An offseason NFL breakdown that heads in the opposite direction of your average pro football analysis.
1. Higher for Pryor
Terrelle Pryor couldn't have orchestrated his entry to the NFL any better. The former Ohio State quarterback is in the right place at the right time. If the supplemental draft happens before the season, as expected, he will be selected higher than had he come out another year. Here are five reasons:
a. Teams are quarterback crazy. With the lack of depth at the position around the league, four quarterbacks went in the top 12 picks of April's draft. That's fine if you have a class with Eli Manning, Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger. But this wasn't even a particularly strong crop of QBs. Each one probably went at least 10 picks higher than he should have. Pryor will benefit from the same sense of desperation at the game's most important position.
b. Pryor won't have to go through the interview process. Pryor would have excelled at the physical drills during the combine, but he would have had problems meeting with the teams. He's coming off a scandal and doesn't seem comfortable talking in tough situations. Ohio State shielded him from the media, and even at his introductory press conference with agent Drew Rosenhaus, the quarterback didn't take questions. What kind of NFL quarterback doesn't take questions?
c. Teams are putting too high a priority on athleticism. Pryor should thank Michael Vick for temporarily convincing the NFL the ability to run is important for quarterbacks. That's part of the reason Newton and Locker went in the top 10. Pryor is elusive, but in the big picture that will have little impact on his ability to effectively lead an NFL offense.
d. Teams probably just want to do something. With no free agency yet during this locked-out offseason, general managers are going to have very itchy trigger fingers. Finding players is what these men are hired to do. Save for the draft, they haven't been able to do any of that and are probably eager to get back to business.
e. Teams don't care about college scandals right now. Former Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett dropped because of character concerns, but they were personal and had nothing to do with his school. The league seems to know everything about draft prospects. Teams had to know what Reggie Bush was driving at USC and he still went No. 2 overall. Newton's eligibility was in question all season and the Carolina Panthers weren't scared. Pryor may have left Ohio State in shatters, but no one in the NFL will care.
2. The NFL's Derek Jeter
The Yankees gave Derek Jeter a three-year, $51 million out of loyalty and are facing some difficult decisions with where to play the 36-year-old shortstop in the future. Without guaranteed contracts, the NFL is more ruthless when it comes to cutting players, but certain teams are going to face similar dilemmas in the near future. Here's a look at three players who could fall into the Jeter category over the next few years.
Hines Ward, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers: Ward doesn't rely on speed in the first place, which is why he has been effective, even though he's 35. But when the Steelers do want to get younger receivers on the field more, they're going to have to have an awkward conversation with a player who has been integral to two championship teams.
Ray Lewis, LB, Baltimore Ravens: Remember a couple of years ago when stories started coming out about how Lewis had lost a step. Offensive players probably wish that had been more true, because he was outstanding last season. When he does slow down to the point of being ineffective, the Ravens will have a very difficult decision if Lewis can't let go of the game.
Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots: If the most ruthless team in the league is going to make an exception to its usual practices, it would be for Brady. But Brady seems to take more big hits than a quarterback like Peyton Manning, and might start to decline for health reasons before his skills erode. Still, how can they ever cut Brady?
3. Perfect fit for Plaxico
The team that signs Plaxico Burress has to think it's a bona fide Super Bowl contender within one or two seasons, or it's not worth bringing in a 34-year-old receiver with a notoriously irresponsible attitude about team meetings and practice. That's why the St. Louis Rams have more to gain than any team by signing Burress.
The Rams have been handed a golden opportunity in the NFC West. Their three divisional opponents are completely unsettled at quarterback, making this one of the worst divisions in the history of the NFL. St. Louis should commit to the present because it can build up its record against its divisional foes and possibly play at home in the playoffs.
After the Rams, the Bears are the next most logical team. Like St. Louis, Chicago could be in the mix in a wide open NFC and a tall receiver like Burress would be a great addition to Chicago's smallish receiving corps.
4. 'Better than doing nothing'
Let's put to rest the inevitable November column about how success in 2011 began during the offseason workouts. Several teams have tried to project an image of being galvanized by the lockout and working just as hard. But these workouts are like class with a substitute teacher. They can't possibly have the same intensity as a practice with coaches, and they have very little to do with implementing scheme.
The most honest review of the workouts came from Giants quarterback Eli Manning: "It's not great work, but it's better than doing nothing." But you can guarantee once this season starts, everyone's going to try to turn these workouts into something they weren't.
5. Consistent punishment
Titans wide receiver Kenny Britt is in more legal trouble and will soon test the NFL's resolve to implement its personal conduct policy. With the collective bargaining agreement suspended, many believe the league has no right to retroactively suspend players. But that argument completely disregards the spirit of the NFL's initiative to punish players for off-field transgressions. Players don't like it, but Roger Goodell has to strive for consistency. He hasn't always been able to achieve that, but if he treated players who got in trouble this offseason different, he'd set his own efforts back tremendously.