Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Calm Before The Storm

"Shining down like water."

With only two days left to go until the 2007 NFL Draft, the rumors have been swirling around, and some of them could have a huge impact on who goes where. In certain scenarios, teams will be looking to gain a veteran who has playing experience who can play now over a building project that will take a few years to bloom. Some fan bases can't wait two or three years for top prospects. They want results now. After all, this is America, pretty much the most impatient nation in the world. So, some teams will be looking to franchise the future in order to find a fix right now.

The biggest rumor going right now has to be the Larry Johnson situation in Kansas City. It seems that KC is thinking that there will be no way they will be able to re-sign LJ, as he is playing out the final year of his rookie deal. From the sound of it, Johnson is going to be looking for a contract that will pay him more than the 7-year, $60 million deal LaDainian Tomlinson received from San Diego two years ago. Also, there is already a lot of bad blood between LJ and the Kansas City organization after his rookie year, where Dick Vermeil knocked his work habit, and got absolutely no playing time because of the incumbent Priest Holmes. Johnson has rushed for 1,700 yards the last two seasons and has positioned himself as the second best runner in the league. When you factor in the fact that the NFL increases its salary cap every year, you can understand why Johnson is feeling the way he does. Also, considering the Chiefs line, which was once probably the best in the league, is getting older and older. Will Shields retired, and their outside tackles, Kyle Turley and Chris Terry, may not have enough gas left to be able to contain the pressure that will come from the corners. The Chiefs will be compensated with a "sandwich" pick if they are unable to re-sign Johnson (a sandwich pick meaning that Kansas City will receive a pick that puts them in the middle of two rounds, hence the name "sandwich;" with Johnson's value, it will almost surely be in between the first and second rounds). Another option they may try is franchising Johnson, but it would probably end up being like a Lance Briggs-like situation (more on him later). So, with all that considered, it would seem like the Chiefs could attempt to try and get something more than just a sandwich pick. However, it would appear KC will be asking a whole heck of a lot, because there is absolutely no way any team will get anything close to the caliber back of Johnson in the Draft (Peterson looks great, but come on, do you think he has the potential to rush for 1,700 yards in nine games like LJ did two years ago?). So far, from what I have gathered, the teams interested have been the usual suspects in terms of teams in dire need of a runner (Cleveland, Buffalo, Green Bay, Tennessee), but no one has been able to put up the kind of deal the Chiefs want in return (probably two first-rounders and a defensive starter). The Chiefs also have Michael Bennett sitting on the bench, so it's not as though they have nothing to fall back on (he's no LJ, but with the line right now, Bennett should approach 1,000 yards). This will be an ongoing story, because it would change the entire landscape of not only the Draft, but the entire league. This guy is a franchise-changer. He can literally account for 7-8 wins by himself each year, so considering if he winds up on a team like the Packers or the Titans, they instantly become not only a contender to make the playoffs, but a contender to wind up in the Super Bowl. Dead serious on that one.

Speaking of Kansas City, they have another guy who has been piping the rumor mill for almost two months, QB Trent Green. Teams like Miami and Cleveland have been inquiring about Green for the whole time, and still, no progress has been made. Miami is just dying to make this trade. They realize that Daunte Culpepper (again, more about him later) was a huge mistake, and is not nearly dependable enough to stay healthy for the entire season. Then, when you consider that their backup is Kiko Calero, you know the Dolphins are in the market for someone to step in behind center for the upcoming year. What remains to be seen is if the interest the Dolphins have in the top two QBs in the Draft (Russell and Quinn) is greater than what they have for a proven veteran like Green, who has said he wants to play for two or three more years. As of right now, the teams cannot come to terms on compensation. The Chiefs want a second rounder, while the Dolphins have been rumored to only want to give up a fourth rounder. What is interesting is that Kansas City's GM referenced the Wes Welker trade to the Pats, and how if the Pats gave up a second and seventh rounder for Welker, it would seem that a starting QB would garner a little more than a second day pick. This deal, if it were to be completed, would greatly change how the Dolphins draft. They would definitely be willing to trade down, because they are still a team with a lot of needs, including defensive backs, who are readily available at the tail end of the first round.

Daunte Culpepper is all but out in Miami, and it seems as though it won't matter if they get Green or not. The Dolphins will be attempting to trade up, and if they can't accomplish that, they will be selecting someone in the second round (Drew Stanton or Trent Edwards), and Miami will try and get someone else to hold down the fort until their new guy is ready (maybe Josh McCown?). So, they will either release or trade Culpepper, and a rumored location has been Oakland, which is very intriguing considering who already resides on that team. Could reuniting Randy Moss and Culpepper possibly turn both their careers around? I'm a little cautious about this though. Oakland's line is horrible, and their running game is not much better, meaning defenses will be able to key up on Moss and the deep passing game. Still, it's apparent that Moss needs someone to bomb the ball because he has struggled mightily since his arrival in Oakland. Here's something to think about: If the Raiders do end up with Culpepper, what do they do with the #1 pick? Personally, I think they have no choice but to get JaMarcus Russell. Even though Calvin Johnson is by far and away the best prospect in the Draft, the Raiders desperately need someone to take the reigns of the offense for the long run. You have to realize that Culpepper is not going to be the long-term solution. However, his build and style of play closely resembles that of Russell. If the Raiders can create some kind of offensive gameplan to work around the likes of Culpepper, it would create for a much smoother transition into the offense for Russell. Johnson looks like a great prospect, but I have never had too much confidence in receivers going near the top of the Draft. But these are the Raiders, meaning that they are unpredictable and ready to mix it up a little. Definitely stay tuned for that.

There is still no resolution in the Lance Briggs fiasco, but things are getting a lot less cloudy for Briggs' future. At the initial outset, the Redskins looked like they were the front-runners, offering a switch of first-round picks (Chicago would move to #6, Washington down to #31) for Briggs, which at the time seemed like a fairly good deal for the Bears, especially when you consider that Briggs has already threatened to sit out ten games of the regular season if he is given only his one year "franchise" tenure. However, the Bears balked, and decided that there were better deals out there (apparently, if LB Rocky McIntosh, the 'Skins second rounder from last year, was included in the deal, it would get done). Recently, two more teams have joined the fray. Tampa has said to have significant interest in Briggs, and if they can not get Calvin Johnson (if the Raiders do not draft Johnson, I find it hard to believe that he will end up anywhere else but Tampa), the Bucs could use its pick at #4 to try and obtain Briggs. Also, Tampa just cleared up room in its salary cap by releasing LB Shelton Quarles (who may have a small impact of his own, especially if he ends up on Indy with former head coach Tony Dungy; it would definitely mean the Colts would be focusing on the defensive backfield, especially if they can't retain Nick Harper), so it would seem like they have the means to get Briggs, but again, they are dying to get Johnson, and are basically doing whatever they can (including trading up to #1 with Oakland) to get him. Denver has also joined in the fold after the departure of long-tenured linebacker Al Wilson, but will need to come up with a major deal to pull that off, as they are picking at #21, which further inclines me to believe that the Broncos will be looking at guys like Lawrence Timmons, Paul Posluszny, or Jon Beason to fill their need.

This one kind of hits close to these parts, as Carolina is apparently fed up with Kris Jenkins, and is looking to move him. Reportedly, Jenkins has had difficulty keeping his body in "game condition," as he's put on nearly 25 pounds since the start of last year. About three or four years ago, Jenkins was considered the best defensive tackle in the league, and the heir apparent to Warren Sapp as far as the most dominant interior lineman in the game. However, Jenkins' wok ethic has really slowed down his progress, and he has fallen back into mediocrity thanks to the multiple injuries he has suffered over the past couple of seasons (played four games in '04 and only 1 in '05). Recently, however, coach John Fox has come out and said Jenkins will be back with the Panthers next yearThe Broncos showed initial interest, but now it seems the Rams, who happen to be picking one spot ahead of Carolina, appear to be the front-runners, and the current rumored deal has been the switching of first rounders and a second day pick in this year's or next year's Draft for Jenkins. If Scott Linehan (coach of St. Louis) is able to turn Jenkins into a diligent worker, then I don't see any reason that Jenkins cannot return back to his Pro Bowl-form (will be 28 years old and in his seventh season, so he still has plenty of time to right the ship; the only doubt is in his desire, as he has all the tools necessary to be a real presence up front).

The last name of great significance would have to be Michael "The Burner" Turner (I think anytime anyone mentions him now-a-days, they have to throw in "the burner;" I mean that's a great nickname, but in casual conversation, can we just say Michael Turner every once in a while? Maybe that's just me, I don't know). Tennessee has been the front runner all along for Turner had the fourth most yards per carry last year in a season of rushing for more than 500 yards in the history of the NFL! San Diego has come out and said that the chances of Turner continuing to backup LT are "around 70%." Still, I would have to imagine that San Diego will at least entertain offers, as it will take at least a first-round pick swap and another first day pick to land Turner (may even be another first rounder next year). What I find fascinating is that most "veteran for draft pick" trades that come up are suddenly using the "Deion Branch barometer" in determining what kind of value they can get back for a on-the-cusp veteran (on-the-cusp meaning that he isn't a star yet, but definitely has that potential, which is true about Branch because, when he was with the Pats, he was clearly the #1 guy, but not really a "star" by any standards). Here's the thing: Seattle got absolutely screwed on that trade. First of all, they already had a #1 receiver in Darnell Jackson, so clearly, they were looking for someone to upgrade their receiving core (which I said time and time again was the best all-around bunch in the NFL, even better than Wayne/Stokley/Harrison because there were at least five guys on that team that could be at least a #2 receiver on just about every team), but giving up a first-rounder for him? That simply was a dumb move. Seattle would have been just fine without Branch (who did put up good numbers with them: 53 receptions for 725 yards). They also should have had a lot more leverage as far as how much they would give up, as it was a certainity that Branch was willing to sit out the entire season if the Pats did not offer a suitable, long-term deal. So why did they have to give up so much for him? Not saying it will pan out this way, but at pick #24, you will probably have your pick of guys like Sidney Rice, Dwayne Bowe, Dwayne Jarrett, and Anthony Gonzalez. So, instead of paying a guy like Branch top 10 receiver money (which I'm still not convinced he's worth), they could have waited it out, started the group of Jackson, Nate Burleson, D.J. Hackett, and Bobby Engram (who was hurt for a good part of the year, I'll give them that) and drafted a guy like Rice or Jarrett that have tremendous size and would have caused headaches for the NFC West corners, many of whom are undersized and inexperienced (Antrel Rolle and Tye Hill come to mind). Anyway, getting back to Turner. This guy actually seems like he could be worth trading a first round pick for. Unless this is a complete illusion brought on by defenses that were worn down after Tomlinson ran all over them, Turner has the physicality and the quickness to be an every-down back. Another thing is that Turner only has 157 rushing attempts in three seasons, so he is still relatively young and probably has a lot of wear left on the tires. Tennessee is clearly desperate for two skill positions, running back and wide receiver. If they are able to get Turner, they will go head-on after one of the top tier of receivers coming out this year (as if they weren't already doing that anyway).

Well, the last mock draft will be coming at you tomorrow as soon as I get back from Charlotte. Again, the running diary will be going on all of Saturday afternoon. Check back about once an hour to see what my impressions were on the first day (I'm pretty sure I'll only do the first two rounds...hey, that's still like eight hours...good times). Until then, have a good one. Peace.


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