NFL Nation: Charley Armey

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch looks at the likelihood of the Rams trading down from the second overall choice. General manager Billy Devaney says it's unlikely teams will find trading partners as they consider moving down from the top of the draft.

Also from Thomas: Former Rams GM Charley Armey advises against trading down from the top of the draft. Armey: "The No. 1 cardinal rule for me absolutely, without question, is do not trade out of an impact position. Because there's only a few impact players. Some years I've been in the draft, it was only around six impact players. The year Orlando Pace was in the draft [1997], there was only about six. The year we took Torry Holt [1999], there was about 13." He advises the Rams to draft a tackle second overall unless another team offers a blockbuster package in return for that choice. 

More from Thomas: A list of 22 college players who have visited or plan to visit the Rams.

Gwen Knapp of the San Francisco Chronicle uses Matthew Stafford's visit to the 49ers as a vehicle for analyzing first-round quarterbacks. Knapp: "From 1970 to 1990, only seven quarterbacks were No. 1 [overall] picks, and only one was a bust, the latest one -- Jeff George in 1990. All the others made at least two Pro Bowls or won a Super Bowl. [They were Terry Bradshaw, Jim Plunkett, Steve Bartkowski, Vinny Testaverde, John Elway and Troy Aikman.] Of the eight most recent picks, only one has matched Elway, Aikman and Bradshaw's success -- Peyton Manning. Tim Couch is out of football. Michael Vick is behind bars. [Alex] Smith and David Carr have become back-ups, for now at least. [JaMarcus] Russell is unproven. Carson Palmer started off brilliantly but hasn't been able to recover from injuries."

Kevin Lynch of Niner Insider doesn't rule out Stafford falling all the way to the 49ers at No. 10.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee lists Bay Area college players scheduled to visit the 49ers. Cal center Alex Mack heads the list.

Floriday Danny of Niners Nation continues his pre-draft analysis by looking at draft tendencies during Bill Walsh's second run with the team, from 1999 to 2001. Walsh stockpiled picks, accumulating 27 over the three-year period.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times lists the Seahawks' draft needs in this order: Defensive end, wide receiver, cornerback with size and quarterback for the future.

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune summarizes Greg Knapp's comments to KJR radio's Mitch Levy. Knapp, the Seahawks' new offensive coordinator, downplayed the need for a running back. Knapp: "From my experiences of running the zone scheme, a lot of guys have had some career-best seasons in the zone scheme when they didn't have it before ... So, we feel pretty confident in what we saw in practice, and what these guys' traits are."

Also from Williams: Seattle receiver Logan Payne did not undergo knee surgery to repair a damaged MCL last season. Instead, he let the injury heal on its own. Payne said he felt good by December.

John Morgan of Field Gulls looks at running back Cedric Peerman as a potential draft choice for Seattle with the 104th overall pick. Morgan on the running backs: "Let's say this is an unusually weak running back class. A running back class comparable to last year's wide receiver class. Could the first round end without a running back selected? It would be the first time since 1963 -- the first time in the modern era. But it's not a stretch."

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic lists Mel Kiper's projections for the Cardinals through four rounds of the draft. He thinks the team would be thrilled to come away with outside linebacker Larry English, running back Shonn Greene, tight end Chase Coffman and defensive tackle Corvey Irvin.

Also from Somers: He doesn't think James Harrison's deal with the Steelers will have an immediate impact on Karlos Dansby's negotiations with the Cardinals. Both are linebackers in name, but their roles are vastly different. Harrison has 24.5 sacks over the last two seasons. Dansby has 24.5 sacks during his five-year career.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com checks in with players on the fringes of the Cardinals' roster. Rodney Leisle was working for a company that sells mobile shelving units when the Cardinals called.

Revenge of the Birds' Hawkwind says Antrel Rolle is entering a critical season with Arizona. Will the former cornerback command a lucrative extension as a safety? The deal Adrian Wilson eventually signs -- assuming Wilson does re-sign with the team -- could influence how much Arizona wants to spend on the other safety spot.

 
 Stew Milne/US Presswire
 Should the Patriots bank on Tom Brady returning to full health or should they invest in a young quarterback on the rise?

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

An innocent question to stimulate conversation ignited outrage.

One reader demanded I resign from ESPN.com. Another implored my bosses to terminate my blog completely. They wrote in to ridicule my intelligence, mock my background and question my journalism ethics.

All for asking a question to which I didn't give my opinion.

What I dared to do was broach the subject of what's going on with the New England Patriots quarterback situation and the uncertainty clouding it.

Sporting icon Tom Brady is rehabbing his surgically rebuilt, infection-prone left knee. Information has been scarce. So much is unknown.

Matt Cassel has developed into a bona fide NFL starter before our eyes, but he will be an unrestricted free agent after the season.

This is the exact question I posed before opening the floor to comments:

Do you bank on the superstar maintaining his elite status, or invest in the rising prospect, who years from now still should be in his prime when the veteran retires?

That line didn't seem inflammatory when I typed it, but after the backlash from incensed readers, I decided to check with some professionals to see whether they thought I had raised a legitimate issue or I was nuts.

Charley Armey

Background: Former St. Louis Rams general manager, New England Patriots assistant director of player operations.

Note: As Rams director of player personnel, Armey dealt with Trent Green's season-ending knee injury and emergence of unheralded Kurt Warner en route to a Super Bowl title.

The risk is too great not to move forward with the quarterback you have right now. You have to get him signed and give your team stability at the position. There's no absolute. That's the problem. You've got to protect yourself and the organization.

I would do whatever I had to do to sign him. I would try to structure the contract so that at some point in time I could deal the player if it's convenient but keep him around until Brady is back and 100 percent.

After Brady is back, you address what you do with both quarterbacks. You have to proceed as though Cassel will be your quarterback until proven otherwise. There are no other options for the Patriots. They have to get the guy signed.

This kid [Cassel] has proven that his arm is getting better and better. They've invested the money and the time to get him to this point. He's a commodity now. You can't let him get away for nothing. I would figure out how to get it done. I would not let him out of there, period.

But the deal can be done. [Cassel] ought to feel a strong sense of loyalty for to the organization for drafting him when they did, showing faith in him and investing in him the way they did.

You know who the quarterback is when he's healthy, but it sure is a nice problem when you have two. Otherwise, you're looking for a free-agent quarterback who's 105 years old to come in and be the backup.

It took Trent Green almost two years and maybe three years until he was comfortable on that knee. Some guys come back and are comfortable on it right away.

You don't know how [Brady's knee] is going to react until you start working out in game mode. He has to step up, take a hit, pivot on it, slide to the left, slide to the right, plant it, come off it. You won't know until you get in a game situation regardless of how the off-field rehab goes.

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

They weren't good enough to be Mr. Irrelevant.

Some probably avoided watching the NFL draft when it was their year to be called. Those who did watched and waited and waited and waited ...

Never did they hear that ESPN jingle alert and then witness their names triumphantly flash at the bottom of a television screen. Mel Kiper didn't get to say what astute late-round steals they were.

So many players don't get selected, but undrafted doesn't always equate to unwanted or unable.

Key Undrafted Players in the AFC East
Just because a player wasn't drafted by an NFL team doesn't mean he can't have a productive career. Consider the following players now playing in the AFC East:
Buffalo Bills
PlayerAnalysis
CB Jabari Greer Although he suffered a knee injury Monday night, he was Buffalo's best pass defender. He returned both of his interceptions for touchdowns.
LT Jason Peters He was undrafted as a tight end, cut and re-signed to the practice squad. The Bills converted him into a Pro Bowler at a critical position.
Miami Dolphins
WR Greg Camarillo The former walk-on punter at Stanford leads the Dolphins with 49 catches for 538 yards.
WR Davone Bess The rookie has 19 catches and has been the team's best kick and punt returner.
New England Patriots
LB Larry Izzo He has been to three Pro Bowls as a special-teams ace. He has led the Patriots in special-teams tackles in seven of the previous nine seasons.
WR Wes Welker He set a franchise record last season with 112 receptions and is one off the NFL lead this year with 72.
New York Jets
RG Brandon Moore The only undrafted offensive lineman among a unit with decorated resumes. He has been a starter since 2004.
FB Tony Richardson Three-time Pro Bowler has blocked for a 1,000-yard rusher six times, and should have his seventh this year in front of Thomas Jones.

The NFL is rife with examples of undrafted players who develop into weekly contributors or maybe even stars, and the AFC East is loaded with them this year.

The NFL average for undrafted players is about 13 per roster. The New England Patriots have 18 of them. The Buffalo Bills have 17. The New York Jets have 16. The Miami Dolphins have 14.

"From Day One, we put some of those guys out there potentially to make a difference," Dolphins coach Tony Sparano said. "Right now, we're seeing some of that happen out there."

They've played a significant role in making it the most competitive division. Only two games separate first place from last place, and it's one of just two divisions in which each team has outscored the opposition.

Coaches admit a special satisfaction when rummage-bin players develop into reliable contributors.

"Guys that are undrafted have a certain degree of underdog status or long shot," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "It's great to see those guys that nobody talks about, nobody has any hype for do well and be able to play and compete and have a job and a position in this league.

"To me, that's what the NFL is all about. It's about competition, and it's about performance. That's not necessarily the way it is in everything else, but on the football field, that's the way I see it.

"The guys that start from the bottom and come all the way up and earn it as a free agent, kind of like a lot of have -- players and coaches -- that is gratifying for them and overall for the system."

Both AFC East victories in Week 11 were off the right foot of an undrafted player. Jets kicker Jay Feely made a 34-yard field goal in overtime to beat the Patriots on Thursday night. Rookie Dan Carpenter kicked a 38-yard field goal inside the final 40 seconds to beat the Oakland Raiders.

Four players in the Patriots' starting offensive lineup Thursday were draft orphans, including Wes Welker. He's second in the NFL with 72 catches. Running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis has been remarkable. Two more started on defense.

Three-quarters of the Dolphins' active receiving corps wasn't drafted. Greg Camarillo is one of them. He leads the Dolphins with 49 receptions. Davone Bess has been their most productive punt and kickoff returner. Third running back Patrick Cobbs, also undrafted, is second only to starter Ronnie Brown in nonkicker scoring with three touchdowns.

Buffalo's Pro Bowl left tackle, Jason Peters, wasn't drafted. Neither was top cornerback Jabari Greer or starting safety George Wilson.

The Jets signed right guard Brandon Moore as a rookie free agent in 2002. He has started 72 games and counting. Pro Bowl fullback Tony Richardson and starting safety Abram Elam also were passed over.

"When you stop and think about the number of guys in the draft, you got about 1,500 guys in the pool and each team can take only about seven of them," said Charley Armey, a retired player personnel man who spent seven years in the Patriots' front office in the 1990s.

"There's a huge area for guys to slip through the cracks."

Armey is associated with one of the most famous undrafted players in NFL history. Armey was the St. Louis Rams' director of player personnel in 1998, when they signed Arena Football League quarterback Kurt Warner. Another of Armey's favorite discoveries is linebacker London Fletcher from Division III John Carroll University.

"It never surprises me because I know there are so many factors that can keep them getting drafted," Armey said from his home in Sun City, Ariz. "As much energy as we put into the NFL draft, one thing you can't predict is how a player is going to make that jump from college to the NFL."

Undrafted players are more than roster spackle. They're necessary to the foundation of any organization.

They're cheap labor, for one.

"Because of the salary cap you have to have some of these lower-end guys make your team and develop or your salary cap won't work," Armey said.

Said Sparano: "We're kind of looking for something for nothing in some of those situations."

While some teams concentrate on acquiring as much star power as possible  (and then struggle to pay them all), Armey noted a philosophy Dick Vermeil brought to the Rams.

Vermeil, as head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, signed Vince Papale, a bartender and part-time teacher who became an NFL receiver and special-teamer. Papale's uplifting story was the subject of the 2006 motion picture "Invincible."

"Dick was a firm believer of working the bottom of the roster," Armey said. "You have to be in the business of developing players and rotating them in and work the bottom of your roster as hard as you work the top."

The process of developing undrafted prospects will be more difficult without NFL Europa. More players will emerge from arena leagues -- something called the U.S. Indoor Football League spawned backup Bills running back Fred Jackson -- or the Canadian Football League.

With so much competition among scouting staffs, unearthing a hidden gem is virtually impossible. Teams evaluate more players than ever. When a personnel director identifies someone he wants to sign, chances are other clubs have contacted the agent already.

In that regard, acquiring a rookie free agent resembles the college recruiting process for a blue chipper.

The Dolphins out-jockeyed several teams to land Bess, who was Colt Brennan's top target at Hawaii. The Dolphins thought Bess would be drafted, and when he wasn't they sprung into action.

"It's maybe not so much being first, but selling your depth chart," Sparano said. "For us this year, that was easier. We're selling opportunity. Kids are looking, and maybe they're favorite team might've been the Pittsburgh Steelers, but at the end of the day they've got to go where they think they got the best chance of making the team.

"They have five receivers and this team has three receivers ... For a guy like Bess, he had a lot of people calling him. We were fortunate, and he was fortunate."

A reputation of fair treatment is another strong selling point when it comes to free agents. The Patriots are known as an organization that values performance over pedigree.

Not only do the Patriots give undrafted players an honest look in training camp, but they also have a tendency to trust their young reserves and look at their practice squad before considering outside help when injuries strike.

"If you sign with us, you're going to get a chance," Belichick said. "If you play good enough, you're going to get a roster spot. If that means some other higher draft choice or some other big-name, higher-profile guy doesn't play as well, then that's competition. That's what this league's about."

And when the process yields results on a regular basis, the results can be more rewarding than hitting on draft picks.

"The pride factor is in the player, that he was willing to do what he had to do," Armey said. "I picked up a lot of guys that I knew had the talent but didn't do what they had to do. But when you get a guy with a competitive edge and he wants to overcome being 5-foot-9 or slow, you can find a great player.

"It can pay you off in dividends."

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