NFL Nation: Michael Lombardi
Tuesday's events in Cleveland stunned observers around the NFL, but nowhere more than in Philadelphia. The Browns’ recent history has been strangely tied up with that of the Eagles, a phenomenon that continued with the announcement that Ray Farmer would be the Browns' new general manager.
Farmer was the Eagles’ fourth-round pick out of Duke in 1996. He played linebacker and special teams for three years. Farmer’s last season in the NFL was in 1998.
In 1998, Joe Banner was the Eagles’ executive vice president and Michael Lombardi was their director of pro personnel.
Small league, huh?
Farmer’s promotion was not the big shock Tuesday, of course. He has been on the cusp of a general manager’s job for several years after working his way through the scouting and personnel ranks. Farmer interviewed for the Miami Dolphins GM job last month.
The stunning news was the ouster of Banner, who spent 18 years as the Eagles’ top executive, and Lombardi. Their bizarrely brief tenure was also entwined with goings-on in Philadelphia.
Banner left the Eagles in June 2012 and was named CEO of the Browns as they were being purchased by Jimmy Haslam. The head coach he inherited was Pat Shurmur, a longtime Eagles assistant under Andy Reid. Banner hired Lombardi as his GM and the two fired Shurmur at the end of the 2012 season.
Shurmur is now the Eagles’ offensive coordinator.
Banner and Lombardi interviewed a number of head coaching candidates, foremost among them Oregon head coach Chip Kelly. We know how that turned out. Kelly came to Philadelphia and the Browns hired Rob Chudzinski.
Kelly won the NFC East in his first season. Chudzinski won four games.
Still, it was puzzling, from this perspective, when the Browns fired Chudzinski after just one season. In 18 years with the Eagles, Banner worked with three head coaches -- Rich Kotite, Ray Rhodes and Reid. Mike Pettine, hired late last month, became his third head coach in less than two years in Cleveland.
And now Banner and Lombardi are out, Farmer is in and Pettine (a native of Bucks County in suburban Philadelphia) is working for a guy who didn’t hire him.
The Philadelphia connection to Cleveland remains strong, although Eagles fans probably wouldn’t trade places with their Browns counterparts right about now.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham
Former NFL executive Michael Lombardi knows about tampering. He has done it. He admits it.
Lombardi, appearing on Wednesday night's episode of Showtime's "Inside the NFL," shared his thoughts about tampering charges the San Francisco 49ers filed against the New York Jets over unsigned rookie receiver Michael Crabtree.
The 49ers have accused the Jets of interfering with their efforts to sign the No. 10 overall draft pick by communicating with his agent, Eugene Parker.
"We know the Jets are no strangers to tampering charges," said Lombardi, a former personnel chief with the Oakland Raiders and Cleveland Browns. "They go back a long way with Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick. They have seen this before."
Parker also represented former Jets running back Curtis Martin, who defected from the New England Patriots in 1998. Parker worked closely with Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum to draw up a contract the Patriots couldn't match. Tannenbaum was director of player contracts at the time. Parcells was head coach.
"There is lineage between the Jets and Parker," Lombardi said. "Now [the 49ers] have charged him.
"One thing we do know is the 49ers have been convicted, if you will, of tampering with Lance Briggs, the Chicago Bears linebacker, when he was a free agent [in 2008]. They were convicted of that charge and had to pay a penalty. So they understand what it takes to prove a tampering charge.
"Now, the league said in a memo in May of 2008 if you file a claim against a team and it turns out to be frivolous, you are at risk."
But Lombardi explained that tampering is more common than you might think and often goes unpunished.
"It’s very difficult to prove," he said. "Trust me, I’ve been a tamperer. I’ve been in the NFL for over 20 years, so I have tampered my fair share of times. It’s hard to prove.
"But I will say this: They have to have specific evidence. If they do, they can convict the Jets. If they don’t, they are in jeopardy."
|Running backs Chris Johnson and Steve Slaton combined to rush for 2,510 yards in their rookie seasons.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
Many of those looking to punch holes in the Titans' 2009 possibilities are pointing to a prediction that mystifies me: a sophomore slump for Chris Johnson.
Let's look at Steve Slaton in the same way here, too, as he'll probably need to match or surpass what he did in 2008 for the Texans to make a playoff push in 2009.
Sophomore slumps are a foreign concept to me as they pertain to the NFL. People are going to "figure out" young, fast running backs and slow them in ways they could not the year before?
I wanted to make sure I was not out on a limb here, so I threw this idea to National Football Post's Michael Lombardi, the former Oakland, Cleveland and San Francisco executive.
"I've never heard that," he said. "I've never seen a back make a mark and fall apart, barring injury. The top guys have a four to six year lifespan. I think Johnson will have a great year. I think they will both have good years. They'll know the systems even better."
As for the idea that the two backs will get figured out, Lombardi said if it could have been done, it would have been done already.
"It's like with a basketball player, if he can't go to his left hand, it doesn't take six years to figure it out," he said. "When there is enough tape, you know what to do to handle the guy, and they didn't handle the guy. Chris Johnson was on his way to controlling the [playoff] game. If he doesn't get hurt, Baltimore's not in the championship game and that's at the end of the year and Rex Ryan is a pretty good coach."
Coaches regularly talk about the biggest jump for players coming between their first and second seasons. That's the expectation for linemen, linebackers, skill position guys, everyone. And it's the course the majority of successful players in the league follow.
Johnson's been a bit noisy this offseason with his talk of breaking off from "Smash and Dash," nicknaming himself "Every Coach's Dream" and his regular tweets. Slaton's been a lot quieter.
All indications are both players have had no physical issues, which is the one thing that can throw the typical process off. Johnson recovered from the ankle injury he suffered in the Titans' playoff loss on a standard timetable.
One or both could have bad second seasons, but they won't be part of any big trend of backs slumping in their sophomore years.
Chris Fallica of ESPN Stats & Information put together this chart for me, combining rushing and receiving numbers where he thought appropriate.
Going back to 2003, at least as many notable backs made gains in production in Year 2 as suffered big drop-offs.
That doesn't guarantee anything for Johnson or Slaton, good or bad. Maybe one or both follows the course of Maurice Jones-Drew, a great back whose numbers dipped some in his second season, instead of Joseph Addai, who made a slight gain in yards and a big gain in scoring in his second year.
Do you have a gut feeling that Johnson or Slaton will not match his rookie performance? Dandy.
Let's just not pretend we've watched prominent backs in large numbers get "figured out" and suffer production plummets their second time around.
One last note connected to my chat with Lombardi: Be wary of labeling Johnson and Slaton as strictly speedsters.
What people tend not to realize, Lombardi reminded, "is you gener
ate power from your speed."
There seem to be two schools of thought on where Michael Vick is best suited to land.
1) A team with a strong head coach and starting quarterback. Vick can rehabilitate his game in some sort of limited role in a very structured environment where he knows he won't have a shot to be a starter anytime soon.
2) A team with a coach on the hot seat and a less-than-certain starting quarterback. Vick would have the best possible chance to get into action as a team shoots for a winning formula and media attention that might help preserve the regime.
I don't have a strong feeling on which is the right way -- I'd like to actually see an interview with Vick to get a better sense of where he is right now.
But I can look at the possibilities, or lack thereof, for him in the AFC South.
The Colts and Titans qualify as teams in the first category, but I cannot see either team being interested in Vick.
Indy's been content with an insecure backup situation because of how sturdy Peyton Manning has been. And why would you take him off the field in any situation for some sort of gimmicky adaptation of the Wildcat? (Sidenote: If Vick's a quarterback, and someone uses him as a special piece for a Wildcat set, it's not really the Wildcat. The Wildcat features a non-quarterback in the shotgun, no?)
The Titans already have a complicated backup quarterback they are trying to figure out in Vince Young.
The Texans, to me, don't fit either category. They are hoping this is the year when Gary Kubiak takes Matt Schaub to new heights. They've got what they consider good options behind Schaub with Dan Orlovsky (in whom they have made a significant investment) and Rex Grossman.
The Jaguars, obviously, qualify in category No. 2, with Jack Del Rio trying to recover from 5-11, David Garrard trying to prove he's worth his contract and Todd Bouman in line as the backup. (Mike Lombardi puts Jacksonville as his No. 1 candidate in a "Makes Too Much Sense" category.)
I understand Lombardi's reasoning.
But the Jaguars have spent the offseason purging themselves of a lot of guys they considered having character issues or being less-than-solid locker room guys: Jerry Porter, Reggie Williams, Matt Jones, Gerald Sensabaugh and Khalif Barnes among them.
Yes, Vick has paid his penalty and perhaps he won't qualify as a character problem anymore. I'm not saying he should be grouped with Porter or anyone else. With such an emphasis on character, however, the Jaguars would really be going against the grain to bring in Vick.
That's why I don't see it happening. GM Gene Smith is a steady guy who has repeatedly talked about character and foundation in the first half-year of his tenure. Adding Vick would do too much to counter the themes Smith has entrenched into his team's thinking.
|Jim Rogash/Getty Images|
|The Patriots showed faith in unproven Kevin O'Connell, left, by not pursuing a veteran to be No. 2 behind quarterback Tom Brady.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham
Matt Cassel had 39 attempts over his first three seasons before he assumed control of the offense and helped the Patriots win 11 games.
The folks at CareerBuilder.com recently posted a list of the top jobs that don't require experience. Cruiseline worker, English-as-second-language instructor, medical transcriber ... they forgot Patriots quarterback. I would have slotted that gig at No. 10, just ahead of movie extra.
What's cool about being Patriots quarterback is that you can start off as background filler and turn into the leading man.
If Brady's reconstructed left knee doesn't hold up as Patriot Nation prays it will, then sophomore Kevin O'Connell apparently is next in line. The Patriots have chosen not to reinforce their depth chart with veteran support after trading Cassel to the Kansas City Chiefs.
How risky is that?
Fan logic dictates if an unheralded Brady (sixth-round draft pick) can come off the bench to be a superstar, and an unknown Cassel (seventh-round draft pick) can come off the bench to get within a tiebreaker of the AFC East crown, then O'Connell (third-round draft pick) can come off the bench and run the show, too.
"It's the relative unknown that scares the living hell out of you," former Patriots quarterback Scott Zolak said. "Brett Favre might have had it four or five years ago, where all hopes rest on one guy. Now, maybe you're down to two: Peyton Manning and Tom Brady.
|Scott Boehm/Getty Images|
|The Patriots' current No. 3 quarterback is Matt Gutierrez, who didn't even make the team following last year's training camp.|
"Your season hinges on that one guy. You hold your breath again because you don't know."
Brady's backups are O'Connell, who threw six passes as a rookie last year, and Matt Gutierrez, who was undrafted in 2007, has thrown one NFL pass and didn't make the team out of training camp last year. The Patriots signed rookie free agent Brian Hoyer two weeks ago.
"Ultimately, I don't think they've reached a conclusion," said former NFL executive Michael Lombardi, who writes for the National Football Post. "They haven't had a preseason to really evaluate their quarterbacks and this is the time, May and June, to see where they need to go.
"The course right now is to develop O'Connell and see where they are in the preseason and then make adjustments."
New England can't expect to keep inserting neophyte quarterbacks into the lineup and get away with it.
"I don't think that can be a recipe you can count on," Scouts Inc. analyst Matt Williamson said. "I do think there's some risk. It would be nice to have a veteran in the fold, but they know what they're doing."
Zolak doesn't see the need for veteran help.
"Last year at this time, I would have thought a veteran would be the way to go," Zolak said. "They've gone that veteran route with Vinny Testaverde and Doug Flutie, but they've never needed to use that guy.
"They went the in-house route with Cassel, developed the guy for four years and that's the route that worked when it was tested."
Zolak and Wlliamson are fans of O'Connell's.
As a sportscaster for "Patriots All-Access," a television show produced by the club, Zolak has seen the 6-foot-5 San Diego State product more than the average reporter.
"Usually, when you see these guys you think Scott Mitchell, and he doesn't move that well," Zolak said. "But the kid has a smoothness to him and is very fluid for his size. He went to his legs a lot his senior year and picked up a lot of yards on the ground."
Said Williamson: "He has all the tools to work with. He's smart. He's big. He's got a nice arm. He moves around real well."
|Stan Liu/Icon SMI|
|As a senior at San Diego State, Kevin O'Connell rushed for 408 yards and a school-record 11 touchdowns on the ground.|
The Patriots have made enough brilliant personnel moves since Bill Belichick took over in 2000 to earn their fans' trust. The staff has monitored O'Connell for a year. If the coaches are confident he can handle the No. 2 role, then many figure that should be enough.
While the Patriots' front office has rightly been praised for unearthing Brady and Cassel in the late rounds, not all of their quarterbacks have panned out. Lest we forget, they also drafted Rohan Davey and Kliff Kingsbury.
The Patriots also must overcome the departure of offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, the man who called the plays and molded Cassel into an NFL commodity even though Cassel hadn'
t started a game since high school.
"As long as you have Wes Welker, as long as you have Randy Moss ... they have some weapons," Zolak said. "With Fred Taylor and Kevin Faulk on third down, I don't care who the quarterback coach is. It's hard not to be successful with the type of players they have."
The last time Patriot Nation gave their backup quarterback a second thought was back in the Zolak and Hugh Millen days.
Ever since the Patriots selected Drew Bledsoe with the first pick of the 1993 draft, they have gone into the season without worry about their quarterback's health.
From 1993 through 2000, Bledsoe came off the field enough for his backups to average 39 mop-up attempts per season.
Bledsoe was Gibraltar in the huddle. Nobody bothered to think about his backup beyond the possibility he someday might development into Bledsoe's heir -- when Bledsoe was good and ready to abdicate. Alas, we all know that internal bleeding isn't something you can walk off.
Brady entered Game 2 of the 2001 season and remained the starter for the next 128 games, including 17 in the playoffs, until he crumpled to the turf in last year's season opener. A mangled left knee sidelined him for the rest of the year.
So, for the first time in a decade and a half, the Patriots enter training camp hopeful their quarterback will hold up.
A rebuilt knee -- one that was beset by infections early in the healing process -- offers no guarantees. The only optimism emanates from the aura of the quarterback's credentials. He has won championships, married a supermodel, almost helped Ecuador land the 2010 Winter Olympics, scored 42 points to help the Washington Generals beat the Harlem Globetrotters and almost single-handedly brought back the 8-track.
"I think it's a fluke thing with Brady," Zolak said. "I've talked with enough people who think it's almost like his rookie year again. The kid's hungry again and he's back to the old work ethic he had. That's not to say he has a bad one, but let's face it: The guy has a lot of priorities, and his life has changed since he's won three rings. But he's up and going at full go.
"Tom will be back. As good as Manning was, questions with his knee last year, he didn't really get going until about Week 5, and the guy ended up getting NFL MVP. Donovan McNabb came back from it. So it can be done."
But what if his knee doesn't hold up? As much as he's treated like a god, he is human.
"And if something happens to him, they'll go with one of the in-house guys," Zolak said. "They like the guys they have."
The 34th overall selection in this year's draft sure sounds like a bargain for the Kansas City Chiefs. That's all they gave the New England Patriots to obtain quarterback Matt Cassel and linebacker Mike Vrabel.
Sound a little cheap to you?
About seven weeks ago, I explored Cassel's trade value with a pair of analysts who've been around the NFL block a time or two.
Floyd Reese was one of them. The former Tennessee Titans general manager was working for ESPN at the time.
Now he's senior football adviser with the Patriots, coming aboard when Scott Pioli left to accept the Chiefs' GM job.
Here's what Reese said back then: "It would have to be multiple choices and very high choices to get Cassel. Two first-rounders, or a one and a two and a three ... It'll be something very, very expensive."
Cassel hadn't been franchised yet, but it was common knowledge the tag was coming. So the element of unloading $14.65 million in guaranteed money was considered in the responses.
I also spoke with Michael Lombardi of the National Football Post.
Lombardi has a strong relationship with many in Patriots management, including coach Bill Belichick, from their days together with the Cleveland Browns. Lombardi was the first to report the Patriots were going to place the franchise tag on Cassel.
"Whatever the Giants gave up for Eli has to be the market," Lombardi said. "It's got to be a first-rounder, and not the 22nd or 24th pick in the draft. It has to be a substantial one and one that keeps on giving."
|Joel Auerbach/US Presswire|
|Matt Cassel piled up 3,693 passing yards and 21 TDs while filling in for Tom Brady.|
Two former NFL executives project the asking price for the burgeoning franchise quarterback will open with a high first-round draft choice and include some other picks, too.
The Patriots are expected to put the franchise tag on Cassel, but they would trade him once they're certain Tom Brady's surgically repaired left knee is fine because they can't afford to keep them both.
"It would have to be multiple choices and very high choices to get Cassel," ESPN analyst and former Tennessee Titans general manager Floyd Reese said. "Two first-rounders, or a one and a two and a three ... It'll be something very, very expensive."
Michael Lombardi, who last week was the first to report the Patriots would put the franchise tag on Cassel, said the starting price should be the draft choices the San Diego Chargers received for Eli Manning.
"Whatever the Giants gave up for Eli has to be the market," Lombardi said. "It's got to be a first-rounder, and not the 22nd or 24th pick in the draft. It has to be a substantial one and one that keeps on giving."
Lombardi couldn't come up with any corollary trade examples for a quarterback like Cassel.
"All trades have a predetermined value based on past trades," Lombardi said. "But to trade a quarterback as young as Cassel, after watching him do what he did, it doesn't happen."
ESPN's Chris Mortensen confirmed Lombardi's initial report the Patriots will hang the franchise tag on Cassel to prevent him from hitting the free-agent market.
Teams can't franchise their players until Feb. 5, but they can negotiate contracts with them. Lombardi on Thursday said he wouldn't be surprised if the Patriots and Cassel worked out a contract within the next few weeks. Lombardi said a two-year deal worth a total of $20 million sounded reasonable.
If Cassel and the Patriots can't hammer out a deal, then the franchise tag will lock him up for one year with a salary that averages the five highest-paid at his position. In Cassel's case, the salary would be almost $15 million. Brady's salary for next season would be in the same neighborhood.
The benefit of the franchise tag is giving the Patriots time to determine whether Brady's knee will be sufficiently healed for 2009. Once they're satisfied with Brady's recovery, then they would look to unload Cassel.
Reese claimed the Patriots could wait as long as they wanted and still have eager trade partners.
"It's definitely a seller's market," Reese said. "A team like New England can sit back and bide their time.
"If you take the actual number of franchise quarterbacks in the NFL, there's maybe 15. Who's Detroit's starting quarterback? You can go down a long list. All of those teams would be in the bidding.
"You don't have to be in a hurry. There's always teams out there in need of a quarterback, teams who'll think 'We don't like this guy. We can't win with him.'"
In theory, it sounds about as easy as Sea-Monkeys. Just add water.
Any team in need of a dramatic change might be able to purchase its very own makeover kit, complete with general manager, head coach and starting quarterback all ready to perform.
That's what some see when they look at a New England Patriots trio ready to emerge from the shadows: vice president of player personnel Scott Pioli, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and Matt Cassel.
Pro Football Weekly this week speculated Pioli might be ready to leave the Patriots and call his own shots with another organization because of the success his understudy, Thomas Dimitroff, had in his first year running the Atlanta Falcons with a rookie head coach and a rookie quarterback.
Pioli's aptitude for locating talented depth players has been significant to New England's success despite myriad injuries.
Last week, I spoke to several experienced NFL executives about Cassel's future. Michael Lombardi, who worked with Pioli and Bill Belichick in the Cleveland Browns' front office, thought it would be a fabulous idea for a team to pursue a package deal if it wanted to rebuild.
"If you put together a package where Josh McDaniels came with [Cassel], you'd feel a lot more comfortable in that decision rather than taking [Cassel] and adapting him to your system," Lombardi said. McDaniels "has done a great job coaching this player, and he knows how to play him within the system extremely well. You want to be very careful to maximize those skills to their fullest advantage."
McDaniels will be a chic head-coaching candidate. He has proven that his offense doesn't need Tom Brady to work.
McDaniels is only 32, but Lombardi wouldn't be discouraged by his youth. Lombardi noted McDaniels has had two sensational teachers. McDaniels' father, Thom, is head coach of the nationally renowned Massillon Jackson High program.
"I just know that in the National Football League it's hard to find quarterbacks and hard to find guys who can coach quarterbacks as a head coach," Lombardi said. "Any time you're around the greatest head coaches in the game, you learn something.
"His father coached for a long time. He comes from the right pedigree. He certainly has the traits you're looking for in a very good coach."
|Evan Pinkus/Getty Images|
|J.P. Losman has thrown two touchdown passes and five interceptions this season.|
J.P. Losman found himself back on the field when Buffalo Bills starter Trent Edwards aggravated a groin injury in Week 13. Losman's return to the huddle was tantamount to a 31-team tryout because he'll be a free agent after the season.
Losman groused over the Bills' decision to go with Edwards over him. But every time Losman has had a shot this year, he has failed to demonstrate he's worthy of starting in the NFL.
This week he was demoted to third string behind Gibran Hamdan.
"He was a first-round pick, but he wasn't able to perform in this league," former NFL personnel executive Michael Lombardi said. "He's not going to be in a bonanza situation. If he signs somewhere it will be based on experience and not on his production.
"He's at a crossroads. He's going to have to go somewhere and rehabilitate his career rather than accelerate his career. If you're his agent, you need to put him in a situation where he's a backup with good coaching in an offense that fits his style of movement and running around."
"He got beaten out in Buffalo because of inconsistency," Casserly said. "He has raw skills. He has arm strength. He has mobility. But his decision making and accuracy all feeds the inconsistency. I don't know that people are looking at him to fill their starting quarterback needs. He will be on a roster, though."
Losman's stat line while filling in for the frequently injured Edwards:
- Four games, all losses.
- 63 completions on 104 attempts (60.6 percent).
- 584 yards.
- Two touchdowns.
- Five interceptions.
- 15 sacks.
- Three fumbles, one lost.
- 12 rushes for 70 yards and a touchdown.
- 62.3 passer rating.
Given the general malaise of Losman's career, would his options be different had he capitalized on his chances this year?
"It would have piqued people's interest," Lombardi replied. "The quarterback position is the most coveted in the league and when you play well -- like Todd Collins last year -- people are always in search of that answer at quarterback.
"If he would have played well, he would have enhanced his stock. Everybody has a chance to re-invent themselves at quarterback."
|Cary Edmondson/US Presswire|
|Patriots quarterback Matt Cassel has turned some heads with his performance this season filling in for Tom Brady.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham
There might still be some Matt Cassel doubters out there.
Among NFL insiders, however, the New England Patriots quarterback is viewed with a high degree of respect. Their admiration of Cassel has only grown with the way he has carried himself the past 10 days.
"If you loved him before, you love him a little more today," ESPN analyst and former Tennessee Titans general manager Floyd Reese said.
With a heavy heart, Cassel on Sunday threw a career-high four touchdown passes in a 49-26 road victory over the Oakland Raiders. Earlier last week, Cassel's father was found dead. The funeral wasn't held until Tuesday.
"You could see the pain in his eyes," former NFL executive Michael Lombardi said after watching behind-the-scenes NFL Films footage of the Patriots' week. "It's just very, very dramatic."
Sunday might be remembered as the signature performance of Cassel's breakout season.
Cassel briefly left the team and missed an important practice, but -- on the same field Brett Favre famously threw four touchdown passes the day his father died in 2003 -- he was sensational. Cassel would've finished with even more prolific numbers Sunday had the game not been so lopsided.
"To have the wherewithal or ability or gumption or whatever it takes to be able to pull off what he did was indeed special," Reese said. "There's a lot of us in the football world who think we're pretty tough, but when something like that comes along it brings you to your knees. For him to be able to pull it off was a special performance."