The biggest question NFL teams struggle with exiting the combine? How much these top prospects, 21-year-old kids, are going to be changed by money. JaMarcus Russell, from working-class Mobile, Ala., has never had the kind of money he's about to get. Ditto Calvin Johnson, Adrian Peterson, Joe Thomas.
The other day at the combine, I was talking with agent Brad Blank about one of his former clients, 1995 combine phenom Mike Mamula, the Boston College defensive end who had the best size-speed-strength combine in the history of the annual event. (At least until the last three or four years.) Mamula was going to be somewhere between a late first-round to third-round pick until he ran a 4.6 40 and bench-pressed 225 pounds as many times as Tony Boselli. Mamula made $15 million over six spotty, injury-riddled NFL years. He made it because of this great combine and because Eagles coach Ray Rhodes absolutely fell in love with his athleticism.
It's not that Mamula didn't try as an NFL player. He did. Injuries (a Lis Franc rupture, a nagging shoulder problem, an ACL tear, among others) plagued him as much as anything else. But Mamula will always be known in NFL circles as a guy who beat the system. He shot his way up the draft board, and once he made his first $7 million on his rookie contract, where was the motivation to kill yourself in training and rehab to get back to top form? And he never got back there. He never was the player Philly drafted. The Eagles staff always questioned how good Mamula might have been had he loved the game more.
Read Sports Illustrated this week and you'll find Russell talking about the doubts some have about his love of football. And you'll understand that the reason teams are skittish about these high picks' love of the game is very simple: If Russell gets fat and happy once he cashes his $30 million in bonuses and guarantees, the Raiders (assuming they pick him, which is my assumption) will have taken a huge hit financially. That's why you'll hear, over the next seven weeks, player after player whining about the cross-examinations teams put them through. Teams have to do that. There's too much money involved to assume every guy you draft is going to love football as much as Doug Flutie or LaDainian Tomlinson.
Now onto your email.
PACMAN SHOULD BE PUNISHED. From Don Sword of Nashville, Tenn.: "I'm going to have to agree with you on you comments about Pacman Jones. My hat's off to Jeff Fisher for giving him every opportunity to turn his life around. The only problem is, as soon as they cut him, he'll just end up on someone else's roster and Fisher knows it! The $5.4 million dollar cap hit is bad enough, but then to see Pacman playing against you is adding insult to injury. I noticed the players are stepping up, but that's not going to help in the situation. The Titans shoulder some of the blame in drafting someone with so many red flags with a high draft pick.''
My feeling is some time this summer, once the matter in Las Vegas is adjudicated, the league will suspend Jones for a minimum of four games but probably more. And the Titans will cut him. I don't see any way the Titans will keep him on the roster if -- and this is a big if -- the allegations by strip-club employees that Jones beat the tar out of a dancer are true. They can't. As for him ending up somewhere else, Patrick, sometimes you're got to do the right thing in life. And continuing to make excuses for this talented loser is very definitely the wrong thing.
WHERE'S THE NFL IN ALL THIS? From Shivan of New York: "I'm really disappointed in the NFL for not addressing this Pacman Jones thing at all. One guy is paralyzed, and we can't even get a statement from the league!''
Good point, but the league's history is to let the legal process play out, then comment. I guarantee you'll hear plenty from Roger Goodell if a case is made against Jones.
I AM A FUDDY-DUDDY. From Patrick Corrigan of Denver: "Peter, you may be getting a little long in the tooth. The Departed was far and away the best movie last year. Yes, the violence and gore was shocking and dramatic, but that is a Martin Scorsese staple. You make it seem as if he's been making children's movies all these years. The plane crash in The Aviator, the gang wars in Gangs of New York, guys being beaten in Casino, Goodfellas, Raging Bull, Taxi Driver. Scorsese is known for brutality. Strange that these are his best films too. Don't blame The Departed because the cameras deliver a better picture than they did 15 years ago.''
To me, Scorsese is a brilliant man who, in The Departed, continues to play a game called, "Can you top how gruesome this murder is?'' And Patrick, did you consider it a tad over the top that probably eight of the top dozen men in the Massachusetts State Police were murdered, and it seemed like business as usual? Where was the federal cavalry riding in and cleaning out the dirt in the place? To me, it was a well-acted, ridiculously unrealistic movie pandering to people who like to see Jack Nicholson spit his last breath through a mini-volcano of his own blood.
MORE FROM SHIVAN OF N.Y.: "I am wondering why you were so disgusted by The Departed winning Picture of the Year. I would like to remind you that Silence of the Lambs had a cannibal, Gladiator was based around sport killing, and Braveheart actually had a beheading (which were your "what's next" example).
Shows my lack of movie knowledge, I guess. Shivan, I must be part of a nearly silent minority in America that thinks movies can win Academy Awards without 48 gruesome murders in them.
TIM WANTS THE RAIDERS TO GO WITH ANOTHER RECEIVER. From Tim in San Ramon, Calif.: "If Calvin Johnson is such a sure fire prospect, why don't the Raiders draft him, sign Jeff Garcia, and trade Randy Moss for help in all their offensive 'black' holes?''
Not a bad idea, except Jeff Garcia is not a deep-ball thrower, and he also might have just two years left. It's a lot easier to pass on a great receiver than to pass on a guy who looks like he's going to be a very good NFL quarterback.
DWAYNE JARRETT HAS HIS DEFENDERS. From Kyle Smith of St. Louis: "Is there some reason you insulted Dwayne Jarrett twice in your column? First the crack about speaking English, then the crack about the coaching staff. It was strange and seemed highly out of place, not only in the column, but also for a journalist of your caliber. Disappointing.''
Didn't mean to insult him. I think too often we let the words these kids say wash over us and don't think about their meaning. To me, it was hilarious to hear him say the only coaching staff he's ever been around was the best coaching staff he's ever been around.
ADALIUS THOMAS WILL BE A BIG STAR. From Jim Rosenberger of Montclair, N.J.: "You have been a huge fan of Baltimore LB Adalius Thomas since at least early in the regular season. A year ago, despite a breakout 2005 season, Pro Football Weekly did not even consider him worthy of rating, calling him "a jack of all trades, but a master of none." You are not the only one who sees him poised for a big payday. How convinced are you that 29-year-old Thomas has emerged as a legitimate impact player who will be worth a big signing bonus, and does he have the skills to perform at a high level on another team with lesser defensive talent around him?''
It's always a test for a good player to go to a mediocre team and try to make it significantly better. The reason I think he'll be a good player away from Baltimore is he's a guy who loves football, takes coaching well, plays three or four positions with equal talent and will be an infectious locker room asset wherever he goes.
TAKE A CHANCE ON QUINN. From Mike of North Miami Beach: "So many speculative draft boards have Brady Quinn falling to the Dolphins at No. 9. Put yourself in the shoes of Randy Mueller and Cam Cameron. If Quinn falls to ninth, do you see the Dolphins passing up on him, and how in the world did one game (Sugar Bowl) eradicate an entire college career and cause this guy to slip like he is the second coming of Ryan Leaf?''
Both good questions. I can't see the Dolphins passing on him. They were favorably impressed with Quinn after meeting him at the combine. I think you have to take a leap of faith on quarterbacks. Is the guy coachable, which Quinn definitely is. Did he show good ability on the major-college level, which Quinn did. Is he accurate enough, which I question now, but I think Quinn could reach maybe 62 percent after a couple of years in the NFL. If a team can answer positively to those things, the player's worth the risk. The difference between Quinn and Leaf is simple: Quinn will dedicate every fiber of his being to being a very good player. Leaf quit too easily.