NFL Nation: Bobby McCray

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- It would be hard for the Jacksonville Jaguars to blow their first-round draft pick.

General manager David Caldwell and coach Gus Bradley have so much talent from which to choose at No. 3 that it would be hard to find fault with whatever decision they made. Jadeveon Clowney, Khalil Mack, Sammy Watkins, Greg Robinson, or any of the three quarterbacks are all good options.

The same applies for the second round as well, especially if the Jaguars are going offense because Caldwell said this is a deep draft for offensive talent.

It's on the third day of the draft, however, where it gets a lot tougher. How the Jaguars perform in Rounds 4-7 will be the key to the success of the draft, Bradley said.

"I think that's where we really have to do well," Bradley said. "The first round, obviously, and the second round you have to do some things there. But this draft will be determined by how well we do in those rounds.

"Example: Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, guys like that can make a big difference there. We focus on all areas, but that's an area that we've got to concentrate on, too."

Sherman (2011) and Chancellor (2010) were both fifth-round picks who developed into key members of the Seattle secondary. That's the kind of result for which the Jaguars are hoping for this year.

They've set themselves up with enough ammunition. Because of trades with Baltimore, Detroit and San Francisco, the Jaguars have eight picks in rounds 4-7, including three in fifth round. That should increase their odds of finding at least one player who could develop into a starter.

In reality, though, they're fighting against tradition. Looking back over the past 10 years of fifth-round picks by every NFL team doesn't exactly reveal a lot of success. There are some familiar names -- Sherman, Chancellor, Riley Cooper, Chris Clemons (the defensive back), Rob Ninkovich, and Brent Celek, for example -- but the majority of the picks turned into marginal players at best or were out of the league within a year or two.

The Jaguars haven't had much success with players selected in rounds 4-7 over the past decade, either. They hit on three in 2004 -- receiver Ernest Wilford (fourth), kicker Josh Scobee (fifth) and defensive end Bobby McCray (seventh) -- but since then only five players taken in those round became significant contributors: safety Gerald Sensabaugh (fifth round in 2005), guard Uche Nwaneri (fifth round in 2007), running back Rashad Jennings (seventh round in 2009), receiver Mike Thomas (fourth round in 2009) and receiver Cecil Shorts (fourth round in 2011).

It's too early to tell if any of the players taken in rounds 4-7 the past two seasons will become significant contributors, but it appears the team hit on receiver Ace Sanders (fourth round in 2013).

Bradley said the Jaguars will try to find players in those rounds that fit a specific role. Sanders, for example, was drafted to be the team's punt returner. It's the same approach they used in free agency with linebacker Dekoda Watson, a special teams standout who played situationally on defense with Tampa Bay. The Jaguars project him as a strongside linebacker on first and second downs and a leo on third down.

"For us he was intriguing. We have a spot for him," Bradley said. "We know exactly where we want to play him. That's what can happen [in] the fifth, sixth round. Hey, we really like this guy. We have a spot that he can come in and do some good things."

Find enough of those guys on the third day and Bradley will consider the draft a success.
You might have heard that retired NFL linebacker Barrett Green has filed a lawsuit against the Washington Redskins, former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and former Redskins player Robert Royal for a career-ending injury he claims was caused by a bounty program allegedly run by Williams in 2004.

Green's lawsuit brought to mind a question I've long wondered: Would retired quarterback Brett Favre sue Williams and/or the New Orleans Saints for what the NFL ruled later was an illegal hit during the 2009 NFC North Championship Game? Favre suffered a nasty ankle injury on that hit, applied by defensive end Bobby McCray and defensive tackle Remi Ayodele, and was still dealing with ankle issues when he returned for the 2010 -- his final -- season.

At one point, the NFL claimed that Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma offered a $35,000 bounty to knock Favre out of the game.

With that said, Favre has consistently downplayed and tried to move on from the bounty story. He said last year that he was "indifferent" to the story and added: "My feeling, and I mean this wholeheartedly, is that I really don't care. What bothers me is we didn't win the game. And they didn't take me out of the game. They came close, but a lot of people have come close."

Frankly, I'm surprised there haven't been more individual lawsuits filed since the bounty story ended. A bounty by definition is an intent to injure. NFL players sign up for a violent work environment, but not one in which they are specifically targeted for injury. Favre, however, has never appeared bothered enough by the issue to pursue one.

While NFL fans look at the Jacksonville Jaguars and the upcoming draft and think quarterback, signal-caller isn’t actually the long-standing issue the team might have the easiest time solving with the No. 2 pick.

Sure, the Jaguars need a quarterback. But this draft doesn’t include anything near the sure-thing types that headlined last year’s draft, when Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III were the top two picks.

Some analysts read a lot into the attention the team has paid West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith. I suspect it was a matter of doing its due diligence.

If I’m the Jaguars, I wait a year and hope that in 2014 there is more of a sure thing quarterback to chase, and that I’ve put together a better team for him to join.

And to be a better team, they need to address their pass rush.

The Jaguars have not had a player record double-digit sacks since 2006. That’s right, Jacksonville has played a half-dozen seasons without a player getting 10 sacks. In fact, since Bobby McCray notched 10 sacks in 2006, the highest total anyone’s had is eight, by Jeremy Mincey in 2011.

Jaguars sack leaders since 2006:
Enter Dion Jordan of Oregon. In the above video, Todd McShay tabs Jordan as the best edge pass-rusher in the draft. He’s got a great combination of size and athleticism and seems like the kind of guy who can help transform a defensive front.

Sports Science worked with Jordan and found he’s got 3.8 percent body fat, spins faster than Dwight Freeney and has the potential of DeMarcus Ware. This video will get you excited about the guy.

I’m guessing the odds of regretting passing on a player like Jordan for a quarterback are higher than the odds of regretting passing on Smith for a pass-rusher.

There are other spots in the mix, of course, like offensive tackle.

But a little over two weeks before the draft, the guy who has me most intrigued when I think of the Jaguars and the No. 2 spot is Jordan.
At any moment, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell's ruling on the appeal of Green Bay Packers defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove and three other players in the New Orleans Saints bounty investigation. While we wait, I wanted to bring to your attention an important revelation that further calls into question what the NFL has claimed as evidence against Hargrove, thus meriting an eight-game suspension.

Last week, NFLPA outside counsel Richard Smith revealed to the New York Times that a voice recognition analyst concluded that Hargrove's voice was not the one recorded saying "Bobby, give me my money" in an NFL Films video used as evidence that Hargrove knew about and participated in the bounty program.

Here's the relevant portion of the Times article:
"Smith hired a voice recognition expert to review and analyze the sentence. Smith said the expert had concluded that the harmonics of Hargrove’s voice did not match the voice on the tape, that Hargrove’s lips had not been visible and that the first word was not "Bobby" but instead the result of a player and coach talking at once.

"No one can say beyond doubt that it’s Anthony Hargrove speaking," Smith said.

We've been through this issue on several occasions, and Hargrove himself stated last month: "It is not my voice. Anyone who knows me well knows that it is not me."

As we've discussed, there would be no credible reason for Hargrove to ask Saints defensive end Bobby McCray to pay him money for a hit he was not involved in. When you watch the video -- link here with an arrow added for emphasis -- Hargrove's lips are obscured and can't be seen when the words are audible. At the same time, you see defensive tackle Remi Ayodele -- who was involved in the hit against Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre -- turning to teammate Will Smith. (Ayodele's agent told NFL.com that he "doesn't recall hearing that statement.")

We've acknowledged that the NFL mischaracterized Hargrove's official declaration, suggesting he confirmed his knowledge and participation when in fact he acknowledged only that Saints coaches requested he "play dumb" when asked about the bounty by NFL investigators.

Meanwhile, a former Saints practice squad player, who was standing near Hargrove at that moment on the sideline, told CBSSports.com that Hargrove wasn't the one speaking in the video.

I realize the NFL's discipline program does not require the same standards for evidence as a court of law might. But again, it's worth asking whether anything the NFL has cited against Hargrove has credible merit.

We'll keep you posted.

For the most part, we have focused our bounty coverage on Green Bay Packers defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove, who will be suspended for the first eight games of the season unless the NFL shortens or eliminates the penalty. After Hargrove's explosive statement Tuesday afternoon, I will be fascinated to see if the league stands by the terms of Hargrove's penalty.

Certainly, Hargrove's statement included rhetoric (references to both the Mona Lisa and Bill Clinton) and some theatrics (asking reporters to walk into the NFL office and question league officials). But I urge you to look past those portions and recognize that Hargrove brought forth a compelling suggestion that one of the NFL's primary sources of evidence against him is a case of mistaken identity.

Hillis
Hargrove
As we discussed Monday night, the league used an NFL Films video from the 2009 NFC Championship Game as evidence of a bounty in that game. NFL.com hosts a portion of that video on its website. If you watch it, starting at about the 4:30 mark, you can hear someone say, "Bobby, give me my money."

The NFL said Monday that Hargrove spoke the words, essentially seeking payment for a bounty against Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre.

Hargrove said Tuesday: "Here's the problem with that. It wasn't me. That’s right. The NFL got their evidence all wrong. In their rush to convict me, they made a very serious error. Is it intentional? I don't know. But one thing I do know with absolute certainty. It was not me. …

"It is not my voice. Anyone who knows me well knows that it is not me. But the NFL does not know me well. They simply make assumptions. With my life."

Go ahead and watch for yourself. You can see Hargrove's face at the right of the screen, and it appears he is speaking to defensive end Bobby McCray, who is not in the picture. You can see Hargrove say, "Bobby," but then he is obscured.

Hargrove wouldn't say who uttered the words, "give me my money." In the frame, you can see defensive tackle Remi Ayodele lean over to defensive lineman Will Smith and say something, but his back is to the camera.

Hargrove implied he will take measures to prove it was another player's voice, presumably through voice recognition software, and added: "I stake my life on the fact that it is not me."

If, in fact, someone other than Hargrove said those words, then the league would have made two important mistakes in claiming the video as evidence against Hargrove. As we discussed Monday night, it doesn't make sense that he would have sought bounty payment for a hit on Favre by two other players (McCray and Ayodele). Hargrove was called in the second quarter for unnecessary roughness after a hit on Favre, but no injury was recorded.

Further, it adds to the list of questionable evidence against Hargrove that already includes a mischaracterized declaration and a heavily-disputed assertion that he told a member of the Vikings about the bounty program.

Hargrove said Tuesday he has been the victim of a "sophisticated mugging" and added: "This, in my mind, brings everything into question. Everything."

That's a fair statement. Even if it was in innocent mistake, a false identification of that magnitude invites further scrutiny on everything else the league has alleged. What other mistakes might have been made?

Again, our focus is narrow here. There is enough documented evidence to suggest that something happened here. But is there anything that points to Hargrove's involvement? Slowly but surely, those bricks are falling off the wall. It'll be fascinating to see what happens next.
I mentioned earlier I would bring to your attention any additional evidence the NFL released about the role of Green Bay Packers defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove in the New Orleans Saints bounty case, and so here you go.

As noted by Sports Illustrated's Peter King and several other reporters who were present for an afternoon briefing by the league, the league has an NFL Films video that purportedly shows Hargrove telling Saints defensive end Bobby McCray to "give me my money" after a third-quarter hit that injured Favre's ankle. (NFL.com video here.)

The statement comes moments after Saints assistant coach Joe Vitt told the defense that Favre had been knocked out of the game. The quote would presumably stand as significant evidence both of a bounty scheme and Hargrove's participation; the NFL has alleged there was at least a $35,000 bounty on Favre in the game.

Here is my only concern with that conclusion: Why would Hargrove expect payment for a hit that he wasn't involved in? As you recall, the third-quarter hit that injured Favre's ankle came at the hands of McCray and defensive tackle Remi Ayodele. In the second quarter, Hargrove received an unnecessary roughness penalty for a hit on Favre, but Favre suffered no documented injury.

The timing doesn't make sense, but we'll have to see if anything comes of it.

The gap between the New Orleans Saints' savagely stated intentions and their on-field actions provides an opening to question the punishment handed down by commissioner Roger Goodell.

Jonathan Vilma's season-long suspension for helping to establish and fund the program carries particular interest in the NFC West.

"Multiple independent sources also confirmed that Vilma offered a specific bounty -- $10,000 in cash -- to any player who knocked Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner out of the 2009 divisional playoff game and later pledged the same amount to anyone who knocked Minnesota quarterback Brett Favre out of the 2009 NFC Championship Game the following week," the NFL announced in meting out the punishment.

Saints defensive end Bobby McCray did knock Warner from the game for a time with a crushing hit following an interception, but Warner himself feels as though the Saints did not cross a line with their actions that day.

Warner's comments to Burns & Gambo on Arizona Sports 620 made clear his feelings:
"I could have been seriously hurt every time I stepped on that football field. There is no question that players went out to hurt me and knock me out of games many times throughout my career, whether or not there was a $10,000 bounty on me. Again, I look at it and say, 'Did somebody hit me harder in that situation because the bounty was there?' I don't know. I don't believe so. I believe that was a situation [on the McCray hit] that was set up perfectly for any defensive player, and any defensive player would have taken it. And it was a clean hit and it was a bigger man hitting a smaller man who wasn't prepared for it. And i got crushed.

"I would be mad if someone took a shot at me that was outside the rules of engagement to try to hurt me. If i got hurt because of that, then I would be extremely angry and to me that would cross way over that line.

"I believe that there have been defensive linemen in the locker room many a times say, 'Hey, the first one to knock Kurt out of the game, I'm buying dinner or I'm doing this after the game or whatever. I believe that stuff has gone on for years and years and years. And it wasn't the intention of taking a cheap shot. It was the intention of giving their team a benefit from knocking out a good player on the other team. No doubt in my mind, that that has gone on for years.

"There have been games where I felt like, 'They're really just trying to take me out of this game. They're going a little above and beyond.' I didn't feel that in that playoff game against the Saints. I felt it was a good, hard, competitive football game where the hits on me were clean."

While Goodell is punishing the Saints specifically, he's attacking the bounty mind-set in general. Punishing Vilma and the Saints so harshly may or may not be fair to them. The NFL culture is the broader target.

Vilma and the Saints aren't being punished this week for the hits they put on Warner. League officials already reviewed those hits after the game as a matter of course. The punishment attacks the intentions and makes it easier for the NFL to counter in court allegations it hasn't taken player safety seriously enough.

Note: The video above features discussion on the punishment for Vilma and other players. Warner did not participate in that discussion.

Another Viking rips on Saints

March, 23, 2012
3/23/12
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Minnesota punter Chris Kluwe isn’t the only member of the Vikings to say that New Orleans linebacker Jonathan Vilma should be permanently banned by the NFL for his role in the Saints’ bounty program.

Sullivan
NFC North colleague Kevin Seifert reports Minnesota center John Sullivan agreed with Kluwe on Vilma and also said former Saints Darren Sharper and defensive end Bobby McCray also should receiver harsh penalties. Sullivan was a first-year starter in the 2009 season, when the Vikings played the Saints in the NFC Championship Game. In its report announcing the Saints’ punishment, the league said Minnesota quarterback Brett Favre was a specific target of New Orleans defenders in that game.

"If you want to offer money to knock somebody out of a game on a clean hit, fine," Sullivan said. "But the guys that went after it in the wrong way, that's the exact opposite of sportsmanship. It's just disgusting. To think that you're going to take money to hit someone illegally and hurt them out of the game, I can't even fathom that somebody would do that."

Sullivan talked about McCray’s hit on Favre after a second-quarter handoff and implied that at least one of Sharper’s hits on Favre was illegal.

"I really think if you go back and look at that game, anybody who took a shot at Brett illegally and you can see with the intention of trying to injury him [should be banned]," Sullivan said. "And the big two that come to mind are Sharper and Bobby McCray. They've got to do something to those guys too, whether it's no Hall of Fame [or] you're not allowed to be associated with the NFL anymore. I have a hard time talking about it. It just disgusts me that you would go out there and try to hurt somebody and take away their livelihood. It' s just gross."

Sullivan also questioned the suspension of New Orleans general manager Mickey Loomis for the first eight games of the season. Loomis will be allowed to continue in his job throughout the offseason, including training camp and most of the preseason. Loomis’ suspension will start when NFL rosters are cut down to 53 players just before the start of the regular season.

"Seems like it would be more effective as a punishment during the draft," Sullivan said.
We noted Thursday that Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe wants the NFL to ban New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma for life after his reported role in the team's bounty program prior to the 2009 NFC Championship Game. Kluwe is no stranger to bold public statements, but he has now been joined by a far more conservative teammate.

[+] EnlargeBrett Favre
Chris Graythen/Getty ImagesVikings center John Sullivan, shown helping QB Brett Favre to his feet in the second half of the NFC title game Jan. 24, 2010, in New Orleans, ripped the Saints for their tactics in that game.
Center John Sullivan, who was a first-year starter on that 2009 team, told KFAN-1130 that he agreed with Kluwe's assessment and also wants to see the NFL penalize two other former Saints: Safety Darren Sharper and defensive end Bobby McCray. In an impassioned but nuanced argument, Sullivan questioned the meat behind the in-season suspension of Saints general manager Mickey Loomis -- "seems like it would be more effective as a punishment during the draft," he said -- and broached the sensitive topic of how the NFL Players Association should proceed.

Most importantly, Sullivan made clear he thinks the Saints were playing to hurt quarterback Brett Favre in that game.

"If you want to offer money to knock somebody out of a game on a clean hit, fine," Sullivan said. "But the guys that went after it in the wrong way, that's the exact opposite of sportsmanship. It's just disgusting. To think that you're going to take money to hit someone illegally and hurt them out of the game, I can't even fathom that somebody would do that."

Sullivan cited a number of instances, starting with McCray's hit on Favre after a second-quarter handoff. McCray was penalized 15 yards and ultimately fined $25,000 by the NFL. He implied that at least one of Sharper's two hits on Favre were illegal and said that, although neither Sharper nor McCray are in the NFL anymore, they can still be disciplined in a meaningful way.

"I really think if you go back and look at that game, anybody who took a shot at Brett illegally and you can see with the intention of trying to injury him [should be banned]," Sullivan said. "And the big two that come to mind are Sharper and Bobby McCray. They've got to do something to those guys, too, whether it's no Hall of Fame [or] you're not allowed to be associated with the NFL anymore. I have a hard time talking about it. It just disgusts me that you would go out there and try to hurt somebody and take away their livelihood. It' s just gross."

The NFL's investigation has dredged up some obvious animosity from Vikings players who participated in the game. We know now that team officials complained to the league days after the game, and whether or not there was a bounty, there has obviously been a feeling for some time that the Saints crossed the line many times. McCray grabbed Favre's ankle during a high-low hit that caused both an interception and an injury, and defensive tackle Anthony Hargrove was also called for a 15-yard penalty following a hit on Favre.

(Hargrove has denied his hit was motivated by a bounty).

Clearly, those who remain from that game are repulsed by the backdrop of the Saints' bounty system. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is working with the NFL Players Association to determine a punishment for the players involved, and Sullivan threw down the gauntlet Friday should union officials be conflicted.

"As a union member, I'll be very upset if we come to the defense of these acts," he said. "They're indefensible. You can't defend them. It's despicable, has no place in the sport."

Will the strong sentiments of Sullivan and Kluwe sway Goodell one way or the other? It's doubtful. But this unprecedented story has brought us a rarely, if ever, seen development: Multiple NFL players calling for the ouster from their brethren. Strange days indeed.
By now, we all know that the 2009 NFC Championship Game is one of the most visible examples of the New Orleans Saints' three-year bounty program. But there has been a secondary connection between the bounty story and the Minnesota Vikings: One of the Saints' defensive starters in that game signed a free agent contract with the Vikings last season.

Ayodele
Ayodele
Nose tackle Remi Ayodele, in fact, was the second player involved in a high-low hit that caused Vikings quarterback Brett Favre to suffer an ankle injury and throw an interception. Ayodele hit Favre high, while defensive end Bobby McCray grabbed Favre's ankle. The NFL later fined McCray and said a penalty should have been called.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is still mulling player discipline related to the bounty system, so we don't know if Ayodele is in line to be suspended. For now we'll just consider it a coincidence that the Vikings released Ayodele hours after the league announced unprecedented punishment against the Saints' organization and leadership staff.

What we do know: Ayodele made almost no impact after signing a three-year, $9 million deal a year ago. He started 13 games but played sparingly (23.6 percent of the Vikings' snaps) and managed only four official solo tackles.

And in recent days, the Vikings had re-signed veterans Fred Evans and Letroy Guion, both of whom can play nose tackle. Evans' deal was official Wednesday.

The Vikings would be justified in releasing Ayodele for either reason: The fear of a looming suspension or ineffectiveness. Take your pick, as far as I'm concerned.
Anthony Hargrove's story is one of redemption.

The former St. Louis Rams and current Seattle Seahawks defensive lineman has fought through a series of obstacles, some of them self-constructed, to become a productive player and valued teammate.

But recent attention focusing on Hargrove's role in the New Orleans Saints' bounty scandal -- he was fined for a hit on Brett Favre and reportedly reveled in the quarterback's injury during the 2009 NFC Championship Game -- has cast Hargrove in a negative light.

Hargrove has taken notice and issued the following statement:
"First of all, the purpose of this statement is simply to address the comments that have been made about me in the media. I will not address anything to do with anyone else but myself.

"In regards to the hit I made on Brett Favre that has been talked about: it was one of about five times I got to him and the only one that was late. I agree it was a late hit, but in the heat of the moment I was simply trying to make a play. I can assure you that when I got up, I was thinking two things, one, that I cost my team, and two, that I might have just cost myself some money if the NFL fined me.

"To put things in perspective, I received a game ball for my play that day and yet got fined while receiving nothing and expecting to receive nothing for the play some keep referencing. Kudos to Brett, he even asked me if that was all I had! Gotta love him.

"And in regards to my comments that have been talked about where I say that Favre is done, I readily agree that it sounds bad in retrospect. A lot of things look bad when we look back and realize how they sound. Trust me, I've said much, much worse. Heck, I probably say worse every day.

"But did I personally want Favre INJURED? Absolutely and categorically NO! Did I feel like we, the Saints, had a better chance of being in the Super Bowl with Favre on the sideline? Of course. Would the Patriots and their fans have probably been excited to see Eli [Manning] on the bench with his foot up whispering that he was done [in Super Bowl XLVI]? Would players on the sideline have made comments to that effect? Right or wrong, I'm guessing yes.

"Probably every Saints fan, player and coach got an adrenaline rush when thinking Minnesota might be in trouble. I said what many people were probably thinking, though maybe I said it in a way that sounded a bit too excited. Those who know me best know that I lean toward the animated side a bit. Okay, a lot! It's who God made me. I do regret saying it, though.

"I have made many mistakes in my life and have paid dearly for some of them, and the late hit and the comments were both mistakes, in my opinion. But players all over the league do the same thing every Sunday, make late hits and say stupid things. But I can say with absolute certainty that neither the late hit nor the comment have anything whatsoever to do with the issue being so hotly discussed in the media."

In my view, Hargrove deals honestly with the emotions players and fans feel when their team knocks a key player out of a game. The adrenaline rush comes from knowing victory might be that much closer, not from knowing a player from the other team is injured.

Hargrove says he received nothing and expected to receive nothing, bounty-wise, for the hit. But he sheds no light on other hits from that game or the bounty program in general.

Bobby McCray and Remi Ayodele, not Hargrove, were the players responsible for delivering the high-low hit that sent Favre limping to the sideline with an injured ankle. Neither of those players has confirmed or denied receiving a bounty payment, to my knowledge. Their thoughts would be welcome.
You might remember Anthony Hargrove from this post during Super Bowl XLIV. Hargrove is a recovering addict who emerged from an indefinite NFL suspension to help the New Orleans Saints to their only championship two years ago.

His name has returned to the headlines this week, of course, because he is one of the Saints players penalized and fined for hits on Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre in the 2009 NFC Championship Game. Amid an NFL investigation that revealed a bounty program organized by defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, Sports Illustrated reported this week that Hargrove celebrated Favre's ankle injury from the sidelines.

[+] EnlargeAnthony Hargrove
AP Photo/Paul JasienskiAnthony Hargrove made clear that he received nothing for his hit on Brett Favre while Hargrove was playing for the Saints in the 2009 NFC title game.
According to the report, Hargrove slapped hands with teammates and exclaimed: "Favre is out of the game! Favre is done! Favre is done!"

Concerned by the obvious implications therein, Hargrove released an extensive statement Thursday. I'll post it in its entirety here, and my NFC South colleague Pat Yasinskas will do the same. As always, I'll close with a few comments afterwards.

The statement:

"First of all, the purpose of this statement is simply to address the comments that have been made about me in the media. I will not address anything to do with anyone else but myself.

"In regards to the hit I made on Brett Favre that has been talked about: it was one of about five times I got to him and the only one that was late. I agree it was a late hit, but in the heat of the moment I was simply trying to make a play. I can assure you that when I got up, I was thinking two things, one, that I cost my team, and two, that I might have just cost myself some money if the NFL fined me.

"To put things in perspective, I received a game ball for my play that day and yet got fined while receiving nothing and expecting to receive nothing for the play some keep referencing. Kudos to Brett, he even asked me if that was all I had! Gotta love him.

"And in regards to my comments that have been talked about where I say that Favre is done, I readily agree that it sounds bad in retrospect. A lot of things look bad when we look back and realize how they sound. Trust me, I've said much, much worse. Heck, I probably say worse every day.

"But did I personally want Favre INJURED? Absolutely and categorically NO! Did I feel like we, the Saints, had a better chance of being in the Super Bowl with Favre on the sideline? Of course. Would the Patriots and their fans have probably been excited to see Eli [Manning] on the bench with his foot up whispering that he was done [in Super Bowl XLVI]? Would players on the sideline have made comments to that effect? Right or wrong, I'm guessing yes.

"Probably every Saints fan, player and coach got an adrenaline rush when thinking Minnesota might be in trouble. I said what many people were probably thinking, though maybe I said it in a way that sounded a bit too excited. Those who know me best know that I lean toward the animated side a bit. Okay, a lot! It's who God made me. I do regret saying it, though.

"I have made many mistakes in my life and have paid dearly for some of them, and the late hit and the comments were both mistakes, in my opinion. But players all over the league do the same thing every Sunday, make late hits and say stupid things. But I can say with absolute certainty that neither the late hit nor the comment have anything whatsoever to do with the issue being so hotly discussed in the media."

There are a couple of takeways here from an NFC North perspective.

  1. Hargrove admitted he hit Favre late and celebrated on the sideline when Favre was injured. But without mentioning the word "bounty," Hargrove made clear that he received nothing for the hit, and that his sideline celebration was based on a presumed competitive advantage, not excitement over an injury.
  2. I realize no player would admit to participating in a bounty, but if Hargrove went after Favre to earn extra money, the best play would be to stay as far out of the public eye as possible. This statement strikes me as honest. He is admitting to what happened while providing the kind of context the public wouldn't otherwise know. If he expected or took money for his hit, he would be wise to keep silent.
  3. As we discussed this week, it was obvious at the Superdome that the Saints were determined to get after Favre. The only thing that has changed is we now know it wasn't just a matter of overexuberant players, but that the Saints had an organized program designed to encourage and reward such play. Hargrove's late hit on Favre in that game merited both the penalty and $5,000 fine he received. But the statement draws an important distinction between getting after the quarterback and intentionally hurting him.

I realize Vikings fans might not want to hear from a Saints defender on this issue, but kudos to Hargrove for taking ownership of what he did do while denying what he didn't. That's a lot more than some of the other players involved in this story have done. I think we're all waiting to hear from former defensive end Bobby McCray, who grabbed Favre's ankle illegally and caused the third-quarter injury.

Saints begin cleaning house

September, 3, 2010
9/03/10
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Bradley Handwerger writes that WWL Television has reported that Bobby McCray has said he’s been released by the New Orleans Saints.

Although McCray was a starter for much of last season and in the Super Bowl, this move isn’t a huge surprise. He already was released once earlier in the offseason, but came back at a much lower rate of pay this summer.

Although his reputation was as a pass-rusher, McCray had only 1.5 sacks last season. New Orleans has Will Smith set as one starter and Alex Brown appears ticketed for the other spot. Brown and Jimmy Wilkerson were signed as free agents and both are able to play the run as well as rush the passer.

The Saints haven’t announced any other roster moves yet. But McCray’s release could be a sign that Jeff Charleston and undrafted rookie Junior Gaulette may stay on the roster.

Also, there are reports that the Saints have released veteran running back Ladell Betts. He was battling Chris Ivory to be the third back behind Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas. The release of Betts could be a sign that the knee injury Ivory suffered Thursday night might not be serious.
We’re going to resume our series of NFC South position rankings with the defensive ends.

This is not exactly a position of strength entering the season, but I think that could change as time goes on. There are a lot of young defensive ends around the division and some of them are bound to rise up as the season goes on. For the moment, though, there aren’t a lot of sure things.

Once again, I’m basing my rankings on talks with coaches, scouts, front-office folks and players. Here we go.

  1. [+] EnlargeWill Smith
    AP Photo/Jeff RobersonWill Smith is the most dominant defensive end in the division. He had 13 sacks for the Saints last season.
    Will Smith, Saints. This is the easiest decision in this bunch because Smith really is the only sure thing among the defensive ends in this division. He’s coming off a big season and still is in his prime. At the moment, it’s safe to say he’s the only pass rusher in this division that really scares people.
  2. John Abraham, Falcons. Let’s make it clear the decision to go with Abraham, who is coming off a disappointing season and not getting any younger, is not a lifetime achievement award. Atlanta coach Mike Smith and general manager Thomas Dimitroff could have attempted to get an elite pass rusher if they thought Abraham was through. They chose not to. Abraham’s looked great in camp and there are other folks around the NFC South that think he’s going to bounce back this season and produce double-digit sacks.
  3. Charles Johnson, Panthers. I’m projecting here, but somebody has to step up on Carolina’s defensive line now that Julius Peppers is gone. You’ve heard some preseason hype about some young Carolina pass rushers and we’ll get to them. But Johnson is the guy the Panthers believe is ready to be their most complete defensive end.
  4. Alex Brown, Saints. This guy’s not going to come up and suddenly put up huge numbers, but he’s going to be a nice upgrade over the inconsistent Charles Grant. Look back at Brown’s time with Chicago. His numbers were very steady. He’ll put some heat on the passer from time to time. His sack numbers never have been spectacular, but he disrupts a lot of passes. He’s always going to play the run well.
  5. Kroy Biermann, Falcons. This guy’s getting a lot of hype because he’s had a sack in each of the first three preseason games and Dimitroff and Smith are convinced Biermann’s ready for a breakout season. There are some other talent evaluators around the league that think Biermann doesn’t have all that much upside. But I’m going to take the word of Smith and Dimitroff and trust what I saw out of Biermann in camp and the preseason and give him a high ranking.
  6. Greg Hardy, Panthers. This guy’s been getting tons of preseason hype and some fans are comparing him to Peppers. That’s a stretch. But I’ve been told by the Panthers and people who’ve been watching Hardy from a distance that this guy’s for real -- as long as he can keep focused on football.
  7. Tyler Brayton, Panthers. We’ll twist a common phrase from coach John Fox and say Brayton is what he is. That’s a pretty solid all-around defensive end. In a lot of ways, he’s a lot like New Orleans’ Brown.
  8. [+] EnlargeLawrence Sidbury
    AP Photo/Steve NesiusLawrence Sidbury has potential, but he recorded just five tackles -- including one sack -- during his rookie season.
    Lawrence Sidbury, Falcons. We’ll jump back to projecting here. Sidbury didn’t do much as a rookie, but there are people around the league who think he has a lot more upside than Biermann.
  9. Jimmy Wilkerson, Saints. He’s pretty much in the same category as Brown and Brayton. In fact, Wilkerson probably would be higher on this list if he wasn’t coming off a major knee injury.
  10. Everette Brown, Panthers. Carolina drafted Brown last year thinking he might be the eventual replacement for Peppers and that still could happen. The Panthers believe Brown has lots of upside, but his development has not been rapid.
  11. Chauncey Davis, Falcons. One talent evaluator thinks Davis is enormously underrated. In Atlanta’s defensive-line rotation, where it doesn’t really matter who starts, Davis is going to get a lot of playing time. He’s good against the run and isn’t a bad pass rusher, although his lack of height sometimes keeps him from really disrupting passes.
  12. Stylez G. White, Buccaneers. He’s the best Tampa Bay has right now. The Bucs have tried to light a fire under him in the preseason by publicly questioning his practice efforts. They’re also disappointed he hasn’t stepped forward at all as a leader of a very young defensive line. But White’s never been a great practice player and has been reasonably productive in the regular season.
  13. Jamaal Anderson, Falcons. No doubt this guy has been a huge bust as a defensive end and maybe you can’t even call him a defensive end anymore. He started rotating inside last year and could get even more work at tackle this year. This guy’s not going to give you any pass rush from the outside, but he can play the run.
  14. Kyle Moore, Buccaneers. He seems to have landed the starting spot opposite White. Part of that is because Moore’s been decent, but part of it is because the Bucs have no one else who is ready.
  15. Bobby McCray, Saints. New Orleans let him go after last season and brought him back at a reduced salary. There’s no guarantee he’ll make the regular-season roster. McCray’s a guy that’s supposed to be a pass-rush specialist in a rotation. He ended up starting a lot in place of Grant last year and produced 1.5 sacks. Maybe, in the right situation, McCray can be a pass-rush specialist, but he’s never really lived up to that reputation.
  16. Michael Bennett, Buccaneers. This guy’s unknown and undersized, but he’s had some flashes as a pass rusher in the preseason. He could be used in a rotation as a situational pass rusher. But, keep an eye on how White’s season goes. If White struggles, Bennett could end up starting later in the season as Tampa Bay continues its youth movement.

Scouts Inc.: Saints' defensive ends

August, 25, 2010
8/25/10
9:13
AM ET
Now that Charles Grant is gone, how will the Saints' defensive ends fare in 2010?

Will Smith remains a fixture at right defensive end. There is no reason to expect anything but another tremendous season from Smith. He is one of the better 4-3 ends in the league and is in the prime of his career.

At one point, Grant was considered to be nearly in Smith’s class. That has not been the case lately, though, and Grant is now in Miami playing in their three-man front. This illustrates how his value has fallen off as an edge rusher.

The Saints were wise to acquire Alex Brown to fill Grant’s shoes. Why the Bears let Brown go is beyond me. He would be an excellent No. 2 defensive end opposite Julius Peppers, but Chicago’s loss is New Orleans’ gain. Now Brown will fill that role opposite Smith. Durable and reliable, Brown will also be playing in better weather and overall conditions conducive to rushing the quarterback. Expect his production to increase in the Big Easy, and he should approach double-digit sacks. Brown is a clear upgrade over the level of play that Grant displayed in 2009, both as a pass-rusher and against the run.

Bobby McCray, Jimmy Wilkerson and Jeff Charleston are the other ends who should factor into the equation. Defensive tackle Anthony Hargrove has the position versatility to play end, where he would enhance the run defense, but do little to help the pass rush.

You could do a lot worse than McCray as a third option who rotates in. He is a long, linear player who keeps pass-protectors away from his body. He did record double-digit sacks in 2006 while playing for Jacksonville. Wilkerson is a serviceable depth player, but is far from a dynamic difference-maker. To his credit, he did get to the quarterback six times last year for the Bucs. He is coming off a knee injury though. Charleston isn’t real fluid and is a well below average pass-rusher. He is just a bottom-of-the-roster player, in my opinion, and isn’t a guarantee to make the team.

With the Saints' excellent and deep secondary, Gregg Williams will of course dial up plenty of blitzes, which enhances the overall ability to get to opposing quarterbacks. There are not many areas where I think that New Orleans improved from a year ago, but defensive end is one area where it did.

Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.

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