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Snap Judgments: Fins' trade for Marshall part of AFC East arms race

Musings, observations and the occasional insight as we stare down the NFL's first three-day draft extravaganza, the start of which is thankfully now less than a week away...

• Miami's roll of the dice with the Brandon Marshall trade isn't too hard to understand. It's all about trying to keep up in a division where the Jets seem willing to take any possible gamble in their go-for-broke pursuit of a Super Bowl, and the still-dangerous Patriots own about 47 picks in next week's draft, the deepest in years.

The Dolphins simply had to get more explosive on offense to keep pace with New York and New England in the now-glamorous AFC East, and Miami was about to fall back to also-ran status in the hyper-competitive division if it didn't go for the bold stroke. Marshall was the best available playmaker on the market and the Dolphins had the wherewithal to land him. It's not more complicated than that.

But here's my biggest question about the deal: While Marshall's statistics have been phenomenal as a Bronco, what exactly has he shown the past two years in Denver to inspire the confidence that $24 million guaranteed implies? Experience teaches us that when it comes to players with maturity issues, heaping money on them usually has the opposite effect of what's intended.

Is big money going to make Marshall a team-first player, a more responsible representative of the franchise and a better teammate? That's not usually how it works and I believe Bill Parcells knows that by now. But the Tuna did what he thought he had to do to keep his Dolphins relevant in the division. I just feel bad for Buffalo fans. What pray tell would be their reason to believe the Bills' decade-long playoff drought will end in 2010?

• The Marshall trade reminded us that for all the headaches and hassles they cause, there's always some team ready and willing to give one of the NFL's troubled star receivers their next opportunity in this pass-happy league. It's something we've come to count on, like the potential for quarterback change in Cleveland.

Marshall acted up in Denver and Miami rewards him with a fat new contract, even after Dolphins coach Tony Sparano had declared the fit between player and team was wrong. Santonio Holmes couldn't get with the program in Pittsburgh, but the Jets' home for wayward souls was there to welcome him with open arms. Anquan Boldin finally talked (and sulked) his way out of Arizona and into a snazzy new deal in Baltimore. And it's worth noting that all three of those players went to successful teams with solid organizations in place, rather than being sentenced to St. Louis or Buffalo.

Throw in Antonio Bryant starting over in Cincinnati, Donte' Stallworth getting another chance in Baltimore and even Matt Jones making a comeback bid with the Bengals and is it any wonder why the tough-love approach isn't usually taken with the NFL's diva set? Because there's always another club eager to help a big-name receiver carry all that old baggage to a new town.

Okay, it's not a 100 percent fool-proof observation. Terrell Owens is still waiting for his phone to ring. But that probably has as much to do with his age and declining production as anything dealing with some discipline being shown by NFL teams.

• Avoiding criminal charges Monday started Ben Roethlisberger's week out on the right note, but if ever there was a conviction rendered in the court of public opinion, the Steelers quarterback has been found guilty. I had previously surmised Big Ben was in for a one or two-game suspension from the league and/or the Steelers, but I'd say at least four games now appears more likely, based on the damning nature of his accuser's description of the night in question, as detailed in her statements to police.

Oh, and where exactly does one find the "quality'' of bodyguards that Roethlisberger apparently runs with and is willing to do his bidding in this particular area of recruitment? Nice guys doing honorable work for a friend. I wonder if any of them have college-aged daughters?

• When the NFL regular-season schedule is released Tuesday, I'm guessing Steelers reserve quarterbacks Dennis Dixon and Charlie Batch will pay particularly close attention to how Pittsburgh's first month of games unfold.

• On another front of the NFL's scandal beat, the release of that grainy footage of a boozy Jerry Jones captured on someone's cell phone camera served to make the Cowboys owner almost a sympathetic figure of sorts. There's a "there but the grace of God go I'' quality to the whole incident and I don't know how many of us would pass the test of having our off-the-cuff moments aired. (Although I save many of my stupid comments for my columns).

That Jones likes to shoot his mouth off and run down a former Cowboys head coach or two from time to time isn't exactly a news flash. Just ask Jimmy Johnson. As for what Jerry said about Tony Romo, Tim Tebow and the p.r. campaign he waged to get his new stadium built, were there any real surprises in there? I kind of saw Jerry being Jerry. Film at 11.

• Jaguars general manager Gene Smith on Thursday acknowledged his team is willing to move down from its No. 10 slot in the first round, which jives with what a league source told me earlier this week. Jacksonville doesn't have a second-round pick and wants to accumulate more selections toward the top of a talent-rich draft.

But if the Jaguars don't find a trade partner -- and they're hoping someone shopping for either receiver Dez Bryant or quarterback Jimmy Clausen gives them a ring -- they're willing to sit tight and take one of two players: Clemson running back C.J. Spiller or South Florida defensive end/linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul. I believe Tennessee defensive tackle Dan Williams would be Jacksonville's pick if Spiller and Pierre-Paul are both somehow gone by No. 10.

• Speaking of the relatively untested Pierre-Paul, I have him going to No. 8 Oakland in my latest mock draft, but if he gets past the always unpredictable Raiders, I don't believe he'll tumble any lower than the No. 16 Titans. Tennessee covets him and Michigan defensive end Brandon Graham, and would be happy with either player. The Titans see a young Jevon Kearse when they look at Pierre-Paul.

But Graham is the prospect who could spark the most trade inquiries on Thursday night, because in addition to Tennessee, San Francisco (No. 13 and 17), Atlanta (No. 19) and New England (No. 22) are all thought to be targeting him.

• I get the sense that some team near the bottom of the round is plotting a major surprise on the quarterback front on Thursday night. Maybe its No. 30 Minnesota opting for Tim Tebow. Or maybe the Vikings actually like Colt McCoy even more than Tebow. Could No. 31 Indy be the team that takes the Tebow plunge? How about the Super Bowl champion Saints at No. 32, given Sean Payton's curiosity with acquiring a newfangled offensive toy?

Did I cover all my bases?

• Caught draft-niks Mel Kiper and Todd McShay on camera together on ESPN lately? Those guys really don't like each other. And I don't think it's just one of those "let's really mix up and give 'em a show'' kind of point-counterpoints deals.

• I asked Ravens coach John Harbaugh this week if NFL teams are really convinced Stanford running back Toby Gerhart has given up any and all dreams of playing professional baseball? Gerhart was a three-year starter in centerfield for the Cardinal baseball team and helped lead Stanford to the 2008 College World Series. It's shades of John Elway all over again.

"Yeah, he's done,'' Harbaugh said. "He can't hit the curveball.''

• I left him in my No. 6 slot to Seattle for now, but there are some NFL personnel men who believe Iowa offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga is the most overrated prospect in this year's draft and say he could be the second coming of Robert Gallery once he gets to the league.

Bulaga makes some scouts nervous because he has short arms and was also beaten like a rented mule last season by some of the best pass-rushers in this year's draft (see Graham, Brandon). He could still go as high as No. 5 to Kansas City, but there are clearly pockets of doubters when it comes to the ex-Hawkeye.

"It'll shock you when I say this, but I know some people have him graded out as a third-round pick,'' one league personnel man told me this week. "A lot of pass rushers beat him badly last year. And if you watch that film, and add in that his arms are shorter than you'd like a tackle to have, how high can you take him? I know he's well-coached and has (Iowa coach) Kirk Ferentz's stamp on him, but there are some question about him and he's falling a bit in some people's eyes.''

• I think the Ravens have a decent chance of trading offensive tackle Jared Gaither before or during the draft, but they're not going to give him away because he's one of those rare players who has both youth and experience in equally sufficient levels. Gaither's not the hardest worker in the world, but Baltimore's not itching to get rid of him by any means.

I think a pick in the first half of the second round might get the job done for the Ravens, and maybe somebody offers them that after missing out on one of the top six to eight tackles in this year's draft class. People are trying to put Dallas and Baltimore together on a Gaither deal, but the Cowboys' second is toward the bottom of the round, and that alone probably isn't going to be enough compensation for the Ravens.

• If I had to put money on a couple of players who won't wind up going in the first round after residing there in most mock drafts all year, it'd be USC safety Taylor Mays and Maryland offensive tackle Bruce Campbell. They're both eye-catching physical specimens, but Mays is getting dinged more all the time for his lack of coverage instincts and fluidity to the ball, and Campbell is seen as a raw prospect who will get your quarterback killed if he has to play as a rookie.

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