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Taking a position

Before I get to your mail, let me offer a shameless plug for an event this Friday in Boston. I'll be appearing at a Tufts University-sponsored sports media panel from 6 to 8:30 p.m. at The Fours, rated by SI as the No. 1 sports bar in America. Daughter Laura, a senior Jumbo, is planning it, so you can be sure there will be some fun involved, and perhaps some information, too, about how to get a job in this business. You can find out more at: http://www.tufts.edu/alumni/c-chapter(boston11).html. I can guarantee but one thing about the evening: I'll be answering some Patriots questions.

On with your mail:

WHY CAN'T MATT JONES PLAY QUARTERBACK? From Kwame of Queens, N.Y.: "If Arkansas' Matt Jones is so good, how come he isn't projected as a quarterback? I mean, think about it. Mike Vick came from an option offense in college and barely clears 6-feet and he wasn't asked to change positions. (Rightfully so.) If Jones is the best athlete in the draft, why not play him at the most important position and the one he played in college?''

Great, great point, Kwame. When I've asked scouts about Jones, they've questioned his arm strength and accuracy (55 percent for his career) and wondered why, if he was such a great thrower, did he attempt 20 passes or more in a game only 12 times in his career at Arkansas. Still, Jones seems like the kind of prospect who, with good coaching, could be a superior threat back there. But now that everyone has seen him at wideout (and perhaps at tight end) in the postseason, I think that's where he'll be pigeon-holed. Not that this is a bad thing. He's probably going to go no later than the second round, and he could sneak into the first. He'd never be picked that high as a quarterback.

THEY'RE NOT BEING SHOWN THE MONEY. From Joe Wachs of Indianapolis: "Given the recent difficulties of high-profile veterans such as Ty Law, Edgerrin James, Shaun Alexander, Travis Henry, Trevor Pryce, etc., to land 'acceptable' long-term contracts with NFL team, is it probable that: 1) This will spark another negative backlash from the NFLPA in the next round of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, which is already hitting some bumps? Or 2) This will result in a shift in the pendulum of control toward the owners of teams who are refusing to be forced into high-dollar contracts? I would like to believe that this is a sign of the changing times and that the brakes will be put on excessive player salary demands, but I don't feel that will be the case.''

To me, each player you mention has an asterisk next to him. If Law had been healthy entering this offseason, he'd have been snapped up in the first week of free agency for $7 million a year. He still isn't recovered from foot surgery, he's overweight and he can't sprint right now. Pryce has been hurt. And, one of the big reasons they're not getting any action is a glutted market. With three studs available at the top of the draft, who wants to pay an Alexander $7 million a year when you can get a good back (and there is a history of getting guys such as Curtis Martin down the line in the draft) in the middle rounds or in low-cost free agency? But you have a good point. The NFLPA does not like clubs using the franchise tag to try to generate trades from other teams.

MURRAY WANTS TO TREAT STEROID CHEATS THE WAY THE OLYMPIC WORLD DOES. From Murray Powers of Oakland, Calif.: "Peter, can you think of a reason why, if the NFL and MLB really wanted to get rid of steroids, they wouldn't institute a 'one-and-done' policy? If you are correct that most of the players who are using are playing roulette in regards to testing, knowing that getting caught meant forfeiting their contracts and expulsion from the sport would put an end to this stuff pronto, don't you think?''

I'd love to see it, Murray. I don't think the union in football would agree to it, because the football penalties (suspended for a quarter of the season, without pay) are already stiff. But you're onto something. I'd love to see a zero-tolerance policy.

IT'S AMAZING THAT STEROID-TESTING ISN'T FOOLPROOF. From Pat Fogg, of Calgary, Alberta: "Ben Johnson was caught using steroids in 1988. Even with the IOC's stringent testing, few others have been caught until recently. Let's face it: Testing is obviously a very inexact science.''

That's what struck me after an hour on the phone with Adolpho Birch, the NFL's legal counsel on the steroid issue. The league tests for more than 80 substances. And there are surely a few other designer steroids either in the works or on the black market that are not being screened. The NFL probably has the best net of all the sports, but that net still has some holes. Two holes worry me: The league can't test for human growth hormone, and a chemically smart player could figure a way to increase his testosterone enough to cheat while not being caught. That last one is why the league's trying to reduce the testosterone level required for a dirty test.

WHY HAVE THE FALCONS BEEN DORMANT? From Douglas Reed of Savannah, Ga.: "Where have the Falcons been during free agency this year? Other than signing Edgerton Hartwell from the Ravens, they have not done much. Does this mean they think this team has the tools to get the job done or do they have big plans during the draft? P.S.: How are the kids? I miss reading the weekly updates on their games.

Douglas, the strictures of the salary cap mean that teams have to be conservative in years after they've spent lots of money. The Falcons spent big dough on veterans such as Warrick Dunn, Vick and Peerless Price. This year they were able to make one splash with Hartwell, who should upgrade them where they were exposed last year. They need a good run-stuffing 'backer, and Hartwell, a 250-pounder who averaged 110 tackles over the last three years alongside Ray Lewis, should help. Re: the kids, thanks. They're doing well. Laura's fixing to graduate from Tufts this spring, while Mary Beth is finishing a very happy freshman year up at Colgate. I haven't heard one complaint from either about being out of the MMQB spotlight.

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