NFL Nation: Chester Taylor

MINNEAPOLIS -- Somehow, we're still six weeks away from the NFL draft, which kicks off on May 8 in New York, but while the Minnesota Vikings are still busy making preparations for general manager Rick Spielman's eighth draft in Minnesota, we thought it would be a good time to look back at how the Vikings fared in his first seven.

So this morning, we're kicking off a day-by-day review of the Vikings' 2007-13 drafts. We'll review how each one turned out for the Vikings, look back at a pivotal pick, and attempt to take a rough measurement of how the team stacked up against the rest of the league, with the help of Pro Football Reference's Approximate Value statistic. The metric gives a general idea of how productive a player has been, based on his years as a regular starter, Pro Bowl selections and statistics. In this case, we'll be using the Draft AV, which measures what a player did for the team that originally drafted him. It's far from a perfect assessment of the situation, but it will give us some sense of how the Vikings have done.

Without further ado, we'll begin our series with a look at the 2007 draft:

Vikings' first-round pick: No. 7 (Adrian Peterson, RB, Oklahoma)

Number of picks: 8

Total Draft AV: 131 (5th in NFL; San Francisco was best with a 232 AV)

Highest player AV: Peterson, 77 (2nd; San Francisco's Patrick Willis was best with an 89 AV)

Peterson
Peterson
How they did: The Vikings' first draft under Spielman will be forever defined by their first pick; Peterson will go down as the greatest running back in franchise history, and one of the best of all time. The fact that Chester Taylor had run for more than 1,200 yards the year before made the Peterson pick seem a bit superfluous at the time, but when injury concerns kept the former Heisman Trophy runner-up on the board until the Vikings picked, they knew they had a rare opportunity. It was an early victory for Spielman's best-player-available strategy, and Peterson remains the team's franchise player as he heads into his eighth season.

Rice
Pivotal pick: When they were on the clock in the second round with the 44th overall pick, the Vikings had the option to take either South Carolina receiver Sidney Rice or USC receiver Dwayne Jarrett, who had had the more decorated college career but had also played in an offense designed to produce big numbers, and had raised concern by skipping the 40-yard dash at the scouting combine. Jarrett eventually ran a 4.62 at USC's pro day, and after being projected as a first-round pick, he was still there for the Vikings in the second round. They instead took Rice, who has been injury-prone, but had a Pro Bowl 2009 season with Brett Favre. Jarrett played 32 NFL games, caught 35 passes and has been out of the league since 2010.

Robison
Best pick: Peterson is the obvious choice, but for sheer value, we have to go with fourth-rounder Brian Robison, who became a starter in 2011 after four seasons as a rotational player and earned a four-year contract extension in the middle of last season. Robison had the best season of his career in 2013, and has seen his sack totals increase each year he's been a starter.

Worst pick: In need of a cornerback after allowing the second-most passing yards in the league the previous season, the Vikings used their third-rounder on Fresno State's Marcus McCauley, who was gone after two seasons and out of the league after three. McCauley stepped in for an injured Antoine Winfield late in his rookie year, and got burned in a pivotal Sunday night game against the Washington Redskins in December. He is currently playing in the United Football League.
Strong safety Adrian Wilson cast his recent contract extension as a move to finish his career with the Arizona Cardinals.

Jackson
A salary reduction for 2012 was also part of the agreement.

Along similar lines, I'd like to know what the St. Louis Rams' Steven Jackson has in mind when he suggests an extension could be in the works for him as well.

Protecting the interests of all parties can be a challenge when great players are nearing the latter stages of their careers. Jackson, like Wilson, would ideally finish his career with St. Louis. He has plenty to offer in the short term, but there's no reason for the Rams to make a meaningful commitment beyond Jackson's current deal.

Jackson is scheduled to earn $7 million in 2012 and again in 2013, the final two years of his contract. He'll be 31 years old when the deal expires. How much longer than that does Jackson plan to play? How much longer than that will the Rams want to pay him? How long can Jackson remain productive?

The market for 31-year-old halfbacks barely exists. Jackson might become an exception, but the Rams should not realistically bet that will be the case.

NFL teams entered Week 1 last season with seven halfbacks age 31 or older at that time: Ricky Williams, Thomas Jones, LaDainian Tomlinson, Chester Taylor, Larry Johnson, Maurice Morris and Derrick Ward. Those players combined for 16 regular-season starts. Retirement awaits some of them now.

Jackson has plenty to offer in the shorter term. Unlike many high-profile players, he has played well enough to justify the high salaries awaiting him late in his contract. His current deal seems appropriate for what Jackson has to offer and what the future probably holds -- a couple more good seasons for the Rams' all-time rushing leader.
Frank Gore and Marshawn Lynch topped 1,200 yards rushing last season. Steven Jackson (1,145) and Beanie Wells (1,047) also exceeded 1,000 yards for NFC West teams.

With LaDainian Tomlinson set to retire, I've put together a chart showing how many 1,200-yard seasons 10 current and former NFC West backs would need to match him in career rushing yards (13,684).

For example, the St. Louis Rams' Steven Jackson has 9,093 career yards. He would need 4,591 yards to catch Tomlinson. Jackson would need 3.8 seasons (61.2 games) to catch Tomlinson if Jackson were to average 1,200 yards per season from this point forward.

Tomlinson was pretty impressive, in other words.
It appears that former Chicago Bears tight end Greg Olsen gave us some pretty accurate insight into the mind-set of current Bears tailback Matt Forte.

It seems clear, via Twitter, that Forte didn't take it well Thursday when the Bears signed tailback Michael Bush to a four-year contract worth $14 million, including $7 million guaranteed. Forte, who was named the Bears' franchise player this month in lieu of a long-term deal, dropped the dreaded "d" word.

Forte: "There's only so many times a man that has done everything he's been asked to do can be disrespected! Guess the GOOD GUYS do finish last...."

*UPDATE: Forte's agent, Adisa Bakari, offered some context to the tweet in a statement to ESPNChicago.com's Michael C. Wright. Bakari: "Since drafting Matt in 2008, the Bears have signed Kevin Jones, Chester Taylor and Marion Barber, all ostensibly to serve as Matt's backup. To sign yet another running back, prior to completing a contract with Matt suggests disregard for Matt and his contributions to the Bears."

Unfortunately, we don't have the full set of facts to render our own judgment. We know the Bears guaranteed Bush ($7 million) roughly the same amount as Forte would be paid ($7.74 million) as a franchise player this year. We also know the Bears have now issued multi-year deals to veteran backups in each of the past three years.

What we don't know, and it's a rather big piece of the puzzle, is what Forte has turned down. Negotiations have taken place on and off for more than a year. If the Bears were somehow offering Forte less, or about the same, as they have given Chester Taylor, Marion Barber and Bush, then Forte would have a legitimate argument.

But if Forte is upset because the Bears haven't offered him an elite contract that approaches, say, $25-$30 million in guarantees, then the Bush signing should have nothing to do with his angst. He might be upset with the Bears for not valuing him as an elite back, and could perhaps make an argument that he deserves that payday. But a market-level deal for a backup is a separate issue altogether.

As we all know, reason and rational thought don't always rule contract negotiations. What's important is that Forte is among the Bears' best players, one they have built their offense around in recent years, and he's not happy. That's a problem for the Bears, regardless of whether Forte's anger is well-grounded or unfounded.

In our previous post, we discussed the potential impact of Michael Bush's arrival in Chicago on the Bears' negotiations with tailback Matt Forte. I wasn't ready to consider it a legitimate affront to Forte, who reportedly has turned down a more lucrative offer than what Bush received, but it's worth adding a player's perspective.

Via Twitter, former Bears tight end Greg Olsen made clear that Forte would be well within his rights to be upset. Bush is the third backup running back to receive a multiyear contract from the Bears in as many years, following Marion Barber and Chester Taylor. Olsen:



When a follower asked if Olsen was bitter because the Bears weren't willing to offer him a multiyear deal and eventually traded him, Olsen responded: "wrong [couldn't] be happier in Carolina. Just pointing out how its viewed around league."

You can agree or disagree with Olsen's reasoning, especially as it relates to having a reliable backup running back at one of the most physical positions in the game. But a number of Bears players stepped forward last season on the topic, and I think Olsen gives us a fair glimpse of how an NFL player views the standoff between the Bears and Forte. And let's just say it won't endear the team's position to any of them.

A number of wild theories began circulating in the moments after the Chicago Bears announced a four-year contract agreement with running back Michael Bush. So let's do our best to sift through what the deal does -- and, just as importantly, doesn't -- mean.
  • Bush is the Bears' best attempt yet at finding a reliable backup to starter Matt Forte, one whose skills offer the team more complete coverage from the position. We've noted several times that Forte doesn't perform well in short-yardage and goal-to-go situations. Last season, Bush scored seven touchdowns for the Oakland Raiders on goal-to-go downs, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Chester Taylor failed as Forte's backup in 2010, and Marion Barber (2011) figures to follow him out the door shortly.
  • Bush got a nice contract that could top out at $14 million and includes $7 million guaranteed. That's better than backup money, but Bush is better than your standard backup. He started 19 games in four seasons with the Raiders.
  • That money suggests the Bears felt they needed protection against a possible holdout from Forte, who hasn't agreed to a long-term deal and hasn't signed his franchise tender. We're a long way from that point, but midsummer is not the time to start scrambling for insurance. The best options are available now.
  • Some of you might think Forte would be annoyed to see a third consecutive veteran walk through the door with a multiyear contract while he awaits one himself. It's true that Taylor ($7 million) earned more than him in 2010, as did Barber ($2.5m) in 2011. This year, Bush's $7 million guarantee is close to the $7.74 million franchise tag that Forte will play under if he doesn't agree to a longer deal. But I think the Bears are willing to pay Forte more than his backup. Whether they are willing to pay him what he wants is another question.
  • Regardless, I don't think Bush's arrival will make Forte any more or less likely to hold out. He has a number he wants the Bears to get to. Will it make the Bears less likely to meet that number because they have Bush? They might want Forte to think so, but ultimately they know they need Forte in their lineup.
  • When you hear the name "Michael Bush," many of you think of the terrible broken leg he suffered in 2006 as a senior at Louisville. The injury required the insertion of a steel rod and essentially cost him two years of football. But since returning to the field in 2008, he has played in 61 out of a possible 64 games.
  • The Brandon Marshall trade will define the Bears' offseason, but no less impressive has been their determination to beef up depth with highly paid veterans. Bush is the most notable example, but it's worth pointing out that backup quarterback Jason Campbell will earn $3.4 million, while kick returner Eric Weems got a $1.5 million signing bonus on top of a $700,000 base salary.
We're still a month away from NFL free agency, but with the Super Bowl behind us, we'll start sizing up players without contracts for 2012.

Expanding upon Brian McIntyre's lists, I've plugged in offensive and defensive snap-count numbers for NFC West free agents, courtesy of ESPN Stats & Information.

The charts below cover the Arizona Cardinals' free agents. The final column shows what each player's previous contract averaged annually.

Re-signing defensive end Calais Campbell will be a top priority. I don't see the Cardinals letting him get away. They moved on from Antonio Smith a few years ago, but they did so with Campbell ready to take over. They would have a hard time replacing Campbell.

Cornerback Richard Marshall proved valuable on a one-year deal. Early Doucet was a primary threat on third down.

Overall, though, the Cardinals have a relatively modest group of unrestricted free agents.

Safety Sean Considine played extensively on special teams. I've listed him with the offensive and defensive UFAs, however.

The Cardinals' key specialists are without contracts. The team has turned over those positions in recent seasons.

The Cardinals can keep their restricted free agents, listed below, by making one-year qualifying offers to them, then matching any outside offers.
A week or two ago, I was discussing the future of the Chicago Bears with a friend. We started with the obvious -- whether offensive coordinator Mike Martz return -- and then moved up the ladder a bit. Was there any chance of a bigger shakeup after the Bears missed the playoffs in four of the five seasons since appearing in Super Bowl XLI?

[+] EnlargeJerry Angelo
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhJerry Angelo had run the Bears' football operations since 2001.
Under the McCaskey family, we agreed, the Bears have been a methodical and slow-moving organization that wasn't prone to emotional reactions. But in a development that didn't register with enough people this year, a new McCaskey assumed leadership last summer. George McCaskey, the younger and more involved brother of former chairman Michael McCaskey, is now ultimately responsible for the team.

We'll find out soon if it was George McCaskey who fired Jerry Angelo on Tuesday or whether the parting was mutual. But make no mistake: One of the NFL's most stable franchises has jumped into uncertain waters for the first time in a decade. The move is a surprise mostly because it came from the Bears. Angelo's 11 seasons are more than most NFL franchises give their general managers.

Angelo has run the Bears' football operations since 2001. He hired coach Lovie Smith in 2004, and together they have one of the longest tenures of any football leadership structure in the NFL. Angelo's departure leaves every aspect of the Bears' program under review, including Smith, and there is no telling where that might lead. Smith signed a contract extension last winter through the 2013 season, but after today he won't be working for the person who hired him. That situation rarely bodes well for a head coach, at least in the long term.

We'll get more into Angelo's time with the Bears as the day progresses. Suffice it to say, it will go down as a mix of on-field success and front office missteps, including a series over the past calendar year that suggested Angelo's regime was lively but disorganized. A botched draft-day trade with the Baltimore Ravens, the failure of free agent signings Chester Taylor and Brandon Manumaleuna, (which cost the McCaskey family about $12 million for nearly no production) and the arrest of receiver Sam Hurd on federal drug distribution suspicion were the latest examples. Eventually, those things pile up.

More to come.

Sam Hurd's impact on Jerry Angelo

December, 16, 2011
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Via ESPNChicago.com, I heard most of the brief news conference Chicago Bears general manager Jerry Angelo held Friday to announce the inevitable and highly warranted decision to waive receiver Sam Hurd. What caught my ear more than anything, however, was Angelo's snappy response when asked if this episode will impact his future with the organization.

"Whistling Dixie," is what it sounded like Angelo said. In other words, you're in fantasy land.

I wonder, however, how Hurd's arrest will weigh on a lifelong football man who never imagined that the acquisition of a No. 5 receiver and special teams contributor would blow up into one of the most embarrassing moments in recent franchise history. By all accounts, Hurd was a well-respected member of the Dallas Cowboys for five seasons and there were few, if any, people around the NFL who would have suspected him of operating a drug distribution ring that undercover federal investigators busted Wednesday night in Chicago.

Angelo downplayed reports this month that he might retire after the season. There are times when sports franchises and private businesses alike oust their top executives at times of extreme crisis, but I don't think this qualifies. If the Bears fire Angelo because he signed a veteran NFL player with no prior history who was later revealed to be a drug dealer, well, that would be a tough blow.

Angelo said Friday that there were "no facts" and "no flags" that "anyone can present tangibly" that would suggest the Bears should have been aware of Hurd's alleged secret life. "We do our homework," Angelo said. "We do our due diligence and we did everything we could possibly do given the information that we can accumulate."

But when you think back just over the past year or so, you recall Angelo explaining a bizarre miscommunication that left tailback Chester Taylor believing he had been released when in fact he was expected at practice. You think of Angelo denying any wrongdoing when a draft-day trade with the Baltimore Ravens broke down without the Ravens realizing it.

Angelo is 62. He has two years remaining on his contract, but you wonder if the Hurd episode is enough to push him over the edge and at least consider retirement. His brief but fierce defense Friday suggested it won't. But perhaps he was the one whistling "Dixie" on that one.

The Chicago Bears might have ended contract talks with tailback Matt Forte this week, but it appears he will be more valuable than ever in Sunday's season opener against the Atlanta Falcons.

Backup running back Marion Barber sat out another practice Wednesday because of a calf injury he suffered Aug. 27. If Barber can't play Sunday, Forte's only backup will be little-used Kahlil Bell, who suffered a knee injury of his own this summer but fully participated in Wednesday's practice. It's always possible that Barber could practice minimally this week and then give it a go Sunday, but calf injuries can be debilitating for running backs and the Bears might not want to risk a setback at the outset of the season.

Forte
Forte was a workhorse for the Bears as a rookie in 2008, getting 316 carries and also catching 63 passes, but the Bears have pulled back on his touches in recent seasons, first by signing veteran Chester Taylor last year and then Barber this summer. Forte had career lows in carries (237) and receptions (51) in 2010, but he still produced 1,616 all-purpose yards and a gained career-high 5.6 yards every time he touched the ball.

Forte admitted he was "surprised" and "disappointed" that the Bears cut off negotiations, and during an interview session with Chicago-area reporters, he made clear he thinks he has earned an extension.

"Coming into the league you feel like this is supposed to be production-based," Forte said. "When you produce in the offense, you expect the team or the organization to actually notice that compared to other guys. We just couldn't meet in the middle I guess."

I still think it's possible the talks could restart later this season. But for now, Forte will have to keep demonstrating the durability that put him in this position in the first place. Forte hasn't missed a game in three seasons, a fact that is especially notable as the Bears sweat out Barber's availability. We'll keep you updated throughout the week.

Cardinals' backfield no longer so green

September, 4, 2011
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Arizona has long sought to attract senior citizens from cold-weather states.

The state's NFL team has assembled quite a few NFL elders, including their newest running back, Chester Taylor. That wasn't the plan heading into training camp, but losing rookie running back Ryan Williams to knee surgery forced a change of plans upon the Cardinals.

Taylor, who turns 32 this month, averaged 2.4 yards per attempt with three touchdowns and 20 receptions in 2010, his lone season with the Chicago Bears. He spent four seasons previously with Minnesota and four with Baltimore. In 2006, his lone season as a full-time NFL starter, Taylor carried 303 times for 1,216 yards, easily career highs. He has missed only five games in nine seasons.

The Cardinals were already the NFL's second-oldest team on average when teams reduced to 53 players in accordance with the Saturday deadline. Most of their older players are concentrated on defense. Taylor joins tight end Todd Heap, 31, as the Cardinals' only offensive players in their 30s, pending other moves the team could be planning or in the process of making.

Taylor's career rushing average per attempt has fallen from 5.4 (2007) to 4.0 (2008) to 3.6 (2009) to 2.4 (2010) over the past four seasons. The Cardinals weren't going to find a young, ascending running back on the market at this time. They have added a back whose experience gives them something they didn't have at the position previously.

Quick hits: Mike Neal, Cobb practice

September, 4, 2011
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Let's account for a few Sunday afternoon newsbits in quick-hitting fashion ...

Item: The Green Bay Packers are back at practice Sunday in preparation for Thursday's season opener (!) against the New Orleans Saints.
Comment: According to Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, a number of injured players have returned. That list includes tight end Jermichael Finley, receiver Randall Cobb and defensive end Mike Neal. I'll have more on the start of Week 1 in a bit.

Item: The Packers slipped several valued players through waivers and signed them to their practice squad.
Comment: Receivers Tori Gurley and Chastin West, along with quarterback Graham Harrell, were all part of the practice squad Sunday. It was particularly important to keep Harrell in the program with No. 2 quarterback Matt Flynn's contract set to expire after this season.

Item: The Detroit Lions waived running back Aaron Brown and center Chris Morris. They reportedly claimed offensive lineman Jacques McClendon from the Indianapolis Colts. At the moment, the second roster spot is unfilled.
Comment:
Veteran running back Chester Taylor signed with the Arizona Cardinals, eliminating that possibility for the Lions. It's not clear if Brown's departure means another running back is on the way in, or if he was simply the least-valued player remaining on the Lions' 53-man roster. We'll keep you updated.

Item: The Minnesota Vikings claimed linebacker Xavier Adibi from the Houston Texans.
Comment: The Vikings are a 4-3 team and Adibi has mostly played inside in a 3-4 scheme, but depth was a critical issue here. Only five linebackers were on the original 53-man roster, and Adibi provides credible insurance should a starter be injured.

Detroit Lions cutdown analysis

September, 3, 2011
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Check here for a complete list of the Detroit Lions' roster moves.

Surprise move: I don't know if it qualified as a surprise, but it was sure jarring to hear earlier Saturday that veteran punter Nick Harris was ousted. Harris has been the Lions' punter since 2003 and hadn't appeared to be in decline. But rookie Ryan Donahue is 10 years younger than Harris and had an equally strong training camp. Age doesn't always apply to punters as it does to players at other positions, but the Lions must believe Donahue can be their punter for years to come. Meanwhile, the Lions activated cornerback Alphonso Smith from the non-football injury list, meaning they believe he will be ready to play before the sixth week of the season.

No-brainers: You don't always see a six-year veteran as a team's No. 6 receiver, but Maurice Stovall proved he will be a valuable special teams player as well as a possible red zone threat. He beat out 2009 third-round draft pick Derrick Williams, whose potential never materialized and who was still dropping passes with regularity during the preseason. In training camp, it was clear that veteran Nate Vasher was behind younger cornerbacks Aaron Berry and Brandon McDonald. Both Berry and McDonald remain on the roster. Vasher was cut.

What's next: Lions general manager Martin Mayhew is usually good for a couple of trades and veteran acquisitions during Labor Day weekend. You wonder if the Lions want to fortify their running back depth, which currently includes little-used Aaron Brown and an injured Maurice Morris. Chester Taylor is a Detroit-area native. Just saying.

Chicago Bears cutdown analysis

September, 3, 2011
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Check here for a complete list of the Chicago Bears' roster moves.

Surprise move: The Bears have now bid farewell to three locker room stalwarts: Center Olin Kreutz, receiver Rashied Davis and now tight end Desmond Clark. The Bears released Clark as part of Saturday's roster cutdown, deciding to keep undrafted rookie Kyle Adams instead. Clark said via Twitter that "I played my butt off but sometimes it's more about the business." The Bears indicated that he was released with an injury. Regardless, intentionally or otherwise, the Bears have at least temporarily created a player leadership void.

No-brainers: After last week's communication fiasco, there was little doubt that running back Chester Taylor would be part of this cutdown. The Bears need only two tailbacks behind starter Matt Forte, and those roles will be filled by Marion Barber and Kahlil Bell. They also kept fullback Will Ta'ufo'ou. I don't know if the Bears entered training camp planning to keep undrafted rookie receiver Dane Sanzenbacher, but his quick ascension as a slot receiver was obvious by the midpoint of the preseason. Quarterback Jay Cutler loves throwing to him.

What's next: The Bears' depth at linebacker is a little scary. They kept only five at the position, with Brian Iwuh and undrafted rookie Dom DeCicco as the reserves behind Lance Briggs, Brian Urlacher and Nick Roach. You would think the Bears would at least scan the waiver wire for additional depth, especially with Briggs nursing a knee injury. And with Barber and Bell having suffered preseason injuries, the Bears might check out emergency running back depth as well.
NFL teams have until 6 p.m. ET to reduce their rosters to 53, but NFC North teams already are off and running. I'll post significant releases as quickly as I can here Saturday afternoon, and then analyze each team's moves after they become official.

First up: The Chicago Bears' totally unsurprising and far-too-late decision to part ways with veteran tailback Chester Taylor. His days have seemed numbered since the moment the Bears signed veteran running back Marion Barber, and it appeared the Bears were set to release Taylor during their first round of cuts last week. He ended up starting their preseason finale in what was presumably a showcase for a possible trade. Clearly, no team expressed interest because everyone knew Taylor would eventually be released.

As we've discussed a number of times, Taylor had by one measure the least productive season in the NFL's post-merger history last year. Never before had a running back carried at least 100 times and finished with an average of 2.4 yards per carry or lower. I don't think he's finished as a running back, but he clearly wasn't a good match for Mike Martz's offensive scheme and provides yet another cautionary tale for giving big contracts to aging running backs.

Taylor, 31, received about $7 million last season.

Where will Taylor resurface? How about his hometown Detroit Lions? The Lions' backfield remains unsettled after the training camp loss of rookie Mikel Leshoure. And as long as we're talking about NFC North teams, let's not totally rule out the Minnesota Vikings, who have two injured backups -- Toby Gerhart and Lorenzo Booker -- behind starter Adrian Peterson.

Earlier: Taylor left the Bears' practice facility last Monday believing he had been released. The Bears called him back, saying he misunderstood a conversation with coach Lovie Smith.

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