By balancing draft philosophies, Vikings hit first-round paydirt
? Those who mostly sit near or right where they are high in the draft (Pittsburgh, the Giants, Green Bay, Cincinnati, among many others) and let the draft come to them.
? Those who enter the draft with an eye on specific players and use picks as capital to go buy the objects of their affection (Atlanta, St. Louis).
? An amalgam of those two ways of drafting (Baltimore, Minnesota, Seattle). Drafts are snowflakes, and they decide what to do after they set their boards.
? Board-users (New England, San Francisco) married to nothing other than maximizing picks as value, unafraid of either going after a player they love (Pats: Jerod Mayo; Niners: Eric Reid) or, in the Jimmy Johnson way, trading down often because future picks are currency to get players they want.
Check out what the Vikings did in the first round. They let the draft fall to them, and they also attacked the bottom of the round when Cordarrelle Patterson fell to them. That's why I like the job Rick Spielman did on draft weekend. It was clear he would have been thrilled to get Xavier Rhodes and Cordarrelle Patterson at 23 and 25, the picks he had at the start of the draft, to fill major corner and receiver needs left by the departure of Antoine Winfield and Percy Harvin. But there he was at 23, with the man many thought was a top-five pick in the draft, defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, plummeting, and the Vikings knowing they had a hole to fill there too. Kevin Williams turns 33 in August, and he might be entering his last season with the Vikings. The under-tackle, or three-technique, is vital to the Minnesota defense, and Floyd fit the job better than anyone in this draft.
It was a no-brainer pick for Spielman. "For us,'' Spielman said the other day, "our first round was sort of a combination. I prefer to be patient on draft day and let the board unfold, because it usually happens better than you think. And here, I certainly didn't expect Floyd to be there at 23. I expected him to be gone in the top 10. Then, I was shocked Xavier was there for us. I thought he'd be gone by 13 to 15, somewhere in there.
"Every draft is different, but among the ones I've seen, I thought this one was unique. So little separation between five and 25, to us. So with the talent being so even, I think teams homed in on need instead of taking the best player available -- because the best player available, this year, was such a close call on player after player. Then, the draft starts tackle-tackle, and there were three tackles in the first four picks, then two guards in the top 10, and I think that pushed a lot of the defensive players down. Which helped us.''
Spielman didn't want to give away second- and third-round picks to move up from 23 or 25; he knew it was dicey to wait for Rhodes or Patterson, but he figured if they were gone there'd be someone very close to them on their board, and probably at a position of great need. So he waited, and he got Floyd (to succeed Williams in 2014, if not sooner) and Rhodes (to plug in for Winfield), and he was happy.
He'd put out feelers to try to move up low in the round to get Patterson, but he figured he'd never have the shot, because the Vikes' next pick was 52nd overall -- and no team would want to delay a late first-round pick to late in the second. In fact, Spielman went to do his Round 1 press conference with the media when he had to hustle back into the draft room. New England was on the line, willing to go down to 52.
So Spielman wrecked the rest of his board, basically, to move up to draft the immensely talented Patterson. (Talented, yes, but some scouts question his maturity. He doesn't come without risk.)
"But as far as your theory on draft philosophy, I am right on the fence," he said. "I view myself as a patient person. Look at some of our late picks. John Sullivan's a center who I think is a Pro Bowl player. Our kicker, Blair Walsh, is too. Both of those guys were sixth-round picks. You don't want to just give those picks away. You have to be careful there, and I like to be patient. But you also have to know when to go get a guy you really want and really need."
It's easy to say a team had a good draft when the first three picks come in the first round. But they weren't 8-11-9. They were 23-25-29, and if the Vikings hit on two of them, they will have had a great day.
It's too early to say who was right on this draft day, and there is no one correct draft philosophy. The Ravens probably get it right more than any other team -- or at least have gotten it right a lot recently -- by reading the board, fishing around for pre-draft mock drafts they trust might have some kernel of truth to them, then not being married to any pick anywhere. They got wind that Denver and Houston were Arthur Brown fans, so they traded ahead of both to the 56th overall pick to draft the Kansas State linebacker. That's the smart way to run a draft.
But Green Bay, Pittsburgh and the Giants, all of whom have been less aggressive historically, have won five of the last eight Super Bowls. The right answer is having the right scheme on both sides of the ball, and picking players who fit them, and never panicking when you don't get the guy you want. With good coaching staffs, you just figure you can train a slightly lesser player to be a winning player for you.
The Rams still have the best-looking 2014 draft profile. St. Louis is the only team with an extra first-round pick, courtesy of the last of three first-rounders from the Robert Griffin III trade in 2012. Three straight years with two first-rounders (at least to start the draft) is a great way to rebuild a franchise, obviously.
But the Niners, as of this morning, are the only team with six picks in the first three rounds next year -- and that comes with an asterisk, as I'll explain. San Francisco has its own choices in the first three rounds, plus what could be three additional third-rounders. The rundown:
So: San Francisco will probably have first-, second- and four third-rounders next year. But if the Chiefs surprise, it'll more likely be a one, two twos and three threes. As we've seen, GM Trent Baalke is dangerous with extra picks in his hands. If Colin Kaepernick is very good, the Niners should be annual contenders for years with the picks laid out that way.
Now that veteran free agency is 80 percent complete, and the draft is over, certain truths are self-evident. Such as these:
Great decision by Spagnuolo to join the Ravens as a special assistant to defensive coordinator Dean Pees and head coach John Harbaugh. He'll help them, and they'll help him. Spagnuolo has coached the 4-3 defense in his 14 previous NFL seasons, with the Eagles, Giants, Rams and Saints. Now he'll see the 3-4 from the inside.
His role will be amorphous: advising Pees and Harbaugh (who he's known for years; they were on Eagles staffs together), and likely looking for ways to incorporate some pass-rush schemes into what the Ravens do. Remember: It was Spagnuolo's Giants defense and ever-changing pass rush that frustrated the Patriots and helped the Giants win the Super Bowl against the 18-0 Patriots five years ago. Good move for both sides.
A few years ago, when the subject of the site for the Golden Anniversary of the Super Bowl came up, a lot of spots were mentioned: New York/New Jersey, somewhere in Los Angeles, a more traditional site like south Florida or New Orleans. Then the league began circulating the thought that the 50th Super Bowl would be a legacy-type Super Bowl, in a city with much Super Bowl tradition, and the 51st a sign of where the league is going in the future.
Amazing, really, that the most likely venue this morning for the Golden Anniversary Super Bowl is the 48th-largest city in California, Santa Clara.
And I'm all for it. The new 49ers stadium is the best place for the game, now that the Dolphins won't be able to give any assurances to the league that Dolphins Stadium will be refurbished before the game.
When the Florida legislature on Friday refused to allow the citizens of South Florida to vote on whether to increase the South Florida hotel tax from 6 to 7 percent, it put a huge damper on the chance for Super Bowl L to be held at Dolphins Stadium. The league had said the site very much needs the proposed $350 million stadium improvement. Owners are slated to vote for Super Bowls 50 and 51 at the spring meetings in Boston May 20-22. Super Bowl 50 was a battle between the San Francisco Bay Area and South Florida, with 51 likely headed to either Houston or the loser of the fight for 50.
So, barring a late Hail Mary from Miami owner Stephen Ross, it's likely Santa Clara (45 miles south of San Francisco) will get 50 and Houston 51. It would be the first Super Bowl in the Bay Area in 31 years, since the Joe Montana-Dan Marino faceoff in Palo Alto in January 1985.
The Niners' new 68,500-seat stadium is due to open in time for the 2014 season ... 54 years after Candlestick Park opened. Super Bowl 48 will be played in New Jersey next February, with Super Bowl 49 slated for the Cardinals' stadium in Glendale, Ariz., in February 2015. So the 49ers would have two full seasons to work out the kinks before the big game.
The team worked hard to make theirs the greenest stadium in major pro sports. There will be 20,000 square feet of solar panels, a charging station for electric cars, loads of bicycle parking, and a living roof full of green plants. Mass transit was a big key to the new place. When I was briefed on all the bells and whistles of the new stadium last year, I remember being told fans in Sacramento -- 90 miles from Candlestick Park -- would be able to make it to the new stadium, depending on traffic, in the time it takes for a fan to drive to the new place from downtown San Francisco. And there will be train service from San Francisco to the stadium too, which is undoubtedly how many would travel to a Super Bowl, because the biggest crowd of fans for a Bay Area Super Bowl will want to be in downtown San Francisco.
The Dolphins seethed Friday night. Ross blamed Florida House speaker Will Weatherford for failing to bring the matter to the floor of the House for a vote. Ross said in a statement, "Speaker Weatherford did far more than just deny the people of Miami-Dade the right to vote on an issue critical to the future of our local economy. He singlehandedly put the future of Super Bowls and other big events at risk for Miami-Dade and for all of Florida. He put politics before the people and the 4,000 jobs this project would have created for Miami-Dade, and that is just wrong."
The Dolphins were so desperate to get this deal done that Ross said he'd pay for the special election for it, so the people of South Florida could decide for themselves. One source told me Ross was confident the vote would pass, even after so many in south Florida were outraged at the carpetbaggery of Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria. Now Ross has to hope the league will risk playing a historic Super Bowl in a pretty average stadium, without upgrades. I think it's likely the league goes to the Bay Area instead.
Happy to announce this morning that my new football-centric microsite, which we'll kick off July 22, is adding a couple of strong column voices: Andrew Brandt and Richard Deitsch.
Brandt, the former agent and Packers VP, has been an NFL business analyst for ESPN. He'll write a column on the business of football once a week, and write longer pieces when good stories come up. Brandt's a teacher -- at Villanova and the Wharton Business School at Penn -- and a tweeter. He's one of the most insightful and fun follows on Twitter. Two Brandt Factoids You Did Not Know: He went on double-dates in high school with Julia Louis-Dreyfuss (she with a friend of his). And he repped Ricky Williams out of Texas -- before Williams left him for the rapper Master P. Really looking forward to Brandt's insights for us.
Deitsch will also write a column once a week for the site, as well as do some longer pieces on the influence of TV in the game we watch. He'll still do his fine work for both SI and SI.com, but for us he'll be NFL only. Like Brandt, Deitsch teaches too (at Columbia, as an adjunct professor of journalism), and I've loved his take on sports and the media for years. I'd be honored to have this column compared to the great one he writes on the media, and I know he'll bring his tireless curiosity to us. I'm excited to have both guys on board, and you'll get to read them starting in late July.
Quote of the Week I
"He did a nice job calling the defenses. He was the signal-caller out there. It will be interesting to follow his progress, having been away from football for so long."
Quote of the Week II
"We both competed our best, tried to be the best of friends we could, and honestly, under different circumstances, we would be really good friends, it's just hard when you're competing like that. There's just a professionalism about it that you don't get too close to guys like that. You're just professional, and you're cool and if the guy has a flat tire on the side of the road, I'm going to stop, I'm not just going to blow by him, but at the same time, I'm not sending him gifts on his birthday or anything."
Stat of the Week
The Vikings drafted a punter, Jeff Locke, in the fifth round of the draft, the first punter or kicker drafted this year. Chris Kluwe, Minnesota's 31-year-old former longtime punter, met with Vikings GM Rick Spielman last week, and Spielman told me the team wanted to get through the weekend's rookie minicamp before making any decisions on the future of the punting position. But with the release of Kluwe Monday, it's clear the team is going to training camp with only one punter -- Locke.
Kluwe, obviously, is outspoken about a lot of things -- gay rights and the lack of punters in the Hall of Fame most recently. Last season, after he taped a "VOTE RAY GUY'' post-it note on his uniform over a Pro Football Hall of Fame emblem in protest to the Hall having no punters, Vikes special teams coordinator Mike Priefer said, "These distractions are getting old for me, to be quite honest."
Spielman insisted to me the decision to draft a punter was not made because the team felt Kluwe was a distraction. "Locke was the top punter in this draft,'' Spielman said. "Some people are trying to play the other angle [the Kluwe-as-distraction angle], but that is totally off-base. That is off the radar. I want Chris, and all of our players, to have freedom of speech. This has nothing to do with Chris' political views."
If the decision is made on performance, it's hard to see Kluwe not having a place as an NFL punter. Four numbers why:
? Kluwe has punted for eight years in the NFL, all of them with the Vikings. His 39.7-yard net average in 2012 was a career-best. His 45.0-yard gross average was the third-best in his career.
? Obviously, a Minnesota punter has been a dome punter since the advent of the Metrodome, and the Vikings are preparing to play two years outside, in the University of Minnesota's open-air stadium, while a new Vikings stadium is built. The numbers say Kluwe's just as good, or even a little better, punting outside. Over the last two seasons, his outdoor average punt -- 45.83 yards -- is better than his 45.30 yards-per-punt indoors. (That includes the playoff game at Green Bay last season.)
? With a scheduled $1.4 million salary this year, Kluwe is not among the top-12-paid punters in the NFL.
Locke's 43.8-yard gross average over the past two seasons at UCLA is good but not great, though scouts say he's a very good directional punter; 60 of his 141 punts in the last two years were placed inside the 20. And he's an excellent kickoff man (68 touchbacks last year), though incumbent Blair Walsh did set the Minnesota record for touchbacks last year.
Kluwe is toast in Minnesota. But he'll have a major gripe if he's not signed to be someone's punter this year, or at least to come in and compete equally for a job. If he isn't punting somewhere in late July, there will be no question in my mind that NFL teams want their punters to be seen and not heard.
Factoid of the Week That May Interest Only Me I
The best factoid I encountered this week comes from the always-prescient Mike Reiss of ESPNBoston: This will be Bill Belichick's 14th season as coach of the Patriots, and he has entered every one with a left-footed punter. The two punters the Patriots will take to camp this year, incumbent Zoltan Mesko and free agent Ryan Allen of Louisiana Tech, are left-footed. Something about the way the ball comes off the punter's foot, it seems. Thinking about it, it stands to reason that even if it's only because there aren't a lot of left-footed punters, a return man might struggle with the trajectory if he sees punts off a righty eight weeks in a row, then has to catch punts from Mesko -- particularly when his team can't practice the lefty stuff without a lefty punter on the roster.
Factoid of the Week That May Interest Only Me II
The 229th pick of the draft, a mid-seventh-rounder, was owned by four teams (one twice) in 48 hours on draft weekend.
On Thursday night, Minnesota traded it to New England as one of four picks to trade up to the 29th pick in the first round.
On Saturday, New England traded 229 in the deal that brought LeGarrette Blount from Tampa Bay to New England.
Later Saturday, the Bucs traded 229 back to Minnesota when Tampa moved up seven spots in the sixth round.
Ensconced back in the great north woods -- where it apparently belonged all along -- after traveling to the northeast and then to the Florida Gulf Coast, 229 turned into Florida State defensive tackle Everett Dawkins.
Mr. Starwood Preferred Member Travel Note of the Week
Traveling back from Dallas to the East Coast Thursday night, my American Airlines flight had a slightly bumpy approach and landing. Nothing too unusual, except to the 12ish-year-old boy across the aisle in row 32. As I stood up to stretch, the boy, without warning from the window seat, projectile-vomited. He caught some of it, but a chunk of it, yogurty in feel, BB'ed into my right ear, with another couple of splashes on my shirt.
A flight attendant, duly attentive, rushed up and asked the mom if she needed a bag -- no thanks, it seems to be over now -- and some towels. While they cleaned up, I went into the lavatory and washed my ear like I'd never washed it in my life, which was tough to do in an airplane lav.
Tweet of the Week I
"Floyd Mayweather to receive $32 million even if he loses this fight. Would put him 10th on PGA Tour all-time money list. Sorry, Kenny Perry.''
That might be the wow of the week.
Tweet of the Week II
But if he doesn't play football anymore, "retiring 13'' will be true, and Abraham will have scooped us all.
Tweet of the Week III
"After seven mint juleps I'm ready to watch thish Kenchuxky Zherby.''
Tweet of the Week IV
"Randy called me and said.'..Got mashed potatoes...can't get no T-Bone!!!..'.so I said we'll float that rent fer a little bit n keep rockin' "
I've been told Irsay gave $75,000 to keep a Colts-themed bar in Indianapolis, the Blue Crew Sports Grill, alive. Kudos to him for that.
Ten Things I Think I Think
a. I did write in my
b. Many have said the Rams are going to have one of these risky high picks -- Janoris Jenkins, Alec Ogletree -- blow up on them, the way Pacman Jones and Albert Haynesworth blew up on Jeff Fisher in Tennessee. I didn't use it in the story for space reasons, but COO Kevin Demoff admitted to me that it was likely that one of these days they'd have an issue with one of the high-risk guys, and it was simply the cost of doing business when you take a talented player who has had issues.
c. As I've done a couple of times when writing about the Rams, I want to be open about my relationships there. Kevin Demoff is the son of my agent, Marvin Demoff. Jeff Fisher has Marvin Demoff for an agent. I understand some of you would think I am giving favorable treatment to them, and it is human nature to think that. I try my best to be impartial. Many of you think I am not. I look at it this way: If my relationship with Kevin Demoff and Fisher helped me spend the first round inside the Rams' draft room -- and of course it didn't hurt -- then read the story and weigh whether it was worth it. I believe it was.
More happened in that round than in any of the other four draft rooms I've been in on past draft days, and I conveyed that in my story. The story, by the way, will be online by midweek this week. Otherwise, I'd encourage you to buy the mag. Lots of good stuff in there this week, including Pete Thamel's piece on traveling to India to write about an Indian basketball phenom. But I digress -- there are times I'm going to have to write about people I am closer to than others. It's something I think about when I do it, and I try to be vigilant to be as fair as possible. You will have to be the judge as to whether I accomplish that.
a. In death, you're a beacon for journalists, Jessica Lum.
b. The best storytelling I heard last week (and this is something I could say many weeks) came on radio -- from
c. As I tweeted Saturday night, that was an awful showing by the Nets, and I know more about darts than I do basketball. Stop passing the ball and shoot, Deron Williams. Game's on the line, Joe Johnson's in some other world, you're the only offensive threat your team has, and you keep passing the ball. Take over the game and try to win it, man.
d. Joakim Noah just wouldn't let his team lose. Playing with a painful heel injury, Noah put in 41 minutes and was a rebounding machine (14) with 24 points. The will of that guy.
e. I know it's not very plausible to think they can win the series, but I'll be pulling hard for the Bulls against Miami.
f. Not a big fan of amateur doctoring, but when Derrick Rose is cleared to play March 8 and here it is, 60 days later, and he says he's still not ready, what is that all about? I know an ACL is serious surgery, but unless there's been a setback, how is a guy not ready to do something after 51 weeks of rehab and training?
g. I found it impossible to watch and not be emotional when double amputee Jeff Bauman was wheeled out onto the ice before Bruins-Maple Leafs Saturday night in Boston. Great gesture to include the Marathon bombing victim.
h. How about the Islanders with a pulse? It's good for hockey to see the Isles competitive with Pittsburgh.
i. Hey, Lisa Swenson! Congrats on your 100th career hit for the Newark (N.J.) Academy softball team! You were fun to coach. Good luck in this great game, and in life.
j. Coffeenerdness: Five straight grande hazelnut macchiatos. There is a sea change in the works. Latte down, macchiato up.
k. Beernerdness: Had the Rahr and Sons Blonde Lager the other night while in Dallas. Very nice, lighter malty beer from Fort Worth. Could have had seven -- that's how drinkable it is. Stopped at three. Mature for once.
The Adieu Haiku
Sanchez press briefing. Why that thin green hair band, Mark? Anyone ask that?