Several NFL teams are waiting patiently, but as June melts into July, Ty Law's chances of landing a lucrative contract may have evaporated.
While there hasn't been a definitive indication from Law's camp, the former Patriots cornerback could begin his second free agent tour of the offseason as early as next week. But as some league skeptics question whether Law's broken foot will be ready for a full slate of workouts in July, it's quickly becoming apparent that his shot a multi-year contract may have already passed.
"That (timing) is a concern," one league executive said Thursday. "If he could have been healthy a few weeks after he was cut (by the Patriots on Feb. 25) or at least been running, I would have been optimistic about signing him and regulating his recovery. But it's June and we don't even know what he looks like running in a straight line.
"From my experience, it's going to be the middle or end of July before he can go hard in a practice environment. That's best-case scenario. Then (training) camp opens, and there are only a few weeks to see how (the foot) reacts before the season. He could look like he's made progress in a workout, then bounce on it for two weeks and have it give him problems. Then it stretches into the regular season and who knows how long."
That viewpoint provides the context for the cautious approach NFL teams have been taking with Law, who made a handful of visits earlier this offseason but got no contract offers. Instead, teams are waiting to examine Law again in full health, and even then, he may not get the financial windfall he expects.
Law's agent, Carl Poston, has made it known that the 31-year old former Pro Bowler is going to seek a deal that puts him in line with the league's best cornerbacks – an aim that would have been accomplished had Law simply accepted New England's four-year, $26 million offer before the 2004 season.
Instead, Law turned his back on that contract, calling it a "slap in the face." But even with a great round of workouts, he may have a hard time summoning such a deal. Of the handful of teams interested in Law, all have issues that may prevent a marriage. Among them:
- Miami Dolphins – While the Dolphins may have shown the most interest of any team at this point, they clearly have reservations about Law's long-term health and aren't expected to offer him more than a one-year deal. According to past statements by Poston, Law isn't interested in such a contract.
- Kansas City Chiefs – The Chiefs were interested before they traded for Miami's Patrick Surtain, plus the team doesn't have the salary cap room to sign Law to a big deal.
- Detroit Lions – Their interest dwindled considerably after signing cornerback/safety R.W. McQuarters to a one-year deal, and on Thursday, a team official indicated that Law was out of the picture.
- Indianapolis Colts – The Colts have cap issues and could only get a deal done if an extension was worked out for running back Edgerrin James. Even then, Indianapolis is also believed to be looking at a one-year deal.
- New York Jets – Next to Miami, the Jets would be a strong possibility if cornerback Donnie Abraham decides to retire. While Abraham still hasn't made a decision, he has taken part in offseason practices and workouts with the Jets.
- Cleveland Browns – Law has a history with coach Romeo Crennel, but the Browns might be eliminated due to another issue: Kellen Winslow Jr. The Poston brothers also represent Winslow Jr., and there could be some future acrimony brewing if the Browns attempt to recoup portions of Winslow Jr.'s singing bonus because of his motorcycle accident.
For now, Law continues to work toward a return, largely avoiding the public spotlight. He did make one significant appearance last weekend, attending a party in Brookline, Mass., thrown by Patriots owner Robert Kraft. It was at that party that Law picked up his third Super Bowl ring. Such hardware goes a long way toward explaining why teams continue to wait for Law's latest prognosis, even as a shrinking calendar suggests time has run out on his financial expectations.
- Sports Illustrated had a nice piece this week about the close relationship between Detroit Lions coach Steve Mariucci and Michigan State basketball coach Tom Izzo, who grew up together in tiny Iron Mountain, Mich.
Reading it sent me looking through some notes I took when I spent a few days with the pair during their annual golf tournament and charity auction in Iron Mountain two years ago. The notes are old, but the story – told by Izzo – was funny enough that I held onto it. Until now, I've never had a chance to share this story with readers. As told by Izzo
"So I fly out to San Francisco to see Mariucci's team play when he was coaching the 49ers. It was a big game – a Thursday night game to open the season," Izzo said. "Steve says to me, I'll get you on the field.' Then he calls me up about four days before and he says You know what, the security is so tight because of 9/11, I don't think I can get you on the field.' But we had done some things with NFL Films, so Steve Sabol kind of helps Mariucci out and got me to work for NFL Films that night.
"I carried one of those little (camera) things around. And Steve tells me, Now, whatever you do, don't do any interviews. Don't get caught. Because it's going to be a $10,000 fine for me if you do.' Right before the game, I'm sitting there by their bench, and they're loading me up with film and I've got my NFL Films shirt on. I'm looking all professional. (Another crew member) says, Now, all you've got to do is follow me around.' But (Mariucci) had told me to stay incognito.
"All of the sudden this (NFL Films) guy says Are you ready?' And I say, Yeah, I'm ready.' He says Let's go! Go! Go! Go!' The national anthem is about to start playing, and this guy goes running out to the 50-yard line. And I'm following the guy with the camera. I look back and Mariucci is screaming What the hell are you doing!? Get off the field!' "
- Now I understand why Kellen Winslow Jr. hasn't been making statements for himself. This week Winslow Jr. told Akron Beacon Journal reporter Patrick McManamon that he was aware riding a motorcycle was an activity that could void his contract. Should the Browns decide to pursue the return of a portion of Winslow's signing bonus, his admission should end any chance Winslow had of putting up a fight.
Said Winslow, "I'm grown. I still have to live my life. I did know the circumstances behind it, but I'm still learning. I'm young." To me, that sounds like Winslow is saying he's grown enough to make decisions, but young enough for them to be dumb.
Speaking of Winslow Jr., Houston Texans quarterback David Carr took a little jab when he was asked what his plans were for the remaining weeks of the offseason. Speaking through the team's Web site, Carr said he planned "To go base jumping and sky diving, surfing and riding some motorcycles – then I'll be ready for training camp." Somewhere, Kellen Winslow Sr. and Jim Brown are surely preparing Winslow Jr.'s rebuttal.
- For those who may have missed the small line in the transaction wires during the week, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers released quarterback Akili Smith. The third overall pick in the 1999 draft had hoped to kick-start his career with a stint in NFL Europe, but ended a mediocre season by falling from starter to the No. 3 quarterback for the Frankfurt Galaxy. When I spoke to an AFC scout last week about NFL Europe MVP Dave Ragone, I also asked him to characterize Smith's possible return to the NFL. His two-word answer: "It's dead."
- All is quiet on the Koren Robinson front, as the former Seattle receiver looks for a new home. An NFC executive said earlier this week his team wouldn't touch Robinson until his legal matters were resolved and Robinson had gotten substance abuse counseling. And one team that could use Robinson's services – the San Francisco 49ers – are likely to stay away from him (and his problems) after the team's recent public flogging over their in-house media relations videos.