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National media sounds off on Saints’ bounty system

03.05.12 at 3:35 pm ET
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Never without controversy lately regarding issues of rough play and player safety, the NFL has another scandal on its hands as a league investigation found that the Saints were guilty of a wide-reaching system of payments to defensive players from former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams for knocking out star offensive players on opposing teams.

The system of bounties reportedly involved between 22 and 27 players and spanned from 2009 to 2011. With the information now at the heart of discussion surrounding the NFL, many have begun to opine on what should happen to the Saints and how player-conscious NFL commissioner Roger Goodell will punish Williams and the Saints franchise for their transgressions.

Sports Illustrated NFL writer Don Banks wrote that because of this bounty system, Saints general manager Mickey Loomis and coach Sean Payton face the most trouble of anyone in this saga.

Wrote Banks: This one stinks, NFL fans, and the stench goes top to bottom in the Saints organization. New Orleans can’t realistically make everyone pay with their jobs. There will be league fines and likely suspensions. But for Loomis and Payton, the accountability should be at a level commensurate with their responsibility. They were in charge of this show, and they know what comes with being the men at the top.

You get the credit and the blame. And this time, there’s nothing but blame to go around.

While Banks wrote that Loomis and Payton will undoubtedly be in trouble and could face the threat of losing their jobs, ESPN NFL writer Ashley Fox takes it a step further — she feels that the two men should be fired for their involvement and lack of action in helping prevent Williams’ payment system.

Wrote Fox: According to the NFL’s report, when [Saints owner Tom] Benson directed Loomis earlier this season to ensure that any bounty program be discontinued immediately, Loomis did not follow Benson’s directions. “Similarly, when the initial allegations were discussed with Mr. Loomis in 2010,” the report continued, “he denied any knowledge of a bounty program and pledged he would ensure that no such program was in place. There is no evidence that Mr. Loomis took any effective action to stop these practices.”

If the NFL’s report is true, Loomis defied a direct order from his owner. That is grounds for dismissal. And Payton was no better.

For others, though, the issue of the Saints’ bounty system extends far beyond a single team. Greg Couch of Fox Sports believes that those behind the bounty system in New Orleans should undoubtedly be punished, but that the culture of the NFL is also to blame in all of this.

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Read More: Brett Favre, Charles Barkley, Damien Woody, Dave Duerson

Analysis: What it means for Wes Welker to get the franchise tag

03.05.12 at 3:26 pm ET
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A decade or so ago, when the Patriots hit a guy with the franchise tag, it was usually the first step in the eventual dissolution of the relationship — like one person telling the other: “We have to talk.” Tebucky Jones, Adam Vinatieri (the second time around), Asante Samuel and Matt Cassel all weren’t around Foxboro soon after they were hit with the franchise tag. In the case of Vinatieri and Samuel, they eventual left via free agency, or as a trade chip like Jones and Cassel.

But when the last two players — Vince Wilfork (in 2010) and Logan Mankins (in 2011) — were hit with the franchise tag, it was seen as part of the negotiation process. Neither individual was particularly happy about it, but it was done as a way of extending the negotiating window between the player and the team. And in both cases, despite some early acrimony, both players ended up signing big new deals with the Patriots.

When it comes to Welker, early indications are that his situation is a lot closer to the latter than the former. The wide receiver, who is expected to receive a roughly $9.4 million contract as the result of the tag (the league has yet to officially announce the tag numbers), has a very good working relationship with the franchise since he signed a five-year, $18 million deal prior to the start of the 2007 season. That was reflected in the overall optimistic tone of the statement issued by the franchise shortly after the news became official: “Wes Welker is a remarkable football player for our team and has been a vital component to our offense and special teams since we traded for him in 2007. Utilizing the franchise designation allows both sides more time to try to reach an agreement, which is the goal. Wes remains a contractual priority and we are hopeful that he will remain a Patriot for years to come.”

When it comes to Welker, despite the fact that he’s been wildly underpaid when compared to his output against other receivers (no one has caught more passes over the last five seasons), he has never publicly feuded with management. In addition, his representation (Athletes First) has had a very good working relationship with the Patriots: This was the agency that helped make Drew Bledsoe the richest player in the history of the league with a 2001 contract. They also represent several current members of the roster, including tight end Aaron Hernandez, running back Shane Vereen, offensive lineman Nate Solder and punter Zoltan Mesko.

So if/when Welker and the team can reach a long-term deal, what sort of numbers are we talking about? Reports indicate that the two sides have been working together to find some common ground for some time — a Boston Globe report says the Patriots offered Welker a two-year, fully-guaranteed contract for $16 million during the 2011 season, which was declined. Now, if the team did decide to franchise him for back-to-back seasons, he would get the equivalent of a two-year deal worth roughly $20 million.

Ultimately, early indications certainly appear that a four-year deal worth $8 million to $9.5 million annually would be about right, especially when you consider the market and Welker’s production. One analyst offered this as a model, which seems to make a lot of sense.

Read More: Aaron Hernandez, Adam Vinatieri, Asante Samuel, Drew Bledsoe

Peter King on M&M: Texans DE Mario Williams should consider Patriots

03.05.12 at 1:13 pm ET
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Sports Illustrated football writer Peter King, known for his Monday Morning Quarterback column, appeared on the Mut & Merloni show Monday morning to talk about the Saints’ bounty scandal, and he also touched on a free agent signing that could affect the Patriots.

With news breaking that running back Arian Foster agreed to a new contract with the Texans, King noted that the chances of defensive end Mario Williams becoming a Patriot just increased.

“I was surprised by Houston signing Arian Foster for five years and $43 million because they could’€™ve tagged him as a restricted free agent this year and an unrestricted free agent next year. They could’€™ve tagged him both times and kept him for a lot less money for what they in essence have guaranteed him. They’ve guaranteed him 20 million bucks in this contract.

“I think that is a tremendously positive sign for sort of team cohesion and treating your players the right way. This is a guy who basically has averaged 95 yards rushing a game in his 29 starts and really has performed tremendously. He’s clearly one of the top two, three, four backs in the league and the Texans took care of him.

“Now, what that means to me is they clearly — unless Mario Williams takes a fraction of what everyone thinks he’€™s going to get — that means that Mario Williams is going to be out on the market for somebody. And I wrote this morning, in my opinion I think the Patriots ought to be at the absolute very least kicking the financial tires on Mario Williams, because he can play so many different places on a defense. I just think he’€™d fit in very well with the Patriots.”

Williams likely could earn more money signing elsewhere, but King said Williams would be wise to consider less money to play in New England.

“If you’re Mario Williams and the Patriots offer you, say, $13 million a year in a long-term deal with good guarantees, you’€™ve got to think of that. If you’€™re a defensive player, who the heck wouldn’€™t want to play for Bill Belichick? … I’ve not talked to Mario Williams, so I don’t know what he’s thinking. Maybe he’€™s thinking, ‘This is the last contract I’ll ever sign and I’m going to make every last dime.’ If he is, he’s not going to the Patriots. But my feeling is, if you’€™re a really good defensive player and you want to be deep in the playoffs every year, where’s your best chance right now? My feeling is your best chance right now is go to play for Bill Belichick.”

Read More: Arian Foster, Mario Williams, Peter King,

NFL Draft’s Potential Patriots: Michigan State DT Jerel Worthy

03.05.12 at 10:57 am ET
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WEEI.com will continue to offer daily insight and analysis regarding options that may be available to the Patriots when it comes to the 2012 NFL draft. Here is one is a series of profiles of players who could be on the board when it’€™s time for the Patriots to make a selection.

JEREL WORTHY

Position: Defensive tackle

School: Michigan State

Height: 6-foot-3

Weight: 310 pounds

Achievements: All-America first team, Freshman All-America (2009)

What he brings: When Worthy does pass rush, he shows a good bull rush and should be a great fit at either defensive tackle positions. He demonstrates great upper-body strength and is able to take down a player with one arm. He has great athleticism and brute physicality.

Where the Patriots could get him: Round 1

Notes: Worthy started 38 of 40 games in three seasons with the Spartans, recording 107 tackles (52 unassisted). He ranks among Michigan State’s all-time leaders with 27.5 tackles resulting in losses totaling 118 yards, including 12 sacks. … Worthy tied his career high in tackles (5) and tackles for loss (2) in the Spartans’ 33-30 triple-overtime victory over Georgia in the Outback Bowl on Jan. 2. … Worthy wore No. 99 at Michigan State, but he switched to No. 95 for this past season’s game against Notre Dame in tribute to Spartans legend Bubba Smith, who died last year.

Recent Articles:

Orlando Sentinel: Q&A with Jerel Worthy

Worthy not thought to be a first-rounder

Video: Here’s a look at Worthy in the Spartans’ Outback Bowl victory over Georgia on Jan. 2.

Read More: 2012 NFL Draft, 2012 Potential Patriots, Jerel Worthy,

Saints’ actions worse than Spygate

03.05.12 at 7:18 am ET
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You can’t make this stuff up.

In a time of unprecedented sensitivity to player health — thanks in large part to increased knowledge of the terrible mental and physical fallout from concussions — and a commissioner seemingly very intent about doing everything in his power to at least slow down what has become an epidemic, we learned last Friday that the Saints were guilty of running a bounty system that payed players $1,500 for knocking an opposing player out of the game and $1,000 if he was carted off the field. And the payout was doubled or even tripled for postseason games.

Reckless and disgusting enough for you? And don’t give me the “every team does this” angle, either. I don’t doubt it has happened and is still happening in other cities, but to this extent? Wonder what Marc Savard or Dave Duerson‘s family would think about it. But it gets better — before the 2010 NFC title game, defensive captain Jonathan Vilma reportedly offered $10,000 to any player to knock Brett Favre out of the game. And guess who ran (and contributed money) to this bounty pool? Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. And when coach Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis found out about it, they did nothing to put a stop to it.

Because boys will be boys, right? This is war, got to do whatever it takes to win and all that dated macho baloney. This is 2012, not 1952. We know things that they didn’t. There’s a reason why people aren’t smoking on airplanes or in hospitals anymore. It’s called progress. And that’s why this is worse than Spygate. I have no clue (and neither do you or anyone else) when it comes to what kind of competitive advantage the Patriots received by videotaping (or how often they did or didn’t do it), but they violated NFL rules. They cheated, got busted and paid a very real price for it. I had no problem with the punishment from Goodell then and it seems about right 4½ years later.

But Spygate didn’t hurt anyone, didn’t attempt to knock players out of a game and possibility into a lifetime of postcareer hell (Ted Johnson as one of hundreds of examples). This is a physical game, of course. No one wants this to be the Pro Bowl for 16 games. And yes, every player knows what he’s walking into when he puts on a uniform. But shouldn’t the rules be enforced? A clean hit that knocks a player out is part of the game. I get that. But this is something else. What the Saints were doing borders on criminal. And they knew all of that and just didn’t care. Turns out that Williams, Payton and Loomis are three gutless morons who are about to cost the Saints (and themselves, actually) some serious money and draft picks.

Look, I’m not Roger Goodell‘s biggest fan. I thought he was wrong to suspend Ben Roethlisberger — no arrest was made, no charges were pressed — and he should have kept his mouth shut last year when he told Peter King that he felt “deceived” by Bill Belichick following Spygate. And, as is the case with almost every commissioner in history, there’s no doubt that he will take side with ownership over the player nearly every single time. But he’s done as good a job as can be expected with this tsunami of concussion knowledge over the last half-decade or so. Has it been perfect? Nope. But I get the impression that Goodell’s attempts to combat these injuries are authentic. At the very least he’s been extraordinarily outspoken on the issue of player safety and hasn’t been shy in suspending and fining players for hits that could lead to concussions.

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Read More: Gregg Williams, Mickey Loomis, roger goodell, sean payton

Mock Draft, Take 2: Patriots get help at safety

03.05.12 at 6:25 am ET
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Every year the combine impacts the outlook of the NFL draft, and this year is no different. Workouts and interviews change opinions of players, and as a result, names move up and down draft boards.

This year had its fair share of impressive and not-so-impressive performances. Georgia Tech wide receiver Stephen Hill was the top performer at his position, but we still don’t have him in the first-round mix just yet. Montana corner Trumaine Johnson is in the first-round picture now, and teams interested in trading up for Robert Griffin III now have to give up a lot more.

Not surprisingly, there’s no change with the top pick …

1. Indianapolis (2-14), Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford

Nobody expected the combine to change anything regarding Luck’€™s status, and nothing did. That’€™s not to say Luck, who did not throw, didn’€™t wow scouts. His 4.67 was impressive, but he also finished eighth among all quarterbacks, receivers and running backs in the three-cone drill. His first of what should be many performances at Lucas Oil Stadium did not disappoint.

2. *PROJECTED TRADE* Cleveland (from St. Louis), Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor

There’€™s nothing worse than a mock draft with projected trades, but this year you’€™d have to be a fool to project anyone but RGIII going second overall. The 4.41 40 time doesn’€™t really change my expectations of Griffin at the next level. We all knew he was fast, so a great time in the 40 shouldn’€™t come as a surprise. The sweepstakes for the Rams’€™ pick should be fascinating to watch, and while it would probably cost the Browns another first-rounder to move up two spots, we won’€™t project the 22nd pick to the Rams just yet. The Browns aren’€™t the only team interested, of course, so we’€™ll see what they, the Redskins, Dolphins or some other team does to land the pick.

3. Minnesota (3-13), Matt Kalil, OT, USC

The Vikings seem committed to Christian Ponder, so they should protect him by landing the best offensive lineman in the draft. Football is in Kalil’€™s blood, as his brother Ryan is the highest-paid center in the league and his father Frank was a draft pick of the Bills.

4. St. Louis (2-14), Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State

This is the other half of the projected trade, so I’€™ll take this opportunity to once again apologize for projecting a trade. The beauty of the Rams trading with the Browns (if they do), is that they could very well land whomever they may have planned on drafting second overall anyway. If that player is Blackmon, it still might be a bit high for the receiver, but giving Sam Bradford a future No. 1 receiver to grow with might be worth it.

5. Tampa Bay (5-11), Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU

We tried to get Claiborne to say he’€™s better than former LSU teammate and 2011 fifth-overall pick Patrick Peterson, but he didn’€™t bite. Instead, he spoke about ‘€œCornerback U,’€ which has become LSU’€™s nickname given that it’€™s turned into a factory for top corners. The Bucs certainly could use one, even with Aqib Talib getting a clean slate with new coach Greg Schiano.   Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: 2012 NFL Draft, alshon jeffery, mark barron, Robert Griffin III

Free Agent Snapshot: Brandon Carr

03.04.12 at 7:21 pm ET
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We continue our look at 15 possible fits for the Patriots in free agency this offseason with a breakdown of cornerback Brandon Carr. With the understanding that the NFL’€™s franchise tag window is from now until March 5 (which means some of these players we list could ultimately be retained by their team) here are some players worth keeping an eye on that might be a fit in New England when free agency begins March 13:

Brandon Carr
Position: Cornerback
Age: 25 (turns 26 on May 19)
Height: 6-foot
Weight: 207 pounds

At the combine late last month, Kansas City coach Romeo Crennel was asked about the possibility of a Patriot free agent adjusting to life with the Chiefs relatively quickly because, at least on the surface, there are some similarities between the two systems. The question came in the context of free agent New England running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis possibly signing with Kansas City, but that situation is a two-way street when you’€™re talking about some of the Chiefs’€™ free agents, like Carr.

With Brent Grimes now franchised and Cortland Finnegan likely to command a big deal (if he’€™s not franchise quickly), Carr could represent the best value on the market if he doesn’€™t get the franchise tag. He’€™s going to get good money if he’€™s available, but he had a lot in his favor: he’€™s the youngest premiere free agent corner available, he has excellent coverage skills (he had four picks last season and has eight over the course of his career) and has shown himself to be extremely durable (he hasn’€™t missed a game in his four seasons in the league with the Chiefs).

According to Pro Football Focus, Carr allowed fewer than half the targets into his coverage area to be completed (39 of 79, or 49 percent), and yielded 511 yards in coverage over 1,030 snaps over the course of the 2011 season. As was the case with Richard Marshall‘€™s numbers, the closest example to a New England defensive back was the model presented by Kyle Arrington, who saw 54 of the 100 passes in his direction be completed (54 percent), and allowed 810 yards in 991 total snaps.

The Chiefs just added former Oakland corner Stanford Routt in free agency, which clouds Carr’€™s future in Kansas City. As for Crennel, he’€™s on record as saying the Chiefs would love to have Carr return. ‘€œWe would still like to have Carr back, because Carr is a good player for us and he did a good job for us,’€ he said at the combine. ‘€œBut he’€™s in that unrestricted free agency pool. We’€™re going to try to keep him, but we’€™ll have to see how it goes.’€

This is not the sort of signing that will lead sportscasts. But Carr represents an upgrade in several areas from the current group of New England cornerbacks. He has experience in both man and zone schemes, and would give the Patriots some positional versatility if they chose to move Devin McCourty to safety (and possibly bump someone like Arrington to slot corner) at any point during the 2012 season.

Why it might not work: There’€™s still a lot of moving parts when it comes to Kansas City and free agency: the Chiefs could still franchise Carr, but that would leave Dwayne Bowe available. Then, there’€™s the fact that if Carr does get to free agency, the Cowboys would make him their top priority. In addition, New England has had mixed success when it comes to picking up veteran corners in free agency.

Read More: BenJarvus Green Ellis, Brandon Carr, Brent Grimes, Cortland Finnegan
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