NFC South: Eric Mangini
Without him, there’s a very good chance McCoy would not have been taken by Cleveland. In the aftermath of the draft, the Browns have admitted they were focused on defensive tackle Corey Peters and were giving him serious consideration as their No. 85 pick approached. In fact, Heckert was leaning heavily toward Peters, although Holmgren had McCoy in his sights.
But Dimitroff helped prevent a potential battle in Cleveland’s draft room. He stepped in and took Peters at No. 83 and that basically made Cleveland’s decision to go with McCoy.
Matt in Calhoun, Ga., writes: If Deon Grant came cheap enough, is that a veteran player the Falcons could possibly bring in to add depth and experience to the defensive backfield?
Pat Yasinskas: Only if the price tag is really cheap. The Falcons spent a big chunk of their free-agent budget on cornerback Dunta Robinson. They really are committed to building through the draft. They also have safety William Moore coming back after missing most of last season with an injury. Grant would be nothing but depth, and I suspect there would only be interest if his price tag is very low.
Kyle in Chapel, Hill N.C., writes: Now that the Panthers have re-signed Tyler Brayton, do you believe they will sign a DT in free agency or go for one in the draft to fill the holes at that position?
Pat Yasinskas: I think you might see them do both. They need more than one defensive tackle. I think they’ll sign some mid-level free agent and also use one of their earlier picks on a defensive tackle. Last year showed the importance of depth at that position.
Lee in Columbia, S.C., writes: Charlotte now has two pro sports teams owned by locally grown former players. I know the Bobcats are the first NBA team to be owned by a former player, are any other NFL teams owned by former players?
Pat Yasinskas: Good trivia question there. Jerry Richardson is the only former player to be a majority owner in the NFL. Warrick Dunn just joined the Falcons, but that is as a limited partner. Prior to Richardson, the last former player to be a majority owner was George Halas.
Kyle in Bossier City, La., writes: Can you explain why some restricted free agents are worth a draft pick and some are not? Example: Mike Bell v. Anthony Hargrove?
Pat Yasinskas: Sure. As restricted free agents, players receive tenders from their current teams. It’s up to the team to decide the tender and it’s tied to price. Bell received the lowest tender and no draft-pick compensation comes with that tender, but the Saints do have the right to match any offer he receives elsewhere. Hargrove received a higher tender and the compensation would be a third-round pick, the same round he came out of in the draft. The Saints also can match any offer he receives. There are five different tenders this year and the compensation can go as high as a first- and a third-round pick.
Maurice in Charlotte writes: The other day I was at the airport and I saw the Philadelphia Eagles jet. Could this have some significance given the Michael Vick rumors or is it common place?
Pat Yasinskas: Don’t get too excited. Not sure that it was the actual team plane. Having lived in Charlotte and knowing it’s a USAirways hub, I’ve seen lots of planes at that airport with logos for the Eagles, Panthers and Steelers. They’re just regular passenger planes, but USAirways has marketing deals with some teams and uses their logos.
Keith in Schafter, Calif., writes: Do you think there is any truth to the rumors that the Browns are paving the way for John Fox to be head coach in 2011 (more likely '12)? Some are suggesting recent personnel movements, particularly the signing of QB Delhomme, indicate Eric Mangini is no longer in charge. Also, I understand Fox, Jake Delhomme and Mike Holmgren all have the same agent.
Pat Yasinskas: I think you’re getting way ahead of the game there. If Fox wins this year, he could get a long-term deal with the Panthers. If Mangini wins, he suddenly is very safe in Cleveland. Besides, do you really think Fox would be anxious to take a job where Delhomme at 36 or 37 is his quarterback? Also, it’s true Fox and Holmgren have the same agent. But Delhomme has another agent with no ties to Fox or Holmgren.
JP in Inverness, Fla., writes: I know that the Bucs just signed Sean Jones and we may still get some secondary help in the draft, but with the Bears releasing Nathan Vashar, might we take a look at him? I worked in restaurants for a time and am one of those that when you’re starting out (rebuilding) you hire everyone you can and then weed through them. What do you think?
Pat Yasinskas: Like your philosophy. Haven’t heard anything about the Bucs showing interest in Vasher at this point. You never rule anything out, and Vasher played for Lovie Smith, who runs a defense similar to Tampa Bay’s. But the Bucs are pretty committed to building through the draft, and I think that mainly will be where anymore secondary help comes from.
Mark in Orlando writes: I saw that Raheem Morris was in attendance for Tim Tebow’s pro day do you know what that is about or was he just there for late-round prospects like Riley Cooper?
Pat Yasinskas: Yes, but don’t read too much into Morris showing up. Florida had a lot of other prospects working out and I’m sure Morris was there mainly to watch them. Morris got his quarterback, Josh Freeman, last year.
|Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images|
|Atlanta GM Thomas Dimitroff, New England’s former director of college scouting, has built the Falcons around a kinder, friendlier version of the Patriots' blueprint.|
Posted by ESPN.com’s Pat Yasinskas
Over the next 48 hours or so, you’re going to hear a lot about Matt Ryan’s homecoming.
It’s a great story: Kid from Boston College goes back to New England to face the Patriots as quarterback of the undefeated Atlanta Falcons. Even the fact the Patriots play a long way from the Boston College campus and Ryan never has met Tom Brady doesn’t diminish this storyline a bit.
But there’s another homecoming this weekend that’s not getting a lot of attention. This one’s got a lot more direct ties to the Patriots. This one’s about the guy who drafted Ryan.
This one’s about the hottest young general manager in the National Football League. That’s Thomas Dimitroff, who, two weeks into his second season in this role, has yet to make a mistake. He has the Falcons flying high and a win against the Patriots would establish Atlanta firmly among the NFL’s elite.
Yes, little Tommy Dimitroff is all grown up now and he has a team that might even be better than the Patriots. At the very least, they’ll remind you of the Patriots in a lot of ways.
That’s because Dimitroff was schooled in the Patriot way. It’s in his blood. His father, Tom, played quarterback for the Patriots before he was even born. Dimitroff earned his job in Atlanta by spending five years in the famed New England think tank, surrounded by Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli.
Dimitroff was New England’s director of college scouting from 2003 through 2007. The Patriots went 77-17 and won two Super Bowls during that time. They also have pretty much set the gold standard for the rest of the NFL this decade.
“I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to work with two highly regarded individuals like Bill and Scott," Dimitroff said. “Sitting in meetings and listening to them talk about how to build a football team and not being afraid to think outside the box was an incredible experience."
It was an experience that served Dimitroff well as he took over a franchise that was in total disarray when he was hired in 2008. Coach Bobby Petrino had just quit and franchise quarterback Michael Vick was in prison.
|Dale Zanine/US PRESSWIRE|
|Dimitroff stresses the importance of the close working relationship he has with coach Mike Smith.|
From that chaos, Dimitroff somehow cranked out a team that made the playoffs in his first season. He leaned heavily on what he learned from Patriots head coach Belichick and Pioli, the longtime Patriots vice president who left after last season to take over in Kansas City.
Dimitroff’s first task was to hire a coach and he wanted someone with some of Belichick’s characteristics. Sure, he wanted someone who knew how to handle X's and O's, but he wanted more than that. That’s why he turned to Jacksonville Jaguars defensive coordinator Mike Smith.
“Bill was always very interested in personnel evaluations," Dimitroff said. “Mike came with understanding and a very strong interest in personnel evaluation."
If you walk through the Falcons’ practice facility, it’s not unusual to see Smith and Dimitroff sitting together and watching film. They trust each other’s knowledge and instincts. There rarely are arguments because they almost always are on the same page.
The importance of that is huge. Dimitroff said the ability of Pioli and Belichick to work as a team convinced him he needed the same thing in Atlanta.
“Bill and Scott had a tacit understanding that if there was a difference of opinion, they would hash it out together behind closed doors and would come to the decision that was best for the franchise," Dimitroff said. “I really wanted something like that when I was hiring Mike. I truly believe it’s paramount to the success of your franchise to have a coach and general manager who are always working in lock step together."
The coach-general manager relationship isn’t the only thing Dimitroff took from his time in New England.
“There was an indisputable understanding of roles from Bill," Dimitroff said. “He wanted everyone to be able to do what they do best and not be spread too thin. That’s something we believe here in Atlanta. That and the fact that we believe that everyone in the building needs to contribute, have fun, work hard and you’ll be rewarded with success."
|AP Photo/ Robert E. Klein|
|Dimitroff learned the ropes from role models Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli in New England.|
That approach of working hard and having fun created a complete culture change in Atlanta when Smith and Dimitroff arrived. In many ways, the whole system is built on what Dimitroff saw so closely with Belichick and Pioli in New England.
But it’s important to note that it’s not exactly the same. If you’ve followed Belichick at all, you know he’s not exactly a media darling and he can be very secretive about everything. That’s where Dimitroff veered a bit off course from the Patriot way.
The bunker mentality that’s prominent in New England wasn’t going to fly in Atlanta because the fiascoes involving Petrino and Vick had done so much damage to the fan base. With veteran public relations director Reggie Roberts running the show, the Falcons set out to rebuild their image and make the franchise fan-friendly.
That kind of went against Dimitroff’s New England training, but it wasn’t a hard switch. By nature, Dimitroff is a friendly and open guy. Reporters can get him on the phone and he’ll seek them out on the practice field just to say hello.
“We have an owner [Arthur Blank] that wants accessibility and we have a PR staff that’s provided great guidance for Mike and I because we both were new to this. I have the utmost respect for Bill Belichick and I’ve followed many of his principles because he’s been so successful. But, in that regard, Mike and I and the rest of the organization have developed some different principles. I’m a firm believer in being yourself. You don’t want to be somebody that you’re not."
Basically, Dimitroff has taken everything New England does and installed a kinder, friendlier version in Atlanta and that’s turning out to be a pretty good model.
That’s why you won’t see Dimitroff going the route of some Belichick products and slapping their mentor when they get out on their own (Eric Mangini comes to mind). Dimitroff has nothing but praise for Belichick (and Pioli). If Dimitroff gets a chance before the game, he wants to shake Belichick’s hand, thank him for his help and, maybe, talk a little football.
“It’s going to be great going back to the stadium where I developed my approach to building a team," Dimitroff said. “I’m looking forward to seeing a lot of great people that I worked with. From a professional [standpoint], it’s a good test for our football team. The New England Patriots have set the benchmark for success in the NFL and they are a tremendous organization."
An organization that has spawned what’s shaping up to be a pretty good imitation down South.
TAMPA, Fla. -- There could be even another element to the quarterback situation for the Buccaneers.
The team could be looking to trade one of its quarterbacks for a draft pick. Coach Raheem Morris wouldn't confirm an NFL.com report that the Bucs are shopping three of their quarterbacks for a trade, but he didn't deny it either.
"Oh, man, they're Nostradamus," Morris said when asked about the report. "Everybody in this league, all 32 teams around this time start calling front offices. I can't control who calls us. Everybody's interested in everybody's roster and everybody's looking to nit-pick off everybody's roster. Everybody has talent and you're trying to accumulate the best talent on your football team. That's just all that talk is what that is."
But it makes total sense for the Bucs to at least try to find out what the market value might be for Byron Leftwich, Luke McCown or Josh Johnson. They're not about to let go of rookie Josh Freeman, who they call their franchise quarterback.
But that's likely in the future. For now, it appears the Bucs will open the season with either Leftwich or McCown as their starter. They're about even at this point and a potential trade could play into Morris' decision, although the Bucs likely would be able to get only a late-round pick (at best) for any of their quarterbacks.
Leftwich, a former starter in Jacksonville, probably has more trade value because of his experience. McCown has only seven starts. Johnson, a second-year pro, has yet to play in an NFL game and probably wouldn't bring much in a trade.
|AP Photo/Bill Haber|
|Jonathan Vilma is excited about playing for new coordinator Gregg Williams.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
METAIRIE, La. -- By all accounts, Jonathan Vilma resurrected his career with the New Orleans Saints last season. After clashing with coach Eric Mangini with the Jets and enduring an injury, Vilma found a home in the middle of New Orleans' 4-3 defense.
He got back to playing middle linebacker the way he was used to playing it and instantly became the leader of the defense. By Vilma's account, that wasn't nearly good enough.
Personal satisfaction has a way of getting watered down when you're playing on a defense that's not very good. Vilma might have been a bright spot, but the rest of the defense was a dark hole. Nine different times the Saints allowed opponents to score at least 27 points and they lost seven of those games.
In the process, the defense helped squander a brilliant season by quarterback Drew Brees and the offense. Brees threw for more than 5,000 yards, but it didn't mean much because the defense didn't stop anyone and the Saints finished out of the playoffs for the second straight year.
It's critical the streak doesn't reach three seasons because that would put coach Sean Payton very much on the hot seat. That's why Payton brought in coordinator Gregg Williams to run the defense and encouraged general manager Mickey Loomis to reshuffle the defensive personnel.
Williams' impact has been felt from the first moment he entered the building and it's been obvious out on the practice field.
"The X's and O's are pretty much the same," Vilma said. "But it's a different mindset. It's about letting us play. Coach Williams lets us know it's all right to go out there and make mistakes. It's all right to go out there and be wrong. As long as you're doing it 100 miles per hour, as long as you're hitting somebody, it's all right. We'll go into the meetings and make our corrections there."
"Everybody's playing with swagger," defensive end Bobby McCray said. "We've got 160-pound cornerbacks looking to knock your head off."
That should be a welcome sight in New Orleans, where there wasn't a lot of hitting last season, and cornerbacks (and safeties) spent most of their time chasing receivers who already had caught the ball. The roles will be different this season.
"It's a lot more man-on-man," said veteran safety Darren Sharper, who was brought in as a free agent to help stabilize the secondary. "You're doing some zone. You're blitzing guys from different directions. That shouldn't be a problem for us. We have no excuses as far as getting to the quarterback. It's a state of mind. You attack the ball. You have 11 guys being aggressive and you make aggressive calls. We're going to be an aggressive, attacking defense."
It's been said that even an average defense might be good enough to get the Saints to the playoffs. But the Saints aren't looking for an average defense. They want more.
"We can be as good as we want to be," Vilma said. "We have the talent. We had the talent last year, but we just didn't make plays. This year, we're focusing on making those plays. The talent is there. It's just a matter of going out and doing it."
It's never good to be without your starting defensive ends. But the Saints have had the entire offseason to prepare for this situation.
They brought in veterans Paul Spicer and Anthony Hargrove, and they still have McCray, who might have outplayed the underachieving Grant and Smith last season. The Saints would like to use McCray as a pass-rush specialist once Grant and Smith return, but they believe he can fill a starting role in the short term. They're also very fired up about Hargrove, who appears very focused after having some problems that interrupted his career.
There's even hope that Grant and Smith might be better off in the long run because of the suspensions. Both are very talented, but haven't played up to their ability the past couple of years. The Saints are hoping they'll come back from the suspensions with more motivation than ever.
Can the No. 1 offense be as good as last year?
|Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images|
|Quarterback Drew Brees threw for more than 5,000 yards for the Saints last season.|
Heck, it could be even better. Brees' season was remarkable under any circumstances. But a lot of people tend to forget he did all of that with the top three offensive weapons banged up for most of the year. Brees threw for more than 5,000 yards, but didn't have a 1,000-yard receiver or any consistency in the running game.
The 1,000-yard receiver shouldn't be an issue this year. Marques Colston is back at full health and looking absolutely spectacular in training camp. He's the kind of big receiver who should be good for somewhere around 1,200 yards and 10 touchdowns. Throw in tight end Jeremy Shockey, who never was at full strength last year, but is healthy now.
Shockey and Brees look to be developing a strong chemistry in camp. When healthy, Shockey can be one of the league's best tight ends. He didn't catch a touchdown pass last year. He's painfully aware of that and wants to prove he still can find the end zone.
Then there's Reggie Bush. He was off to a very good start as a multi-purpose running back last year, but he got sidetracked by injuries and missed six games.
Can Bush ever live up to the hype he carried coming out of college?
If he stays healthy, yes. Bush will never be the kind of back who runs between the tackles 25 times a game. But that's not what the Saints are looking for. They'll let Pierre Thomas handle most of the carries between the tackles. Bush is a threat to score any time he touches the ball and the Saints will look to get him the ball in space as a runner, receiver and a return man.
The Saints really were hoping that Dan Morgan or Stanley Arnoux could take over as the starter at weakside linebacker. But Morgan retired in June and Arnoux tore his Achilles tendon in offseason workouts and will miss the season. That means the Saints appear destined to stick with veteran Scott Shanle in a linebacking corps with Vilma and Scott Fujita. Shanle's experienced, but he doesn't make any big plays and lacks great speed. The Saints have been very impressed with young linebackers Anthony Waters and Jonathan Casillas so far in camp. They're raw, but Williams wants aggressiveness and he may take a chance on one of these guys.
Receiver Devery Henderson, who struggled with drops through much of his career, suddenly started catching the ball last season. But the drops have resurfaced during camp and that's not a good sign. With Colston healthy and third-year pro Robert Meachem showing some signs he might live up to his status as a first-round pick in 2007, Henderson could end up as the fourth receiver.
Former Pro Bowl defensive tackle Rod Coleman ended a one-year retirement to make a comeback with the Saints. Coleman hasn't stood out in camp so far, but the Saints will use the preseason games to determine if Coleman has anything left. They'd like to use him as a part-time player on passing downs because he used to be one of the league's top interior rushers.
Newcomer to watch
|Crystal LoGiudice/US Presswire|
|Rookie Malcolm Jenkins has to make up for lost time now that he has agreed to terms on a contract.|
Top draft pick Malcolm Jenkins ended his holdout late Sunday night. Jenkins is a unique talent, but the holdout could have cost him a shot at a starting cornerback spot. The Saints paid big money to Jabari Greer in free agency and he's set at one starting spot. Tracy Porter has picked up where he left off when an injury ended a promising rookie season and has the edge for the other starting role. Jenkins isn't even guaranteed to land as the nickelback because veterans Randall Gay and Jason David have been playing well in camp.
There still are a lot of fans calling for the Saints to bring in veteran Edgerrin James to be the short-yardage running back, but that doesn't appear likely. First off, James isn't the prototypical short-yardage runner. Second, the Saints might already have their answer. They've been letting undrafted free agents P.J. Hill and Herb Donaldson compete with Mike Bell for this role. All three are true power backs and all three have looked good at times. ... Defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis showed some promise as a rookie, but injuries kept him from being on the field all the time. Ellis is quietly having a very nice camp and the Saints believe he's ready to really become a force in the middle. ... The Saints used a fifth-round draft pick on punter Thomas Morstead, but there's no guarantee he'll win the job. He's in a battle with Glenn Pakulak and, so far, it's a dead heat. ... Williams' base defense is the 4-3, but he started installing a 3-4 package last week. Don't look for the Saints to use the 3-4 a lot. But you could see a fair amount of it early in the season when Smith and Grant are out and the Saints will deal with a shortage of quality defensive linemen.
|Paul Spinelli/Getty Images|
|After being traded to Tampa Bay and signing a new, hefty contract, Kellen Winslow will be one of the most prominent faces of the Buccaneers' new regime.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas and James Walker
When head coach Eric Mangini and general manager George Kokinis took over in Cleveland and head coach Raheem Morris and general manager Mark Dominik were hired in Tampa Bay, the four men instantly began re-shaping their franchises.
No move was bigger for either team than the deal the Browns and Buccaneers made for tight end Kellen Winslow at the start of free agency. In exchange for a second-round pick this year and a fifth-round choice in 2010, the Bucs got Winslow and the Browns got rid of him.
There are two ways to look at this deal. Cleveland got rid of a potential headache because Winslow was looking for a new contract and might not have fit with the new regime. On the flip side, he might be a perfect fit in Tampa and the Bucs already have turned around and given Winslow a new six-year contract worth $36.1 million.
The trade comes with potential positives and negatives for both teams. James Walker and Pat Yasinskas take a look at who might be the winner in the Winslow trade.
Why didn't Winslow fit with Cleveland? How does he fit in Tampa?
James Walker: When the Browns changed regimes, the writing was pretty much on the wall for Winslow. Mangini and Kokinis wanted to start over -- completely. Cleveland quickly went on a purge where it traded or released veterans such as Winslow, receiver Joe Jurevicius and offensive tackle Kevin Shaffer. The Browns also didn't retain in-house free agents such as safety Sean Jones and veteran linebackers Andra Davis and Willie McGinest. To put it bluntly, there aren't many players on Cleveland's current roster that Mangini is enamored with, because he wants to win or lose with his players. Winslow had trade value so the Browns didn't pass up the opportunity. He was also in his sixth year and wanted a new contract, so that played a factor as well. Winslow's skill sets could have fit with the Browns on the field, so I doubt this particular move had much to do with talent. But in terms of personalities, Winslow is not shy about speaking his mind, while Mangini often likes his team shrouded in secrecy. This oil-and-water combination probably would not have worked anyway. So this was a good separation for both sides.
Pat Yasinskas: Tampa Bay is starting over, too, and one team's trash is another's treasure. The new contract should make Winslow happy and he's landing in an offense that's going to be built largely around his skills. Offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski will build a downfield passing game around Winslow and wide receiver Antonio Bryant. While Winslow's outspoken nature caused him some problems in Cleveland, that shouldn't be an issue with the Bucs. Morris is only 32 and excels at relating to players. Morris also isn't one of those coaches who tries to control his players' actions and words at all times. He lets them be individuals and Winslow will be allowed to be himself. The change of surroundings also give Winslow a fresh start and that could help more than anything. Although there will be lofty expectations because of the contract, he won't be under the microscope as much as he was in Cleveland. Tampa Bay fans are intense, but this isn't a situation like Cleveland, where Winslow's high draft position meant anything less than perfection was failure.
How will the Browns replace him and how will the Bucs use him?
|Jerome Davis/Icon SMI|
|The Browns will attempt to replace Winslow with a committee of tight ends, including free-agent signee Robert Royal.|
James Walker: The Browns no longer have a tight end with 80-catch potential on their roster. So they are hoping to replace Winslow's production by committee. Cleveland signed former Buffalo Bills tight end Robert Royal, who could be a serviceable starter but never had more than 33 catches in a season. The Browns also have veteran Steve Heiden returning from a serious knee injury and second-year player Martin Rucker, who is still learning but has some potential. If the three tight ends can contribute a combined total of 50-60 receptions next season, I think Cleveland's coaching staff would be happy with that type of production. The tricky thing is Winslow's ability to create mismatches in the middle of the field would have made life much easier for Cleveland's quarterbacks, particularly Brady Quinn, who often likes to check down to his short and intermediate options. If Quinn is the starter, I think he is going to miss Winslow's presence the most. Winslow has tremendous hands and was one of the few consistent weapons in Cleveland's offense the past few seasons who showed up ready to play every week. So how will Winslow be utilized in Tampa's offense, Pat?
Pat Yasinskas: James, while Cleveland is going away from having a pass-catching tight end as a big part of the offense, the Bucs are going in the exact opposite direction. Tight end wasn't a big part of the offense in former coach Jon Gruden's system, but it will be with Morris and Jagodzinski. They've scrapped Gruden's West Coast offense and will go with a system that is supposed to balance the run and the pass. The Bucs don't yet know if Luke McCown or Byron Leftwich will be their quarterback. But they do know they want the quarterback throwing often to Winslow and Bryant. The Bucs have plenty of depth at tight end with Alex Smith, John Gilmore and Jerramy Stevens on the roster. Those other three tight ends will get some playing time and they'll be asked to take on some blocking duties in the running game. But Winslow wasn't brought in here to be a blocker. He'll line up at tight end, but he'll also get some snaps in the slot and out wide. It's a pretty safe guess that the Bucs will be looking to get somewhere around 80 catches out of Winslow.
Did the Bucs overpay with the $36.1 million contract extension?
Pat Yasinskas: There's no doubt Tampa Bay went overboard in giving Winslow a new six-year deal that makes him the highest-paid tight end in history. In theory, that kind of contract should go to the league's best tight end. Winslow hasn't qualified as that -- yet. But the Bucs based this deal on his enormous potential. Yes, it's true he hasn't ever fully reached his potential.
The Bucs are banking Winslow can stay healthy and be the best tight end in the league. They're going to make him a focal point of the offense and his acquisition was the first big move by Dominik and Morris. The contract is a further statement about how huge a role the Bucs want Winslow to play.
James Walker: After watching Winslow the past three seasons, I think he's going to do well in Tampa, and the change of divisions will help his production to the point where fans could forget the extension.
Nothing against your NFC South, Pat. But Winslow had to face the top-flight defenses of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens four games a year and still put up very good numbers. He had tremendous battles with Steelers safety Troy Polamalu and Ravens safety Ed Reed, and those two players often said Winslow was one of their toughest matchups annually. I would guess Winslow is licking his chops looking at some of the safeties and linebackers in the NFC South, compared to the personnel he had to face earlier in his career. As you mentioned, Pat, health is the only question.
As far as your contract theory, contracts are relative to the current market. Two years ago Daniel Graham of the Denver Broncos was the highest-paid tight end. Last season it was Dallas Clark of the Indianapolis Colts. And those are not the league's two best tight ends. A year from now someone else likely will become the highest paid at the position, because that's how the market works.
How will this trade work out?
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2008 STATS REC YDS TD AVG LNG 43 428 3 10.0 30
Pat Yasinskas: After firing Gruden and releasing Derrick Brooks, the Bucs were lacking star power. The Glazer family, which owns the team, likes star power and they got some flash in Winslow. He instantly gives the team a big name and his personality should help liven up a locker room that didn't have a true spirit last season. Yes, the price tag was steep and there are plenty of other needs the Bucs could have filled if they kept their second-round pick. But they would not have gotten an instant star in the second round. They get that in Winslow and, for better or worse, he'll be one of the front men for this new regime.
James Walker: For the Browns, they will probably use the additional second-round pick (No. 50 overall) on either a receiver or a running back. Cleveland's offense was abysmal and ranked No. 31 out of 32 teams in the NFL in 2008. The Browns used four different quarterbacks and couldn't get anything established on the ground or through the air. So help at running back or receiver makes the most sense. This is particularly the case if the Browns trade No. 1 receiver Braylon Edwards. There have been talks involving at least one team in the New York Giants. The Philadelphia Eagles also are a possibility. In addition, Donte Stallworth's legal situation makes the receiver position a priority. The Browns need all the help they can get. So there is some pressure on Cleveland to select the right player with this pick, particularly since the team gave up one of its best players.
Who got the most of this trade?
Pat Yasinskas: Things could change in the long term if the Browns hit big with their draft picks. But there's no question the Bucs are the winner in the short term. They got a very good player, who still has the potential to become great. If he does, the price tag won't be that big a deal. I've always thought NFL general managers treat draft picks too preciously and are too hesitant to part with them. I'm glad Dominik broke that tradition because I believe that any pick beyond the first round is just a guess anyway. There's no guessing with Winslow. We already know the guy is good. Yes, he had some injury problems and has been a little controversial at times. But there's no question he's one of the most tale
nted tight ends in the league. Now, he'll get his chance to produce.
James Walker: Although I have no problem with Cleveland starting from scratch, I do also believe Tampa got the most of this trade. It will pay immediate dividends for the Buccaneers, because they get a proven commodity. No tight end Tampa would have drafted this year comes with the game-breaking ability of Winslow, particularly if they chose to draft a tight end in the second round or lower. The Browns now have two second-rounders (No. 36 overall and No. 50) to plug an additional hole. But as I mentioned, they have to nail the pick first to get value in return for this trade. With a first-year general manager leading his first draft, there certainly are no guarantees. A fifth-rounder in 2010 is pretty much a non factor. It won't help Cleveland next season, and statistically there is a little probability a fifth-round pick could ever significantly help unless the Browns found a gem. This is a "win-now” league and Tampa helped itself the most to win in 2009. The Browns might be able to help themselves with this trade down the road. Maybe.
|Carolina defensive end Julius Peppers and Cleveland defensive tackle Shaun Rogers both want off their current teams.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas and James Walker
Apparently, being a top-notch defensive lineman in the NFL doesn't guarantee success. With the possible exception of Denver quarterback Jay Cutler, Carolina defensive end Julius Peppers and Cleveland defensive tackle Shaun Rogers might be the most disgruntled players out there.
Both have made it clear they don't want to stay with their current teams. Although Peppers could make almost $17 million if he stayed as Carolina's franchise player, he and his agent have spent the last few months telling anyone who will listen he doesn't want to be with the Panthers. Peppers and his agent have said he wants to be traded away from the only team he's ever played for and away from the state where he's spent his life.
Rogers has asked the Browns to release him from his six-year, $42 million contract and just recently returned to offseason workouts. Rogers was one of the crown jewels of Cleveland's 2008 offseason, but that was with an old regime. Rogers and Eric Mangini have clashed pretty much since the new coach was hired.
So why are Peppers and Rogers so unhappy? How did these situations get so ugly and how will they play out? ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas and James Walker take an in-depth look at Peppers and Rogers:
Why are Peppers and Rogers unhappy?
Pat Yasinskas: I'll leave the Rogers situation to James, in part because the Browns are his territory and the Panthers are mine, but mainly because there's so much ground to cover on Peppers alone. Let's start by saying none of us truly know the full reason Peppers wants out of Carolina so badly. He and his agent have been vague about that.
But there's a lot to read between the lines. Peppers has been careful not to single out anyone and the conspiracy theories were flying when defensive coordinator Mike Trgovac and defensive line coach Sal Sunseri mysteriously walked away from the Panthers. But that didn't prompt any change in Peppers' tune.
Peppers still came out and said he wants to play with a team where he'll have a better chance to reach his potential. He also previously turned down an offer from the Panthers that would have made him the highest-paid defensive player in the league.
Let's be blunt here. If it's not about money and it wasn't about the assistant coaches, you have to draw the conclusion that Peppers, whether he's wrong or right, just doesn't want to play for coach John Fox.
|Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images|
|Cleveland Browns defensive tackle Shaun Rogers was miffed at coach Eric Mangini.|
James Walker: Similar to Peppers' situation, Pat, the quandary between Rogers and the Browns involves a lot of variables. This much I know: Rogers was unhappy with the way the new regime treated him, because this isn't exactly what he signed up for.
When Rogers was traded from the Detroit Lions a year ago, he was thought to be the missing piece to an up-and-coming Cleveland team that went 10-6 in 2007. Rogers, 30, had played on awful Detroit teams his entire career. He was finally refreshed, motivated, and playing for someone he liked very much in former Browns coach Romeo Crennel.
A year later all of that is gone. Not only that, new coach Eric Mangini refused to communicate with him, snubbing him on two separate occasions, and reportedly ordered a weight mandate when Rogers never had a weight problem all last season.
From a player's perspective -- a Pro Bowl player's perspective -- Rogers felt this was unnecessary. From a team's perspective, the Browns' loose culture needs to be changed and Mangini is a disciplinarian who is doing just that.
Also, there has been speculation that this is all about money. I'm not 100 percent sure that is the case. Rogers was unhappy in January, months before defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth signed for $100 million with the Washington Redskins. The deal certainly caught Rogers' attention and probably added fuel to the fire. But I don't think it was the start, or even central focal point, for his unhappiness.
Who shoulders the blame?