NFL Nation: Ted Ginn

Bruce AriansAP Photo/Ross D. FranklinArizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians will get a look at his full team Tuesday when OTAs begin.
This time last year, the buzz around the Cardinals was about a new coach with a new culture and a new scheme. This year, it’s about how do the Cardinals make the playoffs?

As the Cardinals’ offseason team activities (OTAs) begin Tuesday, there’s a lot to ponder from the past year and much to speculate on going forward. The next month will begin determining the fate for a lot of players on the current 90-man roster. As Cardinals coach Bruce Arians loved saying last year, this is when they have to put it on tape.

Here are 10 observations as the Cards begin OTAs:

  1. The top three running backs are established with Andre Ellington, Stepfan Taylor and Jonathan Dwyer sitting atop the depth chart, but after that is a major drop-off. As of now, there isn’t is a viable option for the fourth back, which was occupied by Alfonso Smith a season ago. He’s gone and so is Ryan Williams, leaving the fourth spot up for grabs. That running back, however, may not be on the field Tuesday.
  2. There’ll be a lot of eyes on the newcomers this offseason, such as quarterback Logan Thomas, cornerback Antonio Cromartie, safety Deone Bucannon and left tackle Jared Veldheer. But the most intriguing position battle of the offseason starts Tuesday with two returning offensive linemen at right tackle. Arizona hasn’t re-signed Eric Winston for a reason: It wants to see what Bradley Sowell and Bobby Massie can do. The two were college teammates at Ole Miss but neither are the clear-cut choices to assume the starting job. There have been questions about Massie’s ability to pick up the playbook for the last few seasons and Sowell was able to hold his own at left tackle last season but there’s a reason Arians didn’t keep him there. It’s yet to be seen if he’ll fare better on the right side.
  3. Losing Karlos Dansby was a major blow to the Cardinals’ inside linebackers but it could get worse. Having Daryl Washington practice with the first team may be for naught if he’s suspended for a significant amount of time by the league for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy. The Cardinals are already in tryout mode with second-year linebacker Kevin Minter but if Washington is lost for more than a game, what was a strong point of the Cards’ defense will be its liability. Veteran Larry Foote may need the reps this offseason to get ready for a larger role next year but this is also a chance for an unknown inside backer to get noticed.
  4. It’s one thing for Cromartie to say his hip is better but it’s another for him to go out and show it. He’ll have the eyes of the media – although it’s not quite like New York – on him this offseason. If Cromartie’s hip isn’t an issue, he’ll be half of one of the league’s top cornerback tandems. If his right hip flexor is still hampering him during OTAs, he’ll be wise to just sit and let a young cornerback earn some time. But next up on the depth chart is the man Cromartie replaced, Jerraud Powers, who is likely itching to win back his spot.
  5. The top three wide receivers are a shoe-in. Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd and Ted Ginn will have jobs in 2014. It’s the other eight receivers on the roster who’ll be fighting for their jobs starting Tuesday. Arians clearly likes small, speedy receives -- he drafted two -- but now he has an abundance of them on the roster and will start weeding through them this week. One or two will make the cut but the rest will left fighting for the final few spots on the roster as a gunner or a special-teams machine.
  6. What a difference a year makes. Last May, the Cardinals were as confused as ever when it came to learning Arians’ offense. This year they know the wrinkles and intricacies of his complex offense. The days of Fitzgerald and Floyd lining up in the wrong places are over. The next step can be taken, which could mean a quicker start for the Cardinals than a year ago. And the result of that could then a game or two in January.
  7. Throughout the smokescreens before and during the draft, there was one truth that rose above it all: Arizona wasn’t drafting a quarterback unless he could win a spot on the roster. After the Cardinals picked Logan Thomas, Arians made it clear the first two quarterback spots are taken. That means Ryan Lindley’s third-string job is up for grabs. He’s been lending a helping hand to Thomas but when practice gets going Tuesday, he’ll need to turn it up to show Arians that he made a mistake. That may be harder than anticipated because Logan was drafted to not get cut.
  8. One of the few players with the most to lose and the most to gain during OTAs is tight end Rob Housler. He fell short of expectations last season and never grew into the player Arians had envisioned him being. It doesn’t help Housler, cut from the receiving tight end mold, that he isn’t fond of blocking. The Cardinals went out during the offseason and added two tight ends who are tailor made to fit Arians’ two-tight end scheme. Add in Jake Ballard, who joined the team around midseason last year, and Arizona has a three-tight end rotation that could see Housler as the odd man out.
  9. Tuesday will be the first day that left guard Jonathan Cooper can take the field for since he broke his leg against San Diego in the Cardinals’ third preseason game. How much Cooper can do starting this week will be an indication of how far along in his rehab he is. If he’s practicing in full, training camp will be a sure thing. If not, then training camp may be the first time Cooper will work out at full capacity.
  10. Another offensive lineman the Cardinals are anxious to see on the field is guard Earl Watford. The second-year player feels he has a better grasp of the playbook and the offense in his second offseason. He’ll be given a chance to win the starting job over last year’s starting guard Paul Fanaika. If he does, the job may be Watford’s for the foreseeable future.
TEMPE, Ariz. -- The NFL isn't a league where everyone gets a medal or a ribbon and a juicebox just for participating.

There are winners and losers, very definitive ones at that, and they're not just decided during the season. There are winners in the combine, in the draft and, of course, in free agency. But "winning" free agency is not always an objective.

Two of my colleagues, John Clayton and Field Yates, recently took on the unenviable task of evaluating the 32 NFL teams and deciding who's had the best free agency thus far and who hasn't.

Yates went first, deciding Wednesday, the second day of free agency, that the Cardinals were the early winners. On Friday, Clayton took his stab, not including Arizona in his five winners or five losers. Everyone evaluates free agency differently, there's no right or wrong away.

With all the moves that have taken place since 1 p.m. MST Tuesday, the race to be a winner has been neck-and-neck, but Arizona has staked a claim at having one of the best hauls this season.

As the sun sets on Week 1 of free agency, Arizona has signed left tackle Jared Veldheer, wide receiver Ted Ginn, running back Jonathan Dwyer and offensive lineman Ted Larsen, while re-signing tight end Jake Ballard, kicker Jay Feely, defensive end Frostee Rucker and linebacker Matt Shaughnessy.

As a whole, the Cardinals' moves have all been strategic, targeting specific areas of need and improving significantly with each one. The offense made major strides with the addition of Veldheer to anchor the left side of the line. Coupled with the addition of Jonathan Cooper, who missed his rookie season with a broken leg, the Cardinals should be better than having the worst line in the league -- Pro Football Focus graded them as such after last season. Ginn's signing strengthened the wide receiving corps and gave Arizona a legitimate threat at kick returner. Larsen has a reputation as a strong, hard-working swing offensive lineman while Dwyer can add more thump to the Cardinals' backfield.

After the kind of turnaround season Arizona had in 2013, the Cardinals were able to be picky in free agency. They didn't have to overhaul a roster, as they did when head coach Bruce Arians was hired and general manager Steve Keim was promoted. Going 10-6 and sitting on the verge of the playoffs showed the Cardinals' brain trust where it needed to improve. And they focused on those areas.

There's still work to be done, such as building depth on both lines and finding a safety while stocking up on cornerbacks.

But there's also still plenty of time left in free agency.

Through the first week, Arizona put itself in a better situation to compete for an NFC West title. And by doing so, the Cardinals had one of the best free agencies across football.
TEMPE, Ariz. -- He'll return punts or kickoffs or both.

He'll line up in the slot or outside.

Whatever Arizona head coach Bruce Arians wants Ted Ginn, Jr. to do, he'll do.

“I wanted to go somewhere where I can help the team,” Ginn said. “Coming to the Cardinals was a big deal. They needed a fast guy, which I could bring to them. The return game, I could help out.”

Ginn was surprised the Carolina Panthers let him walk away as easily as they did, but awaiting him was a three-year contract in Arizona. A couple of teams showed interest, the 28-year-old said, especially after his best receiving year since 2008.

He had 556 yards and a career-high five touchdowns on 36 catches.

“My season last year brought me a rebirth type of season to show that I'm still a receiver,” Ginn said. “And I can still get it done.”

Being a receiver in Arians' offense means Ginn will have to learn every position. The outside routes won't be an issue for him, but he's never played much in the slot, catching just 13 of his 197 career passes inside, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

But, as was his motto all press conference, he's open to trying it.

“I do whatever,” Ginn said. “I never had the opportunity to really be a slot guy. Everybody always uses me outside. I'm available to do whatever.”

And if that means supplant Patrick Peterson as Arizona's punt returner, add that to the list of Ginn's duties.

He returned 26 punts for 316 yards last season and was open about lending a hand to Peterson.

“Patrick Peterson is a great returner,” Ginn said. “We can help him concentrate on ‘D' a little bit more.”

Ginn has been familiar with Arians' high-octane style of offense for years. A Cleveland, Ohio, native, Ginn would watch the Steelers -- with Arians as its offensive coordinator -- plow through the Browns on an annual basis. He understands his role as a receiver will be to utilize his speed and take the top off defenses. Ginn was quick to rattle of his 40-yard-dash time at 4.38 seconds -- “without working.”

Ginn watched closely how receivers like Mike Wallace and Santonio Holmes were used by Arians, so when the Cardinals came calling, it was an easy decision for Ginn.

“Just a great team and (they) have a fiery defense,” Ginn said. “I just know that they needed that one or two pieces on the offensive side to make them more explosive. Just wanted to come out and do what I can do.”

That's whatever the Cardinals need him to do.

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Arizona entered free agency looking for a speedy receiver to take the top off of defenses.

It was also looking for a kick returner who could make heady decisions and eat up yards in a hurry.

Well, they found both Thursday afternoon.

The Cardinals announced that they signed former Carolina Panthers wide receiver and returner Ted Ginn, Jr., to a three-year contract. Financial terms were not available.

[+] EnlargeTed Ginn
AP Photo/Mike McCarnTed Ginn caught 35 passes for 556 yards and five touchdowns as a receiver for the Panthers last season. He also returned kicks and punts.
Ginn gives Arizona options at wide receiver, although he'll be signed as primarily the team's third receiver. In 2013, all of his 556 yards were caught from either the wide right or wide left positions, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Last season, Michael Floyd, Arizona's No. 2 receiver, caught 51 of his 65 passes from out wide. Ginn will need to play more in the slot alongside Floyd and Larry Fitzgerald, giving quarterback Carson Palmer a stout receiving corps to choose from. But it's his speed that will make him a weapon. Cardinals coach Bruce Arians likes having a fast receiver to stretch the secondary and take the top off defenses. That's Ginn. Last year it was Andre Roberts, but in my opinion, Ginn is an upgrade from Roberts. The Cardinals let Roberts, their No. 3 receiver last year, walk in free agency.

Ginn will also give Arizona an upgraded return game. Last season, he returned 25 kickoffs for 595 yards and 26 punts for 316 yards. As a team, Arizona only had 540 kickoff return yards and 321 punt return yards. It's yet to be seen if Cardinals coach Bruce Arians will hand the punt-return duties to Ginn or keep Patrick Peterson in place. Last season, Arians allowed Tyrann Mathieu to return just one punt, instead keeping the ball in Peterson's hands. Even though Ginn is a more experienced returner, it's still unlikely Peterson will be removed from that role.

Thursday's news also means a return for Ginn to the NFC West, where he spent 2010-12 with the San Francisco 49ers. He was part of the Niners' Super Bowl team two seasons ago, but was used primarily as a returner that season. In three years in the Bay Area, Ginn had 33 total catches.

During his second go-round in the NFC West, his role will be bigger. He's used to not being a team's main option on offense, but he'll be a significant part of the Cardinals' plans this season, in all roles he plays.

Stat bonuses at stake for many players

December, 29, 2013
Multiple teams have plenty of incentives on the final Sunday of the regular season, but so do many players.

Seattle Seahawks defensive end Cliff Avril needs two sacks to get to 10 on the season and collect $350,000.

Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett needs 2.5 sacks to get to 10 on the season and collect $200,000.

Green Bay Packers kicker Mason Crosby receives $800,000 if he makes 85 percent of his regular-season field goals. Heading into Sunday's game in Chicago, he sits at 88.6 percent.

Baltimore Ravens linebacker Elvis Dumervil needs 2.5 sacks to get to 12 and earn an additional $1 million.

Carolina Panthers wide receiver Ted Ginn needs six receptions to get to 40 this season and earn a $100,000 bonus.

Denver Broncos linebacker Shaun Phillips already has earned an $800,000 bonus for 10 sacks; if he gets two more Sunday, the bonus will jump to $1.2 million, and if he gets four sacks Sunday, the bonus will be $2 million.

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith needs to throw for 187 yards on Sunday to reach 3,500 for the season and achieve a $500,000 bonus. If he throws two touchdown passes on Sunday to get to 25 for the season, he’ll also earn another $500,000.

Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles needs 113 rushing yards Sunday to increase his salary by $300,000 for next season. He already earned a $300,000 increase because the Chiefs have qualified for the playoffs. But he can raise his bonus money to $600,000 by raising his season total to 1,400 rushing yards against the Chargers.
Star LotuleleiGetty ImagesStar Lotulelei and the Panthers' front four will bring pressure on Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

Two teams battling for playoff positioning will face off Sunday when the Carolina Panthers travel to play the Miami Dolphins.

Carolina (7-3) is one of the hottest teams in the NFL behind a stout defense and improved play from quarterback and MVP candidate Cam Newton. The Dolphins (5-5) have fought through off-the-field distractions to win two of their past three games and are just a tiebreaker behind the New York Jets for the final wild-card spot in the AFC.

Who will prevail? ESPN Panthers reporter David Newton and Dolphins reporter James Walker weigh in.

James Walker: This looks like a game of matchups. One that looks concerning from Miami's perspective is Carolina's aggressive, physical defense against the Dolphins' inconsistent offense. The Dolphins are still searching for an offensive identity 10 games into their season. There is nothing they do particularly well on that side of the football: Miami is ranked 20th in passing and 24th in rushing. In fact, the Dolphins haven't scored more than 27 points in a game all season.

Is Carolina's defense as good as advertised? What kind of challenge can Miami's offense expect?

David Newton: It's hard to argue the numbers Carolina's defense has put up, particularly against the run, allowing just 84.5 yards per game. The front seven is as good as there is at making a game one-dimensional and forcing teams to pass; the defensive line can apply pressure on the quarterback, which allows seven, and sometimes eight, to drop back into coverage. It's really an unselfish group that is working as well together as any unit I've seen this season. The return of defensive tackle Dwan Edwards from a hamstring injury three weeks ago has added a more consistent third-down inside pass rush and made this unit even stronger. The defense that helped the 2003 Panthers get to the Super Bowl was good, but I believe this one is better.

The Dolphins bounced back from the loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with a solid effort at San Diego. Has this team put the off-the-field issues behind it completely?

Walker: I wouldn't say completely, because the investigation is ongoing. I don't see an end to the Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin saga for at least several more weeks, if not longer. The NFL spent a lot of time at the Dolphins' training facility this week to try to get to the bottom of things, and the NFLPA will reportedly do its own investigation soon.

I thought Miami handled this situation better against San Diego, and it showed in the Dolphins' preparation. Miami put together a focused effort to pick up a big win. I think the team was a bit shell-shocked by the circumstances and the amount of media scrutiny leading up to the Tampa Bay game when everything first came out. It's really going to be a week-to-week scenario with the Dolphins as this investigation unfolds.

Carolina is coming off a short week of preparation after winning a thriller against the New England Patriots on "Monday Night Football." Is this a concern, especially going on the road, where the Panthers are 3-2?

Newton: The short week shouldn't be a problem. They had a Thursday night game a few weeks ago at Tampa and played well for having only a few days of preparation. The coaching staff has really gotten into a groove with knowing when to go hard and when to back off in practice. From a defensive standpoint, because they don't rely on a lot of fancy formations with the front four so solid, it really just comes down to tweaking things for individual matchups.

The biggest issue might be from wear and tear. They played three games in a span of 12 days a few weeks ago, and they're coming off consecutive games against San Francisco and New England, elite teams that really get after you.

Speaking of physical teams, what problems will Miami's defense cause Newton and the Carolina offense?

Walker: Miami's defense has been an enigma. There is talent and depth, especially in the front seven, but the defense hasn't lived up to its potential. The Dolphins' best chance to rattle Newton is to stop Carolina's running game and make the Panthers one-dimensional. That's a tall order. I thought Miami's defense had the talent on paper to be top 10 against the run, but that's far from the case. The Dolphins are 25th against the run.

But in games when the Dolphins have earned a second-half lead, their pass rush has been able to cause problems. Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Wake is healthy again and back to his old self; he has four sacks in his past three games and 6.5 overall. Fellow defensive end Olivier Vernon (5.5 sacks) has been a pleasant surprise. The Dolphins have four players with three sacks or more this season. They have the ability to pin their ears back and get to the quarterback. But the Dolphins haven't had enough leads late in games.

David, one area in which Carolina has struggled is its 28th-ranked passing offense. How can the Panthers improve?

Newton: Carolina's ranking is a bit misleading. The key number is Newton's efficiency. He's completing a much higher percentage of passes -- 63.2 -- than in his previous two seasons. He's also throwing more short passes as the offense goes with more ball control. He's more or less taking what defenses are giving him better than he has before. Because the Panthers are so balanced in rushing and passing, Newton's passing yards are down. But they have deep threats when they need them in Steve Smith and Ted Ginn. They just haven't needed them because, for most of the past two months, they've been getting big leads and running more.

James, my last question to you is, do you believe the Dolphins are a playoff team?

Walker: The Dolphins feel confident because they are still in the hunt. They are just a tiebreaker behind the Jets, and the teams still have two games against one another. But I haven't seen any consistency from Miami since its 3-0 start. Since then, the Dolphins have gone 2-5, so there isn't much reason to believe they can go 5-1 or 4-2 down the stretch to get into the playoffs. Miami has a huge three-week stretch ahead, with Carolina and games at the Jets and at Pittsburgh. All of these games are going to be tough.

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Cam Newton was the No. 1 overall pick of the 2011 draft. The San Francisco 49ers had no chance to move up and get him. They happily took quarterback Colin Kaepernick 35 picks later.

On Sunday, the two dynamic young quarterbacks will play against each other in the NFL for the first time as the Carolina Panthers visit San Francisco.

The two were roommates at the NFL combine, and life has been good for both since. Kaepernick has had more tangible success even though, unlike Newton, he didn’t become a starter until midway through his second season. Kaepernick has been to a Super Bowl. He has playoff wins on his résumé despite starting only 18 NFL games.

Newton, spectacular as a rookie and helter-skelter last season, has settled down and has the look of quarterback who may soon see postseason success. He has led the Panthers to four straight wins after a rough 1-3 start. Kaepernick is also rolling, leading his team to five straight wins.

“Everything’s a competition, from being at the combine to being at practice to being in a game,” Kaepernick said. “Everything’s a competition.”

Kaepernick plays with a chip on his shoulder. He enjoyed beating the Titans in Week 7 and the Jaguars in Week 8. Like Carolina, those teams took quarterbacks in the first round in 2011.

It’s difficult to argue the Panthers blew it when they took Newton over Kaepernick. Newton has a big future, and Kaepernick was considered more of a project. But it is clear the 49ers are pleased the way it went down. Kaepernick is perfect athletically and emotionally to run Jim Harbaugh’s offense.

While Harbaugh called Newton’s talents “plutonium grade,” he would surely roll with Kaepernick. Harbaugh played along when a reporter suggested Kaepernick should be the 49ers’ scout-team quarterback this week to help prepare to face Newton.

“That’s a good idea. That’s a very good idea because they are so similar. And in ability, and makeup, and confidence, and in so many ways, talent,” Harbaugh said. “They’re both great. And that’s not a bad idea at all.”

I asked ESPN analyst Matt Williamson who he would rather have, Newton or Kaepernick?

“I will say that Newton is playing better [against some suspect teams] than CK right now, but I still take CK, as he is just a better pure passer,” Williamson said. “Newton has taken a lot more snaps in the NFL than CK. Just wait until CK has that experience under his belt.”

The numbers suggest a team couldn’t go wrong with either Newton or Kaepernick these days. They have been the top two rated quarterbacks in the NFL in the past month. Kaepernick’s Total QBR since Week 6 is a league-leading 94.1. Newton is second at 83.5.

Ted Ginn is an authority on both. He played with Kaepernick the past two years and is now teammates with Newton.

"They both have something a lot people don’t have, and they use it,” Ginn said Wednesday. “Speed. They can run."

On Sunday, the two young quarterbacks will try to outrun, outthrow and outscore each other.

2013 UFA counts for NFC West teams

March, 12, 2013
The NFL has released its official list of restricted and unrestricted free agents.

The chart breaks down the UFA counts by team in the NFC West.

A quick look at the lists, which include a couple players who have already reached agreement on new contracts:

Arizona Cardinals

UFA offense (4): D'Anthony Batiste, Pat McQuistan, Rich Ohrnberger, LaRod Stephens-Howling

UFA defense (8): Michael Adams, Nick Eason, Quentin Groves, Vonnie Holliday, Rashad Johnson, Paris Lenon, James Sanders, Greg Toler

RFA: Brian Hoyer, tendered to second-round pick.

Note: The Cardinals announced Johnson's agreement to a three-year contract.

St. Louis Rams

UFA offense (8): Danny Amendola, Kellen Clemens, Brandon Gibson, Steven Jackson, Barry Richardson, Steve Smith, Robert Turner, Chris Williams

UFA defense (6): Craig Dahl, Bradley Fletcher, Mario Haggan, William Hayes, Trevor Laws, Rocky McIntosh

RFA: Darian Stewart, tendered to right of first refusal.

Note: The Rams announced Hayes' agreement to a three-year contract.

San Francisco 49ers

UFA offense (4): Leonard Davis, Ted Ginn Jr., Randy Moss, Delanie Walker

UFA defense (6): Dashon Goldson, Tavares Gooden, Larry Grant, Clark Haggans, Ricky Jean-Francois, Isaac Sopoaga

RFA: Tramaine Brock, tendered to right of first refusal.

Note: Walker has reportedly agreed to terms on a contract with the Tennessee Titans.

Seattle Seahawks

UFA offense (2): Cameron Morrah, Frank Omiyale

UFA defense (5): Alan Branch, Patrick Chukwurah, Leroy Hill, Jason Jones, Marcus Trufant

UFA special teams (2): Steve Hauschka, Ryan Longwell

RFA: Clint Gresham and Chris Maragos, tendered to right of first refusal; and Clinton McDonald, tendered to seventh-round choice.
The Cleveland Browns need a No. 1 wide receiver. The Cincinnati Bengals need a No. 2 one. And the Baltimore Ravens need a No. 3 target.

But all three did nothing to address these voids as the deep free-agent pool for wide receivers quickly evaporated. What's left? Brandon Lloyd (who could be headed for a reunion with Josh McDaniels in New England), a few second-tier wide receivers and a bunch that won't significantly improve a passing attack.

The Browns will have to look to the draft for a go-to receiver because there really isn't one left in free agency. To make matters worse, Mario Manningham said the Browns aren't even on his radar.

The Bengals' top options to pair with A.J. Green include Manningham, Laurent Robinson (scheduled to visit Jacksonville), Early Doucet, Deion Branch and Plaxico Burress. Cincinnati is looking for a more dependable No. 2 receiver than Jerome Simpson and Andre Caldwell, both of whom are free agents.

The Ravens likely want a No. 3 receiver who can also serve as a returner. Baltimore reportedly has shown interest in the Broncos' Eddie Royal and could go after the 49ers' Ted Ginn.

Here's a recap of what happened with wide receivers on Day 1 of free agency:
Vincent Jackson: Signed with Tampa Bay (five years, $55.5 million)

Marques Colston: Re-signed with New Orleans (five years, reportedly between $35 million and $40 million)

Reggie Wayne: Re-signed with Indianapolis (three years, $17.5 million)

Pierre Garcon: Signed with Washington Redskins (five years, $42.5 million)

Robert Meachem: Signed with San Diego (four years, $25.9 million)

AFC North evening notes

March, 13, 2012
A look at some news and notes on the first night of free agency:

BENGALS: Veteran cornerback Aaron Ross is scheduled to visit Cincinnati on Thursday, according to the Star-Ledger. Slant: Ross is a solid addition as the third corner but not a starting one. A first-round pick by the Giants in 2007, he struggled at times but he did start for two Super Bowl teams.

BROWNS: The team re-signed backup tight end Alex Smith to a one-year contract, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Slant: This is a strong move in terms of locker room chemistry. His fiery attitude is contagious.

RAVENS: Wide receiver/returner Eddie Royal, who I had as a good fit for the Ravens, is working on a deal with the Redskins, according to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter. Slant: The fact that any team is closing in on Royal this fast shows you how aggressive the free-agent market is for wide receivers. Perhaps the Ravens look to another receiver/returner option in Ted Ginn.

STEELERS: The team won't be active because of cap limitations, but that hasn't stopped Steelers players from commenting on free agency. "With all these moves in the NFL! I must gotta say when my contract is up I never wanna leave the steelers!," offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert posted on Twitter. "Winning stability and a true fam." Slant: If Gilbert establishes himself as a left tackle, the Steelers need to save this tweet and bring it to negotiations when he becomes a free agent in 2015.
Kudos to NFC West colleague Mike Sando for eliciting a rare admission from the NFL regarding a call we discussed in our earlier Dirty Laundry post.

As you recall, referee Mike Carey's crew spotted the ball five yards away from where the San Francisco 49ers' Ted Ginn went out of bounds at the end of a critical punt return in the fourth quarter of the Detroit Lions' 25-19 loss.

Here is the NFL's statement: "The officiating crew incorrectly spotted the ball at the Detroit 35 instead of the 40 where Ted Ginn went out of bounds."

So there you go. I'm not sure that spot was the difference in the game, but it did put the 49ers five yards closer to their eventual game-winning touchdown.

The league didn't comment on the pair of possible illegal blocks that occurred on the play, which is not unusual. Those calls are subjective. Marking the line of scrimmage is an objective exercise, and it was simply a mistake.

First round is coming, but at what cost?

April, 26, 2011
Long/GholstonDoug Murray/Icon SMIBoom (Jake Long) or bust (Vernon Gholston), teams have spent plenty on first-round picks since 2000.
Buffalo Bills general manager Buddy Nix recently said rare circumstances would be required to trade the club's third overall draft choice. He sounded fixed on making that pick, even though he has no idea how much it will cost him.

There's curiosity over what the New England Patriots will do with their abundance of draft assets. They have enough picks that they could trade up into the top 10. Yet they don't know how rich that territory will be.

We know the NFL draft will begin Thursday night. Unclear are the dollars it will take to sign those picks.

Rookie cost controls almost certainly will be part of the next collective bargaining agreement, but will that deal be hammered out before the 2011 season?

If not, then teams might operate under last year's rules. That would mean more outrageous guaranteed dollars to prospects who haven't snapped an NFL chinstrap. A league source calculated NFL teams have committed over $3.154 billion in guarantees to first-round draft choices since 2000.

The Associated Press reported the NFL's proposal for a rookie pay system -- made before the lockout -- included $300 million in diverted funds that instead would go to veteran contracts and player benefits and slow the rapid growth of guaranteed first-round money (up 233 percent since 2000).

First-round contracts would be capped at five years under the proposal. All other draft picks would be capped at four years. The player's maximum allowable salary would go down if he hadn't signed by training camp, a deterrent to holding out.

Buffalo News reporter Mark Gaughan recently estimated the Bills would save roughly $15 million on their No. 3 pick with rookie cost controls. That certainly would make another Aaron Maybinesque pick more digestible.

With all this in mind, let's examine how much guaranteed money AFC East clubs have spent on their first-round draft picks since 2000. Data provided from the aforementioned league source shows the Patriots have spent most efficiently, the New York Jets have spent the most total dollars and the Miami Dolphins have spent the most per player.

The Dolphins have drafted eight first-rounders since 2000 and spent an average of $12.043 million in guaranteed money. That figure ranks eighth among all NFL clubs, but those players averaged only 37 starts for Miami.

Only the Buffalo Bills averaged fewer starts from their first-rounders at 36.2, but the Bills rank 19th in average guaranteed dollars committed.

Left tackle Jake Long's mammoth contract inflates Miami's dollar figure. The top 2008 pick became the highest-paid offensive lineman in NFL history days before commissioner Roger Goodell said Long's name at Radio City Music Hall. Running back Ronnie Brown was rewarded with $19.5 million guaranteed as the second pick in 2005.

Those picks were successful, but the Dolphins also committed $13.865 million to receiver Ted Ginn, $9.016 million to cornerback Jason Allen and $7.133 million to defensive end Jared Odrick.

The Jets' massive guarantee total includes left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson ($29.6 million), quarterback Mark Sanchez ($28 million), outside whatever Vernon Gholston ($21 million), cornerback Darrelle Revis ($14.7 million) and defensive tackle Dewayne Robertson ($14.7 million).

There are a couple royal busts in there, but the Jets still have spent relatively well. Despite picking in roughly the same average first-round slot as the Dolphins and Bills since 2000, the Jets have averaged nearly 61 starts per player.

The Bills' big-ticket items have been running back C.J. Spiller ($18.9 million), left tackle Mike Williams ($14.4 million) and Maybin ($10.9 million).

Buffalo's first-round picks ranked 19th in the NFL when it came to average guaranteed dollars.

The Patriots have committed eight figures in guaranteed money to only two of their 10 first-round selections since 2000 because of their penchant to trade back. Their average first-rounder is taken 20.7th overall.

Inside linebacker Jerod Mayo ($13.8 million) and defensive end Richard Seymour ($11 million) are the Patriots' lone top-10 picks under Bill Belichick and look like basement bargains compared to other names mentioned above.

Darrelle Revis relishes Dolphins rivalry

April, 21, 2011
Of the recurrent debates that take place in the AFC East blog comments, one of the more entertaining occurs when New York Jets and Miami Dolphins fans chirp about their head-to-head matchups.

Jets fans gloat because they've been to the AFC Championship game two years in a row. Dolfans counter with the fact the Jets have won once in their past five meetings.

[+] EnlargeDarrelle Revis and Ted Ginn
AP Photo/Wilfredo LeeDarrelle Revis knows the Jets-Dolphins rivalry is tough. "It always is because I guess it's just that chip on our shoulder," he said, "and you want to kick their butt."
It's a tough rivalry -- on and off the field.

"It's always going to be there," Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis said last week in Dolphins territory. "It always is because I guess it's just that chip on our shoulder, and you want to kick their butt."

The topic came up because Revis was in Pahokee, Fla., for a community event to benefit Baltimore Ravens receiver Anquan Boldin's hometown.

"It is a fun rivalry to be a part of," Revis said. "There's a lot of history with the Jets and the Dolphins, and I don't think it will ever die down. It doesn't matter if we're 0-14 or if they're 1-15 when we play those games. That's why they're so tough, and they always come down to six points or less because they're always tough games."

Revis' mathematical memory is sharp. The average margin of victory over the past three years has been 5.7 points. The Dolphins have outscored the Jets 132-126 in that span.

Jets head coach Rex Ryan lost both games against the Dolphins in his first year. Ted Ginn was the biggest problem, scoring on a long touchdown pass from Chad Henne in the first game and returning two kickoffs for touchdowns in the rematch at the Meadowlands.

The Jets won last year's first meeting by eight points in Sun Life Stadium, but the Dolphins won at the Meadowlands, a sloppy 10-6 contest.

That's life in the AFC East, Revis noted.

"I think it's one of the toughest [divisions] in the league," Revis said. "I mean, going up against Tom Brady twice, you've got to be on your A-plus game every time you play against him.

"But also to bring the Bills up to light and the Dolphins to light -- they're two great organizations, too, and we know you can win or lose one of those games. It doesn't matter. The Bills had a tough year last year, but you can see they competed and you want to win both of them, but you might only win one."

Worse: Maybin or McCargo? White or Ginn?

March, 18, 2011
This week's edition of "Draft Watch" dealt with each club's best and worst picks of the past five years.

Some readers disagreed with two of my busts.

The first two comments pertained to my selection of defensive lineman John McCargo as the Buffalo Bills' worst pick.

Scottiewags wrote: "McCargo is not and will never be worse than Aaron Maybin."

Dgnfcnorthaz later added: "Maybin has been so invisible that Graham must have forgotten who he is."

Another reader contended I erred in calling quarterback Pat White the Miami Dolphins' worst pick over wide receiver Ted Ginn.

I considered both Maybin and Ginn as the biggest busts of the past half-decade, but I decided against them. I'll spell out why they were chosen.

As much as Maybin disgusts Bills fans, he has been in the NFL only two seasons. He has had two defensive coordinators and needed to learn two totally different schemes. He entered the league as an end, which he played at Penn State, and then last year switched to standup outside linebacker.

I'm willing to give Maybin another season before I can judge him against McCargo, a veteran with a fuller body of -- for lack of a better noun -- "work."

Maybin already has as many starts in two seasons as McCargo has in his career -- one. Maybin has played 27 games, eight more than McCargo has played the past three combined.

McCargo was a healthy scratch for 15 games last year. He's a veteran who can’t get on the field. Maybin played 11 games last year as a 22-year-old.

Ginn, meanwhile, is a knee-jerk response because he's such a pariah to Dolfans. But Ginn was a weapon defenses needed to account for on a weekly basis. He wasn't very effective, but opponents certainly had to game plan for him.

Ginn generated some highlights for the Dolphins. He led them with 56 catches and 790 yards in 2008. He was a scintillating return man, taking two kickoffs for touchdowns at the Meadowlands in 2009. Plus, the Dolphins were able to get draft compensation out of him.

White played one indigestible season and got cut. Ten months later, he retired from professional baseball. In less than two years after the Dolphins drafted White, he had failed at two sports. Ginn's still in the NFL.

But disagreement is what makes these kinds of conversations so much fun. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section. I'll jump in later for some discussion.

Top draft busts in AFC East history tallied

February, 28, 2011
When word got out the New York Jets would release defensive end Vernon Gholston, I solicited your nominees for the AFC East's biggest draft busts.

These disappointments received the most votes for each club:

Buffalo Bills
  1. Defensive end Aaron Maybin (11th in 2009)
  2. Tackle Mike Williams (fourth in 2002)
  3. Quarterback J.P. Losman (22nd in 2004)
  4. Defensive tackle John McCargo (26th in 2006)
  5. Defensive end Erik Flowers (26th in 2000)
Comment: Sadly, Buffalo's list suggests readers don't remember the team before the Music City Miracle. Last year's strong safety, Donte Whitner, finished sixth. Epic busts Walt Patulski (first in 1972), Tony Hunter (12th in 1983) and Perry Tuttle (19th in 1982) received only one vote each. Nobody mentioned running back Terry Miller (fifth in 1978).

Miami Dolphins
  1. Receiver Yatil Green (15th in 1997)
  2. Receiver Ted Ginn (ninth in 2007)
  3. Running back John Avery (29th in 1998)
  4. Cornerback Jamar Fletcher (26th in 2001)
  5. Receiver Randal Hill (23rd in 1991), Eric Kumerow (16th in 1988), running back Sammie Smith (ninth in 1989)
Comment: The Dolphins were the most nominated team in this exercise. They led with 16 nominees and the number of votes cast. Green didn't play in his rookie or sophomore seasons because of injuries and lasted eight games his third year. My pick would have been Kumerow, whose career consisted of three seasons, zero starts and five sacks.

New England Patriots
  • Running back Laurence Maroney (21st in 2006)
  • Receiver Chad Jackson (36th in 2006)
  • Receiver Hart Lee Dykes (16th in 1989)
  • Cornerback Chris Canty (29th in 1997)
  • Offensive lineman Eugene Chung (13th in 1992), defensive end Kenneth Sims (first in 1982), linebacker Chris Singleton (eighth in 1990)
Comment: I was surprised Sims didn't receive more attention. He was the No. 1 choice ahead of Marcus Allen, Gerald Riggs, Mike Munchak, Jim McMahon and Chip Banks. Maroney received the most votes, but he also generated the most spirited debate because many readers disagreed he should be considered a bust. Jackson was a second-round pick, but the Patriots traded up 16 spots to get him.

New York Jets
  1. Running back Blair Thomas (second in 1990)
  2. Defensive end Vernon Gholston (sixth in 2008)
  3. Tight end Kyle Brady (ninth in 1995)
  4. Defensive tackle DeWayne Robertson (fourth in 2003)
  5. Receiver Johnny "Lam" Jones (second in 1980)
Comment: There was a lot of material to work with here. I was satisfied readers emphasized the magnitude of the bust over the freshness of Gholston's release by voting for Thomas. The next running back off the board in 1990 was Emmitt Smith.