Atlanta's signing of quarterback Matt Ryan is a good news, bad news scenario. The good news for both the Falcons and Ryan is that they were able to bang out a six-year deal for the No. 3 overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft.
So what's the bad news? Well, Ryan's deal reportedly totals $72 million, including $34.75 million in guaranteed money. I've certainly been wrong before, and for Ryan's sake I hope I am this time as well. But he just hasn't impressed me to the point where I see him worth an average per year that puts him in the same earnings arena with Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. Both of those amazing quarterbacks are averaging between $13 to $14 million a year right now while Ryan's deal averages $12 million.
Explain to me how that makes any sense. After all, this is a quarterback who finished fifth in the ACC in passing efficiency and sixth in completion percentage in 2007.
Now think about that for a minute.
Ryan wasn't fifth or sixth in the country in those important categories, those were his rankings in his conference according to the NCAA. And the elephant in the room that everyone seemed to be more than willing to ignore over these past few months of pre-draft evaluations was his 19 interceptions during his senior season. During his 14-week regular season, Ryan threw at least two interceptions in half of his games, and only avoided throwing at least one interception in three of his contests.
Completing passes and avoiding interceptions at the pro level only gets harder, so it'll be interesting to see how Ryan fares during his career and whether he's really worth all that dough.
Now don't get me wrong. Do I think Matt Ryan is a talented quarterback? You bet I do, and I wish him nothing but success in this league. But unless he shows he's capable of being a significantly better quarterback at the pro level, I think you're looking at just a good, solid quarterback along the lines of a Jake Delhomme, not a Tom Brady or a Peyton Manning. And if that ends up being the case, the Falcons drastically overpaid him. For the record, Delhomme averages roughly $8 million per season under his current contract.
Ryan isn't the first or the last rookie who will be overpaid before he plays a single NFL snap. But his deal is just another example of why the current Collective Bargaining Agreement needs to be altered. The next agreement should take better care of the veterans and put more stringent caps on rookie spending. The owners and the union should make these young players earn their big paychecks — just like their non-football playing peers have to do when they first start their careers fresh out of college with businesses across the country.
Jeff Wilkins connects on yet another field goal attempt.
AP Photo/Bill Boyce
Over the past five years, nobody's made more 50-plus field goal kicks than a pair of NFC West kickers. The Rams' Jeff Wilkins has successfully booted 18 of those long kicks while Arizona's Neil Rackers has been second-best in the league during that span with 15. But there's one huge difference between the two talented kickers — Wilkins has converted 85.7 percent of his 50-plus yard attempts while Rackers has only been successful on 46.9 percent of his chances.
In terms of accuracy, Detroit's Jason Hanson has been the second-most accurate kicker from that distance over the past five seasons, hitting 12 of 18 chances for a 66.7 percent conversion rate.
Former Patriots linebacker Andre Tippett was a solid choice for this year's Hall of Fame class. I received an email from a reader who questioned Tippett's selection since other talented and worthy linebackers such as the Colts' Mike Curtis, Oakland's Rod Martin, and a pair of Denver linebackers — Randy Gradishar and Tom Jackson — are wondering if they'll ever secure a spot in the ultimate shrine to pro football.
While I'm not a voter for the Hall of Fame, Tippett's five consecutive trips to the Pro Bowl, 100 career sacks, an 18.5-sack season and 17 career fumble recoveries certainly make him a valid choice, even if his first six years were much more memorable than the rest of his career.
That said, out of the four other linebackers mentioned above, I hope the oversight of Mike Curtis is rectified first. During his 14-year career he was one of the most physical and ferocious middle linebackers I've seen play the position. With his range and high-motor, Curtis managed to intercept 25 passes during his career. And his no-holds-barred mentality — during an era when rules weren't quite so protective of quarterbacks — made ball carriers brace themselves when they saw Curtis charging in to make a hit.
If you've never seen the famous photo of Curtis sacking former Rams quarterback Roman Gabriel, you probably won't be able to fully appreciate the crazed energy that Curtis brought to the gridiron every weekend and how he pushed his teammates to excel. In that photo, Curtis is captured in midair hitting Gabriel from his right side, with Curtis' right arm wrapped across the face opening of Gabriel's helmet, putting him in a headlock that twists Gabriel's upper body backwards as he begins to crumble under the attack.
Even though his teammates and opponents tagged him with a variety of nicknames that reflected his on-the-field persona, including Mad Dog, Iron Mike and The Animal, Curtis is not remembered as a dirty player by any means. He was as a ferocious player that was truly feared, even by legendary Packers quarterback Bart Starr who was once quoted as saying that Curtis was "scarier than (Bears LB Dick) Butkus."
Mike Curtis is long overdue for induction into the Hall of Fame. He made watching the game of football both exciting and fun.
The Patriots and the Giants reinforced the importance of being able to run the ball effectively on first down. The eventual AFC champs earned at least four yards on 47.9 percent of their first down rushing attempts. And the NFC champs finished second in the category at 47.5 percent.
So who struggled the most in that area of performance? The 4–12 Chiefs at 31.3 percent and the 7–9 Bears at 34.0 percent. Not surprisingly, Chicago used their top two picks in this year's draft on OT Chris Williams and RB Matt Forte. Meanwhile, the Chiefs added OT Branden Albert with one of their first-round picks and RB Jamaal Charles with one of their third-round picks.
Former Buffalo Bills receiver Eric Moulds on the run back in 2005.
AP Photo/David Duprey
Moulds averaged 83 catches per season during his final four years in Buffalo, but he followed that up with a 57-catch season in Houston and mere 32 catches last year with the Titans. In fairness to Moulds, the 2006 season was David Carr's finale in Houston, and to the best of my knowledge, Vince Young has yet to impress anyone with his throwing ability in Tennessee. So whether or not the former first-round draft pick still has the ability to be at least a third wide receiver option is certainly debatable. Entering his fourteenth NFL season, this could be Mould's last shot at impressing a team like Tampa Bay and extending his career a few more years if he's not ready to hang up the cleats yet.
The interest in Gilmore is more puzzling since he's only caught 53 passes over eight seasons, including just 15 over the past two years in San Francisco.
The Bucs are right, though. They definitely need to come out of this year's camp with more playmakers at wide receiver. Last year they finished 29th in the league when faced with a 3rd-down situation where they needed 10-plus yards to move the chains.
Last year, just 13 players in the league were on the field for at least 80 percent of their clubs' special teams plays. New England LB Pierre Woods led the league by participating in 88.9 percent of the AFC Champions' special teams plays. Not far behind were Giants LB Chase Blackburn at 87.0 percent and Buffalo's Mario Haggan at 86.9 percent. The other ten who logged at least 80 percent participation included Bears LB Brendon Ayanbadejo, Giants LB Reggie Torbor, Redskins LB Khary Campbell, Lions LB Teddy Lehman, Jets LB David Bowens, Texans strong safety Michael Boulware, Falcons LB Tony Taylor, Bills LB Josh Stamer, Seahawks LB Lance Laury and Jets LB Brad Kassell.
The Dolphins obviously took note of Torbor, who is entering his fifth NFL season and saw more time on defense — 26.6 percent of the snaps — than any of his peers listed above. Miami snatched Torbor up during free agency while Tampa Bay pulled in Detroit's Lehman. Three others from the list will be suiting up for new teams in 2008 as well — Ayanbadejo will be playing for the Ravens, Boulware for the Vikings and Stamer for the Titans.
At least one key member of the Chicago coaching staff had rookie RB Matt Forte ranked higher than former Illinois RB Rashard Mendenhall. A league source told Scout.com that when Matt Forte went through his paces at a private workout for Chicago and showed his football intelligence during a film session, at least one influential member of the coaching staff was set on adding him to the roster over Mendenhall.
So even though Mendenhall was available to the Bears when they made their first pick at No. 14 overall, they opted to select OT Chris Williams instead. That allowed the Steelers to snag Mendenhall at No. 23. Chicago patiently waited until the 13th pick in the second round and still got the running back they wanted.
Forte's a calm, focused young man who takes this game very seriously. He runs strong inside the tackles, has the agility to get around the end, and is a skilled receiver. And with an unstable quarterback position in Chicago, Forte's willing and skillful blocking should help the Bears complete a few more passes to their receivers and tight ends. Don't be surprised to see him win the starter's job during training camp, or by the midpoint of the season at worst.
A member of the Pro Football Writers of America and the Football Writers Association of America, Ed Thompson's player interviews and NFL features are published across the Scout.com network and at FOXSports.com. You can contact him by email through this link.
Statistics referenced in this article are provided by STATS, LLC. Copyright 2008 by STATS, LLC. Any use or distribution of such Licensed Materials without the express written consent of STATS is strictly prohibited.