The Wages of the One True NFL Sin

Singing chef Nick Diamos once said, “Everybody lies, but it doesn’t matter because nobody listens.” I’m going to assume that he never met anyone directly associated with the NFL.

Dan Hanzus at NFL.com quotes new Cowboys defensive end Randy Gregory:

“Gregory said he has successfully stayed away from marijuana.

“‘I haven’t touched it,’ he said. ‘I’m feeling real good, too. This is a high in itself, to be honest. I’m high on life right now, and I don’t want to lose this high.'”

And why, exactly, should we believe that?

Randy_Gregory-Spring_ball_2014_2014-03-30_17-38

In my opinion, Gregory was the best pure pass rusher in the draft. However,he failed two drug tests in college and one at the Combine that he absolutely knew was coming. Having said that, the failed tests weren’t the real problem.

NFL teams think they can handle almost any player issue at least to a large extent. Short of murder, anything can be spinned. Got a player with a drug issue? Send him to rehab and spin it.

Gregory’s major problem and the reason he fell so far in the draft wasn’t the failed drug tests. It was that he lied about it at the Combine, telling teams that he hadn’t lit up since November. Teams might be able to handle any player problem but they can’t do that if they don’t know about it. The guess here is that the one thing every team absolutely demands from a player is the truth no matter what. And the one cardinal sin you can commit is failing to do so, especially before they’ve even bound themselves to you with a contract.

If I’m the Cowboys, assuming I don’t have Gregory under body guard 24 hours a day, I’m having him tested on demand with the understanding that he can refuse, but any refusal to take one will be considered a failure. Because you can’t take his word for it – or anything else – otherwise.

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Grasu Will Have to Show that His Best Attributes Extend Beyond High Character

grasu

Dan Wiederer at the Chicago Tribune interviews new Bears center Hroniss Grasu‘s offensive line coach at Oregon, Steve Greatwood:

“Hroniss first and foremost has been an outstanding teammate and an outstanding leader in this football program. He’s one of those young men who is universally respected by all teammates and not just his position group.”

This interview is great but I’m a bit concerned. Given several opportunities to talk about Grasu’s athleticism, Greatwood took a pass. Grasu is already kind of small and needs to gain weight. I wanted to hear how he was going to adapt physically to the NFL and didn’t get any of that.

Its really nice that Grasu is a high character guy and I think the Bears can’t have too many leaders. But he’s going to have a hard time leading anyone if he’s getting bowled over by bigger nose tackles in the NFL. He’s already got great technique by reputation and that will help. But he’s going to have to use his quickness and ability to move to overcome some of the hurdles he’s going to face. Here’s hoping he has the physical skills to handle the load.

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Brief Impressions: 2015 NFL Draft

  1. Did someone tell the ESPN crew that there was no smiling allowed on the set? I’ve never seen a more somber first round telecast in my life.
  2. There seems to be a belief around the league that second overall pick Marcus Mariota might have been an owners pick. The Titans aren’t supposed to be for sale but the general belief appears to be that they are. There’s a theory that interim president Steve Underwood put pressure on the Titans front office to draft Mariota in order to make the franchise more valuable.
  3. I’m not surprised that the Redskins decided that they didn’t want to draft the consensus best player in the draft, Leonard Williams. But I am surprised that they couldn’t find a way to trade pack. Brandon Scherff adds to an offensive line that general manager Scot McCloughan evidently wants to make tougher as they look to become the kind of ground and pound running team that the Cowboys were last year. But I’m having a hard time believing there was no market for that pick. Scherff has short arms and isn’t considered to be a great offensive line prospect, especially if he’s going to be put at right tackle. The Redskins should have been able to pick up Scherff or another lineman later in the round.
  4. The Browns pick of Cameron Erving at 19 overall as a guard appeared to be a puzzler. Erving was generally considered to be a potential Pro Bowl center but his performance at tackle when he played the position was not considered to be good and he doesn’t necessarily project as a guard long-term. But a look at current center Alex Mack‘s contract clarifies things. His contract is player voidable in 2016 and apparently, like so many other people associated with the Browns organization, he intends to get out as soon as he can.
  5. On the other hand, I’m still having a hard time figuring out the Andrus Peat pick by the Saints. Terron Armstead seems to be a lock at left tackle. Right tackle Zach Strief is entering his 10th season with the Saints. I suppose he could be the future at that spot but I don’t see an immediate need there. The other positions along the offensive line seem to be similarly set. All I can assume is that Peat was the best available on their board and they took him.
  6. I love the Bears’ apparent free agent signing of Shane Carden. Many will remember that I put up a post on Carden questioning why he was considered only a low round prospect. Now we’ll find out first hand how full of it I am.
  7. I thought it was funny that ESPN‘s Ben Goessling‘s opinion of the Vikings draft so closely mirrored my own of the Bears’ saying, “This draft could be tough to judge for several years thanks to the number of talented, yet unrefined, players the Vikings took.”
  8. Many were surprised by the fall of so many pass rushers so far in the draft. I was not. I thought all of the pass rushers after Dante Fowler were being over-rated by the media in large part because, well, they were pass rushers. The only one I thought was worth a top ten pick other than Fowler was Randy Gregory and he blew his chance with off the field issues. It says here that Shane Ray and Vic Beasley, who went right after the Bears pick at number eight to Atlanta, both have bust written all over them. Bud Dupree might be an average starter by the time he’s developed.
  9. Speaking of pass rushers, its going to be interesting to see how things pan out for Fowler in Jacksonville. Fowler thinks he’s going to be the Leo linebacker (the primary pass rusher) but that doesn’t seem to fit his skills as he would be more suited to the Otto role (strong side linebacker who turns into a pass rusher on obvious passing downs). How he develops there may largely depend upon whether they choose the correct way to use him.
  10. One big loser in the draft appears to be former Bears prospect Matt Blanchard. The Packers drafted developmental prospect Brett Hundley. Scott Tolzien is currently entrenched as the back up. Unless Blanchard shows a great deal of potential or the Packers aren’t as committed to Tolzien as they appear to be, Blanchard would seem to be the odd man out.
  11. There’s a big part of me that likes the Rams’ first round pick of Todd Gurley. He’s the kind of runner that will fit in well in St. Louis and there’s no doubt that the Rams are planning to beat the rest of the NFC West by further overpowering it’s best teams. That means a big time running game and with the selection of Gurley followed by two offensive tackles, they may have added the personnel to do it.

    The problem is that head coach Jeff Fisher is under some pressure in St. Louis to start winning now after a string of seasons in which the team has under-performed. And with Gurley coming off of a very bad ACL injury, he might not be ready to contribute right away. Despite good reports on the condition of the knee, Gurley won’t be ready to practice until halfway through training camp, losing valuable reps to learn things like pass protection. Even worse, players with knee injuries have a bad habit of not getting all the way back to where the were before until the second year after the injury. You have to wonder if the Rams wouldn’t have been better off selecting Melvin Gordon, who is very close to Gurley in terms of how the experts had them ranked and who I actually liked better than Gurley anyway.

Posted in Atlanta Falcons, Chicago Bears, Cleveland Browns, Dallas Cowboys, Denver Broncos, Green Bay Packers, Jacksonville Jaguars, Minnesota Vikings, New Orleans Saints, Pittsburgh Steelers, St. Louis Rams, Tennessee Titans, Washington Redskins | Leave a comment

You Can’t Walk Off the Island

I heard a joke the other day that I’d like to pass along as we all consider the consequences of what the Bears did in the NFL draft over the last few days.

Joshua was a devout man who had fallen on hard times. Finally, having exhausted all avenues, he fell to his knees and prayed, “Lord, please help me win the lottery or else I’ll lose my business.” But that week Joshua didn’t win. He then knelt down again and said, “Lord, please help me win the lottery or I’m going to lose my house.” But Joshua still didn’t win the lottery. Finally, Joshua fell prostrate and begged, “Lord please, please help me win the lottery, or my wife is going to take the kids and leave me.” Suddenly the wind began to blow and there was a loud roar. The sky opened and a voice boomed, “Joshua. Buy a fucking ticket.”

Jeff Dickerson at ESPN comments on the Bears draft:

“Riskiest move: After Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota, this quarterback draft class was weak. Still, the Bears need to eventually find a future replacement for Jay Cutler. Pace had the opportunity to grab UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley in the fifth round but instead chose Penn State safety Adrian Amos. Hundley went a couple spots later to rival Green Bay. If Hundley eventually becomes a starting quarterback somewhere in the league, the decision to ignore quarterback on Day 3 might haunt the Bears.”

This is a football blog but that doesn’t mean that lessons can’t be learned from other sports when examining the situations that football teams find themselves in. In baseball, Dominicans are known throughout the major leagues as free swingers at the plate. When asked about his tendency to take his rips at borderline pitches once in 1986, Dominican shortstop Rafael Ramirez explained, “You have to swing like a man. You can’t walk off the island.”

The Green Bay Packers had a quarterback in Brett Favre when they took a swing anyway and drafted Aaron Rogers in the first round of the 2005 NFL Draft. Now they have their quarterback for years to come in Rogers. And still they draft quarterbacks to develop, knowing that you just can’t have too many players at the most important position in football.

On the other hand, the Bears actually need a quarterback.  Virtually everyone outside of Chicago knows it and those inside simply can’t face the fact that Cutler isn’t going to turn into something different in his tenth year in the league.  Bears general manager Ryan Pace talked before the draft about “ideally” drafting a quarterback every year. But when his time at the plate came, instead of taking his swings, Pace stuck to his board. This is usually something I would strongly advocate. But not in this case.

Don’t get me wrong.  I like quarterback Shane Carden. I really do – much better than most football experts. But those football experts are going to be the ones with Carden’s fate in their hands. No one signs an undrafted free agent expecting him to be their quarterback of the future.

You can draft and draft and draft every other position on the field.  But you aren’t going anywhere without a quarterback.  And I don’t care if you try in a weak free agent market or in a weak draft class,  you aren’t going to find one by failing to take your swings at the position.

Even with a quarterback in hand, the Green Bay Packers continue to take their swings at the plate knowing that no one gets a hit without trying. The Bears…

Ryan. Buy a fucking ticket.

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More Than Usual, the Bears Draft Was All About the “Develop” Part of “Draft and Develop”

To describe the Bears draft class as a whole, the word “projects” is probably too strong. But it’s clear that the Bears top draft picks are going to need a great deal of work.

Let’s start with first round receiver, Kevin White. White has great size and physical ability but when you look at him on video, the thing that stands out is how raw he is. The West Virginia game versus Maryland, below, give you a good idea of what I’m talking about:

White uses his big frame well to get physical with corners and get open. And he uses it to block well, too. But you have to ask yourself how far this will take him against the better athletes in the NFL. White’s route running needs work and at times its down right atrocious, looking like you or I playing catch in the back yard.

White had only two seasons of division I football and he really only produced in one (last year). He needs to work on all of the little things that other receivers like Amari Cooper are well on their way to mastering – footwork, getting off the line of scrimmage and, especially, working on all of the routes in the vertical tree and making them all look the same.

Second round defensive tackle Eddie Goldman is better but its a similar story. He’s a true junior who just turned 21 in January. He hasn’t played as much football as you’d like and on occasion it shows. Note the game against Louisville below.

The great thing about this video is that it shows tremendous effort from Goldman. He’s extremely active in the middle of the line. The problem is that he’s so active that he literally takes himself out of the play on occasion. Discipline in a two gaps scheme is something Goldman is going to have to learn. The good news is that he may already be well on his way to doing that. Note this game against Florida a month later.

Goldman is much more disciplined here, holding the middle consistently agains double teams on almost every snap.  As general manager Ryan Pace noted in his Friday press conference, Goldman plays with great pad level and leverage and it’s especially evident in this video.  His pass rush took a step back in this game, though.

Note that Goldman has a reputation for taking plays off but I certainly didn’t see it in these games. The worst I can say is that he got tire late and it showed. Conditioning may be an issue but he may find himself rotating out more often in the pros, at least initially.

Finally, there’s the Bears third round pick, Hroniss Grasu. Grasu is different from Goldman and White in that he’s a four year starter for Oregon. He’s a bit under-sized but takes advantage of good technique to move larger defensive linemen out of the way (by reputation – I couldn’t find video online of Grassu to confirm this myself). Grassu’s problem is that he’s a center and, therefore by the nature of the position, unlikely to contribute right away in that role. The odds are that he’ll need a year of development and work in the weight room, possibly as a guard, before replacing Will Montgomery as center as the heir apparent.

These prospects, along with true sixth round developmental project, offensive tackle Tayo Fabuluje, are all promising. But Bears fans are going to have to wait to see it they attain their true potential – possibly more than one year. In the mean time, the Bears coaching staff is going to have to earn their money with these guys.

I think Bears fans can give the team the thumbs up for drafting good athletes with potential. For now.

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Reaction to Rounds One thru Three

He, guys.  New podcast with reaction to the first three rounds from representatives of the Bears (me), Patriots, Eagles, and Panthers.  Give it a listen.

Check Out Football Podcasts at Blog Talk Radio with Next Fan Up on BlogTalkRadio
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Follow the Money

With the first round of the draft over and with running back Adrian Peterson still on the Vikings, Peterson’s agent Ben Dogra makes it appear that he’s changing tactics. Via Kevin Patra at NFL.com:

“‘One of the things that I appreciate with the Vikings is their resolve to say ‘we’re not trading him,’ Dogra told [USA Today‘s Tom Pelissero]. ‘That tells me they value him not only as a football player, but what he’s done for the organization.

“‘I actually, as an agent, not only appreciate it — I accept it. But actions speak louder than words. If that’s going to happen, and you want to keep him, then show him a commitment to make him retire as a Viking. And I haven’t had that solution.’

“Dogra’s public strategy is clearly moving from ‘trade him’ to ‘pay him.'”

Let’s be honest. It’s always been about “pay him”. From beginning to end there was nothing about this that some more guaranteed money wouldn’t have solved.

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Not Turning the Bears First Round Pick Into Rocket Science

David Haugh at the Chicago Tribune makes a savvy observation about Bears general manager Ryan Pace‘s first NFL draft pick:

“General manager Ryan Pace did what he vowed to do, taking the player at the top of his draft board at the time of the pick regardless of position. That White plays wide receiver on a team that needs to replace Brandon Marshall falls under the category of convenient. The Bears don’t need this White knight to save the offense but he will arrive with an opportunity to contribute immediately opposite Alshon Jeffery.”

“In selecting White over any one of the available pass-rushers, Pace punctuated his first draft with pragmatism. The NFL’s youngest GM didn’t arrive at Halas Hall determined to prove how smart he was or impress his new bosses. He took the gimme, proving that sometimes grasping the obvious is an underrated skill for executives.

“‘This was an easy pick,’ Pace said.”

White is a talented guy with a high ceiling. I’m not going to say he’s perfect and I’m not too sure the Bears wouldn’t have been better off with defensive tackle Danny Shelton as a safer pick who could still deliver a high impact.  Even as he praises the pick,  Hub Arkush at chicagofootball.com provides relevant criticism:

“[I]t is disturbing that in the one season he played at Lackawanna Junior College – he sat out the 2010 season with a shoulder injury and missed 2011 because he missed the deadline for financial aid – he caught just 36 passes and he only caught 35 passes his first year at West Virginia.

“The bigger concern is that West Virginia plays a stripped down version of the spread offense in which White was only asked to run a handful of routes. He’s never had to make sight adjustments or read coverages and he’s not a natural route runner, occasionally looking more like a sprinter than a football player.

“So what the Bears have in White is either a perennial All-Pro who may end up dominating for the next decade, or another Cordarrelle Patterson.”

Still by almost everyone’s reckoning, this pick was a slam dunk. Most experts had the Bears taking White in this situation and, assuming there were no good offers to trade out of the pick, I have no problem with it. Given White’s size and physical traits, I think the odds are that he’ll work out fine. As Haugh indirectly points out, Pace’s handling of the situation stands in stark contrast to former Bears general manager Phil Emery, who always seemed to be trying to prove that he was the smartest guy in the room. Sometimes that worked out, as it did with the Kyle Long pick. But far too often, it didn’t.

Pace didn’t over think this. Sometimes the obvious thing is, in fact, still the right thing.

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Trade Attempt of Jay Cutler Could Have Long-Term Effects

jay-cutler-3Jerome Blattner once said “A person who trusts no one can’t be trusted.” We’re about to see if and how that applies to the Chicago Bears quarterback situation in the aftermath of their attempt to trade quarterback Jay Cutler to the Tennessee Titans for the number two overall pick last night. John Mullin at csnchicago.com quotes Bears general manager Ryan Pace on the question of whether they tried to pull such a trade off:

“‘In my mind, we just got Jay another dynamic weapon,’ Pace said. ‘That’s why I’m excited about it. I hope right now he’s fired up because we just gave him another powerful weapon. With this receiving corps, this only adds to Jay’s ability to distribute the ball.'”

That’s not a denial. And it could mean trouble.

I’m of two minds when it comes to the attempt to trade Cutler. Rick Morrissey at the Chicago Sun-Times perfectly summarizes at least one of those:

“There is something unsettling about Jay Cutler continuing to get rewarded with talent around him [wide receiver Kevin White]. I’ll admit to more than a small hope Thursday that the Bears would move up to the second pick, trade Cutler to Tennessee and use the Titans’ pick to choose Marcus Mariota. But Tennessee stayed put and took the Oregon quarterback.

“What we’ve learned the past six years is that no matter how talented the players who line up on offense, Cutler tends to bring them all down to the mean. And by ‘the mean,’’ I mean ‘disappointment and disillusionment.’’ An offense with [Brandon] Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Matt Forte and Martellus Bennett should have been better then 21st in total offense, as it was last season.”

There was a part of me – about half – that really wanted the Bears to complete this trade just to see Cutler leave town. But there was, on the other hand, the thought of the rest of the price that the Bears would have to pay in order to make that move – a package of picks including multiple first rounders. That’s a high price for a team with the number of holes the Bears have to fill.

What’s most relevant now is what effect this will have on Cutler. Most will recall that a similar situation in Denver where they tried to trade him resulted in him leaving Colorado and eventually becoming a Bear. I’m not saying that Cutler is going to go to Tennessee and pout this time around – he has grown at least that much. But the effect on his psyche could be more subtle and more damaging.

Cutler’s primary problem is that he has a very hard time trusting people. He doesn’t trust his coaches, he can’t throw with anticipation  because he doesn’t trust his receivers, heck he even backed out of his engagement before finally coming to his senses and marrying Kristin Cavallari. Now Cutler has been given tangible proof that he can’t trust the current Bears regime, either. They might not have lied to him. But at bare minimum they have now made it clear that they aren’t 100% behind him to run this team in action as well as in word.

My guess is that publicly Cutler will handle this move by saying and doing all the right things. But how it affects his performance on the field is another issue. He’s fragile even at the best of times. We may see a new level of unstable this year if the Bears aren’t careful.

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The Bears Have a Bad Day. And Other Points of View.

Bears

  • Adam Schefter at ESPN reports that the Bears are “entertaining trade offers” for tight end Martellus Bennett. Bennett has been problematic for the Bears for some time and now isn’t showing up for offseason workouts.
  • The staff at NFL.com propose draft day trades that they’d “love to see”. One involves the Bears trading this year’s seventh overall selection, next year’s first and second, Matt Forte, and Jay Cutler to move up six spots into No. 1. No way.

    This would be an awful trade for the Bears who arguably need those picks more than the Buccaneers do. I’m sure they’d love to have Winston but I can’t imagine they’d trade away even the near future to do it.

  • Rick Morrissey at the Chicago Sun-Times pretty much destroys running back Matt Forte after he didn’t show up for the Piccolo Award presentation. I can’t say its entirely off base. As Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune points out, the Piccolo Research Fund has raised millions of dollars over the decades in support of cancer research. Not showing up to accept this award because your “training schedule” didn’t permit it really isn’t a good look.
  • I find it to be interesting that Forte is taking the most heat for not showing up to these voluntary sessions when he’s the veteran with the best excuse – really any excuse – to skip them. His contract. No explanation for the absence of tight end Martellus Bennett or nose tackle/defensive end Jeremiah Ratliff has been provided and as far as anyone can tell, they just didn’t feel like showing up.
  • Arthur Arkush at chicagofootball.com quote guard Kyle Long on quarterback Jay Cutler: “We love him here, and I really feel like Chicago will gain a new appreciation for Jay under this new regime. … He’s taking it upon himself to try and broaden his horizons as a leader from a vocal standpoint. He’s got the reins in his hands and we’re ready to work for a guy like that.” I’m open to it. But I’m not holding my breath.
  • Scott Krinch at csnchicago.com predicts that the Bears will trade back in the first round. I would agree but in my scenario, a team trades up to get wide receiver Kevin White not pass rusher Bud Dupree.

Elsewhere

One Final Thought

As if Matt Forte not showing up to receive an award in honor of Brian Piccolo weren’t enough, Rich Campbell at the Chicago Tribune reports defensive end Ray McDonald‘s statements on his run ins with the law last season. McDonald was unrepentant and said nothing indicating that he was accountable for what happened. Believe it or not, he sees himself as the victim, blaming the incidents on the people around him and bad press on the media. Again, not a good look for him or the franchise, which should be embarrassed.

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