A simple warning for fans of the Titans, Browns, Buccaneers, and about a dozen other teams hoping to land a star and rebuild for the future in this year’s NFL Draft:
Check out the 2013 draft class. Yikes.
Sometimes, a draft class lives up to the hype. The 2011 draft, for instance, produced superstars with the top six picks: Cam Newton, Von Miller, Marcel Dareus, A.J. Green, Patrick Peterson, and Julio Jones.
Sometimes, like in 2013, a draft class is one big flop.
NFL teams have a big decision coming in the next month, as the deadline to pick up the fifth-year option of 2013 first-round picks is May 3. The fifth-year option pays the player anywhere from $5 million-$12 million based on position, is guaranteed for injury at the time it is triggered, and becomes fully guaranteed on the first day of the league year.
Except for most teams it might not be that big of a decision at all, as the 2013 first round is littered with busts and underperforming players. (The Patriots, of course, traded out of the first round and landed Jamie Collins in the second round.)
It wasn’t viewed as a strong draft class at the time, particularly at quarterback. EJ Manuel was the only quarterback to go in the first round (16th to the Bills), and pretty much everyone outside of Western New York believed it was a reach. There was no consensus No. 1 pick, and the Chiefs went the “safe” route in choosing Eric Fisher to be their franchise left tackle. In fact, three of the top four teams took the “safe” player, with the Jaguars taking left tackle Luke Joeckel at No. 2 and the Eagles taking left tackle Lane Johnson at No. 4.
Three years into their careers, however, and those picks don’t seem so safe. Fisher struggled with injuries and the transition to the NFL and has mostly been an average right tackle. Joeckel hasn’t developed after missing most of his rookie year with an ankle injury, and he allowed a whopping five sacks against the Texans in the final game of 2015. Johnson has been solid enough that the Eagles signed him to a new six-year deal, but he has mostly been a right tackle and served a four-game suspension for performance-enhancing drugs.
However, it’s not like the Chiefs, Jaguars, and Eagles had too many other options. The 2013 first-round class has been unusually bad so far.
The No. 5 pick, Lions pass rusher Ziggy Ansah, is a future star and probably should have been the No. 1 pick. The Texans got one of the best receivers in the game in DeAndre Hopkins at No. 27. The Jets landed defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson at No. 13, the Panthers got defensive tackle Star Lotulelei at No. 14, the Bears picked Kyle Long at No. 20, the Bengals got tight end Tyler Eifert at No. 21, and the Cowboys drafted center Travis Frederick at No. 31. Those were all solid picks.
But the rest of the first-rounders have been average at best, and total busts at worst — especially in the top 10, with Ansah as the only member who has made a Pro Bowl.
Pass rusher Dion Jordan has been a major letdown since the Dolphins made a big move up to pick him at No. 3. He has just three sacks in three seasons and is most notable for his six-game suspension in 2014 and season-long suspension in 2015.
Pass rusher Barkevious Mingo has seven career sacks and is unhappy in Cleveland. Guard Jonathan Cooper was already traded by Arizona (to the Patriots this offseason). The Rams’ Tavon Austin hasn’t reached 500 yards receiving in any of his three seasons. Jets cornerback Dee Milliner has only started two games over the last two years. The Titans’ Chance Warmack graded out as a below-average guard in 2015.
Keep going down the list, and it doesn’t get much better. Chargers tackle D.J. Fluker has been moved to guard. Raiders cornerback D.J. Hayden got benched late last season. The Colts already released Bjoern Werner. Manuel certainly didn’t solve the Bills’ quarterback problem. Cordarrelle Patterson caught all of two passes for 10 yards last year and was basically just a kick returner. 49ers safety Eric Reid showed flashes in his first two years but considered retirement last year because of repeated concussions. Pass rusher Datone Jones hasn’t been anything more than a rotational player for the Packers, and same for Steelers linebacker Jarvis Jones.
A few solid players were found in the second and third rounds — Le’Veon Bell, Tyrann Mathieu, Travis Kelce, Kawann Short, and Collins — but overall this draft class has not been very productive through three seasons.
The question is whether the 2013 class is simply bad or has been negatively affected by the rules from the 2011 collective bargaining agreement that significantly cut down on practice time in the offseason and training camp.
The rules certainly didn’t hurt the 2011 and 2012 classes, the first groups of players to play under them. Of the 2011 class, the fifth-year option was picked up for each of the top seven picks, 14 of the top 18, and 21 of 32 overall. In 2012, seven of the top 12 had their options picked up, and 18 of 32 overall.
At best, 16 to 18 players from 2013 will get their options triggered next month or sign long-term deals, as Johnson already did. But only three or four will be from the top 10 picks, and for guys such as Fisher and Warmack, it will mostly be a case of their teams not wanting to give up on their high draft picks yet.
Keep the 2013 class in mind over the next month and throughout the offseason. This year’s draft has a similar feel, with no clear-cut answers at the top. The players will enter the league with a lot of hype, but sometimes not even the “safe” picks pan out.
Vets rewarded by the Patriots
The news on Friday that the Patriots signed safety Patrick Chung to a contract extension (the deal was actually signed Wednesday) was notable in that it could have an effect on two other important players. It showed that the front office once again is willing to reward veteran players who outperform their contracts.
In addition to tacking a year onto the back end of the contract, the Patriots hooked Chung up with a $2.4 million signing bonus to bring his total pay this year to $4 million. That’s a nice and well-deserved raise for an underrated but key member of the defense.
Now that the Patriots have done right by Chung, how do they not do the same for Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski, their two offensive stars who are significantly underpaid compared with the going market rate at their positions?
Gronkowski already tweeted that he’s taking a “pay cut” with his contract that will pay him a total of $14 million the next two years, when top receivers (and Gronk belongs in that group) make double that.
Edelman hasn’t said anything about his contract, but he is slated to be the third-highest-paid receiver . . . on his own team. Newcomer Chris Hogan and Danny Amendola are both scheduled to make $5.5 million, while Edelman can make up to $4 million if he stays healthy for all 16 games and hits all of his incentives.
The Patriots are mindful of aligning salaries with the depth chart, and have a recent history of giving pay raises or awarding incentives where appropriate, doing so with Rob Ninkovich and Sebastian Vollmer. That the Patriots also rewarded Chung this offseason makes it seem likelier that they will do something similar with Gronkowski and Edelman, most likely taking future base salaries and converting them into signing bonus money.
The Patriots don’t have to pay either player the going free agent rates, but a little extra money up front will keep them both happy and focused during the season. And it shows the young guys in the locker room that hard work and perseverance can be rewarded. All around, it’s just good business.
What’s interesting is that the Patriots seem to have planned for both Edelman and Gronkowski to be a little grumpy with their contracts this offseason. Their deals both have $250,000 workout bonuses for attending 90 percent of offseason practices, by far the highest workout bonuses of any Patriots player (Ninkovich and Stephen Gostkowski are next at $100,000).
If Edelman or Gronkowski were to protest their contract situations by skipping offseason workouts, they would have to forfeit a nice little chunk of change.
Parker’s death represents a loss
The NFL agent community lost a legend on Thursday when longtime power broker Eugene Parker died after a brief battle with kidney cancer at just 60 years old.
Parker represented some of the NFL’s biggest names, including Deion Sanders, Emmitt Smith, Rod Woodson, Larry Fitzgerald, Dez Bryant, and a handful of potential first-round picks in this year’s draft.
Patriots fans may remember Parker as the mastermind behind the “poison pill” that led to Bill Parcells and the Jets stealing Curtis Martin away in free agency in 1998, a deal that annoyed Robert Kraft for many years.
“Eugene Parker is who I would call to represent me right now if I needed an agent,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones once told the Buffalo News.
The outpouring of grief for Parker on Friday by his clients and competitors alike showed just how truly he was beloved across the NFL.
“Horrible to hear this AM. Eugene was a pioneer and one of the most respected competitors in our business,” agent David Canter said.
Ebner can’t just flip the switch
Patriots safety Nate Ebner was somewhat of a rugby prodigy as a teenager in Ohio, but he’s a little bit rusty as he prepares to battle for a roster spot on the USA Rugby team for this summer’s Rio Olympics.
USA Rugby coach Mike Friday said last week that Ebner was left off the travel squad for the upcoming Hong Kong and Singapore Sevens tournaments. But Ebner, who was been training at the Olympic Training Center in California, will play with the Samurai International Rugby Football Club at a 10s tournament in Hong Kong to get much-needed playing experience.
“The Hong Kong 10s provides a great opportunity to reintegrate Nate back into the game in a highly competitive tournament,” Friday said via the USA Rugby website. “Nate has adapted well and has surprised us all with how well he is starting to pick things up. He still has a number of areas which are very much work-in-progress, and part of that learning process he will only get from playing competitive rugby games.”
Richmond not getting rich off this
In the least shocking news of the offseason, the city of Richmond, Va., appears to have a bit of buyer’s remorse over the $10 million training camp facility and meeting space it built for the Redskins three years ago. The Skins agreed to hold camp in Richmond for eight years with the city responsible for most of the costs.
As written Wednesday by the Richmond Times-Dispatch, “the amount of money the city has been required to pay the franchise annually as part of the deal that brought the team here continues to climb.”
And “many of the revenues that officials anticipated would offset the cost — such as rent payments from the second floor and sponsorships — have not materialized.”
The city of Richmond was dazzled by the thought of additional tourism dollars and national exposure, but these stadium deals rarely work out that way. It ends up being a great deal for the team, and a questionable investment of public funds.
Fans in San Diego and Oakland should keep this in mind as they debate stadium proposals over the next year (the city of San Diego recently revealed a $1.8 billion stadium/convention center project with joint funding from the Chargers and the NFL). Public costs for stadiums often tend to run higher than projected, and the economic benefit to the local community is often massively overstated.
Interesting that some NFL teams are starting to account for the possibility of an 18-game schedule in the near future. Many players across the league receive roster bonuses on a per-game basis, and some teams are stipulating in contracts that these bonuses will not increase if the NFL increases the regular season by two games. The Jaguars will pay roster bonuses “up to a maximum of 16 regular-season games.” The Patriots actually assume a hypothetical 18-game season in their contracts. A player with a $500,000 roster bonus will make $31,250 per game in a 16-game season and $27,777.77 per game in an 18-game schedule . . . Expect the Patriots to take a running back in the draft, and one they have shown plenty of interest in is mid-round projection Daniel Lasco from Cal. A powerful runner who isn’t afraid of contact, the Patriots had a one-on-one meeting with Lasco at the combine (where he arguably had the best workout of any running back) and recently put him through a private workout on campus . . . As of Friday, 200 free agents had signed with teams this offseason, and 195 were still available. Last year, 238 free agents signed with teams, and 91 did not . . . Two Patriots have to watch their weight this offseason. Defensive tackle Alan Branch will receive $100,000 each time for weighing 355 pounds or less in April, May, and June, and another $100,000 for reporting to training camp at 350 pounds. And offensive lineman Marcus Cannon gets a total of $100,000 for hitting 350 pounds or less in April, 345 pounds in June, and 340 pounds in July . . . Some NFL players rolled their eyes at the new mandated education on domestic violence, in which representatives from the league office visited each training camp and required every player to watch a video and undergo a one-hour session on domestic violence and sexual assault. But the NFL certainly believes the increased awareness works, with player behavior put in the spotlight thanks to the Ray Rice, Greg Hardy, and Adrian Peterson situations from the previous year. A league source said at the owners meetings two weeks ago that NFL arrests were down 38 percent for the 2015 season.
With the NFL moving touchbacks from the 20- to the 25-yard line, kickoff returns are at further risk of being eradicated. Here’s a look at how kick returns have evolved over the last decade:Ben Volin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @BenVolin. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.