Around the League: College considered Gregg Williams

Len Pasquarelli, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

In a week in which banished defensive coordinator Gregg Williams reportedly began talks with NFL officials about the conditions for the possible return from the indefinite suspension he incurred as a result of the "Bountygate" scandal, an official from one prominent Southern college acknowledged to The Sports Xchange late Thursday night that school athletic department executives casually discussed the possibility of offering him a position.

The discussions never reached what the official termed "a formal stage," in part because of the release of the tapes prior to the San Francisco-New Orleans playoff game last year in which Williams urged his Saints' charges to test the injuries of several 49ers' players. The damning tape, the school executive said, "made (Williams) absolutely toxic," and the discussions never gained traction.

It's not known, of course, whether Williams would have even been interested in such a position -- described as more a part-time consulting gig than hands-on coaching -- but it would have permitted him to retain some football ties while serving his suspension.

The school even discussed, before the tapes became public, the possibility of examining Williams' deal with the St. Louis Rams to determine if it would have been contractually feasible for him to consider a position.

*There is a pretty good chance that Alabama will have five players selected in the first round of the draft Thursday.

But the national champions also have some of the most hotly discussed first-round prospects in the talent pool.

Tailback Trent Richardson may be the "safest" player in the entire lottery, and probably will go off the board in the top five, but that hasn't stopped some pundits from debating the merits of choosing a running back so high.

The discussions have been even more intense about Upshaw, who looked to be a sure-fire pick in the top half of the round a month ago, but whose perceived lack of quickness and lateral speed, along with questions about his ability to play outside at such a bulky weight, could prompt him to slide a bit.

And Kirkpatrick, once regarded as competition for Morris Claiborne for the No. 1 cornerback spot, is probably no better than third at the position right now.

On the flip side, Barron is skyrocketing up draft boards and Hightower has held his own as an inside 'backer, certainly eyed by several 3-4 teams, probably in the middle third of the first round. Said one general manager: "The one thing that no one can (debate) is that all the Alabama kids know how to play football, and they understand the importance of it. Nick (Saban) essentially runs a prep school for the NFL. His guys are always ready to go."

*Although unrestricted free agent tailback Cedric Benson hasn't garnered any interest in the marketplace -- the seven-year veteran acknowledged this week that he hasn't made any visits -- there is some interest from a few clubs who view him as a time-sharing power runner.

Those clubs appear to be waiting until after the draft and for Benson's price tag to come down to somewhere in the $1 million range. Teams that have discussed Benson internally seem legitimately convinced that he has rehabilitated himself from the work ethic and attitude questions that dogged him early in his career.

But Benson will turn 30, the dread age for runners, by the end of the season. He has averaged 298.3 attempts over the past three seasons as a workhorse in Cincinnati. And in the last two seasons, Benson's average is just 3.7 yards per carry.

In fact, in the five seasons in which Benson logged 150 or more rushing attempts, he's been better than 3.9 yards per carry just one time, when he averaged 4.2 yards in 2009. The former first-rounder will get some play after the draft, but will have to accept a reduced role and a reduced salary as well.

*Earlier this week, ESPN reported that contract extension discussions between the Saints and quarterback Drew Brees had progressed to the point where the two sides had narrowed their differences to roughly $2 million per season.

There has been, a member of the Brees camp suggested to The Sports Xchange, further advancement even, but the person cautioned that a deal isn't yet imminent.

"But at least there isn't the kind of (inertia) that existed earlier," said the source, "so that's improvement."

Neither the prolonged contract mess, nor Brees' very public NFLPA role in negotiating player sanctions for the bounty scandal, have yet tarnished his pristine image in The Big Easy.

But both the quarterback and his representatives are aware of that potential. And while it probably won't affect the financial package sought by Brees, one of several "franchised" players who have stayed away from their teams' offseason programs, it's a consideration.

*Seven years ago, arguably the most notable tandem -- in terms of players from the same school and at the same position, as cited above -- entered the NFL, when Auburn tailbacks Ronnie Brown (Miami) and Cadillac Williams (Tampa Bay) went off the board with the second and fifth overall choices, respectively.

Seven seasons later, the two backs can't find jobs, and are currently unemployed as unrestricted free agents. The sagas of Brown and Williams aren't so much an indictment of taking two players from the same program as they are a cautionary tale of how the value of tailbacks has deteriorated in recent seasons.

Brown is 30 and Williams will be on Saturday. Between them, the two have one Pro Bowl selection, only two 1,000-yard campaigns (one apiece), one season in which they carried more than 250 times, four years of under 500 rushing yards, and lots of injuries. Since the NFL implemented the "common draft" in 1967, there have been three other examples of running backs from the same school chosen in the first round the same year. But Brown and Williams are the only two ever tabbed in the top 10, let along the first five.

When they came into the NFL, Willams and Brown were projected as Pro Bowl-caliber performers. Injuries, obviously, contributed to their situations.

Scouts today often discuss the devaluation of the running back position, and their names are prominent in that banter.

*Although it probably shouldn't be, history is always a component of the draft, and when one considers the recent track record of quarterbacks chosen in the second round, it's arguably a little easier to understand how/why some franchises "reach" and elevate players at the position into the initial stanza.

In the past 10 years, there have been 11 quarterbacks selected in the second round, and the "bust rate" of the group is alarming. It includes washouts such as Pat White (Miami, 2009), Brian Brohm (Buffalo, 2008), Jimmy Clausen (Carolina, 2010), Drew Stanton (Detroit, 2007), John Beck (Miami, 2007) and Kellen Clemens (New York Jets, 2006).

Beyond Andy Dalton of Cincinnati, who started all 16 games as a rookie in 2011 and took the Bengals to a wild card berth, there's been little production.

In fairness, it should be noted that the jury is still out on 2011 second-rounder Colin Kaepernick (49ers), that Chad Henne and Kevin Kolb can still have solid careers and that Tarvaris Jackson will vie with Matt Flynn for the starting job in Seattle this year.

By and large, though, quarterbacks chosen in the second round have bombed.

In fact, the league went four straight drafts, 2002-2005, without a single second-round quarterback. In the past 10 years, the second-round has featured more than two quarterbacks only once, in 2007, when Kolb, Stanton and Beck were chosen.

Of the 31 starting jobs projected for 2012 -- excluding the Seahawks' situation -- just three are peopled by former second-rounders. By comparison, there are two sixth- and seventh-rounders each, and two who entered the NFL as undrafted free agents.

And so teams that may consider waiting until the second round next week to grab a candidate such as Brandon Weeden of Oklahoma State might want to consider the history.

*In the interest of clarification, the deadline for restricted free agent offer sheets to be signed is Friday at 11:59 p.m. (ET), not 4 p.m., as has been reported by some media outlets.

Of course, the deadline is fairly academic, as this is likely to be the second consecutive year in which no offer sheets were consummated.

There's still time for us to eat crow on this one, but The Sports Xchange and the Tip Sheet have been reporting for several weeks that Pittsburgh wide receiver Mike Wallace, viewed early in free agency as the most likely offer sheet target, would not solicit any offers from other teams.

It certainly appears that will be the case and that the fleet three-year veteran will have to make a decision about his next move, sign the one-year tender for roughly $2.7 million and become an unrestricted free agent next spring, or have agent Bus Cook negotiate a long-term agreement with the Steelers.

The team can reduce its tender offer to 110 percent of Wallace's 2011 salary, a difference of about $2.1 million, if the tender isn't executed by June 15.

From 2000 through 2009, according to the league, there were fewer than four offer sheets executed only one time, in 2008, when there were three.

There has been just one since then, with tailback Mike Bell signing an offer sheet and changing teams, from New Orleans to Philadelphia.

If there are no moves before midnight, this will mark the third time in four years that no restricted free agents switched clubs via the conventional offer sheet mechanism.

*Considerable feedback, and decidedly mixed, on last week's note that Denver wide receiver Demaryius Thomas was being borderline disingenuous when he suggested that departed quarterback Tim Tebow didn't get him the ball enough.

As noted, in Tebow's 13 starts, including two playoff contests, Thomas was "targeted" 87 times, per league statistics.

In response to a few queries, Tebow completed 48.3 percent of those passes (42 of 87). That was only slightly better this his completion rate, 45.8 percent, to other receiver targets.

*Worth repeating from draft notes earlier in the week, given that some folks from Mobile, Ala., checked in and strongly confirmed: No inkling yet about who might replace the deposed Steve Hale as CEO and president of the annual Senior Bowl college all-star game, but some locals are pushing hard for Philadelphia Eagles personnel executive Phil Savage to at least consider the post.

A Mobile native, Savage is a longtime and widely respected league personnel man, was general manager in Cleveland (2005-2008), and a key member of Ozzie Newsome's top-shelf scouting staff in Baltimore for many years.

Hale was ousted last month after 19 years of running what is arguably the most conspicuous of the several college post-season contests.

*Punts: It will be interesting to see what the draft means for offensive tackles, but in recent days, a few scouts have suggested that the spot might be one of the most overrated in the lottery. The guard crop, scouts say, is significantly deeper. The first round has averaged five tackles over the past five years, after having only five total in the three years prior to that. ... There have been few drafts in which the top six prospects have been so well defined. Notable is that five of the consensus top half-dozen prospects are offensive players, with LSU's Claiborne the lone exception. Not since 2005 has the first round produced five offensive players among the top six picks. The first five players off the board that year were offensive performers. ... Beyond the aforementioned Benson, tailbacks Jackie Battle (Kansas City), Ryan Grant (Green Bay), and Chester Taylor (Arizona) are free agents who will probably get some interest after the draft. ... Many mock drafts have projected an inside/middle linebacker to the Giants, but some New York personnel people reminded this week that the club rarely passes an opportunity to add a pass rusher if one is available. The Giants won a Super Bowl last year, they pointed out, with a middle linebacker, Chase Blackburn, plucked off the street. ... The Giants, by the way, haven't yet approached weak-side 'backer Michael Boley about moving to the middle in the wake of the trade acquisition of Keith Rivers from the Bengals. People close to Boley, though, allow the seven-year veteran wouldn't be opposed to such a move. ... One Philly official placed the odds at about 50-50 that cornerback Asante Samuel will be dealt just before or during the draft. Samuel is scheduled to make $21.5 million in base salary the next two seasons, will have to dramatically reduce that number no matter where he plays, but his representatives haven't yet had any substantive discussions about doing so. ... While the Steelers prefer to sign Wallace to a long-term contract, some club officials are confident that, if he signs only the one-year tender -- and becomes an unrestricted free agent next spring and ultimately departs -- Pittsburgh would likely receive a third-round choice in the 2014 draft as compensation. And the Steelers, some team officials point out, found Wallace in the third round. ... Somewhat ironic that the NFL now wants to add a "suspense factor" to the draft, especially the first round, by embargoing the networks from showing prospects in the "green room" and on the telephone with teams. For years, a league executive has tipped off the network hosts, via an earpiece, as to the identity of the player chosen, before it was publicly revealed. ... The excellent Internet site has done an outstanding job the last several years in detailing that most compensatory draft choices awarded by the league go to franchises with non-losing records, and that's the case again in 2012. Of the 32 additional picks meted out last month, 20 went to clubs with 2011 records of .500 or better. ... Because of the frenzy to sign undrafted free agents at the end of the draft, a few player agents have strongly suggested that the lottery be increased beyond seven rounds (eight rounds, actually, counting the compensatory choices). The initiative, as outlined by The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, could be broached to the NFLPA in coming months. ... One guy getting interest as a possible "priority free agent" from a few 3-4 teams is Bethune-Cookman edge rusher Ryan Davis, who had 12 sacks last season. Davis isn't a particularly long athlete, and doesn't have tremendous upfield explosiveness, but corners well, and seems to have a knack for attacking the pocket. ... Several clubs, including Atlanta, are paying more attention to small college prospects this year. ... Unless teams are lying, no club has yet removed Ohio State offensive tackle Mike Adams, who allegedly tested positive for marijuana at the combine, from its draft board, although his stock has been dropped some. A handful of franchises, though, won't touch North Alabama (formerly Florida) cornerback Janoris Jenkins, not just because of past marijuana problems, but character concerns in general.

*The last word: "It's worth it. It's totally worth it. This is the best job in the world. I'd never trade it for anything, so I don't know if I could justify suing the league when I'm done (playing), because it's given me, up to this point, 11 years. Even though we've lost for 10 (years), it's given me 11 years of fun. I have fun every time I step on the field and I think that's what it's all about. When I'm at home in my rocking chair at 40, I don't think I'm going to be thinking about suing the NFL. I'm going to be thinking about those guys I played with in the locker room and, hopefully, these good years coming up." -- Detroit center Dominic Raiola, who has started all but four games for the Lions over the past 10 seasons, on the spate of lawsuits against the NFL regarding head injuries, concussions and memory loss

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