NFL Nation: Jerry Porter
Old needs: The Texans were in desperate need of defensive backs and landed the second-best available cornerback in Johnathan Joseph and a safety better than any they have in Danieal Manning. They re-signed receiver Jacoby Jones, third tackle Rashad Butler and backup quarterback Matt Leinart. Matt Turk was a free agent who departed, so a punter is a need.
New needs: Fullback Vonta Leach was a huge part of Arian Foster’s rushing title but went to Baltimore. It seems likely the Texans will turn to versatile tight end James Casey as a lead blocker, but there are some quality free-agent options out there.
Don’t think they need: They’ve said from the time Wade Phillips evaluated personnel that Shaun Cody and Earl Mitchell will be a capable combo at nose tackle. It’s a spot they may well be overestimating.
Old needs: A contract for quarterback Peyton Manning was No. 1, even though he was not technically a free agent, and they’ve gotten that done. They prevented safety and kicker from becoming issues with quick moves to retain Melvin Bullitt and Adam Vinatieri.
New needs: Kavell Conner is likely the third linebacker with Clint Session now a member of the Jaguars. But the linebacking depth is hardly great, and even a late veteran addition at the position might be significant.
Don’t think they need: I’m sure they’d love to find the next Reggie Wayne or a run-stuffing defensive tackle, but they either don’t see those guys out there or, more likely, aren’t changing their philosophy about chasing significant outsiders.
Old needs: Very aggressively address linebacker (with Paul Posluszny and Session), safety (with Dawan Landry) and nickelback (with Drew Coleman). That’s four quality players added to their top 12 on defense
New needs: Punter Adam Podlesh bolted for a big contract in Chicago. But the Jaguars quickly adjusted, signing Turk to replace him.
Don’t think they need: They’ve tried and failed with veteran wideouts to varying degrees -- from the bust of Jerry Porter, to the more affordable non-contributions of Troy Williamson, to the stopgap year from Torry Holt. They appear comfortable with a top three of Mike Thomas, Jason Hill and Jarett Dillard or Cecil Shorts. They won’t likely be shopping.
Old needs: They’ve addressed quarterback (Matt Hasselbeck), middle linebacker (Barrett Ruud), defensive tackle (Shaun Smith), and guard (re-signing Leroy Harris). Safety has gone unaddressed, so it appears Chris Hope remains in place. With Ahmard Hall a free agent, they could use a fullback, but may just go with tight ends or an undrafted if he departs.
New needs: Stephen Tulloch didn’t officially leave until after the Titans signed Ruud. They lost Jason Babin to Philadelphia, but never really planned to pursue him hard, and the move of Jason Jones to end helps offset it.
Don’t think they need: Wide receiver is always an issue for the Titans, but they don’t feel the desperation outsiders do. They’re content with their group, though an experienced, low-cost free agent could eventually arrive.
As Jonathan Loesche pointed out in an effort to calm fans before I could say roughly the same, it likely amounts to “due diligence tire kicking.”
I don’t expect him back in the league, but I can understand why a team that hasn’t seen him up close might give him a look.
If a team 's personnel people fall for yet another “changed man” routine, it will come back to bite them. A guy with this many strikes simply isn’t worth the risk. I covered Jones for his entire disastrous tenure in Tennessee and am completely comfortable saying he’s toxic.
Jags GM Gene Smith has been nicknamed "Clean Gene" by Pete Prisco on the radio in Jacksonville.
Jones wasn’t a good player last time we saw him in Dallas, and more time away is unlikely to have made him better.
For A GM who leans toward drafting college captains who can lead and fall in line with the program and who runs a team that had a bitter experience with Jerry Porter, Jones would be a complete non-fit.
UPDATE, 5:09 p.m.: Jones did not show up for the workout, which was to follow Tulane's pro day, according to James Varney. A shocker. I am sure Jones will have an excuse ready and maybe it'll even be legit. If he attempts to set up another try, the interested parties list will be even smaller. Hat tip to @brian_mcintyre for the link.
UPDATE, 5:53 p.m.: Now, according to my collegue Kevin Seifert, Jones is working out. I cannot believe that something involving Jones and his people would involve such confusion.
Posted by ESPN.com’s James Walker
The start to the 2009 season has a different feel for Baltimore Ravens receiver Kelley Washington.
|AP Photo/Elise Amendola|
|Kelley Washington hopes to show the Cincinnati Bengals what they're missing out on.|
This game is personal for Washington.
From 2003 to 2006, Washington played behind receivers Chad Ochocinco, T.J. Houshmandzadeh and later Chris Henry in Cincinnati and felt he was lost in the mix. Now thriving in Baltimore, Washington wants to show his former team what its missing.
"I definitely want to show them what I’m about," Washington told ESPN.com Thursday. "I know they know it. But I definitely want to put a beating on the defensive backs and show the coaches there, the owners and all the personnel people what I’m about."
Washington has been one of the top success stories in the AFC North this season. He accepted an invitation from Baltimore on a tryout basis in the spring and beat out receivers such as Jerry Porter and Tab Perry.
A strong training camp and preseason helped Washington get early opportunities in the offense and he hasn’t slowed down since. He is second on the Ravens with 16 catches for 198 yards and has quickly developed the trust of second-year quarterback Joe Flacco.
Washington said former teammate Randy Moss taught him a lot while the two were with the New England Patriots. Washington watched how Moss operated when he first arrived in New England and quickly forged a dominant duo with Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.
"[Moss] just constantly talked to [Brady] on what he likes and what he expects," Washington said. "That’s what I’m doing with Joe."
The results are showing on the field as Washington has become Flacco’s third-down specialist.
Washington also is known for his dancing. His moves have excited crowds in all three stops in Baltimore, Cincinnati and New England. (We recommend checking out "The Squirrel" from Washington on YouTube.)
Ochocinco also is known for his celebrations and says he has something special planned Sunday. So there could be an entertaining competition within the game between two former teammates.
But who’s the better dancer?
"I know he knows deep down who the better dancer is," Washington said of Ochocinco. "He might have a little bit more things up his sleeve. But as far as quality of a dancer, he knows who’s better."
Only one player will be dancing in first place after Sunday's game.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Questions, answers and observations as the 49ers prepare for their 2009 regular-season opener without first-round draft choice Michael Crabtree:
2. What is the holdup? It's impossible to know without trusting sources with a vested interest in how the arguments are framed. The cliché says the devil is in the details, and that is probably the case here. High-stakes negotiations for drafted rookies are about identifying which incentive terms will allow the player to maximize total value. What if Crabtree fears he could not hit those incentives in the 49ers' conservative offense? More on that in a bit.
3. Does Crabtree want to play for the 49ers? I'm starting to have doubts. The other first-round picks in this division had a hard time missing training camp practices, let alone exhibition games or the regular season. Beanie Wells traveled overnight to reach Cardinals camp without missing any more practices than necessary. Aaron Curry told reporters he had reached a breaking point after missing one week of camp. Crabtree? Not so much.
4. Why wouldn't Crabtree want to play for the 49ers? Perhaps he's been listening to Mike Singletary and Jimmy Raye talking about how they want to run the ball 60 percent of the time, more than any NFL offense ran the ball last season. The way quarterbacks Shaun Hill and Alex Smith performed during the exhibition season probably didn't help. And if you look at Raye's history as a coordinator -- see the chart below -- he's clearly serious about running the football.
The reception leaders in Raye-coordinated offenses averaged 55 catches per season, with only two receivers reaching 65 receptions in 12 seasons. Those same 12 offenses produced 2,105- and 1,808-yard rushing seasons for Eric Dickerson, a 1,432-yard season for Stephen Davis, a 1,300-yard season for James Wilder and a 1,025-yard season for LaMont Jordan.
5. Will the 49ers cave? I do not think so. Crabtree was a value pick, not a need pick. The 49ers knew they wanted to be a power running team. They weren't going to build the offense around a rookie receiver who missed minicamps while rehabbing a foot injury. More broadly, the 49ers and the rest of the NFL have too much at stake to be perceived as altering the informal slotting system teams use to determine value for draft choices.
6. Who is advising Crabtree? Eugene Parker is the agent of record. We also should not underestimate Deion Sanders' sway as a mentor and opinionated adviser. Sanders suggested on NFL Network that other teams would be willing to acquire Crabtree from the 49ers and meet his contract demands. Sounds to me as though Crabtree would welcome a trade. Sanders is 42 years old, hardened by the league and bottom-line oriented in his assessments. I think he could influence Crabtree's thinking.
7. Is a trade likely? The likelihood increases if Crabtree stays away through the season. The 49ers cannot appear to be acquiescing, but they also need to get value in the end. If the 49ers enjoy a season and Crabtree stays away, a trade becomes more palatable.
8. Who has more at stake? Crabtree. The 49ers do not need a rookie receiver to accomplish what Singletary has set out to accomplish. Crabtree needs the 49ers to get what he wants in the short term. And if he does sit out the season with an eye toward re-entering a future draft, he will have lost money in the short term while possibly alienating other teams. There's no guarantee another team would draft him high enough to offset the compensation Crabtree would have bypassed in the interim.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- With so much roster turnover, Troy Williamson qualifies as a survivor. Thirty-two of the 80 players under contract are in their first year with the Jaguars.
|AP Photo/Phil Coale|
|Troy Williamson might be a long shot to make the Jaguars' final roster.|
The speedster can be tantalizing -- he can give the Jags what everyone wants, a blazer on the outside that will stretch a defense.
Yet here he is, heading into his fifth year, and he's not put together any consistent stretches of play. He managed only eight games and five catches in his first year with the Jaguars.
"Soft tissue" issues held him back and coach Jack Del Rio and GM Gene Smith both said they think those are less of an issue going forward.
"He's shown the ability to be a vertical receiver, a down the field threat," Smith said. "He's still a relatively young player in the NFL. When he did get the opportunity on special teams, he's shown the ability to cover kicks. If you're a backup receiver trying to get in the game or compete to make the roster, you've got to be able to do more than one thing.
"I think he's shown he's more than a vertical receiver he's still trying to refine his route running as a short and intermediate guy, and he's got some special-teams value to him and he's embraced that role."
Williamson, the seventh overall pick in the 2005 draft by Minnesota, says he's still got his high-end speed. He knows his career clock is now at a point where pateince is thinning and that he's got to prove he has reliable hands.
"That's over for me now, now it's time for work and that's what I feel like I am going to do," he said. "I am a worker. I feel like I will always do that. I feel like this is probably one of the best offseasons I've had since I've been playing football. I feel like I've gotten a lot better. Me and David [Garrard] we've been working out all offseason. We've got a good relationship."
A couple of regular observers of the team don't see the room for Williamson to survive. Tiquan Underwood, the seventh-rounder from Rutgers, is making plays down the field and may be able to fill the same role while providing more upside. Rookie tight end Zach Miller will be split out. Maurice Jones-Drew will line up wide, too. Marcedes Lewis will get chances downfield. There may be no room or snaps for a guy who won't be in the return game mix.
But the company line at this point gives Williamson a chance, and the decision-makers seem to like him.
"I like what he's done so far and we hope he transfers it into the training camp, into the preseason and it enables him to make it a tough decision for us," Smith said. "Do we keep five? Do we keep six? Who are the five? Who are the six?"
Williamson could be left to make the case for keeping six, and six could be a lot on a run-based team.
Here's some interesting info on cap hits and dead money from Football Outsiders. You have to be an Insider to see the whole report. But I got top secret clearance to share a bit.
My thoughts: Having Schaub in that slot is fine, and he's a guy that has to produce for them to succeed. Dead money is an interesting way to judge a team's failures, and Weaver's is a big number when you consider they've also made two sizable investments in their efforts to replace him -- signing free agent Antonio Smith and drafting Connor Barwin.
My thoughts: No surprise with Manning, thought it's hard not to wonder what the Colts might be able to do if they could shrink that number. The Harrison decision was the tough kind where a team chooses to move on, parting ways with a guy who helped get it to new heights but had tailed off. Getting him off the books will pay off starting next year.
The Jaguars' biggest cap number belongs to David Garrard ($9 million, 6.6 percent of the cap) and the most dead money is a three-way tie between Jerry Porter, Drayton Florence and Paul Spicer ($2.5 million each, 1.8 percent of the cap each, 5.4 percent total.)
My thoughts: This is a big prove-it year for Garrard -- he either establishes himself as the guy or the Jaguars are forced to tacitly concede the big contract was a mistake and begin to look for a quarterback. The Porter and Florence hits show the damage bad signings can do, and the Spicer hit is a warning about loyalty to older guys.
My thoughts: Bulluck is in a contract year, but his agent has said he's been fairly paid on this contract and he's right. The dead money figure for Johnson, now with the Colts, is ridiculously low -- accounting for the 84th biggest total on the team right now. (The roster will ultimately only include 53 players.) In previous years, though, this franchise had huge numbers in the dead money column. This is great evidence of lessons learned.
Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
The Baltimore Ravens have had an interesting week, to say the least.
On Monday, one of their most indispensable players -- receiver Derrick Mason -- caught the Ravens by surprise when he announced his retirement. But on Wednesday Baltimore had good news to report by locking up Pro Bowl defensive end/linebacker Terrell Suggs long term.
According to ESPN.com senior writer John Clayton, the deal is for six years and $63 million. Suggs had up until 4 p.m. Wednesday to remove the one-year franchise tender Baltimore previously placed on him this offseason.
It's been a roller-coaster two-year process negotiating with Suggs. Now that it's come to an end, expect the Ravens to immediately shift their focus to the wide receivers in an attempt to fill a huge void Mason left behind.
Here are some intriguing names left on the open market:
Skinny: With 1,102 career receptions, the former Indianapolis Colts star is the best of what's available. The future Hall of Famer's possession skills are somewhat similar to Mason's, but age and health might be issues.
Skinny: The former first-round pick will not face a suspension for his prior run-ins with the law in the past year, the NFL announced in May. But the Ravens are usually careful not to take many chances with character risks and Jones would qualify as one.
Skinny: Burress is a legit No. 1 receiver who also has some character concerns, in addition to a looming trial and uncertain future in the NFL. If the league clears Burress to play at any point this season, there will be several teams jumping at the opportunity to sign him. Would the Ravens?
Skinny: A former teammate of Burress', Toomer is 34 and wouldn't be the answer for the Ravens if they're looking for an immediate No. 1 receiver. But Toomer caught 48 passes last season for 580 yards and might be able to add experience in a support role for a young group of receivers in Baltimore.
Skinny: Despite prior flashes, Lelie never lived up to his potential. His best season was in 2004 when he caught 54 passes for 1,084 yards, averaging a whopping 20.1 yards per catch. Since then it's been all downhill. But Lelie, who played for the Oakland Raiders in 2008, still has the speed Baltimore covets.
Skinny: Porter was invited to Ravens minicamp in the spring and didn't show much. Eventually, he was beat out by Kelley Washington for a roster spot. Word around the league is that Porter's work ethic is no longer NFL caliber. But perhaps Porter is in better shape to help a team closer to training camp than he was in the spring.
|Steve Mitchell/US Presswire|
|Dennis Northcutt appears to be the latest veteran on the way out in Jacksonville.|
This suggests that after getting some time with Torry Holt and assessing Mike Walker and the three receivers the team drafted, the Jaguars are perfectly comfortable moving forward without players who accounted for 44 percent of their receptions last year.
Northcutt was the team's best receiver at the end of last season. With Matt Jones (since cut) suspended, Northcutt caught five balls for 127 yards and a touchdown in a win over Green Bay on Dec. 14 and eight catches for 101 yards and a touchdown in a Dec. 18 loss to Indianapolis.
But a team that's already let Jones go and showed no interest in retaining free agent Reggie Williams is looking to continue housecleaning.
Under first-year GM Gene Smith, they've cut running back Fred Taylor, Jones, defensive end Paul Spicer, cornerback Drayton Florence, receiver Jerry Porter, tight end George Wrighster and backup quarterback Cleo Lemon. The team didn't attempt to re-sign free agents Williams, safety Gerald Sensabaugh and tackle Khalif Barnes. They also traded defensive tackle Tony McDaniel.
Moving Northcutt would be yet another step in the housecleaning.
They're clearly ready to get Walker on the field with Holt and allow fourth-rounder Mike Thomas, fifth-rounder Jarett Dillard and seventh-rounder Tiquan Underwood to battle it out for the third spot and fill out the depth.
Northcutt, 31, is a savvy player who can still help someone. But revealing they are looking to trade him could prompt an interested team to wait and see if he isn't ultimately released.
|Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images|
|Torry Holt is drawing rave reviews from those in the Jacksonville organization.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
Defenses may be able to contain Torry Holt better than they used to.
A 160-character limit on a text message, however, cannot box him in.
"We had a little string a couple weeks ago," Jacksonville offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter said. "He sent me a text and I sent him a text back. [Then] it took seven texts for one response to a question I asked him in response to one of his texts. So, he's into it. Torry is all about ball."
Is Holt poised to be a hero or a savior? Probably not. Does the Jaguars' new veteran receiver bring the team its best receiver resume since Jimmy Smith, and bring the potential for production from the position the team has craved for years? Absolutely.
The seven-time Pro Bowler, who was an instrumental piece of "The Greatest Show on Turf," was let go by the rebuilding Rams. But his 64 catches, 796 yards, 12.4-yard average and three touchdowns last season hardly amounted to a bad stat line -- certainly not in Jacksonville. Jones had 65 catches in a season cut short by a suspension; Holt's numbers would have led the Jags in the other three departments.
|Cary Edmondson/US Presswire|
|In 2008, Torry Holt was held to less than 800 receiving yards for the first time since 1999.|
Here are three assessments from those who are now working with him:
Koetter: "A proven entity and a veteran presence. In everything that I've seen, he's the consummate pro. ... Someone said, and I think they were right, 'This guy's got to be the quietest seven-time Pro Bowler that's ever existed.' Just look at the numbers. I think it's eight years over 80 catches and 1,000 yards. We haven't had a guy like that, and that's no knock on anybody, that's just fact. ... We have young guys who can soak up his experience. When you just watch Torry as a route-runner, whether the word is crafty or experienced, Torry knows all the little tricks to get himself open and he's got really good hands on top of that."
GM Gene Smith: "He's come in and given us tremendous veteran presence. He's like a player-coach. He's constantly talking to the other players at his position. He has a strong passion for football and so he's probably not the elite guy he once was in terms of earning his opportunity to go to seven Pro Bowls, but he's certainly got the ability to play at a winning level. We felt like adding him to our group not just as a player but as a person, he'd certainly be an asset. So far, so good."
Quarterback David Garrard: "Just his mind is amazing. Listening to a guy that's been around and been doing the right thing for a long time is a breath of fresh air, really."
And one thought from an outsider whose team will play Holt twice:
Colts president Bill Polian: "I think he's got some good football left and he's a very reliable target for David Garrard. That's a good thing. It helps Garrard."
|Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images|
|Quarterback David Garrard slimmed down for this season and the Jaguars hope the rest of the offense sees similar improvements.|
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Having lost 15-20 pounds, David Garrard gets a constant reminder that his diet worked.
"Button downs, suits, jeans, everything is too big," he said Monday after the Jaguars held an OTA practice.
Garrard held nothing back when he talked of the wardrobe alterations he needs.
"Even my drawers, but I'll just buy new ones of those," said Garrard, sporting about 225 pounds on his 6-foot-1-inch frame. "It's time to get more of my stuff done, because I've had very little to wear."
So, about 30 pieces of clothes are in the back of his black Mercedes Benz S Class, ready for a stop at Garrard's tailor.
Jacksonville's general manager Gene Smith and coach Jack Del Rio have been doing some tailoring of their own: Their major offseason moves have been intended to reshape the roster and place Garrard in more optimal situations.
Three new tackles -- veteran Tra Thomas and draft picks Eugene Monroe and Eben Britton -- are here to help protect Garrard and make the running game more effective. Four new receivers -- veteran Torry Holt and draft picks Mike Thomas, Jarrett Dillard and Tiquan Underwood -- were brought into to improve the arsenal.
Since he was elevated to be the team's starting quarterback just before the 2007 season, Garrard's been good (102.2 passer rating in 2007 with 15 more touchdowns than picks) and not-so-good (81.7 passer rating in 2008 with two more touchdowns than picks).
The Jaguars endured an injury-plagued 2008 season. They saw their locker room come apart during a 5-11 campaign that started with legitimate Super Bowl hopes. Garrard's third season as the starting quarterback will go a long way to telling his story, he understands.
Is he a quality, dependable NFL quarterback? Or is the eighth-year veteran a question mark?
"People that doubt Dave just have to look at 2007 film," offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter said. "I mean Dave can do it. We've got to help him, we've got to play better around him. He is a good distributor of the ball, he's good at what people want to call being a game-manager. But Dave can win the game for you too. Dave can make all the throws, he's mobile, he can beat you running. We've got to give him some help and he's got to do his part, which he will."
Having watched the roster reshaping and gained endurance and a quicker first step with the slim-down, Garrard's in a happy place.
"I feel real good right now," Garrard said. "I feel like I can sleep at night."
His job going forward is a simple one, he said: Limit turnovers while getting the ball into the hands of his playmakers, starting with running back Maurice Jones-Drew and including Holt, those rookie receivers and the holdovers like receiver Mike Walker and tight end Marcedes Lewis.
Critics point to two weaknesses in Garrard's game. He doesn't always seem thorough in scanning the field ticking through progressions and, while he's accurate short and intermediate, his deep stuff hasn't been great.
Koetter said the deep-ball question depends on how you define deep. While Garrard might not be the best throwing the ball over the top, he's excellent in another down-the-field department.
"What we call seam throws, throwing the ball in a seam somewhere in an 18- to 25-yard box where you've got to fit it between the linebackers and a safety or in a hole between the safety and the corner, Dave throws those as good as anybody out there," Koetter said. "Throw-it-on-a-line-posts, drive it in there, he throws great and those are really harder throws. He just hasn't had very many chances to throw the big air-it-out over the top throw. He could do better throwing those, but we haven&#
39;t given him very many chances."
Garrard said he needs to trust that his guys will go up and make a play for him and not be reluctant to take shots, and promises he will do both with the new crew. He said he feels confident he'll connect or be returning to the huddle after an incompletion, not heading to the sideline after a turnover.
Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
The veteran tryout the Baltimore Ravens were most impressed by turned out to be receiver Kelley Washington. The former Cincinnati Bengal and New England Patriot agreed to a one-year deal with Baltimore Wednesday afternoon, according to ESPN.com's Len Pasquarelli.
Washington could play a bigger role than expected in training camp. Top receiver Derrick Mason could be out until September following major shoulder surgery, which should provide Washington more opportunities for playing time in the preseason. Washington also is solid on special teams and could help Baltimore in that area.
Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
Here are the most interesting stories Wednesday in the AFC North:
- According to Joe Reedy of the Cincinnati Enquirer, Bengals rookie tackle and No. 6 overall pick Andre Smith could be having agent issues again.
Morning take: If there is one high-profile rookie who doesn't need any more bad publicity this offseason, it's Smith. This is baffling if reports turn out to be correct.
- Aaron Wilson of the Carroll County Times reports the Baltimore Ravens have reached out to tryout receiver Kelley Washington.
Morning take: In last week's minicamp, Washington clearly outperformed Jerry Porter and Tab Perry in an effort to earn a contract. Porter had the big name, but Washington made most of the plays.
- Zac Jackson of Clevelandbrowns.com provides an early preview of the Browns' Sept. 13 season opener against the Minnesota Vikings.
Morning take: Fill in the blank: Vikings tailback Adrian Peterson rushes for ____ yards in Week 1.
- According to Jamie Gumbrecht of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin will be inducted into the Boys and Girls Club Hall of Fame.
Morning take: Tomlin, who will not attend the ceremony, joins an interesting and star-studded class that includes Usher and Ashanti from the world of music.
Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
Here are the most interesting stories Friday in the AFC North:
- The Pittsburgh Steelers visited Thursday with former Oakland Raiders and Minnesota Vikings linebacker Napoleon Harris.
Morning take: This visit with Harris makes sense because inside linebacker depth behind starter Lawrence Timmons is thin with the departure of Larry Foote.
- In his first news conference with the Cincinnati Bengals, safety Roy Williams is out to prove critics wrong.
Morning take: I'm interested to see if Williams, a career starter, will play a backup/specialty role in Cincinnati, or if the Bengals expect the former Pro Bowler to be an every-down player.
- Are the Cleveland Browns building a winner this year or rebuilding for the future?
Morning take: Good question. The Browns have little chance of winning the AFC North this year, so in that way they are rebuilding. But an easier schedule should help them win more games than last season.
- Here is the early line on the Baltimore Ravens' tryout of four veteran receivers.
Morning take: Jerry Porter is the favorite according to the story, despite flaming out with the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2008.
Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
Here are the most interesting stories Thursday in the AFC North:
- The Baltimore Ravens are trying out four receivers this weekend: Jerry Porter, Kelly Washington, Tab Perry and D.J. Hackett.
Morning take: After passing over receivers completely in this year's draft, the team should be able to find some veteran help in this group. It will be interesting to see which receiver has the best minicamp.
- The Cincinnati Bengals signed former Pro Bowl safety Roy Williams.
Morning take: Williams reunites with defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer in Cincinnati. Once one of the league's better safeties, the Bengals are hoping he has more left in the tank.
- The Cleveland Browns promoted George McDonald from quality control coach to the team's receiver coach.
Morning take: I thought it was a little strange that Cleveland would go this far into the offseason without a position coach. I guess it's a moot point now.
- Here is a breakdown of Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison's monster six-year contract.
Morning take: This looks more like a three- or four-year deal for Harrison. He gets most of his bonus money up front, which makes him happy. But the salaries are back loaded, which gives the team flexibility if he's no longer productive in the latter years.
|Courtesy of the Jacksonville Jaguars/Icon SMI|
|Jaguars GM Gene Smith and coach Jack Del Rio are placing a larger emphasize on building team chemistry and this season.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
To any Jacksonville Jaguar who might have been a bit reserved in 2008, who deferred to leaders like Fred Taylor and Mike Peterson, who thought it better to fit in and follow than to try to help set a tone, general manager Gene Smith and coach Jack Del Rio have a message:
"When you look at things with a league with great parity, I do think team chemistry is a direct factor, a big reason why some teams win at a higher level than other teams," Smith said. "I am a firm believer, and I say this all the time, that good players that play great together win championships.
"In order to play together you've got to have people that are unselfish, that are very disciplined, that put team first and where you have great peer leadership. That's where you develop that core team chemistry that enables you to succeed at a higher level."
Smith has been with the organization since 1994 and was elevated to GM after the 2008 season, taking over for vice president of player personnel James "Shack" Harris, who had resigned. With the new post came more power than Harris had -- Smith has control of all personnel decisions. As the Jaguars headed into the 2009 season and Smith sorted through the roster he inherited, the team appeared to believe in addition by subtraction:
- It let several free agents go without any effort to retain them: Peterson, a linebacker, landed in Atlanta; safety Gerald Sensabaugh in Dallas; left tackle Khalif Barnes in Oakland and Pierson Prioleau in New Orleans. Receiver Reggie Williams is unsigned.
- It dumped players considered to be mistakes who didn't produce or got in trouble: Receivers Jerry Porter and Matt Jones and cornerback Drayton Florence.
- It parted ways with some older guys who were looked to as leaders and spokesmen: Taylor (now a Patriots running back) and defensive end Paul Spicer (now with the Saints).
|Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images|
|Mike Peterson is gone from Jacksonville after clashing with coach Jack Del Rio last season.|
Peterson's relationship with Del Rio soured and came to a head after a well-publicized incident last year in which Peterson chafed over criticism from his coach. It was not a good development in a locker room that was already decimated by injuries, filled with underperformers and fracturing because of how some guys who'd been paid (like Porter and Florence) or wanted to be paid (like Peterson and Williams) were acting or being treated.
"The leaders, the veterans of the team, the true guys that were part of the team last year and will be part of the team going forward, all came and said, 'Coach, you did the right thing,'" Del Rio said of the Peterson developments. "That was important. It was something that needed to be done.
"Again, that's a situation where a guy was putting selfish interests ahead of the team, and then bucked up when challenged about it. It's been portrayed a certain way, and that's OK, because I'm not really concerned with it. But I know, and everybody that was a part of that understands that there's a way to do it that's right and there's a way to do it that's wrong, and there's going to be accountability in our organization."
How did a team that had great chemistry and success in 2007 lose so much of it in a year's time?
This was a big part of Del Rio's explanation at the owners' meetings:
"The thing that stood out in my mind was that we did pay a couple of guys a lot and elected not to -- for whatever reasons internally, and I'm not saying I didn't support it -- but when you don't pay a handful of guys whose contracts are expiring, and you are paying a couple that come in and don't prove to be the right kind of guys, it disrupts things. I think that was part of it."
That shouldn't be an issue going forward.
After conceding mistakes with Porter and Florence, the Jaguars have sworn off high-priced free agents. The two outsiders brought in -- tackle Tra Thomas and safety Sean Considine -- were inexpensive. The free agents they've re-signed were role players who didn't get much, either -- veteran center Brad Meester and special-teamers and backups Montell Owens, Brian Iwuh and Scott Starks.
|Steve Mitchell/US Presswire|
|Maurice Jones-Drew will be expected to take on a larger leadership role this season.|
The one guy who's in line for a pricey extension, running back Maurice Jones-Drew, might be the team's most important player. It would be hard for anyone to grumble legitimately if MJD gets his new deal.
With or without a new package, Jones-Drew will be looked to by the post-Taylor Jags to lead more.
"Certainly, Maurice Drew is one of the electrifying guys in the league," Del Rio said. "We're going to get him more opportunities. I think yo
u'll see some of his leadership skills emerge with the void created. He never really wanted to step on Fred's toes. And I think now that Fred's not there, it's going to open up the door for Maurice to be more assertive."
He and the rest of the Jaguars' vets will be joined by Smith's first draft class -- currently nine picks deep. Smith has said he plans to build through the draft, and that he plans to place a premium on character in his selections.
"We want to add good teammates to this football team," he said.
Del Rio emphasized that the franchise hardly feels the cupboard is bare. Smith pointed to players he expects to take on larger leadership roles in the new environment.
"We have a good core of what I would call emerging leaders, we have some young ascending players from Rashean Mathis, Daryl Smith, David Garrard, Marcedes Lewis, Brad Meester, Greg Jones, Maurice Jones-Drew. We go down the list, we have a number of players.
"Montell Owens is an outstanding leader on special teams. We have a good core and we have other guys that are emerging as well. As you build a team chemistry and you get people believing in 'we,' you have a chance to compete at a high level."
It's an age-old debate: Does chemistry beget winning or does winning beget chemistry?
Del Rio said he played on teams that had great chemistry but didn't win, that the 1989 Dallas Cowboys developed respect for each other even as they finished 1-15. The Cowboys of the early 90s, the Ravens of 2000 (for whom he was an assistant coach) and the 2007 Jaguars all had great chemistry, he said.
"It was as unselfish, team-first, egos-really-checked-at-the-door as it could be," Del Rio said of his group two years ago. "The same combination of guys for the most part kind of soured the following year. As coaches, we'd like to get our hands on it, whatever that magic formula is, and sprinkle it on all of our players. But it doesn't work that way. You have to work at it ....
"It's not automatic. I think there's a common respect needed. Last year -- again, I hate to continue to go back talking about it -- but one of the things that was clear early on was that this time of year we had a lot of talk about, 'Boy, my contract's not getting done, I need this.' There was a lot of 'I, I, I' and not enough 'We, We, We.' So we just need to get back to that commitment of doing things for the good of the team, and putting team first. That's going to be an emphasis."
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