Monday, March 13, 2006

Tourney Time, Free Agency & Other Stuff

Well, not much to say about the ACC Tournament, other than the obvious: UNC lost Saturday to a pretty damn good BC team, and Duke won the whole thing. Big whoop. Duke is basically the New York Yankees of the NCAAs. They're picked to win it every year and as it stands, they last won in 2001 (yeah I know, the Yanks last won in 2000, but I'm stretching for the analogy, so work with me) -- and before that, it was 1992.

As long as I'm reminiscing, one of my favorite Duke moments -- and there are many -- was watching Coach K and the Blue Devils in their first NCAA Championship in 1986. Never Nervous Pervis Ellison was kind enough to squash any Duke celebration that season, and as an added bonus, Johnny Dawkins left without winning it all, and now he's best known as the dope who can't get a head coaching job, refused to shake Matt Doherty's hand a few seasons ago because Doherty and Chris Collins were involed in an altercation (read: Nerd-off; and everybody loses in a Nerd-off), and just got passed by J.J. Redick on the all-time ACC scoring list. Yeah, I'd be angry too.

Actually, as I re-read this, I do sound angry. Or maybe bitter is more accurate. Fair enough, I can't disagree, but what can I say, I don't like Duke. Anyway, The Tar Heels got the third seed in the Washingon, DC bracket and face off against Murray St. (24-6) this Friday in Dayton, Ohio (Not to get too far ahead of myself, but they could conceivably have a rematch with Michigan St. in the next round, provided of course, both teams win ... Duh).

And despite dropping the semifinal game to Boston College, after almost a season's worth of college basketball, it's really hard to believe that this team primarily consists of freshmen, a handful of undergrads and David Noel (and, of course, Byron Sanders; you can't forget Sanders). I know this isn't ground-breaking stuff, but it bears repeating. And so does pointing out how much Quentin Thomas has progressed. He played 20 minutes in Friday's UVA game and may have had his most consistent effort of his career. He regressed a bit against BC, but the Eagles might be one of the best teams in the country. They play like a veteran NBA team, and they never ever seem to get rattled my their opponent. At first, I thought their head coach Al Skinner was pulling a "Weekend at Bernie's" on the bench because he wasn't moving. Apparently, that's his deal. If Shaft was a basketball coach (and bald ... and a bad dresser instead of a bad -- Watch Yo Mouth!), he'd be Al Skinner. At the other end of the spectrum, of course, is Coach K. If Larry Appleton was a basketball coach, he'd be a cool Coach K.

One thing I noticed while watching the BC - Duke game was that the Blue Devils trot out a seemingly endless string of players that are easy to hate. I know I mentioned this last week, but who doesn't hate Josh McRoberts? Or Greg Paulus? At one point late in the second half, McRoberts made a basket and got fouled, and Paulus proceeded to celebrate by giving him a bear hug while wrapping his legs around McRoberts' waist. Riveting stuff. The camera then shows J.J. Redick with that, "Hey, I really hate these guys too," look on his face. It was like the Coach K Kool-Aid had worn off enough for him to have a lucid thought. That prompted a quick Duke timeout to give the trainer time to up J.J.'s dosage. It worked because he went out and scored something like 30 points in seven minutes and the game was over. That, my friends, is Duke basketball. And yeah, like I mentioned above, I'm still bitter.


Update #1: Well, it looks like the Steelers will have Batch for the next three or four years, Kriewaldt will be back, and both Jeff Hartings and Chukky Okobi have restructured.

Update #2: According to the Tribune-Review the Steelers, "are negotiating with defensive end Brett Keisel and free safety Chris Hope and are in regular contact with their remaining unrestricted free agents ... To the Steelers' knowledge, Keisel and Hope have yet to schedule visits with other teams." Pace wins the race.

Update #3: Jamal Lewis will remain with the Ravens. In my eyes, this is a win-win. Steelers fans can stop entertaining the thought of Jam-Jam coming to Pittsburgh, and now the Steelers get to face him for the forseeable future.

Update #4: Chris Hope is still all dressed up with nowhere to go ... the Bengals just signed the guy responsible for the Steelers drafting Polamalu: Dexter Jackson (four years, $7.6 million).


So free agency also started this weekend ... finally. And the Browns took full advantage of it. They way they were making deals you got the impression that somebody in their front office was under the mistaken impression that free agency was a one-weekend thing that ended Sunday night. A lot of people (read: me) are also giving the Ravens the business for sitting on their hands (other than overpaying for Trevor Price and signing this dude, whoever the hell he is). Now, it's no secret that the Steelers are notoriously quiet during free agency, and in retrospect, it always looks like the smart move. Even after their 6-10 performance in 2003, their only big splash was Duce Staley. But unlike the Steelers, the Ravens have done a crappy job of keeping their unrestricted free agents in Baltimore. Tony Weaver is now a Texan; Maake Kemoeatu is a Panther; Dave Zastudil is a Brown; and Chester Taylor is a Sex Boater.

I'm not suggesting that losing some of your free agents is necessarily a bad thing; Pittsburgh does it all the time. But if you have holes in the depth chart you have three choices heading into free agency: re-sign your players, sign or trade for other teams' players, or draft new players. The first two options usually provide immediate help to a team, while the last option -- the draft -- requires some adjustment period while a college player learns what it's like to play in the NFL. As it stands, the Ravens have let a lot of their guys go, blew their wad on old-timer Trevor Pryce, signed a backup in Justin Bannan, lost out on octogenarian Ted Washington (he's also a Brownie), and currently don't have a running back.

I have no idea, but I wonder if the rushed Bannan signing indicates that the Ravens want to take a running back with their first pick. Of course, they could also re-sign Jam-Jam (which would be idiotic ... for both), so what do I know?

But if Ravens fans are looking for some good news (and if I had to guess, they are), Baltimore re-signed Bart Scott! Downtown parade scheduled for tomorrow afternoon, right in between the mayor giving Brian Billick a key to the city and Kevin Millar's press conference announcing that he and Manny are engaged to be married in a summer ceremony at Camden Yards during a three game series against the Red Sox.

Looking at the Browns, LeCharles Bentley is an obvious upgrade, and Ted Washington, even though he's 37 and about a half-ton at this point, also improves the d-line. Joe Jurevicius had a similar DPAR to Antonio Bryant, so I don't necessarily think he's an upgrade, but he's definitely more of a #2 possession receiver than Bryant was, since I get the impression he'd like to be a #1 guy somewhere (which won't happen). So for the second straight off-season, the Browns have been very active in free agency. And even though their record may not have showed it in 2005, they were certainly better than the 2004 version (but if we're being honest, simply firing Butch Davis accomplished that). Who knows, maybe the Browns could win seven or eight games next year, but like DJ mentioned, they still don't have a proven QB, and teams tend to struggle with Joe Blow running the show.

And of course, the Steelers have closed up shop and are on vacation ... apparently with the Bengals.

Seriously, I don't think anybody is at all upset with the crickets chirping it up on the South Side while most other teams fall all over themselves to spend money. I was intrigued by the idea of Andre Davis being a #2 guy to Hines, but now that he's in Buffalo, I'm already over it. Antonio Bryant is another intriguing name, and he could be an option too. If history if any guide, Pittsburgh will move slowly and make their moves -- if they make any at all -- in the coming weeks.

And even though Randle El is now a Washington Redskin, Chris Hope hasn't even gotten a sniff (or if he has, we haven't heard about it). As Eric pointed out, a lot of people weren't impressed with Hope once they saw some game tape. But hey, most of here were drinking the Hope-flavored Kool-Aid and Jim Wexell was the first guy to question the rationale for that kind of thinking. It looks like he was onto something.

(OK, I have to give this it's own aside. When I wrote above that Washington overpaid for Randle El, I didn't yet have the terms of the contract, I was just assuming as much since that's how the Redskins operate. Well, now that I see that they've given Randle El a six-year, $31 million deal ($10 million guaranteed), it's more ridiculous than I thought. Especially when you consider that Hines signed his new deal last September and it was four four-years, $26 million ($10 guaranteed). Also worth thinking about: Randle El and Brandon Lloyd have a combined DPAR of -1.2.

I'm the first to admit that I thought the Coles-for-Moss trade was horrific for Washington for several reasons, but Moss's DPAR in 2004 was 24.6. And given that the 'Skins currently have four WRs on the roster, it'll be interesting to see how they exactly get Randle El more involved in the offense than he was in Pittsburgh. I suspect we'll see eight slip screens, four direct snaps, and at least two passes from Randle El in every Washington game in 2006. Call it a hunch.)

I posted these links in this weekend's free agency thread, but I might as well put them here too:

AFC signings
NFC signings
The latest from Adam Schefter

I guess I should go ahead and list all the comings and goings in the AFC North while I'm at it:

Trevor Pryce, DE (DEN)
Justin Bannon, DT (BUF)
Bart Scott, LB (BAL)
Mike Anderson, RB (DEN)

Maake Kemoeatu, DT (CAR)
Chester Taylor, RB (MIN)
Anthony Weaver, DE (HOU)
Dave Zastudil, P (CLE)

Dexter Jackson (TB)


LeCharles Bentley, C (NO)
Joe Jurevicius, WR (SEA)
Kevin Shaffer, LT (ATL)
Dave Zastudil, P (BAL)

Antonio Bryant (SF)

(crickets chirping -- Casey Hampton ate them)

Antwaan Randle El

I'm sure this list will be constantly changing, so just leave a comment and I'll update it accordingly.

During all the free agency commotion, there was also some draft-related news:

... Ohio State had their Pro Day last week and OLB Bobby Carpenter impressed some people, including Bill Cowher and Dick LeBeau, a former Buckeye.
Ohio State linebacker Bobby Carpenter said the right ankle he fractured Nov. 19 against Michigan still doesn't feel back to normal.

That notion surprised Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau.

"He looked like he was 100 percent to me," LeBeau said. "They said he's 90 percent. If he's got more than that, he's pretty good."

Carpenter said he ran the 40-yard dash in the high-4.5 to low-4.6-second range Thursday in his first chance to impress the pro scouts. He was projected as going to the Steelers with the last pick in the first round on ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr.'s last list.
Yeah, Mel Kiper doesn't do much for me, but I certainly would take Dick LeBeau's word for it. Either way, Carpenter sounds like an interesting guy.

... Even more stuff from the OSU Pro Day:
One of the other strong performances came from Whitner, who ran a pair of 40-yard dashes in the high 4.3s. Cut in the mold of former Ohio State safety Mike Doss, Whitner had a very good combine, with many of his numbers looking comparable to highly acclaimed Texas safety Michael Huff. He wowed NFL teams again Thursday, and both the Lions and Steelers were said to have paid a great deal of attention.


The Steelers also paid close attention to Carpenter. It's believed the Super Bowl champions are targeting Carpenter or Mangold with the last pick in the first round. Carpenter ran his 40 times in the mid-4.6-second range and looked very fluid in positional drills.
Well, it looks like both the Whitner and Carpenter trains are gathering steam. Safety is obviously a need for Pittsburgh, especially if Hope can find somebody to pay him (Which is looking less and less like a real possibility. I know it's early, but does this remind anybody else of the deafening silence that was the Plaxico Burress free agency? I guess we can expect Hope to fire his agent in a few weeks, hire Drew Rosenhaus, and then sign his deal.) Whether OLB is need a need is another issue, but don't forget, both Haggans and Porter have contracts that expire after 2007 (I think) and they'll both be 29 this year. Behind them is James Harrison and Andre Frazier. So yeah, maybe that's not the deepest position on the Steelers' depth chart.

Interestingly, there was no mention of C Nick Mangold. And that leads nicely into my next point. Anybody know University of Oklahoma's Chris Chester? Yeah, I didn't either until Mike Mayock brought him up recently. I looked him up in one of the seemingly endless draft publications I own and he's a converted TE. And he didn't make the move to center until after his junior season, and he only started eight games as a senior. Some scouts like his athleticism, he's a solid citizen, and he's got a lot of upside (gotta love that word during draft season). And when you consider that this year's center class is considered a pretty weak one, I'm again not sure if Pittsburgh should use their first pick on Mangold. But, like most things, I reserve the right to change my mind.

... The more I read about the draft -- and Pittsburgh in particular -- the more I get the feeling that Hope ain't coming back. And it might have just as much to do with Pittsburgh not wanting him as it does with Hope wanting to cash in. Darnell Bing, the USC safety who's rated as a top-5 safety by most draft guys, mentioned recently in an interview that the Steelers showed interest in him at the Combine (and this is something Wexell reported last week).

OK, that's all I got. Keep the free agency news coming, and check out this weekend's FA thread if you missed it.