PFT Live: GM Rick Smith on the state of the Texans

Houston Texans GM Rick Smith joined Mike Florio in the final segment of PFT Live to talk about everything going on with his team. He talks about the draft and how bringing in DE J.J. Watt could lead to Mario Williams moving to outside linebacker. He also talks about how pleased he’s been with QB Matt Schaub and how he hopes he’s with the team for a very long team.

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Let’s all say it together: McNabb isn’t going to the Cardinals


Redskins quarterback Donovan McNabb has a home in Arizona, and the Cardinals need a quarterback.

But McNabb isn’t going to the Cardinals.

The Cardinals aren’t interested,” writes Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic. And this is what reporters all across the country have been saying for the last two years.

McNabb was available last offseason, too. The Cardinals showed no interest, preferring to try Derek Anderson, and rookies John Skelton and Max Hall. Arizona is again in the market for a quarterback, but not a 34-year-old stopgap who’s never played outside a West Coast offense.

The Cardinals do plan to be aggressive about finding their next signal caller, according to G.M. Rod Graves.

Signing McNabb, after the Redskins inevitably release him, would be about the least aggressive quarterback move Graves could make. They’d be in the market for a new passer in 2012.

Rex Ryan talks up Mark Sanchez

During a Thursday visit to PFT Live, Jets coach Rex Ryan talked about the development of quarterback Mark Sanchez as a leader of the team, in light of his organization of the “Jets West” camp.

It’s a tradition that started last year, and that has taken on even greater importance during the lockout.

For the full Rex Ryan interview, check out the PFT Live home page.  Or download today’s show on iTunes.

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Goodell says the league, players need to be talking in order to strike a new deal


The NFL continues to maintain and update the labor propaganda website known as  Most recently, the league has added to the site a transcript of Commissioner Roger Goodell’s conference call with Colts fans.

The league opted to highlight and to headline Goodell’s statement, which should be obvious by now to anyone who has been following the lockout, that the parties “need to be talking to reach an agreement.”

He’s right, but it’s not as if the league has been banging on the players’ door and the players have refused to talk.  If the league were serious about working out a new labor agreement, all 32 owners would have attended last month’s court-ordered mediation sessions.  If the league suddenly is serious about negotiating a CBA, all 32 owners should be present in less than two weeks, when court-ordered mediation is scheduled to resume.

Or the league could simply pick up the phone without the involvement of a federal chaperone and try to get things moving in the right direction.

The reality is that neither side has been serious about talking because each side believes it will gain leverage via the litigation process.  And while it’s accurate that the litigation filed by the players has delayed progress toward a new deal, it would be unfair to blame only the players for the filing of suit.  The league knew that the players, when faced with a lockout, would likely shut down the union and sue.  And yet the league still pushed the players to the brink of a lockout, essentially forcing the players to make their power play.

So it’s not the players’ fault that litigation has been pursued.  It’s both sides’ fault for allowing the situation to get to that point.  And the league’s insistence that only the players should be blamed eventually will become (if it hasn’t already) yet another impediment to working out a new labor deal.

Saints release statement on Toronto’s interest


As Florio mentioned this morning, the fact that Toronto is looking at the Saints as a team to possibly relocate to Canada is “borderline ridiculous.”

The Saints wanted to make sure their fans knew it was ridiculous too before the story ruined anyone’s Jazz Fest on Thursday.

“Reports about the Saints as a potential team moving to Toronto are completely false. The New Orleans Saints are committed to the city of New Orleans,” said Greg Bensel, Saints Vice President of Communications.

As Jeff Duncan of the New Orleans Times-Picayune pointed out, the Saints are locked in to New Orleans.  They recently signed a 20-year deal with Louisiana.

It wasn’t so long ago things were different.  Duncan’s excellent book, From Bags to Riches, explains in great detail the open flirtations of owner Tom Benson with the city of San Antonio following Hurricane Katrina.  (The flirtations started before the storm.)

There was a time when Benson callously played with the emotions of Saints fans.  It’s a time that has largely been forgotten because of the incredible support and success the Saints have experienced in the last five years, although it should still be deeply embarrassing for Benson in retrospect.

Thankfully for Saints fans, that time has past.

Matt Cassel invites teammates to crash on his couch in Kansas City

Just as Saints quarterback Drew Brees is picking up the tab for getting the whole team together to work out in New Orleans, Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel is telling teammates they have a place to stay if they come to Kansas City for team activities.

Cassel told the Kansas City Star that he has reached out to receiver Jonathan Baldwin, the Chiefs’ first-round draft pick, and quarterback Ricky Stanzi, a fifth-round pick, and invited them to come to Kansas City and get to work.

“We’re making arrangements trying to get them out here as well, even if they have to come out and stay with me for a few days,” Cassel said. “I told [Baldwin] I’m excited he’s with us. I told him to get settled and let everything kind of sink in and then get out here and start to get to work. That’s going to be the biggest challenge is getting some of those younger guys up to speed because they’re not going to be able to have the coaching and the extra time at the facility to go through the playbook. So they’ll have to rely on myself and some of the other leaders as well.”

The Chiefs haven’t had the kind of turnout that the Saints had, with 37 players showing up for the first day of the Brees-led activities, but Cassel says he spent four hours with new offensive coordinator Bill Muir and new quarterbacks coach Jim Zorn on Friday during the brief time when the lockout was lifted, and that he’s now passing along that coaching with a few teammates at a time.

“I’ll usually put together a small group of guys and go out on the field to do some things,” Cassel said. “Right now, it’s a little awkward because not everybody’s in town. So what I’m going to try to do is to get people to come back to town and get us really in the full swing of things and have everybody working out here. We’re going to try to get a larger group of guys. We’ve had guys who have flown in, and they’ve stayed with me for a few days and we’ve gone out and done some field work and some throwing. That’s been good for us to get that one-on-one time.”

And with Cassel’s offer of a place to stay, that one-on-one time extends beyond the practice field.

Our discoveries, after tracking pre-draft visits and workouts

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For the last two offseasons, PFT has used the media and our own resources to track pre-draft visits and workouts. We’ve hoped to find a connection between those meetings and what happens on draft day.

Visits and workouts are often written off as smokescreens, routine due diligence, or mere medical checks by observers unwilling to put in the time necessary to track them.

But we are willing.

And here are our findings:

1. In 2011, twelve of the top-14 picks either worked out for or visited their team before the draft. The only players who did not work out for or visit the team they were picked by were Texans defensive end J.J. Watt and Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert. Jags G.M. Gene Smith did personally attend Gabbert’s Insight Bowl game against Iowa, however, and the Texans don’t use pre-draft visits on first-round prospects. Which brings us to our next discovery.

2. Some teams don’t use any pre-draft visits on elite prospects. The Texans, Bears, Jaguars, and Packers concern themselves almost strictly with late-round, undrafted types when scheduling visits. For example, the player drafted earliest with whom we know Green Bay formally visited was Markell Carter, the 194th overall pick. The Raiders and Colts, for the most part, also fall into this category.

And either the Houston media is not at all concerned with reporting pre-draft visits and workouts, or the Texans just don’t have many of them. (Our guess is the former.) We counted a league-low six Texans pre-draft visits, and each team is allowed up to 30.

3. 21 of this year’s 32 first-round picks visited or privately worked out for the team that drafted them. One notable outlier was Seahawks tackle James Carpenter. “We tried staying under the radar with this guy,” Seattle G.M. John Schneider confirmed during Carpenter’s introductory press conference. “I told our group … we were very proud of them that his name never got out.” The Seahawks rated Carpenter as the No. 2 offensive lineman in the entire draft.

But the connection is still strong between first-round picks and pre-draft meetings. Throw out the Texans, Bears, Jaguars, Packers, and Colts for reasons mentioned in point No. 2 here, and there was a 77.8 percent chance that a team’s first-round selection officially visited with or privately worked out for the organization he landed in.

And that’s pretty substantial.

4. No team puts in more face time than the Patriots. Bill Belichick’s team has had more private workouts than any club in the NFL over the past two seasons. (Which is as long as we’ve been keeping track.)

5. The Broncos smokescreened the hell out of quarterbacks. It’s easy to say in hindsight, but here’s a look at QBs Denver showed “interest” in: Colin Kaepernick (both private workout and facility visit), Cam Newton (facility visit), Blaine Gabbert (visit), Jake Locker (private workout), and Christian Ponder (workout). The Broncos didn’t draft a single signal caller.

So we’ll know to be on our toes when trying to read into John Elway’s future visits and workouts lists.

05/05: Rex Ryan, Rick Smith

Jets head coach Rex Ryan joins Mike Florio to talk about his new book, the growing maturity of Mark Sanchez, the budding rivalry with the Giants, and much more. Texans GM Rick Smith joins the program to discuss Houston’s draft, the defensive transformation led by Wade Phillips, and franchise QB Matt Schaub.

Newsome doesn’t rule out Jared Gaither returning to Ravens


Ravens G.M. Ozzie Newsome conducted a conference call with season-ticket holders on Wednesday night.  Among other things, Newsome said that tackle Jared Gaither could be back in 2011.

“If we operate under the 2010 rules,” Newsome said, per Jamison Hensley of the Baltimore Sun, “we would still have Jared Gaither. . . .  He’d get a chance to come back and start also.”

Gaither was moved last year from the left side to the right side.  He showed up for camp lighter than expected, and back trouble eventually resulted in his placement on injured reserve, without playing in a single game, preseason or regular season.

It’s believed that Gaither would compete with third-round draft pick Jah Reid at right tackle, with Michael Oher staying put on the left side.

Newsome also said that the team will be looking for a pass rusher, a backup quarterback, and a fullback once free agency begins.

Carney creates informal kicker camp

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While teams around the league come together for practices, you have probably had one thought: What about the kickers?  (Okay, you probably didn’t have that thought.)

John Carney, who has bounced between player and coach of late, has them covered.  At a soccer field in Carlsbad, California, the 22-year-veteran oversees a loose practice for specialists around the league.

Jenny Vrentas of the Newark Star-Ledger writes that Jets punter Steve Weatherford, Jets kicker Nick Folk, Jets kicker Nick Novak,  Chargers kicker Nate Kaeding, Cowboys punter Mat McBriar, and Packers punter Tim Masthay are among the folks that have come out this offseason.

The specialists share techniques and workout methods unique to their positions.    They find fields around the San Diego area, and then head to a first-class gym.  In Carney’s garage.  (He includes a photograph of Arnold Schwarzenegger on the wall.)

“He does a lot for specialists all over,” Folk said.  “It’s great to work out at team facilities, but when you get 80-plus players in there, you can’t personalize to each position. Not only kicking-wise, but workout-wise, it’s beneficial to be down there.”

Unfortunately, we have a feeling that player-run practices like Carney’s kicking extravaganza will be the only practices we’ll hear about it in a while.

Rex Ryan, Rick Smith join PFT Live on Thursday

Jets coach Rex Ryan has been aggressively promoting his new book, Play Like You Mean It.  On Thursday, the campaign includes a visit to ProFootballTalk Live.

Starting at 12:00 p.m. ET on the nose, we’ll interview the man who has taken the Jets to the AFC title game in each of his first two seasons as a head coach.  And though, with the help of PFT Live producer and unabashed Jets fan Matt Casey, we’ve put together more questions than we could ever ask in the available time, we’re always looking for even better questions.

So send any questions you’d like to see asked, either for Ryan or for Texans G.M. Rick Smith, who isn’t selling a book (yet) but who will join us in the third segment of the show.

Watch at noon ET right here.

Brad Nessler calls new NFL Network partner Mike Mayock “a star”

It wasn’t long ago that Mike Mayock was well-regarded as a draft analyst by hard-core NFL fans but largely unknown beyond football obsessives. Now Mayock is becoming one of the most prominent people in the football business, and he sounded on a conference call today like he’s a little shocked that just being a guy who likes talking football has turned into a successful career.

“I love talking football — it doesn’t matter if I’m at the dinner table or down the street with my buddies,” Mayock said. “But to me there’s nothing like doing a live game. . . . I can’t believe they pay me to do live games. It’s mind boggling. My father was a coach for 45 years and he calls me Jesse James without a gun. He says, ‘You’re stealing money, son.’ And he’s right. I’m blessed to call games for a living.”

Mayock’s new on-air partner, Brad Nessler, said he views sitting next to Mayock in the booth as an honor.

“Mike and I have known each other a long time and worked a few games together back in the day,” Nessler said. “Everyone uses the term ‘rising star’ with Mike. I think he’s always been a star, but people are letting him do his thing now.”

For Mayock, doing his thing means, in his words, “A football telecast that answers all the questions.” Mayock hopes he’s helping to illuminate the game for fans who are already knowledgeable but want to know more.

“I start with a fundamental approach,” Mayock said. “I think football is the greatest game on earth, especially on television. And if you respect the game, I think the viewer will appreciate the telecast.”

NFL Network has confirmed that it first made the decision to make Mayock the color commentator for its package of prime time games, then went looking for the play-by-play man who could do the best job alongside Mayock. After considering several other broadcasters, they picked Nessler — perhaps in part because he realizes that Mayock is the star of the show.

But Mayock doesn’t talk like a star. He talks like a football fan who’s thrilled that he gets to be a fan for a living.

“If you told me 10 months ago that I’d be calling Notre Dame games, followed by an NFL playoff game on NBC, followed by NFL Network offering me this package,” Mayock said. “I would probably inquire as to your hallucinogenic choices.”

Texans plan to use Mario Williams at outside linebacker

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The biggest addition to the Texans defense this offseason wasn’t first-round pick J.J. Watt, but defensive coordinator Wade Phillips.

The former Cowboys coach is changing just about everything about the Texans old approach in their transition to a 3-4 defense.  That includes creating the biggest outside linebacker in NFL history.

John McClain of the Houston Chronicle wrote about Williams’ planned conversion in a chat Wednesday.  (A full story is coming Friday.)  At 6’6 and 290 pounds, Williams will look a little crazy standing up.  But McClain says he plans to drop some weight and the Texans won’t count on him to cover as the weak side outside linebacker.

“He’ll be up in running situations and down in passing situations. Sometimes they might change him around,” McClain writes.

Phillips plans to use Williams like he did DeMarcus Ware and “loves” Williams at OLB.  It appears the team selected J.J. Watt in part to free up Williams from playing defensive end.

The Texans certainly have an intriguing linebacker corps now: Williams, Brian Cushing, DeMeco Ryans, Brooks Reed, and Connor Barwin.

Phillips has forgotten more about defense than we’ll ever know, so we’ll wait to see this experiment with Williams in action before making any judgement.   If nothing else, it should be fun to watch.

Checking in with PFT Planet: Asomugha’s future

We’ve got a big show Thursday on PFT Live, with Rex Ryan and Texans G.M. Rick Smith joining the program.

Before we hear from them, however, we wanted to hear from you.

Florio took questions from PFT Planet on Wednesday”s show.   We’ve got answers to questions on Nnamdi Asomugha’s future, the relative lack of interest in this NFL Draft,  and an update on labor negotiations.

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DeMarco Murray could challenge for big role right away

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Dallas’ pick of Oklahoma running back DeMarco Murray in the third round took a lot of people by surprise.

It was earlier than some draftniks thought he should go. More importantly, Dallas appeared to have bigger needs.   Now that Murray is in the fold, however, it’s clear the Cowboys think very highly of him.

So does Jacques-Jean Taylor of the Dallas Morning News, who thinks Murray could wind up starting for Dallas.  Right away.

“DeMarco Murray will challenge Felix Jones for the starting running back position, and there’s no reason why he shouldn’t expect to win the job. Jones has been a disappointment, and the Cowboys have provided a catalyst for him to play his best football,” Taylor writes.

Marion Barber should get the boot once the lockout ends.  We’ve always wanted to see what Tashard Choice could do in a bigger role, but that probably won’t happen now unless Jones or Murray get hurt.  (A decent bet.)

Coach Jason Garrett has said this offseason that Jones proved he could handle a bigger role at the end of last season and he put up good numbers.

We still expect Felix Jones to be the team’s starter, but it sounds like he may not have a long leash on the job.  It sounds like a new running back has caught Jerry Jones’ eye.