Commentary

Vikings could shake up the draft

Minnesota might pass on Kalil at No. 3 ; Rams need to find help for Bradford

Originally Published: April 23, 2012
By Ashley Fox | ESPN.com

With Indianapolis and Washington locked into Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, the opening-day draft drama Thursday will center on who the Minnesota Vikings will select. Will it be Southern California tackle Matt Kalil? Or will the Vikings shake things up and take either Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon or Louisiana State cornerback Morris Claiborne?

The Vikings have big needs on the offensive line, in the secondary and at receiver. The working theory for weeks has been that they would take Kalil, but if they pass, he could fall to Tampa Bay at No. 5.

We will know soon. In the meantime …

Miami owner Stephen Ross is pushing for Ryan Tannehill. Or not. It is the week of the draft, so the rumors are flying, and none is hotter than the one regarding what the Dolphins will do at No. 8. First, it was reported over the weekend that Ross wants general manager Jeff Ireland to draft the Texas A&M quarterback, in part to drive ticket sales and raise the team's profile in South Florida. But on Monday the Miami Herald cited a highly placed source in the Dolphins organization who said Ross has not told Ireland what to do and will not tell Ireland what to do.

So believe what you will.

Ireland last week called Tannehill "a great kid." Will the Dolphins take him if he is available? We will find out Thursday.

The NFL is going to slam the players involved with the Saints bounty program. It is only a matter of time. Commissioner Roger Goodell has tried to include the NFL Players Association in the process of disciplining the current and former New Orleans players who participated in contributing money for damaging hits, if for no other reason than to give the appearance that he is willing to work with them.

But this is Goodell's decision. As he did with Saints head coach Sean Payton, general manager Mickey Loomis, assistant head coach/linebackers Joe Vitt and former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, Goodell is going to rule harshly. There will be suspensions. There will be fines. Both will be severe.

Jonathan Vilma, who reportedly had his contract restructured last week, might even take a seat on Payton's couch for the season.

How does this sound: The Los Angeles Vikings? Probably not too good to the people of Minnesota, who lost their professional basketball team to the City of Angels in 1960 and are moving perilously close to losing their professional football team, too.

The NFL does not want Minnesota to lose its franchise, but it is time for lawmakers there to make a decision on whether to replace the aging Metrodome. Yes or no? Goodell traveled to Minneapolis on Friday to talk with the state legislature about the importance of figuring out a way to fund and build a new stadium. The league and the team aren't willing to wait anymore.

Goodell didn't make any threats about relocating the team, but his visit made it clear that the league has lost its patience. The Vikings must have a new stadium. The Metrodome is well beyond being outdated. Goodell encouraged lawmakers to come up with a new plan before their legislative session ends April 30. While the league wants the Vikings to stay in Minnesota, it also desperately wants a team back in Los Angeles, and the Vikings could end up being the right fit.

[+] EnlargeSam Bradford
Icon SMIThe Rams need to improve the quality of talent around quarterback Sam Bradford.
This is a huge draft for the St. Louis Rams. Thursday will be a big day for the Colts and Redskins. Selecting a franchise quarterback is vitally important, but supporting the young one you already have is equally big.

That is where the new Rams regime finds itself. Jeff Fisher has made a point of praising Sam Bradford at every opportunity, whether solicited or not. Fisher likes Bradford and with good reason, but he also understands that he needs Bradford -- who is entering his third season with his third offensive coordinator -- to be successful.

In order to really support Bradford, the Rams need to focus on improving the quality of talent around him. They need a playmaking receiver or two. They need some big bodies on the offensive line. They could use a tight end.

St. Louis holds the No. 6 overall pick, as well as the first and seventh picks in the second round and the second pick in the third round. None of those picks should be used to select defensive talent. To give Bradford the best opportunity for success, he needs weapons. He needs help. The Rams need to give it to him.

In other Saints news, where's Rita? Jeff Duncan of the New Orleans Times-Picayune had a fascinating story Sunday that said Saints owner Tom Benson has placed his granddaughter, Rita Benson LeBlanc, on an unofficial paid administrative leave. The 35-year-old LeBlanc is the team's executive vice president and the 84-year-old Benson's handpicked successor, but according to Duncan she has rubbed Benson the wrong way with a series of missteps.

"Colleagues and co-workers are quick to compliment LeBlanc for her intelligence, creativity, energy and good taste," Duncan wrote. "However, they're also just as quick to note her lack of focus and abrasive management style, citing the estimated 30 assistants she's gone through in her six-year tenure. She's developed a reputation for stalling projects internally, at Benson Tower and the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Her penchant for drivers and world travel has irked colleagues and caused some to question her commitment to the job."

What this means for LeBlanc's future with the organization remains to be seen. She is one of the most powerful women in the NFL, but it seems her grandfather has put her, at least for the time being, in timeout.

Who knocks hard? The Atlanta Falcons have declined HBO's invitation to be the focus of "Hard Knocks," which opens the door -- again -- for the Jets. Rex Ryan probably shouldn't do it, but it would be entertaining television.

Farewell, B-Dawk. Brian Dawkins announced his retirement Monday morning after playing 16 years in the NFL, 13 with Philadelphia and the past three with Denver. The eight-time Pro Bowl safety will turn 39 in October.

"The Lord has blessed me to play in the NFL for 16 years," Dawkins said on his Twitter account. "I would like to thank the Eagles & Broncos 4 believing In me. I would like 2 thank all my teammates & Coaches that I have been blessed 2 go to battle with. Along with u, the fans 4 helping make my career 1 that I have enjoyed tremendously."

It is not a huge surprise. The last time I saw Dawkins was in December after the Broncos came from behind to beat Minnesota. He could hardly walk, as his body so beaten down from years of playing. He knew then that his career was coming to a close, but even so, this has to be a hard day for him.

Dawkins was the emotional leader of the Eagles and the Broncos, passionate, hard-working and professional. One of the greatest Eagles of all time and a man of deep faith, Dawkins is revered in Philadelphia, where fans still have not forgiven the front office for letting him leave in free agency in 2009.

He will be Hall of Fame-eligible in 2017.