Santonio Holmes gets shown the door; Dez Bryant trying to open one

Monday April 12th, 2010

Now this is redonkulous. Donovan McNabb from Philadelphia to the Redskins at 8 p.m. last Sunday. Santonio Holmes from Pittsburgh to the Jets at 11:15 this Sunday night. The state of Pennsylvania obviously has no respect for the offseason sleep habits of Mr. Monday Morning QB.

Holmes to the Jets. A 26-year-old Super Bowl MVP traded for a fifth-round pick. A healthy star receiver coming off a 1,248-yard season, for the 155th overall choice in the draft.

Six quick points about a deal almost as stunning as the McNabb trade:

1. It's a 12-game trial for New York. It's a great deal for the Jets, obviously, but it comes with a giant asterisk. reports Holmes is due to start the season on a four-game NFL suspension for violation of the league's substance-abuse policy. He's also been accused of assaulting a woman in Florida for allegedly throwing a glass of juice in her face and cutting her. Since this is the last year of Holmes' rookie contract, the Steelers are trading three-quarters of Holmes' 2010 season for a fifth-round pick, which makes a little more sense.

2. The Steelers are sending a message to Ben Roethlisberger, and to any other future miscreants on the team. We've all heard how chagrined the Steelers are over this offseason. ESPN reported Saturday there will be no criminal charges brought against Roethlisberger over his sexual-assault allegation by a 20-year-old coed in March -- I heard the same thing from a reliable source Sunday night -- but there could still be a civil suit filed by the family. And he still must meet with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

It's unlikely the commissioner would use use his far-reaching "the-shield-has-been-tarnished'' powers to suspend Roethlisberger for a brief period at the start of the season for his second sex-related accusation in eight months, especially without criminal charges. What may make more sense is a ban of a game or two by the upstanding Steelers, who could use conduct-detrimental-to-the-team as a reason to sit Roethlisberger. In a city like Pittsburgh, the populace would applaud a slap upside the head to Big Ben.

In the meantime, the Steelers, I believe, are saying to Roethlisberger: You have two strikes on you, and you're out if you get another strike. This is a decision of conscience for Pittsburgh, not a football decision.

3. This happened very suddenly, too sudden for the Steelers to troll the NFL to see if they could make a better deal, which they almost certainly could have done. When I say sudden, I mean Sunday. I hear the first inkling the Jets got of this deal came in a phone call Sunday, and GM Mike Tannenbaum jumped on it.

Now, it's possible the Jets have too many at-risk players. A four-game suspension for substance-abuse means Holmes is one positive test away from a year out of football. Fellow Jet wideout Braylon Edwards could be facing a one-game ban for pleading no contest to misdemeanor aggravated disorderly conduct. The Jets previously dealt for talented but troubled Antonio Cromartie (seven children in five states), who the Chargers were determined to unload this offseason.

4. Rex Ryan absolutely loves Holmes. It's no secret that the Jets coach thought Holmes was the most dangerous receiver he faced. Before taking the Jets job, Ryan was the Ravens' defensive coordinator. In 2007, second-year receiver Holmes caught eight balls for 208 yards and three touchdowns against the Ravens in two games. In 2008, Pittsburgh swept the Ravens in three low-scoring meetings, the last being the AFC Championship Game. In those three games, Pittsburgh totaled three offensive touchdowns -- all scoring receptions by Holmes.

Ryan's throwing a party this morning, and when Holmes walks into the Jets' complex in Florham Park, N.J., Ryan will hug him like a college roommate he hasn't seen for 30 years.

5. In retrospect, maybe we saw this coming. The Steelers signed Arnaz Battle, a poor man's Hines Ward, last month, and also brought back former all-purpose receiver Antwaan Randle El; they hosted immensely talented Dez Bryant, the top wide receiver in the draft, on a two-day visit a week ago. Mike Wallace emerged as a major threat as a rookie with a 756-yard, six-touchdown season. They could open the season with a respectable receiver group by doing nothing in the draft.

6. Jets-Steelers, in Pittsburgh, is more must-see TV for the NFL this fall. The schedule-maker is kind. We can only hope the game is in the last 13 weeks of the season, so Holmes will be there to face the team he helped get that sixth ring.

Last thing: The Jets are amazing. They've become a little like the old Raiders (we're afraid of taking no one on our team), a little like the Yankees (we'll sign anyone to win), and a little like the Dan Snyder Redskins (we love headlines!) in the last year. With any luck, they'll sign all-decade player Jason Taylor to be a designated pass-rusher by Wednesday. And with all the additions, they've retained their first- and second-round picks, 29th and 61st overall. If they don't implode, they're going to a damn good team.


Now, before the Holmes trade so rudely interrupted the evening, other news around the league:

Favre succeeded by ... Tebow? The Vikings, who pick 30th in the first round, had a private workout with Florida quarterback/NFL temptor Tim Tebow Saturday. Though I think it's a long shot that Minnesota would use the 30th pick of the first round to take Tebow, it's interesting that coach Brad Childress and VP of personnel Rick Spielman, who have the draft-day juice, were both present for the workout, according to a Florida source.

All along I've felt Tebow needs to go to a spot where he can have a peaceful redshirt year or two, and assuming Brett Favre plays one or two more years (now we're getting ahead of ourselves), Tebow to the Vikes makes some sense, particularly if Childress feels he's the kind of prospect that two of the quarterback coaches he admires most -- Andy Reid and Mike Holmgren -- think he is.

By the way, Tebow was in Cleveland and Washington last week, and he visits Denver this week. I hear the Cleveland coaches were very taken with him, and if he's there when they pick in round two (number 38 overall), or they trade down from number 7 in the first round, well, who knows?

Sam Bradford works out for Washington and St. Louis this week. The workouts happen Thursday and Friday. They are formalities. Unless something strange happens, it's hard to envision anything standing in the way of Bradford to the Rams with the top pick on April 22. The only strange thing I see is Cleveland paying a ransom to move up to pick Bradford -- like the seventh and 38th picks this year, and the Browns' first-rounder next year, plus something else.

I keep hearing the Rams believe Bradford's significantly better than the other quarterbacks, and if they do, what sense does it make to trade a franchise quarterback so you can be in position to take a quarterback with a couple more holes, and then other top prospects? At the end of the day, you're not going to be sure if you plugged the biggest hole you've got, and if you haven't, and if it's a Brady Quinn situation all over again, then what sense does it make to do the deal? None.

And Dez Bryant's in demand. That was going to be my story of the day. "In my 24 years in the business,'' his agent, Eugene Parker, said Saturday, "I've never seen so many teams so interested in finding out everything about a player.'' Look at Bryant's two-week tour, culminating in Colorado on Wednesday night, the last day players can visit teams at their facilities before the draft:

Thur., April 1: Dallas (Irving, Texas)Fri., April 2: Miami (Davie, Fla.)Sun-Mon., April 4-5: CincinnatiTue-Wed., April 6-7: PittsburghThur., April 8: New England (Foxboro, Mass.)Fri.-Sat., April 9-10: Baltimore (Owings Mills, Md.)Sun., April 11: Tampa BayMon., Today: San Francisco (Santa Clara, Calif.)Tue., April 13: St. Louis (Earth City, Mo.)*Wed., April 14: Denver (Englewood, Colo.)

*Cleveland was scheduled to host Bryant Wednesday morning, before he flew to Denver to meet with Broncos officials. But a source close to the Browns told me last night, "He's no longer on our list. He's not visiting us.''

NFL teams will have a tough call on Tim Tebow. The call might be tougher on Bryant. Teams wonder about his character after he lied to the NCAA about having dinner with Deion Sanders and was suspended for 10 games last season. (An idiotic sanction. Too severe if you ask me. But Bryant did get caught in a lie.) Teams wonder about the influences around him, and whether he'll be solely devoted to his NFL job once he gets drafted. Teams wonder about his maturity. And no wonder: His mother was incredibly young when she conceived him -- 12, Parker says, though the New York Times reported she was 14 when she became pregnant with the first of three kids she had in her teens. She later served time on a drug rap, and Bryant shuttled from "home'' to "home'' as a child.

"I'm amazed you're not a statistic by now,'' I said to Bryant Saturday as he left Baltimore. He was flying home to Dallas, to spend one night in his own bed before continuing on the trip Sunday in Tampa. "I'm amazed you're still here. How'd you do it?''

"Just staying positive,'' he said. "I used all the negative stuff in my life as motivation. I tried to stay humble. It's a blessing to have been able to overcome everything I have. By me going through everything, it's made me a stronger person.''

When Bryant meets with teams, the questions invariably are the same. They're about his suspension, his relationship with Sanders, who are the biggest influences in his life, and whether he'll be myopically devoted to football. He's a receiver with top-five-in-the-draft talent, who might get picked in the second half of the first round because teams see too many red flags.

I think Bryant might be turning a corner in these meetings. He admits his mistakes. He doesn't blame the NCAA. He doesn't blame his upbringing. It may be well-rehearsed, but if it is, he sounds sincere and hasn't had a hiccup.

"I just go and try to be me,'' he said. "People who know me know I'm not a bad guy. I made a mistake. I learned from it. I think it matured me. What I want these teams to know is I never committed a crime. I've never been in trouble with the police. Don't smoke weed. Don't drink. Whoever drafts me is going to get a dedicated, hard-working player.''

His two-week odyssey, he said, is "all business. I don't consider this exciting, and I don't consider draft day exciting. Just business. It's all on the path of getting ready to play pro football. When I get drafted, that's not the exciting part. Getting to a team and starting to work, that's what I'm looking forward to.''

He said three of the teams he visited either told him he'd be their pick if he was on the board when their first-round pick came up, or hinted strongly at it. The reason I don't want to put headlines on that is simple. Every year, teams tell players, "You're our guy,'' then end up picking another guy. So let's not get too excited about a "promise'' that may or may not be true. But many of the teams he's visiting could use a productive deep threat.

Roy Williams has disappointed the Cowboys terribly. The Bengals have no legit complement to Chad Ochocinco. The Broncos are still looking to trade Brandon Marshall and will need a field-stretcher to play opposite Eddie Royal. New England needs the next Randy Moss, and receiver depth. That'd be an interesting fit -- Moss mentoring Bryant. He could tell the kid about how he slid low in the first round because of off-field issues in high school and college.

"On TV all these years, I never saw Bill Belichick smile,'' Bryant said. "But we had a great conversation, and he was smiling a lot. I really liked it there. I think I'd be a good fit there.''

The teams that make the most sense to me: Denver, picking 11th, Miami (12th), San Francisco (13th, 17th), Pittsburgh (18th) and New England (22nd). Of course, the Patriots, with three second-round picks, could move up to a team wanting extra picks (Jacksonville at 10, perhaps) to make sure they can get him. Where Bryant goes will be one of the best stories of an intriguing draft.

"Wow. We got Holmes this is crazy. We makin' big moves this offseason.'' --Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis, on his Twitter feed at 12:24 a.m. today, an hour after the Jets traded a fifth-round pick to Pittsburgh for wide receiver Santonio Holmes, 14 months after Holmes won the Super Bowl MVP.

"You don't have to be Mr. Loudest Guy in the Room. That's not ever going to be Sam. He's not going to be on 'SportsCenter' screaming at the top of his lungs. But that doesn't mean he's not going to get after you if you're not doing your job. He was well-respected in our locker room, and that wasn't just some transformation that happened in the last month or so either.''

-- Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops on Sam Bradford, in the excellent Bradford profile by Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch Sunday.

"Going to Washington was the shocker to me. I think the Eagles are hurting themselves. Donovan makes the Redskins a better football team. They needed a player like that. But the Eagles run their team as a business. It's the New England approach -- 'Don't fall in love with the player.' I see why they did it. But I think Donovan's got a lot left and really improves the Redskins.''

-- FOX studio analyst Jimmy Johnson, to me, on the deal of Donovan McNabb from Philadelphia to Washington.

"Coach Reid knows what Donovan's limitations are.''

-- Former Eagles tackle Jon Runyan, on Sirius NFL Radio, asked why Philadelphia coach Andy Reid would deal McNabb within the division.

To be fair, Runyan didn't say this as a shot at McNabb. He said it simply to acknowledge that any coach who would trade a quarterback to a rival he plays twice a year would certainly know how to attack that quarterback and be comfortable that the quarterback would have an Achilles heel the old team would be able to exploit. That is why the trade is so fascinating, even a week later.

You think it's tough to pick a quarterback out of college football who will succeed in the NFL? I say it's harder to pick a pass-rusher. And when I talk to coaches and personnel people around the league, it's maddening to them to try to figure out if Derrick Morgan or Jason Pierre-Paul --or maybe Sergio Kindle, if he goes to a 4-3 team and plays end -- will be productive rushing the quarterback.

A look at the nine defensive ends picked in the first two rounds of the 2009 draft shows that only one rushed the passer at a big-league level as a rookie. That was Brian Orakpo, the 13th overall pick, by Washington. He had 11 sacks and was getting some double-teams by the end of the season. Here are the other eight college defensive ends (one exception -- Connor Barwin was a jack-of-all-trades at Cincinnati) and how they fared rushing the passer as rookies:

Admittedly, this is no exact science. But the Bills and Broncos didn't draft Maybin and Ayers to see them take the field 31 times and never sack the passer.

I spent some time recently with intriguing draft prospect Akwasi Owusu-Ansah of Indiana University of Pennsylvania for a piece that appears in the magazine, and I went into it thinking what a long shot small-college prospects are. And in terms of being an impact starter for years in the NFL, yes, a prospect from one of the 158 NCAA Division II schools is a long shot.

If you haven't heard of Owusu-Ansah, he's a 6-0, 208-pound corner/safety who runs a 4.38-second 40-yard dash. He's probably the best return man in the draft. He had five returns of kickoffs or punts for touchdowns last fall, including one of each in a four-minute span last October against Edinboro (Pa.). It's difficult for NFL teams to project how a player accustomed to competing against smallish, future bankers and insurance men will compete against some of the best athletes in the world.

I checked the last 10 drafts to see the history of Division II defensive backs, and it's actually very good news for Owusu-Ansah. Here's how the last 10 years of drafted Division II DBs have fared in the NFL:

Ten draft choices, zero busts, and two (maybe) solid NFL starters if Carr continues on his early-career path with the Chiefs. Pretty good odds for Owusu-Ansah.

The Joe West umpiring crew made some headlines during the week, with veteran ump West telling TheRecord (Bergen, N.J.) that the Red Sox and Yankees took too long to play baseball. He said it was "pathetic and embarrassing'' that the two teams evaded the measures put in play by major league baseball to shorten the game.

The West crew did the Boston-New York three-game series in the first week of the season, followed by the Toronto-Baltimore three-gamer.

Time of the three Red Sox-Yankees games: 3:46 (West at the plate), 3:48, 3:21.

Time of the three Jays-Orioles games: 2:54, 2:24 (West at the plate), 2:22.

The Baltimore-Toronto games, on average, were 65 minutes shorter than the Boston-New York games.

West's game behind home plate in Baltimore was 82 minutes shorter.

I watch a lot of baseball, and since I follow the Red Sox closely and have since I was 6, I'd watch Sox-Yanks if their games were four hours long. That doesn't mean I enjoy the Sox-Yanks at four hours. I'd much rather see a 2:45 game. The other night, at fast-working John Lackey's first game with the Sox, I timed a six-pitch at-bat of New York's Nick Johnson at 78 seconds. That's a good thing. I support the umps telling Derek Jeter to get in the box and telling David Ortiz he doesn't have to adjust his gloves, spit in them and clap his hands before every pitch.

Commuting on the East Coast is fun. I mean, really -- it's fun. On Friday, I had an SI World Cup meeting (yes, I'm covering the group stage of it in June in South Africa) at a restaurant inside Citi Field at the Mets-Nats game. Left my Boston apartment at 11:50 for the 12:20 Acela to Manhattan. Arrived at 3:45 at Penn Station in Manhattan. Walked a few blocks to get on the 7 express train to Citi Field. Arrived at 4:40. Met with Team SI (Mark Mravic, Grant Wahl, Mark Bechtel) for 90 minutes, out-drank all but Mravic, listened to Wahl warn me about no Starbucks in Johannesburg, froze at the ballgame for four or five innings, got in a cab to JFK at 9:10 p.m., took the 10:40 p.m. JetBlue flight to Boston, was back in the apartment at 12:05. Door to door, with all that in between, in 12 hours and 15 minutes. Can't beat that.

"Strasburg update: Between innings, he fixed a fan's carburetor on a '67 Buick&helped a woman give birth''

-- EricStangel, head writer/executive producer Eric Stangel of the "David Letterman Show,'' on the professional debut of last year's first-round baseball pick Steven Strasburg of the Washington Nationals. He pitched for Double-A Harrisburg at Altoon (Pa.) Sunday afternoon.

1. I think the trade that should happen is Baltimore signing left tackle Jared Gaither to an offer sheet and trading him to Dallas for a second-round pick. Am I sure the Ravens would do it? No, but I think it has a heck of a chance of passing muster, and I think Baltimore realizes it'd be a smart deal.

This has little to do with Gaither's ability; he's a top-12 NFL left tackle, he's young (24), with 28 starts already on his resume. But the Ravens aren't going to pay two players franchise-tackle money. Michael Oher will be the one to get the big bucks after being picked in the first round a year ago.

This deal would allow the Cowboys to get a much-needed, long-term left tackle, still use prospect Doug Free to compete with Marc Colombo at right tackle and eventually replace him permanently. Dallas would keep the 27th overall pick while filling a hole with the 59th, and Baltimore would get a third pick in the top 60 of a good draft to play with. Maybe it would allow the Ravens to move up a bit ... and get a player in a strong draft they wouldn't normally be able to get drafting so late in the round, like they did last year with Oher.

2. I think if you're a person of means, and you're a fan of good inside stories about a very good team and the league, and you care about good causes, I suggest you consider attending what I'm calling the New England Locker Room Luncheon at Davio's in Foxboro, Mass., from 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. on May 11.

I'm going to host this cozy affair with Patriots tackle Matt Light and wide receiver Julian Edelman and ESPNBoston's Mike Reiss, the Patriots beat man who formerly worked for the Boston Globe. We're selling 30 seats for $1,000 apiece, and for that grand you'll get your picture taken with Light and Edelman, autographs galore, and more than an hour of quality football talk. I'll MC a panel and wedge some inside stories about the Patriots' great run of the past and their prospects for another title in the future from two important pieces of it and the bright Reiss.

The luncheon will benefit the Matt Light Foundation (he specializes in helping at-risk teens) and the Greater Boston Food Bank, two causes near and dear to the four of us. For ticket information, or to place your reservation, contact Margrette Mondillo at Hope you can make it, and pass along the info to Pats' fans or fans of the game if you know someone who might be interested.

3. I think the Browns may do several things at number seven, but the one thing they won't do is take Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen. They could draft into the strength of that area of the draft and pick a tackle, or they could take Eric Berry, or they could take Joe Haden, or they could trade down to fortify their five-in-the-top-100 slate of picks (overall: 7, 38, 71, 85, 92). They'll do so with a GM, Tom Heckert, who, along with Andy Reid, used to turn draft choices into more quality draft picks as well as any team in the league. I just don't think the Browns see Clausen as a no-doubt franchise guy.

4. I think, for those Browns fans who yearn for a franchise receiver and ask, "Why don't we trade down a bit in the round and get Dez Bryant?'' here's your answer: Eric Mangini's spent a lot of energy trying to get his locker room right, and though Bryant appears to be on the right track and could well be a terrific NFL citizen for the next 10 years, they don't sell insurance for this kind of thing, and the Browns would rather take guys without question marks on their resumes.

5. I think the one thing most of us can agree on is Bradford one, Ndamukong Suh two, to the Lions, and Gerald McCoy three, to Tampa Bay.

6. I think I believe Mike Shanahan is serious when he says he might take a quarterback very high. I don't see how he could get the quarterback he wants, Bradford -- he'd have to denude this draft and next year's to do so -- but he's sniffing around Tim Tebow an awful lot. Private workout in Gainesville, long visit in Virginia. The 'Skins are spending an awful lot of time on quarterbacks for a team that just traded for one who should play four more years. ("Denude.'' Did you like that one? Did you click on to find the meaning?)

7. I think the overtime-reform issue still has some legs, and I believe it's got a very good chance to pass for the regular-season as well as the playoffs when NFL owners meet in May in Dallas. For many of you who asked why the league just didn't make it a strict two-possession rule, I'll give you Competition Committee member Bill Polian's take on it: "I'm a two-possession opponent, and here's why. Defense is a part of football, and you need to earn that second possession by playing defense on the first. Two years ago, in San Diego, we lost the flip in overtime. Peyton Manning didn't get on the field that night because our defense couldn't stop San Diego from scoring a touchdown. I've got no beef with that. Under the new rule, we'd be incentivized to stop San Diego from scoring a touchdown and at least holding them to a field goal. One of the reasons I like the new rule is it's not a guarantee to possess; it's an opportunity to possess.''

8. I think the important thing to realize about the Jets' moves is that Mike Tannenbaum and Rex Ryan need to be on the same page to make the deals they've made. They need to be OK with the risk of the Cromarties and the Holmeses, and with the potential of LaDainian Tomlinson being unhappy with his touches, because if one isn't on board, the other can't be fully supportive and they can't build a team together. Tannenbaum, Ryan and owner Woody Johnson are all men who accept risk, significant risk, and they'd have to be risk-takers to do what they've done this off-season. We're still 10 days out from the draft. Who knows what else can happen.

9. I think if the Steelers didn't trade Holmes, there's a good chance the Steelers would have cut him. That might be hard to believe, but ace beat man Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette first raised the prospect that his days were numbered last week, and I believe him.

10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:

a. The end is not going to be pretty for David Ortiz. It's coming.

b. Rick Ankiel's a heck of a comeback story. He strafed the Red Sox all weekend, and you had to be happy for him. And that redone Royal ballpark looks beautiful.

c. Tom Verducci's tremendous piece on Roy Halladay in the magazine's preview issue (what a talented dude Verducci is) foretold what's coming, I believe. One week, two wins, one earned run in 16 innings. It's going to be a good spring, summer and fall for Phils fans watching that guy.

d. The bullying story out of South Hadley, Mass., is so sad and so compelling and so important. So glad my kids got out of school without being tormented by bullies. Good luck to your kids doing the same.

e. Somehow the moment was nicer to see Phil Mickelson, with his wife and mother battling breast cancer, enveloping the wife in a bearhug after winning the Masters, than any other outcome would have been.

f. The Tiger Woods/Dad commercial is downright creepy. If Nike's goal was to make viewers emote, they hit a home run. It's the wrong emoting, though. It's not "Awwww.'' It's "Yecchhhhh.''

g. Devils over Flyers in seven, but they'll be too beat up to go much further, I fear. In the finals, I like Chicago over Washington in a classic, wide-open series.

h. Watched "Julie and Julia'' for the second time over the weekend, and for the second time I was transfixed. What a movie. Meryl Streep's got to be the best actor/actress of our day.

i. Spirit Airlines will charge for carry-on bags that can't fit beneath the seat. I believe the next step is an airline charging for clothing. Worn, not packed.

j. Coffeenerdness: Had a cup of that McDonald's coffee for a buck the other day, and it's damn good. Maybe I'm just an addict, and it was an any-port-in-the-storm moment, but I liked it.

k. My prayers to the mining families in West Virginia. As a country, we should respect that industry more than I think we do.

l. Ditto to the people of Poland. That poor country, losing so many of its leaders in one plane crash. Amazed that a pilot could, apparently, have so much power over so many lives.

m. And a final thanks for your tremendous efforts for Five For Fighting. Your donations totaled $198,170, nearly enough for 10 remote platoons to be outfitted with recreation and communication gear for their off time. I am truly appreciative of your efforts for all the soldiers. Thank you.

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