million on an annual basis.
If your scouting department offers similar grades to multiple players, why not wait a few spots and take the one who is remaining at a substantial discount? It's just good business, right?
I've spent some time checking with agents and team executives on this issue, and no one has provided a argument that completely deconstructs this approach. But if the Lions consider it, they must weigh a number of unique obstacles. (Ultimately, these hurdles probably will conspire to make it an unlikely scenario -- but a perfectly fine blog entry!)
Let's take the complications one at a time:
You could expect a strong pushback from agents, who would argue their clients' value have been artificially reduced. Were it not for this loophole, the player the Lions select would be the No. 1 overall pick. Passing is an implicit admission that a team feels strongly about a player but believes it can get him at a lower price than the one required in the NFL slotting system. It's a legal maneuver that nonetheless betrays some intent.
The only precedent came when the Vikings and Tom Condon, the agent for Kevin Williams, began the complicated task of negotiating a contract in 2003. Although the NFL had calculated Minnesota's rookie pool based on having the No. 9 pick, Condon maintained Williams deserved No. 7 value.
Ultimately, Williams' deal fell below that level. But Condon was able to extract $8 million in guaranteed money, a 21.4 percent increase over the bonuses given to the No. 9 pick of the 2002 draft. That's more than three times the normal raise.
The instances aren't entirely comparable because the Vikings would have taken Williams at No. 7 were it not for a miscommunication during trade discussions. It wouldn't be as easy to trace the Lions' intentions if they passed at No. 1 this year. But the maneuver would at least hand agents an additional tool for complicating negotiations; at worst, it would engender mistrust before the player sets foot in the team's practice facility.
Few have considered the mechanics of passing, which aren't as obvious as they seem and carry inherent risk.
Passing from the No. 1 spot would cede the only control a team has during the entire draft. Every other pick is a variable based on the decisions of the previous teams.
Technically, you can re-enter the draft at any time after passing. Now, however, you partially are at the mercy of teams that leap-frog you, and with a twist: You're competing against those teams to submit your choice. It literally becomes a race to the NFL draft table in New York City.
The risk might be minimal if the Lions have four or five players on their "list." But if they are passing with the hope of moving down, say, two spots, the Lions would be in jeopardy of losing out on all their options.
Every team has a protocol for the "Minnesota scenario." St. Louis (No. 2) and Kansas City (No. 3) and even Seattle (No. 4) could each be waiting at the draft table to submit their selections ahead of the Lions following the "pass." The Lions would have to plan the logistics carefully and execute them remotely from their draft room in Detroit.
NFL officials would have to make a judgment call at the moment. Which team representative arrived at the table first? The Lions, instead of being in total control of the player they draft, would be at the league's mercy in determining draft order. They would hope for a fair ruling, but the only way to guarantee it is to pick in their original spot.
The No. 1 overall pick carries great scrutiny, but the Lions would be remiss if they believe that passing would mitigate that pressure. If anything, it would cast a brighter spotlight on the decision.
Why? Because the Lions would be giving up draft value for nothing. It's one thing to trade down from the No. 1 spot in exchange for extra draft picks. It's another simply to give it up. According to some draft trade charts, the cost of trading from the No. 1 to the No. 2 pick is a late second-round choice.
You could argue there is no actual value in that scenario because no one would give the Lions a second-rounder to move up one spot. But there should be some value to having the chance to pick any player on the board, and the Lions would squander it by passing.
The decision might ultimately make them look smart. But if it fails -- if a player they passed on proves superior to the one they selected -- the scrutiny would be greater than traditional second-guessing. The only benefit from the move would be cash savings, hardly a consolation prize when the ultimate judgment day arrives.
Finally, observers shouldn't discount the role of peer pressure. An intentional pass would start a domino effect that would impact multiple teams.
Suddenly, St. Louis would be obligated to pay No. 1 money. Kansas City could ascend into the No. 2 spot. The shuffle works counter to the way the NFL has arranged its system -- teams that finish last pick first -- and almost certainly would incur the wrath of the owners forced to take on additional financial obligations.
Consider another Vikings creation: The "poison p
ill" contract they gave guard Steve Hutchinson in 2006. The clause, which made it impossible for Seattle to retain Hutchinson as its transition player, was legal under NFL rules. The league has never closed the loophole, but guess how often it's been repeated?
(Update: Thesawat points out the Seahawks retaliated by inserting a poison pill into the contract of receiver Nate Burleson a few weeks later. But, since THEN, I'm not aware of another repeat.)
The NFL's collective economic approach has long tentacles and powerful enforcers. The Lions, or any other team that passed on a high draft pick, would face legitimate fury from their business partners.
If they follow a similar thought process, I think the Lions will be unlikely to pass at No. 1. But isn't it fun to imagine the possibilities?
It turns out that St. Louis coach Steve Spagnuolo has grabbed two assistant coaches off Minnesota's staff.
Last week, Spagnuolo hired Vikings special teams coordinator Paul Ferraro as linebackers coach. Monday, the Rams announced Vikings defensive assistant Brendan Daly as their defensive line coach.
Daly worked mostly with defensive line coach Karl Dunbar over the past three years and is well-liked by players. He has also been the assistant coach who sends in defensive playcalls from the defensive coordinator, whether it was Mike Tomlin or Leslie Frazier.
The Vikings haven't announced replacements for either coach. One possibility for Ferraro's job is assistant special teams coach Brian Murphy. Overall, there are four ex-Vikings assistant coaches on the Rams' staff. In addition to Ferraro and Daly, Spagnuolo has also hired Charlie Baggett as receivers coach and retained Steve Loney as offensive line coach.
Meanwhile, the Rams hired former Green Bay strength and conditioning coach Rock Gullickson. Former Packers and Lions assistant Sylvester Croom is the Rams' new running backs coach.
Minnesota coach Brad Childress said earlier this month that he had no plans to fire special teams coordinator Paul Ferraro, even after the Vikings set an NFL record by giving up seven touchdowns in 2008. But we'll soon find out if he's willing to let Ferraro out of his contract to make a lateral move.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Wednesday that new Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo has requested permission to interview Ferraro. The two were teammates at Springfield (Mass.) College, and it's fair to say that Spagnuolo wouldn't have requested permission if he didn't have Ferraro high on his list. Childress can decide whether to grant permission or keep Ferraro under contract.
As Judd Zulgad of the Star Tribune points out, Vikings assistant special teams coach Brian Murphy would be a candidate to replace Ferraro if he departs.
PHOENIX -- Greetings from the Valley of the Sun, where one Upper Midwesterner realized a 100-degree difference in the span of a couple days (Yes, it was -25 earlier this week in Minnesota and it was 71 degrees upon touching down Saturday evening in Phoenix.)
The NFC Championship Game looms Sunday afternoon at the University of Phoenix Stadium, but the big Black and Blue news Saturday was that St. Louis hired Steve Spagnuolo as its next head coach. Barring a late change to another team's search, that means Minnesota defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier will remain with the Vikings for another season.
While Frazier is no doubt disappointed, this is good news for the Vikings: It gives them a rare chance for continuity on the defensive side of the ball. They haven't had a defensive coordinator return for a third season since Foge Fazio in 1998.
Fazio ultimately departed after the 1999 season. Over the next eight seasons, the Vikings ran through six different defensive coordinators. There were varying reasons for the near-annual changes, but the result was constant: Almost every summer, the Vikings seemed to be starting over on defense. Now, with Frazier apparently on board for another year, they actually have a chance to build on what they did the previous season -- in this case, finishing No. 1 against the run and No. 6 overall in the NFL.
If there is a silver lining to be gleaned out of Frazier's personal disappointment, that's it.
The future of the St. Louis Rams' head-coaching position -- and thus, that of Minnesota defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier -- remained clouded in intrigue Saturday morning. But there were indications things could clear up as soon as Saturday afternoon and certainly by Monday.
Dallas offensive coordinator Jason Garrett and his wife were set to spend Friday night in St. Louis but both Garrett and general manager Billy Devaney said no offer has been made. Here's a link to the story from Jim Thomas and Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. It's hard to imagine that Garrett isn't the top choice at this point, considering he already had his finalist interview with owner Chip Rosenbloom. But there has been no official announcement.
Here's one oddity to keep in mind if Garrett gets the Rams job: Frazier would become the first Vikings defensive coordinator to return for a third consecutive season since Foge Fazio in 1998.
Continuing around the NFC North:
- New Detroit coach Jim Schwartz met with the Lions' 13 assistant coaches who remain under contract, according to Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com. Schwartz did not release them from their contracts but said they were free to interview for other positions.
- The Lions' next order of business is to hire a personnel executive to assist general manager Martin Mayhew, according to David Birkett of the Oakland Press. The executive is expected to be a talent evaluator and could be a big name. Possibilities include former Cleveland general manager Phil Savage, former Denver general manager Ted Sundquist and former Jacksonville vice president James Harris.
- Green Bay is expected to interview longtime NFL assistant Dom Capers sometime this weekend for its open defensive coordinator job, according to Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette. Capers' name first surfaced as a candidate Friday.
- New Chicago defensive line coach Rod Marinelli gave an interview to Larry Mayer of ChicagoBears.com. His assessment of the Bears' talent level: "There's very good talent. Tommie [Harris] is special. That's what you've got to have at the 'under tackle,' and you've got good ends here and a couple guys that can go in and play that nose position."