King: Santonio trade is a "shot across the bow to Big Ben"

1181.jpgThe Twitter servers are being overloaded this evening as word spreads like wildfire of the trade that sent Super Bowl XLIII MVP Santonio Holmes to the New York Jets.

Ironically, the move comes only days after Ken Laird of ESPN 1250 in Pittsburgh reported that Holmes didn’t believe the Steelers will pay him big money, and that Holmes wanted to play in a big market.

And so the former Buckeye is now paired with a former Wolverine, Braylon Edwards.  (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)  They’ll both be catching passes from a former Trojan, while a former Horned Frog sits at the end of the bench and pouts.

Meanwhile, Peter King of and NBC put it best in characterizing the move:  “A shot across the bow to Big Ben.”  King also points out that the Steelers could have played this out for something more than a fourth-round pick, but that the Steelers opted to get it done, displaying a “we’re not gonna take it anymore attitude.” 

We’re also wondering whether the Steelers pulled the trigger on the deal so quickly because they fear there’s a chance that, come 2:00 p.m. E.T. on Monday, they’ll get another dose of bad news from District Attorney Fred Bright, ESPN’s report on the matter notwithstanding.

Either way, the stakes for Monday’s press conference just went way, way up.  If Roethlisberger gets charged, he could be the next one to be traded for a cold turkey sandwich with wilted lettuce.

Steelers ship Santonio to the Jets

3635.jpgWhat a strange weekend it has been for Santonio Holmes.

Yesterday, we reported that Holmes is facing a four-game suspension under the substance abuse policy.  Tonight, we’re told that the Steelers have traded Holmes to the New York Jets.

It’s the second time in less than a year that the Jets have swung a deal for a former first-round receiver.  Last October, they acquired Braylon Edwards from the Browns.

Like Holmes, Edwards also is facing a possible suspension, after pleading no contest to an assault that occurred only days before he was traded.  Also, both players are signed through 2010.

Suddenly, HBO’s Hard Knocks got a lot more interesting.

UPDATE:  Peter King of and NBC confirms that it’s a done deal.  Bart Hubbuch of the New York Post reports that the Jets gave up a fifth-round draft pick for Holmes, who was the MVP of Super Bowl XLIII.  A fifth-round draft pick for a former Super Bowl MVP.

Forces align for and against Santa Clara stadium vote

Santa Clara 49ers Stadium Rendering.jpgOn June 8, registered voters in Santa Clara will decide whether to accept or reject a package aimed at financing a new stadium for the 49ers.

According to Howard Mintz of the San Jose Mercury News, a “furious campaign” has been launched regarding the measure.  Predictably, both sides are resorting to the time-honored political tactic of hyperbole and exaggeration.

Under the proposal, $114 million in public support would be provided.  The 49ers would contribute $493 million, an amount much higher than the portions shouldered in recent years by teams like the Colts ($100 million), the Cardinals ($143 million), and the Broncos ($143 million).  The remaining $330 million would come from the stadium authority, which will raise the money via Personal Seat Licenses, concessions, and naming rights.

It’s believed in some circles that the Santa Clara project ultimately won’t be viable unless the 49ers and the Raiders share the facility.  It’s also believed that the Raiders strongly prefer sharing a facility in Oakland.

Either way, the vote is going forward on June 8.  A positive outcome doesn’t guarantee that the stadium will be built.  If the “nays” win, it’s pretty much dead.

Lions bringing back Jared DeVries

Jared_DeVries.jpgApparently, defensive end Jared DeVries is a glutton for punishment.  The unrestricted free agent has spent his entire career with the Lions, joining the team as a third-round pick in the 1999 draft. 

He has remained with the team throughout one of the darkest periods in franchise history, which began when running back Barry Sanders abruptly retired not long before the launch of DeVries’ first training camp.  In the past eleven years, he has experienced the latter stages of the Bobby Ross regime, the Gary Moeller cup of coffee, the Marty Mornhinweg mistake, the Steve Mariucci years, the Dick Jauron stop-gap, and the Rod Marinelli misery.

Last year, DeVries popped an Achilles’ tendon in August and missed the entire year.

Per John Niyo of the Detroit News, DeVries will re-sign with the team on Monday.  He’ll reportedly get a one-year, $1.7 million deal.  Niyo says that the money is roughly the same as what DeVries would have earned under the contract that the Lions terminated in February.

Through 2005, DeVries had only three career starts.  He then started nine games in 2006, 10 in 2007, and 10 in 2008.

Trouble looming between Titans, Chris Johnson

NFL_johnson1.jpgIn late March, we pointed out that Chris Johnson’s contract could soon become a problem.  “Soon” could be sooner than anyone in Tennessee realizes.

With Johnson boycotting offseason workouts and Titans coach Jeff Fisher shrugging at the possibility that the 2009 AP offensive player of the year’s absence will become protracted, we’re hearing that Johnson could be preparing to make a stand.

As the 24th pick in the 2008 draft, Johnson signed a slotted deal worth $12 million over five years.  He already thinks he should be the highest-paid offensive player in the league.

He isn’t; he’s not even close.  He’ll earn a base salary of $550,000 in 2010.  Colts quarterback Peyton Manning will earn $3.8 million more this season than Johnson will make under his entire rookie deal.

The Titans easily can respond to a request for a new deal by pointing to the 30 percent rule, which as we’ve recently explained makes it very difficult to do a market-value extension in the uncapped year — unless the team wants to fork over a gigantic signing bonus.  And while we believe when it comes to a veteran deal that the player should honor the terms of his contract, the current slotting system fails to reward a rookie who outperforms his draft position.

Regardless of whether Johnson chooses to hold out of training camp (and the grapevine suggests that he very possibly could), any forthcoming tweaking to the rookie compensation system not only should remove the windfalls paid to the men taken at the top but also should ensure that the players who become stars are paid accordingly.

Of course, none of that will help Johnson.  And his desire to get paid in a manner reflecting his abilities could quickly become one of the dominant story lines of the 2010 offseason.

Schwartz invokes "Planet Theory"

Longtime Giants executive George Young had a famous “Planet Theory” to drafting that Jim Schwartz invoked recently.

“Big, giant men that run fast?  That are strong enough to play the run and athletic enough to play the
pass?” Schwartz told the Detroit Free Press.  “There’s not many people like that walking the planet.”

While the theory is tongue-in-cheek, there’s plenty of truth to it.

The athleticism Ndamakong Suh displays is special.  (To a lesser degree, the same can be said about Gerald McCoy.)  There are no offensive tackles in this class that stand out as elite.

We’ve never bought that the Lions were seriously considering an offensive tackle at No. 2 if only because it defies logic.  [Editor’s note:  Speak for yourself, Rosenthal.  It’s hard to get the most out of last year’s first overall pick if he’s constantly running for his young life.]  Jim Schwartz has made his name on defensive linemen.  Detroit’s new identity should be there. To pass up a chance to work with Suh or McCoy makes no sense.

At least that’s what the “Planet Theory” says.

Plenty of big names still left on unrestricted market

T. Owens.jpgThe NFL offseason has basically hit pause until the NFL Draft.  The restricted free agent hasn’t developed, and the unrestricted free agents still let probably have to wait until May to get a job.

There are many big names still available, but they are all well past their prime. 

Here’s an incomplete look at some of the notable players still looking for a job at each position.

Wide receivers: Terrell Owens, Kevin Curtis, Laveranues Coles, Torry Holt, Javon Walker

Running backs: Brian Westbrook, Ladell Betts, Jamal Lewis, Justin

Quarterback: Marc Bulger  (I could list Chris Simms and Josh McCown but .
. . eh.)

Tight ends: Randy McMichael, L.J. Smith

Offensive line: Flozell Adams, Shawn Andrews, Chester Pitts, Kevin Mawae

Defensive line: Leonard Little, Cornelius Griffin, Charles Grant, Derrick Burgess

Linebacker: Jason Taylor, Keith Bulluck, Akin Ayodele, Antonio Pierce

Cornerback: Lito Sheppard, Nick Harper, Fred Smoot

Safety: Darren Sharper, Ken Hamlin, Gibril Wilson, Jermaine Phillips

Ronnie Brown could be available in trade, too

On Saturday, Charles Robinson of Yahoo! Sports said that a Pro Bowl running back is on the block, and that he could soon be traded.  Conventional wisdom point to Bills running back Marshawn Lynch, even though the NFL eventually will run out of cold turkey and lettuce, wilted or otherwise.

Earlier today, Adam Schefter of ESPN threw another name into the mix — Dolphins running back Ronnie Brown

Though Brown has been the wizard of the Wildcat in Miami, the Dolphins supposedly have dangled him from time to time over the past year or so. 

Coincidentally (or otherwise), Brown’s replica jersey can be had at the team’s online Pro Shop for only $30.00.

Agent: Jason Taylor decision coming midweek at the earliest

nfl_taylor.jpgOn Friday, a report emerged that defensive end Jason Taylor was close to signing with the Jets.

His agent says it’ll be a few more days, at least, until a decision is made.

It’s not even about a contract,” Gary Wichard told Jane McManus of 
“It’s about Jason making the decision with his wife to move up to New
York and play.  When that’s decided he’ll have an opportunity to move
forward in one direction or another.”

It’s not about a contract because the “Final Eight Plan” caps Taylor’s pay at $1.5 million in 2010 (the same amount former Jets kicker Jay Feely got from the Cardinals for the coming season) and $1.95 million for 2011.

The bigger question is whether Taylor wants to leave South Florida to participate in the offseason program in New York (surely, he doesn’t) and whether he wants to risk the perception among a fan base already inclined to dislike him that he’s getting special treatment if he signs a contract now that exempts him from all or part of the T-shirt and shorts practices.

That’s why we continue to believe that the best approach, if Taylor decides to join the Jets, would be to ink a postdated contract that gets filed with the league office and announced at some point between the conclusion of OTAs and the launch of training camp.

Sure, it would be a technical violation of the rules.  But who’s going to complain about it?

Belichick sees second round as being another first round

B_Belichick_1.jpgThe 2010 draft begins in only 11 days.  For the first time, it invades prime time, with round one on Thursday night, rounds two and three on Friday, and the rest on Saturday.

We’ve been hearing for weeks that the second day will entail plenty of possible wheeling and dealing, with the Rams (who hold the top selection in round two) dangling the pick to the highest bidder and other teams at the top of the second stanza working out contingent deals with those who’d like to jump up and snag rookies who squirted through round one.

Pats coach Bill Belichick agrees.

“I kind of think the second round will now be like the first round,”
Belichick tells Tony Grossi of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.  “Take those [top] 32 players out of there, whoever they
are, now you’re starting all over again for that second round.  And I can
see it being approached more as that first round.

“In the past, you kind of rolled into that round.  Now, to actually
stop and have the whole night to sit there and think about it and talk
to other teams and develop a new strategy.  Everybody does that on the
second day; now we have three days.  It’s a different dynamic.”

As a practical matter, it means that the top of round four also could entail some drama, since it’s the round to launch the Saturday action.  The extent to which the possibility of trades could generate interest remains to be seen; though we expect a huge increase in the ratings for Thursday night and a strong showing on Friday, the Saturday 4-5-6-7 phase could end up being an event that even the most die-hard NFL fans will avoid, especially if the sun is out, the grill is hot, and the pool is luke.

Texas Stadium implosion video

With NBC’s Sunday afternoon hockey game over, I’m left to search the dial for something more interesting than watching grown men swing metal sticks at a small white ball.

And, no, watching grown men swing wooden sticks at a somewhat larger white ball isn’t any better.

So I retreated to YouTube, where I found from NBC affiliate KXAN video of the implosion of Texas Stadium

Ravens fans, the job your team started in December 2008 finally has been completed.

Even on the 20th viewing, watching the collapse of the vacant venue is still holding my interest in a manner that golf and baseball never could.

Report: Garcia's return to the Eagles isn't imminent

Despite a report from FOX 29 in Philly that the Eagles and quarterback Jeff Garcia have been burning up the Sprint phone minutes of late, Les Bowen of the Philadelphia Daily News reports that “nothing is imminent.”

Bowen bases his latest blurb on discussions with “an Eagles source and a source close to Garcia,” which would be enough to make Donny Mac’s head explode if he hadn’t already been traded to D.C.

Bowen believes that Garcia wouldn’t return unless and until Vick gets the heave-ho, possibly during or after the draft.  Paul Domowitch of the Philadelphia Daily News recently reported that, despite reports to the contrary, Vick remains available.

And if McNabb generated a second-round pick and a 2011 fourth-round selection that could bump up by one round, Vick should be able to bring in a cold turkey sandwich with unwilted lettuce.

Jim Carrey pokes fun at Big Ben

jim-carrey.jpgIn 24 hours, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will learn whether his month-long nightmare will end — or whether it’s just beginning.  During what could be his last day of stomach churning, actor and comedian Jim Carrey has taken a pot shot at Big Ben, Twitter style.

Said Carrey, via the New York Daily News:  “Well, I ate my inoffensive sandwich with an
acceptable glass of milk and took the dogs out, while avoiding any
controversial though
t, then I was sexually assaulted by Ben
Roethlisberger!  I can’t be certain but it sure looked like him!  Good
thing I’m a Steelers fan!

Jim?  We’ve always thought you were funny — but only when someone else is writing your material.

Whitehurst will have a chance to topple Hasselbeck

40518--nfl_large_590_Unlimited.jpgThe Seattle Seahawks didn’t trade for quarterback Charlie Whitehurst with a presumption that Whitehurst will serve as the understudy to starter Matt Hasselbeck.  Instead, Whitehurst will have a chance to win the starting job.

“[Whitehurst] is going to compete to see how far he can take it and
how good is he,” Pete Carroll tells Steve Kelley of the Seattle Times.  “I’m very excited about him.  I’m not
going to pigeonhole him.  We know that Matt’s our starter and we’re
thrilled to have him.  But I don’t know what’s going to happen.  Matt,
Charlie, none of us does.”

Carroll explained his philosophy by comparing it to the approach he employed at USC. 

“Freshmen were brought in to start,” Carroll said.  “Guys we draft will be brought in to
start.  The thought is, ‘The opportunity is yours.  Can you do it?’  And if
the veteran guys can hold them off?  Awesome.  Every guy who comes into
the program from now on is going to be in that same situation.”

But here’s the problem with applying a “no one is safe” approach at the NFL level.  College players are more likely to accept the coach’s decisions quietly.  In the NFL, if Carroll resolves the inherently subjective question of whether Hasselbeck or Whitehurst is the better man by picking the newcomers, some in the locker room may disagree — and some may be willing to let other players know their feelings.

So the real challenge, in our view, will be to secure unequivocal buy in from the players, both as to the approach and as to the decisions that the coaches may be making.

Carroll seems to realize — and welcome — the challenge.  “The key for us is to get our message out there to the players,” Carroll
said.  “To philosophically get them drawn in to the way we do things.  As
much as this is a personnel league, I think, without our approach and
the mentality that it brings, I don’t think we’re going anywhere.”

If it works, good.  If it doesn’t, Carroll once again will be assessing whether freshmen can start right away sooner rather than later.

Holmgren may have been dropping a hint regarding a possible move up

We recently pointed out that Browns president Mike Holmgren arguably has been a bit too impulsive when it comes to his quarterbacks, giving up Brady Quinn for a cold turkey sandwich with wilted lettuce, trading for a career backup, and paying a king’s ransom to a turnover machine instead of waiting for the Eagles to reduce their price tag for Donovan McNabb.

As one league insider explained in response, Holmgren’s early moves aren’t surprising, given that he spent 17 years as an NFL head coach.  “By its very nature coaching is an emotional profession,” the source said, “and impatience is more often driven by short-term emotion. . . .  How can you ask a person whose short-term thought process is to ‘win now’ to have oversight of the idea to ‘build for the future’?  They can’t do it. . . .  They just can’t help themselves.”

But there could be evidence that Holmgren is making the transition to long-range planning.  Howard Balzer of the St. Louis Globe-Democrat believes that Holmgren may have been dropping a hint via comments he made in the wake of the McNabb trade.  “The only way I was going to take all those early draft picks in rounds
1, 2 and 3 and use them would be for a young draft choice that I thought
could be the quarterback for the next 15 years,” Holmgren said.

As Balzer sees it, Holmgren possibly was saying that he’d be inclined to give up the seventh overall pick, the 38th pick, the 71st pick, the 85th pick, and the 92nd pick for an opportunity to trade up with the Rams and land Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford.

Under the outdated (specifically at the top) draft trade chart, this package of picks would justify landing between No. 2 and No. 3.  Given that the first overall pick in 2010 will entail the largest rookie contract in the final year of the free money, that haul of picks should be enough to justify a swap.

The real questions are whether Holmgren was talking about Bradford, and whether the Rams would be interested.

There’s another factor that should be considered in any such transaction.  Bradford is represented by Tom Condon and Ben Dogra of CAA, and Condon/CAA haven’t had a recent history of success with the Cleveland organization, starting with quarterback Tim Couch in 1999 and continuing with quarterback Brady Quinn in 2007. 

So the Rams may want to trade down and the Browns may want to trade up, but Bradford’s camp may want nothing to do with Cleveland, even with Holmgren at the helm.

UPDATE:  In a prior version of this item, we neglected to include the 71st overall pick.  The points value of the pick does not alter the overall analysis.