Posts by Jerry Angelo

Instead of a developmental league…

Recently, talk has increased regarding the NFL and its desire to start a developmental league. This is nothing new given that when NFL Europe was in existence it served the same purpose for approximately 20 years.

The reasons for such a league vary beyond the development of players. It allows the NFL to

Recently, talk has increased regarding the NFL and its desire to start a developmental league. This is nothing new given that when NFL Europe was in existence it served the same purpose for approximately 20 years.

The reasons for such a league vary beyond the development of players. It allows the NFL to evaluate and develop its officials—which has real merit—and coaches. It can also be used as a tool to expand the product into new markets such as Europe.

In terms of finding and developing new talent, that aspect of a developmental league may be overrated. I’ve grown tired of hearing how quarterback Kurt Warner made it because of such a league. If memory serves me correctly, Warner gave as much, if not more credit, to the Arena league as he did NFL Europe. Regardless, is it possible to come up with additional names other than Warner and Jake Delhomme? Considering how many thousands of players have come through these alternative avenues, only a small handful of prospects made a significant impact in the NFL.

My point is that you are not going to consistently uncover any real gems. If that were the case, NFL Europe would still be in business. People forget what a ‘Gong Show’ NFL Europe became and, as a result, how it was terminated. There wasn’t one person who fought for it or said that it was a mistake to cancel what turned out to be a cheap imitation of American football. Certainly our European friends weren’t fooled. I’ve seen more fans in the stands at high school games.

So moving forward with this concept isn’t new and will probably have the same results in terms of uncovering talent. In terms of player development, I also found that the prospects we sent from our 53-man roster to Europe for development had moderate changes in their growth, if any at all. I can’t remember one player who I said was worth sending over there after all was said and done. What I did find was that the ones we felt might be good enough if they got more playing time didn’t make it. I feel that most teams would also echo this sentiment.

We kept track of the players who made it on a 53-man roster following their time overseas. The numbers were low and there were no Kurt Warners other than Kurt Warner. There was a pass rusher who was unassigned (meaning no NFL team had his rights) and got a lot of money to sign with an NFL team, but he turned out to be ‘just a guy.’ Simply put, most NFL teams figure out their players to the point that they know the ones who possess what it takes to have a career in the NFL without farming them out for more playing time experience.

The only position that I feel would benefit from an alternative league is quarterback. Quarterbacks have to play and if they aren’t playing on Sunday, it’s hard to develop and evaluate them. If a quarterback does have the luxury of staying with a team and in the same system, he will develop. But that’s a very hard situation to find in the ‘Not For Long’ league.

Personally, I feel strongly that the NFL would be better served by having an ongoing training camp during the better part of the NFL season. Players who have been released by NFL teams would make up the roster. I would hold this extended training camp in a warm weather city with an accessible airport (ex: Orlando, Phoenix, Dallas). Additionally, I would find a college campus with fields and facilities in place where the players can be housed during training. I would bring in the top five players who were cut at each position (for the offensive and defensive lines, I would have eight total from both sides). All in all, you would have approximately 50 players at varying positions training during the NFL season.

Kurt WarnerKurt Warner was one of the very few NFL Europe success stories.

The league personnel office would determine the selection of these players. They are in the best position to canvas teams and/or have some ex-personnel people view and evaluate tape and make the decisions on who they want to invite to their site to train. There would be no restrictions. These are the best players, young and old. When teams lose a veteran player, they like to replace him with a veteran player. Without a training camp during the season, the longer the season goes, the less attractive these veteran types become. This is due to the fact that they have been sitting for so long and are no longer in football shape.

While training, these players will be evaluated as well. The personnel people responsible for training the prospects will write up reports on them each week. The reports and tapes of all the sessions would be on file for teams to read and watch at any time. When a team loses a player, they can go right to the training facility and sign one if they so choose.

The most difficult situation for teams to address during the regular season is when they incur injuries around the halfway point and beyond. Teams have their ‘short list’ (players on the street that teams have prioritized at each position), yet these players haven’t been in pads for over two months and many of them have already been signed by other teams who suffered their injuries early in the season. This can really put teams behind the proverbial eight ball. What usually happens is that an organization will bring in a player who is out of shape and, thus, prone to suffer an injury (ex: hamstring).

By conducting an ongoing in-season training camp, these same players would be kept in good football shape. They will be on a schedule just as if they were on a team in terms of training them in the weight room and conditioning them outdoors. They will also do on-field drill and technique work in pads, which would be taped. AGAIN, these tapes would be on file for any NFL team to view and evaluate in the event they want to sign a prospect, regardless if they have a need to fill or not.

Once a prospect is signed to an active or practice roster, if eligible, another player at that position will be brought in. This type of camp has real merit for teams because they have players who are professionally trained and ready to go. The camp would start in Week 3 of the NFL season. The reason for this start date is that most teams will have a strong pool of players to pick from in those first few weeks of the season, should they incur a severe injury to one of their own players. The camp would run for approximately 14 weeks, one week past the final regular season game. Teams that make the playoffs will still have the advantage of going into the pool of players if need be.

Right now the only reserve pool viable for teams late in the season is their own practice roster players. These are primarily young and, in most cases, inexperienced prospects. But even with these practice rosters, a team only has nine players to choose from. What if a team has an injury at a position and they have no player on the practice roster at that same position to move up? The beauty of this type of camp is that you already have veterans working out.

Say a number of teams requested that a player be brought in, worked out and evaluated. The camp could accommodate such a request. A team could cut a player at that position or just add one more at any time, as there would be a lot of flexibility. The camp is there to improve the quality of play for all teams.

I strongly feel that this concept has real merit and would serve everybody’s best interest. Once the season starts, the best thing you can do for all teams is have a quality pool of players available. When the NFL featured only 28 teams, the pool of available players to choose from was pretty solid. But when the league expanded to 32 franchises, approximately 200 players were removed from that pool. This is a supply vs. demand business and the demand is for talented players who have some experience.

As a franchise, one of the toughest aspects of the job to deal with regards in-season injuries. No one knows when they are going to happen or who they will happen to. That’s why it’s paramount that there is a system in place that can assist teams when they have a real emergency.

Follow Jerry on Twitter: @RealJerryAngelo

Jerry Angelo was the General Manager of the Chicago Bears from 2001 to 2012. Prior to joining the Bears, Angelo spent 14 years overseeing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ scouting department as their Director of Player Personnel. Angelo graduated from Miami University in 1971. 

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Let the coaches coach

I recently read that a few NFL head coaches spoke out on the sum of time required of them to mold and monitor the culture of their team. One coach in particular said the bulk of his time used to be spent on X’s and O’s. Now a good deal of that time is

I recently read that a few NFL head coaches spoke out on the sum of time required of them to mold and monitor the culture of their team. One coach in particular said the bulk of his time used to be spent on X’s and O’s. Now a good deal of that time is spent concentrating on the culture of the team.

If that’s the case, something is wrong.

I understand the concerns of these coaches, but the point I want to make is this: The players don’t pick the teams they play for. The teams pick them. It’s up to ownership and upper management to establish the principles on how they want their franchise represented. The head coach and his staff are the liaisons between the front office and the players. It’s up to the coaches to make sure the club is depicted in that manner.

There are franchises that miss the mark and continue to flounder because they leave personnel decisions to the coaching staff. They fail because they keep changing philosophies based on their hires. Understand that approximately 75 percent of the head coaches in the NFL are fired every three years. It should not be a responsibility of the coaches to create the identity of the organization. The head coach and his staff’s job are tough enough. Their focus should be on coaching, developing and creating ways to utilize the talents of their players to win games.

When you look at a team like the Pittsburgh Steelers, you see a franchise that is a model of consistency. The reason for this is that the Pittsburgh brass creates their identity based on long-established convictions passed down from one generation to the next. When the Steelers have issues, they act on them based on traditional thinking. You rarely, if ever, see Pittsburgh reacting to a situation mindlessly.

The Steelers are not immune to making mistakes, but it’s rare to witness their organization react irrationally. It doesn’t make a difference who their coach is, who plays quarterback or what the schedule looks like. Pittsburgh remains steady and steady in the NFL is very much above average.

Coaches are responsible for the discipline and behavior of their players, but they should not be given the autonomy to determine the organization’s overall philosophy. It’s simply too much responsibility for any one group to handle. These are coaches, not trained psychiatrists or FBI agents.

Let’s look at the facts: In most cases, head coaches are hired based on their specialty. Whether he is a renowned offensive or defensive coordinator doesn’t matter. What matters is what he accomplished coaching half the team. If he was successful, those credentials often times qualify him to become a head coaching candidate.

When he’s hired as the head coach, it’s not just his on-field strategy that is adopted, but most of the time ownership finds itself implementing the head coach’s philosophies. Those views manifest themselves in the players they covet both in the draft and in free agency. This is where the potential problems and dysfunction can start. The coaches may be in the best position to run the team, but they are in the worst position to determine its course, particularly in the long run.

Why? Because of the inordinate amount of pressure put on these coaches to win now. It’s hard to balance what is right and what is wrong when all eyes are fixed on you with unrealistic expectations. You are naive to think that the head coach and his staff can be caretakers.

The organizations that maintain the respect of their peers are the ones that establish their own tenets that set the foundation and the standards the franchise operates from. There can be ambiguities when it comes to defining these tenets. If so, things get compromised. What should be clear has now been colored gray all because things were assumed and not spelled out from the top.

Teams go to both great lengths and expense to determine which players are good for business and which players aren’t. The psychological testing and interviewing, as well as the investigating done on these athletes who qualify for the draft are unparalleled. In short, the reports given to the decision-makers state which players can be trusted and which players can’t.

Most organizations fail because they keep changing philosophies based on their coaching hires. I’m not exonerating general managers from this topic because they have the job of protecting ownership. But in today’s game, general managers feel the pressure just like the head coach to win now and they have become just as vulnerable as coaches when it comes to prostituting character in the name of winning.

An obvious example is this and you see it far too often: A player has multiple positive drug tests in college leading to his dismissal from the team and, yet, an NFL team still decides to draft him. What’s that tell you about the culture of that team? I understand that people make mistakes, learn from them and move on productively with their life, but how about the guy who doesn’t learn? Teams reap what they sow.

I’ve said repeatedly that the business of football is to win games. Football is not a ministry. It’s a hard hitting, violent game that people are paid a lot of money to perform and fans pay a lot to see. That’s why it’s up to ownership to set the standards because they’re not under contract and although they may live in a fishbowl, the waters they’re in don’t have fins swimming around them.

Follow Jerry on Twitter: @RealJerryAngelo

Jerry Angelo was the General Manager of the Chicago Bears from 2001 to 2012. Prior to joining the Bears, Angelo spent 14 years overseeing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ scouting department as their Director of Player Personnel. Angelo graduated from Miami University in 1971. 

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A new approach to training camp

One of the hardest things to deal with once teams get to training camp is the evaluation of younger players. Though training camp offers enough time to perform this task well, some teams tend to spend more effort focusing on getting the veteran players they are familiar with ready to go for the upcoming

One of the hardest things to deal with once teams get to training camp is the evaluation of younger players. Though training camp offers enough time to perform this task well, some teams tend to spend more effort focusing on getting the veteran players they are familiar with ready to go for the upcoming season. This an easy trap to fall into because every team wants to start the season off on the right foot.

One of the worst things that can happen to any team trying to establish itself is a slow start. If a team commences the year with a losing record over the first quarter of the season, it’s tough to rebound. At this point, it feels like you’re constantly digging yourself out of a hole, with each game carrying a scent of do-or-die.

Training camp is critical for the evaluation and development of players. Why? Because the rules have changed very radically thanks to the new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA).

The amount of time coaches are permitted to have with their players on the field in full gear has been reduced dramatically. There are no more two-a-day practices at training camp. In the past, two-a-day practices were a staple for most teams during training camp. Now, players not only practice only once a day during camp, they also get a mandatory day off each week.

All that being said, the biggest hurdle teams have to deal with once the season starts is the fact that they are now required to operate only one practice per week in full pads with their players. Prior to the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, teams could and would have as many as three full padded practices during the week, with no less than two. So the bulk of the work in pads must be done in training camp, particularly for evaluation purposes.

My opinion of why the owners acquiesced to the players’ request for fewer practices is that the owners now have one more year to talk the players into a longer regular season schedule. Making training camp and in-season practices easier could have the players contemplating adding another game or two to the regular season schedule.

Previously, the players have balked at the notion of extending the season. They feel they are already at the brink in terms of their physical health and well-being. More games would only have the players rolling the dice with their careers. So what if they get an extra game check or two? If it means that their careers could be shortened even more than they already are, it’s pennywise and dollar dumb to do so.

Owners and their media partners are driven by numbers. More games = more money. For owners, it’s no longer about quality, it’s about quantity.

Teams that focus on getting their starters ready for the season are missing the big picture, which is making sure you’re keeping your best players on the roster. In the end, it’s not about who can comprehend the schemes the fastest. It’s about who can make plays and make them routinely. At the end of the day, the teams with the better players win. The Seattle Seahawks had better players than the Denver Broncos. It didn’t matter that Peyton Manning is the smartest player in football. He couldn’t find open receivers and his offensive line couldn’t handle Seattle’s pressure defenses.

There is an old saying in the National Football League: “Players, not plays, win games.”

How to improve training camp

Wes WelkerWes Welker has caught 841 passes since the Chargers cut him back in 2004.

My first thought is that every player should report at the same time, but have only the bottom 50 to 60 players practice and play in the first preseason game. The rest of the team—the players you know will be around after the final cut—condition and participate in position drills, but without pads.

The emphasis here is to evaluate and practice the mid-to-bottom portion of your roster. These are the players you’ll need to decide on at a later date, most of whom are relatively new to their teams. The common mistakes teams make during OTAs is to use those sessions as their primary evaluation period for players. As a result, teams go into training camp with a strong opinion on these first or second-year players with too little experience. Therefore, teams don’t give some of these players a serious look at all during training camp because their minds are already made up. Players are cut all the time without teams really getting to know them.

It’s not until teams get to training camp that they can make fair and objective evaluations on players. The reason is simple: Anybody can look good in shorts. It’s not until the pads are on that you can realistically see what a player can really do.

Because you’re only practicing with two thirds of the team in pads under my new concept, the emphasis would be on fundamentals and individual drill work. There would be a lot more 7-on-7 (perimeter work) and 9-on-7 (interior work) during these practices. At the end of practice there would be a short team period, where the whole offense would practice against the whole defense. So the players would get used to playing with one another in their relatively new systems. Again, you are not trying to get these players ready for the season. You are simply trying to evaluate and develop them in an effort to make sure you are keeping and cutting the right players.

Play-time would be determined ahead of the first preseason game, with every player participating in approximately the same number of plays. This would have to be scripted and monitored carefully by the coaches. Game tape is the best source of evaluation you can get on a player and it’s a great teaching and learning tool for both the players and coaches.

At the conclusion of the first preseason game, teams can now make sounder decisions on which players they want to continue developing with the idea that these are the players who can potentially make up a team. Teams can now start giving these players more work during practice in lieu of the players they feel have little chance of making the roster. This will allow teams to get a better handle on who is in the best position to make the team.

The veteran players would get the bulk of playing time during the second and third preseason games. You would not have to give the younger players any more than a quarter of playing time in these contests. However, during the final preseason game, all of the playing time would go to the younger players.

For this approach to be as effective as possible, teams should not have a mandatory cut date other than the final one. Every team should be able to keep all its players until the last preseason game has been completed. It makes no sense to cut any player before that time period. It’s been talked about, but it needs to be mandated by team executives.

No team wants to play their veterans during the final preseason game, but they are forced to because of the 15-man player cut they have to make in order to get their rosters down to 75 players before the last preseason contest. This makes absolutely no sense to me.

With the advent of how teams must monitor their practices according to new legislation under the CBA there have to be teams looking for new ways to train, develop and evaluate players.

Proper player evaluation and development is essential for an organization’s success. The teams that make the right decisions in player evaluations and are able to take advantage of the limited time they have to work with and develop younger players are the teams that are going to have a competitive advantage going into the season.

Follow Jerry on Twitter: @RealJerryAngelo

Jerry Angelo was the General Manager of the Chicago Bears from 2001 to 2012. Prior to joining the Bears, Angelo spent 14 years overseeing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ scouting department as their Director of Player Personnel. Angelo graduated from Miami University in 1971. 

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The importance of OTAs

Now that each of the 32 NFL franchises has pretty much finished building their rosters through both free agency and the draft, it’s time to access the talent on the roster and start developing their respective teams for the 2014 season.

This process starts with the off-season program and the team’s 10 OTA

Now that each of the 32 NFL franchises has pretty much finished building their rosters through both free agency and the draft, it’s time to access the talent on the roster and start developing their respective teams for the 2014 season.

This process starts with the off-season program and the team’s 10 OTA (Organized Team Activities) sessions that are permitted under league rules. These 10 sessions are monitored, as strict guidelines have been set up by the NFL and NFLPA.

These practices help determine the specific roles for each player and set the tempo for all the new acquisitions, regardless if they are rookies or veterans. The new players get their first taste of what their jobs will be while both meeting and getting a feel for their new coaches and teammates. This is the time of year when players and coaches start coming together as a team to develop chemistry.

Although things move fast with OTAs, there isn’t that overhanging cloud of pressure that surfaces during the regular season. Veteran players are more relaxed and begin to get a handle on the new faces, rookies are wide-eyed and coaches are positive, loose and upbeat. The foundation is being laid during this time. If done right, a team will have less transition issues when the season starts, allowing them to focus on mastering their schemes, executing the playbook and teaching the young players the fine details of the NFL game.

However, if OTAs aren’t managed correctly, a team will be stumbling around during the early portion of the season trying to figure out what should have been resolved in training camp.

Every year, teams take on a new identity and that personality starts to manifest itself during these OTA sessions.

The more experienced teams will be able to assimilate their newer players more quickly because of the carryover and continuity of experienced players and coaches. The newer teams with first time head coaches will have more work to do teaching and implementing their systems and philosophies. These teams will have a more hurried pace in order to get in as much as possible in the time they are allowed.

The OTA practices start in the classroom with individual position coaches, transition to the practice field with individual position drills and end with the players working against each other during team drills.

There is an inordinate amount of time players spend in the classroom with their coaches. So much so, that the league and players union have to regulate that time as well. Professional football is a very competitive business and everyone must adhere to the same rules and guidelines so that no team abuses its players or has a competitive advantage in any area at any time during the year.

The league and the NFLPA keep a close eye on what each team does with their players. Players have union reps visit facilities and assign a player rep to each team who monitors the organization’s activities and makes sure that everything that is supposed to happen happens according to the CBA guidelines.

Blake BortlesOTAs are especially important for teams with rookie quarterbacks like the Jacksonville Jaguars.

If a player or players thinks that their coaches are exploiting them, they will call the union or go to their rep and have them look into it. There have been a handful of cases where coaches have been in violation of the rules and have been disciplined by cutting short the amount of OTA practices they can have with their players.

The goal of these OTAs is for a team to access its personnel, both old and young. You can’t assume your veteran players are the same as their last game. They have to show you each year where they are physically. The old saying, “He’s near the wall or he hit it,” comes from the assessment of these older players.

The one thing I learned when it comes to evaluating personnel is that you never assume. You watch and measure everyone’s performance during these OTAs and on into training camp. Teams can’t afford to misevaluate their players. If they do, the franchise’s strengths can turn into a weakness in a hurry.

Why is the evaluation of personnel in the off-season so important? Because you want to keep your best and most talented players healthy and also because regardless of how good a team’s scheme is, if it is ignorant of its personnel, it will quickly turn into a bad scheme. The players’ strengths must fit the profile of the position you’re asking him to play or you will expose his weaknesses.

It’s critical that each player is evaluated properly because all players are flawed. There are things each player can do well and things each player will struggle with. It’s up to the position coaches to make sure they are accentuating a player’s strong suits.

Teams don’t have to be overly talented to win consistently. The teams that win more than they lose are the ones that know how to utilize the talent they have to their maximum advantage.

The off-season is also a good time to implement the philosophies of both the organization and team. It’s important that all the players know both inside and out. Ownership has a vision of what they expect from their players. That perspective should be communicated to the players by management or the owner himself. Players want to know who they are working for and this is a good time to clear that up.

Again, I can’t emphasize enough that you never assume a single thing during this evaluation period. Organizations have identities just like teams do. There are several ways to build a franchise, but if you’re not all on the same page from top to bottom, none of them will work. It’s simple, but true.

This is the perfect time of year to establish protocols and beliefs by making sure that everyone is on the same page and nothing is left to the imagination. The best owners, head coaches and general managers are doing this and doing it consistently well.

When you have new faces on the team, change can be a positive. There is a new energy that can be infused within the organization. People get excited about what’s to come and the challenges that lie ahead. The key is making sure that energy is harnessed and pulled in the same direction.

We drafted cornerback Ronde Barber in 1997 when I was in Tampa. By some team’s standards, Barber was considered small and slow, as he never measured over 5’10” and ran a forty in the high 4.5s. But Ronde was a ballhawk with great instincts. In a man-to-man scheme he would get eaten up by the faster receivers, but in a zone scheme, as we ran in Tampa, Barber was a perfect fit because our corners were seldom asked to run downfield with receivers without some kind of safety help.

Ronde played 16 seasons in the same system and will go down as the best corner that ever wore a Buccaneer jersey. Our coaches played to his strengths and we saw the best of what he could do and saw it for a long time. That’s coaching: Identifying the traits players perform best and putting them in position to be successful.

When the team reports to training camp all the minutia has been spelled out thanks to these OTAs and now it’s time to get down to business…and that business is to win football games. So this time of year may not get the same attention as the pre-season or regular season, but it is just as important in laying a winning foundation.

Follow Jerry on Twitter: @RealJerryAngelo

Jerry Angelo was the General Manager of the Chicago Bears from 2001 to 2012. Prior to joining the Bears, Angelo spent 14 years overseeing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ scouting department as their Director of Player Personnel. Angelo graduated from Miami University in 1971. 

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The key to Johnny Manziel’s success

I applaud the fact that the Cleveland Browns drafted Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel. The former Heisman Trophy winner was not only the most hyped player in college football, but he very well could be the answer for this storied Cleveland franchise, which has been unremarkable for more than two decades.

Drafting Manziel

I applaud the fact that the Cleveland Browns drafted Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel. The former Heisman Trophy winner was not only the most hyped player in college football, but he very well could be the answer for this storied Cleveland franchise, which has been unremarkable for more than two decades.

Drafting Manziel sent a thunderbolt through the Rock and Roll Capital of the World. Not since the Cleveland Cavaliers selected LeBron James has the city had something to celebrate like this. Johnny Manziel comes complete with what all great players bring to a broken franchise: Hope.

Cleveland’s revolving door at the NFL’s marquee position is well documented. The Browns have had more forgetables at quarterback than any other franchise over the last decade. And that’s the problem with the Browns: When you talk about their issues, you talk in decades. Which is preciously why selecting Manziel made sense.

Most teams felt that the former Heisman Trophy winner came with too much risk, but with Cleveland, there was no risk. When you’re at the bottom, there is no way but up.

However, that’s not to say that the Browns don’t have real challenges ahead of them, because they most certainly do. Cleveland must be prepared to handle the frenzy from their fans and national media. The franchise has to make sure that their new quarterback is brought along and developed at his pace and not the pace of his fans. Throwing Manziel out there too early will have the Manziel jersey-wearing fans asking, “Why did we draft him?”

In an attempt to safeguard their position, the Browns have banned the national media from attending Cleveland’s rookie camp, a suggestion I’m sure was made by new offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. Shanahan’s experience with Robert Griffin III in Washington is what found him a new home in Cleveland.

Manziel is less prepared to play in a prototype pro-style offense than any other quarterback drafted last week. Therefore, the Browns can’t let perception drive his growth. It’s not about pleasing the Dawg Pound. If that was the case, they organization could serve free beer on Sundays.

I’m sure the Browns have a solid plan in place, but the key will be to stay with it. By some initial remarks made by owner Jimmy Haslam, I feel the organization is a little nervous about how they are going to handle Johnny. You don’t embarrass your top draft pick and potential future star by telling him, “This isn’t Hollywood.” Manziel isn’t stupid. He’ll see that the minute he lands at Hopkins International Airport.

Additionally, there’s no need to tell your rookie first-rounder that he’s the backup quarterback. Every player knows he has to come in and win the job. If they feel they don’t, well, you might just have a bust of a prospect on your hands.

As much as I liked what current starter Brian Hoyer did in 2013, let’s not overrate the Cleveland native. Hoyer is on his fourth team and is coming off an ACL injury. He fights to keep weight on and you wouldn’t acknowledge him as a professional football player by his physique.

Johnny ManzielFor Manziel to succeed, the Browns will need to bring him along slowly.

The reality of the situation is that this is all about Manziel, but Hoyer will play a critical role in determining the rookie’s success. Johnny needs Hoyer more than he may realize. Hoyer is Manziel’s lifeline and he’s going to provide Johnny Hollywood the time necessary to learn a new system. Manziel has never been out of Texas and nobody will liken the city of Cleveland to anything in the Lone Star State. Manziel will have to acclimate to his new surroundings and Hoyer’s the guy who can help.

While the Browns are adamant that there will be an open competition, at the moment, Brian Hoyer is the team’s starter. This is the right approach, but not because we want to know which quarterback is better. The reality is that by naming Hoyer the starter, Cleveland is doing whatever it can to give Manziel as much time as possible to learn and prepare.

I’m of the belief that all rookie quarterbacks should sit for one year. There are too many rookie busts at the position, partly because there is simply too much to learn on and off the field to digest things in just a few months’ time.

Hoyer has a purpose and it’s one that can help turn this franchise around, but it’s not just his play that’s going to aid in changing the culture in Cleveland. Hoyer’s mentoring and ability to both stay healthy and play good football for the Browns under their new head coach and offensive coordinator are the key factors to a rise up the standings for Cleveland. Hoyer has the burden of making sure that the development of Manziel goes a smoothly as possible.

In addition, the Browns have to win with Hoyer in order to bide time for Manziel. A sluggish start to the 2014 campaign will force the Browns’ hand into putting their golden boy on the field to perform his magic. But to do so prematurely comes with grave risk.

For Manziel to succeed, the rookie should be mirroring Hoyer as if he’s his bodyguard. Without Hoyer, Manziel will once again have to run his own interference, but this time it will come against opponents who are more physically and instinctively trained to track their prey.

What’s this offense going to look like? It can’t be a fair competition because the quarterbacks have nothing in common. One quarterback is going to feel more comfortable than the other and that’s a fact. And I think that guy is going to be Hoyer.

Hoyer is the one who will adapt more quickly to a pro-style offense, as Shanahan has coached more guys who looked like Hoyer than Manziel. Seldom did RG3 look at home on the football field in Washington.

What I don’t like and would be concerned about if I were earning my living working for the Browns would be the recent quote from ex-Redskins quarterback Rex Grossman. Grossman emphasized that Shanahan wants his quarterbacks following the script in every way imaginable, which is why I believe Cleveland made a play for current Washington backup Kirk Cousins. Manziel doesn’t play a “script following” style.

Coaching and developing Manziel will be Shanahan’s greatest challenge. He no longer has his father or Gary Kubiak with which to kick around thoughts and ideas. It’s on Shanahan to grow Manziel into stardom. Anything less will have Cleveland’s fans clamoring for his head and asking how the Browns thought they could win with a midget at the position. That’s reality and reality is the opposite of perception.

Follow Jerry on Twitter: @RealJerryAngelo

Jerry Angelo was the General Manager of the Chicago Bears from 2001 to 2012. Prior to joining the Bears, Angelo spent 14 years overseeing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ scouting department as their Director of Player Personnel. Angelo graduated from Miami University in 1971. 

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The decline of the running back position

Unless an NFL team thinks a specific running back is special, they would prefer to wait until later in the draft to target the position.

I came to appreciate and admire running backs when I was a coach at Syracuse. We had several running backs that functioned as our bread and butter. None

Unless an NFL team thinks a specific running back is special, they would prefer to wait until later in the draft to target the position.

I came to appreciate and admire running backs when I was a coach at Syracuse. We had several running backs that functioned as our bread and butter. None had great talent, but when things got tough and we ran out of offensive imagination, we turned to them. More times than not, they gave us that needed kick that got us through.

When I got into the NFL, I saw more of the same. Running backs who had more heart than talent, but when the going got tough, they were the ones who got “the call.”

There have been some great backs who have come out of the later rounds of the NFL draft. A Hall of Famer like Curtis Martin was taken in the third round. Houston’s Arian Foster, one of the top backs in the game today, was an undrafted free agent. New Orleans’ Pierre Thomas, a college free agent out of Illinois, is every bit as good and as valuable as Mark Ingram, whom the Saints drafted in the first round back in 2011.

That’s the beauty of the running back position. You may get as good a running back in the later rounds as you would have in the earlier rounds.

When I look back on my career in the National Football League, running back was without question the position I admired most. Warrick Dunn, Errict Rhett and Mike Alstott were just a few of the guys acquired while I was working in Tampa. In Chicago, it was Anthony Thomas, Thomas Jones and Matt Forte.

All of these backs played prominent roles in the success of our teams. Because we never possessed a marquee quarterback, the bulk of the offense was built around these runners.

Of all the positions, a good running back can infuse a much-needed adrenaline boost that a team may be lacking at crunch time. This was generally the most underappreciated yet overused player in the lineup.

We see and hear much about protecting the quarterbacks and defenseless receivers. And while there’s nothing wrong with that, the player who takes a real pounding week in and week out is the running back. The only rule that officials enforce to manage this player’s safety involves the grabbing of his face mask. That means the other 95 percent of his anatomy is free game to defenders who derive pleasure from taking out their hostility and aggression on opposing running backs.

Arian FosterUndrafted out of Tennessee in 2009, Arian Foster’s 4,264 rushing yards from 2010-2012 ranked second in the NFL.

The pure running back makes his living inside the tackle box. He rarely looked for or ran to the sidelines, unless he was going to the bench. When the running back’s number is called, it’s up to him to make it happen. When the play is over, he’s usually the last one off the ground and back to the huddle. Hall of Famer Jim Brown was legendary for his consistency in being the last guy back to the huddle. His philosophy was to never let his opponents see him in pain. So Brown’s slow motion jaunt back to his offensive posse allowed him the necessary time to gather himself. But after nine years, even Brown endured enough punishment. The same can be said for Detroit’s Barry Sanders.

Sometimes even the great ones see the writing on the wall and cut their legacy short because eventually they realize that no gazelle will outrun all its prey all the time. Eventually, the lions will feed.

Why running backs don’t get rewarded when their contracts are up the same way some other positions do really isn’t all that curious because what they did for their alma maters and professional teams caused their bodies to wear down and their speed and power to lessen. They no longer qualified to be celebrated or decorated. They served their purpose and to pay them would be thinking with your heart and not your head. In the football business, future contracts are determined by expectations.

Most running backs’ mark in history will be persevered, but it came with a price instead of a prize. Unlike all other positions who are rewarded for their past, the running back is doomed by it. Teams still need them, but at the price tag of what backups make at other positions.

Is this wrong? No more than two wrongs making a right. But it is their reality. To exploit them is a shame, but to reward them is foolishness.

The league should have a special amendment for running backs because they are not like any other positional group. Perhaps any back drafted in the first round should have his contract expire after four seasons, while those selected in rounds 2-7 should have their rookie deals terminate after three seasons. However, one could say that this approach would hurt the position’s draft status, as teams would opt against selecting a back until later down the line.

Why? Because a running back’s risk is greater, his tenure is shorter and the position’s pay scale is tilted to favor the team, which is not the case at all the other positions. But given the running back’s present plight, so what? At least they would have a chance to experience a lucrative second contract or have some security in their early, and possibly only, years.

Rarely is a play blocked cleanly enough to allow a running back to go untouched. He’s always making some kind of contact, whether it’s voluntarily or involuntarily. If he’s going to run for 100 yards, half of that total will be yards the running back made on his own ability either by breaking a tackle or eluding it. In either case, it was through his efforts or ingenuity that allowed him to hit the century mark.

Follow Jerry on Twitter: @RealJerryAngelo

Jerry Angelo was the General Manager of the Chicago Bears from 2001 to 2012. Prior to joining the Bears, Angelo spent 14 years overseeing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ scouting department as their Director of Player Personnel. Angelo graduated from Miami University in 1971. 

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Developing the quarterback position

There was an interesting piece of information given to me by a friend recently. He asked, “Who were the last two Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks drafted in the first round?” I guessed Joe Flacco, who was selected in 2008. The other he had to tell me was Aaron Rodgers, whom Green Bay landed in 2005.

There was an interesting piece of information given to me by a friend recently. He asked, “Who were the last two Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks drafted in the first round?” I guessed Joe Flacco, who was selected in 2008. The other he had to tell me was Aaron Rodgers, whom Green Bay landed in 2005.

It’s pretty amazing that there were only two quarterbacks drafting during the first round over the last nine years who went on to win the Super Bowl. When you take into consideration the fact that 24 signal-callers were selected during that time, it’s even more shocking.

This got me thinking: Why is it so hard for the top drafted quarterbacks to win, let alone win a Super Bowl? It’s a team game, but the Manning brothers, Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers have proven that the evolved and carefully developed quarterbacks can carry a team.

I have several reasons as to why developing a quarterback to his pinnacle is almost an unachievable task:

PATIENCE

Quarterbacks are given little time to watch and learn their trade. They are asked to play almost immediately and several have demonstrated they cannot handle all that comes with playing the position at the professional level.

Joe FlaccoICONJoe Flacco is one of just two Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks drafted in the first round over the last nine years.

In days past, regardless if you drafted a quarterback in the first round, it was a given that he was going to sit for close to two years. All young quarterbacks who came into the league during that era had to serve as an apprentice. That’s how they learned; by seeing, not doing.

So why did teams drift away from this philosophy? The answer is free agency. Before free agency, teams selected players with the knowledge that they would possess the player’s rights for his entire career, should they choose to see it through. There really wasn’t any rush to draft players before the coaches knew that they were ready. And by ‘ready,’ I mean the player knows the system and the players around him while the coaching staff and players know their quarterback.

Nothing is hard when it makes sense. Playing players before they are ready makes no sense. But once free agency became the law and inflated player salaries, a sound philosophy morphed into a flawed philosophy.

Years ago, quarterbacks weren’t getting paid ludicrous money for being the first overall selection. As the salaries increased, so too did the expectations, as owners and fans wanted to see what they were paying for. 20 years ago, the tenure of a head coach used to be 4-5 years, not 2-3 years like it is now. So the pressure for coaches to play their top picks has become greater, as the first question always asked is, “If we don’t play him early, why did we draft him?”

All of these aforementioned factors contributed to the elimination of the extra time for the development and growth of young quarterbacks.

The two quarterbacks who come to mind in regards to benefitting from sitting and watching were the late Steve McNair—who watched Chris Chandler for two years—and Aaron Rodgers, who did the same for three years behind the legendary Brett Favre. Both players also had the luxury of being coached in the same system with bosses who they became very familiar with over their careers. That’s the formula for success, but it is seldom followed because of the new dynamic fabricated by free agency.

When I was with Tampa, we drafted Vinny Testaverde (or as my wife would call him, “Vinny Test your Nervies”) with first overall pick in the 1987 draft. Prior to drafting Vinny, the Buccaneers traded Steve Young, who they said would never play quarterback in the NFL, to the San Francisco 49ers in exchange for a second and fourth round pick in the 1987 draft. We also selected Trent Dilfer with the sixth pick in the first round of the 1994 draft.

All three signal-callers turned about to be busts for the Bucs. While that certainly wasn’t the case for any of their careers, all three played much better after they left Tampa for other teams. Tampa proved to be their training grounds, where each quarterback learned all the “don’ts” of playing the position.

Looking closely at the situation for each Testaverde, Young and Dilfer, I came away with certain criteria that had to be in place in order to give young quarterbacks their best chance for success. Quarterbacks need to be trained and developed in the same system. But given the rate of attrition of head coaches that goes on around the league, this makes it highly improbable that a quarterback gets into the right situation.

COACHING STABILITY

Aaron RodgersICONRodgers benefited greatly from sitting behind future Hall of Famer Brett Favre.

With every top quarterback you also saw a top coordinator and/or head coach, and in some cases, you saw both. They knew how to manage the quarterback’s development and groom him for prominence. They went hand-in-hand. You could almost say that the quarterbacks and coaches/coordinators made each other. Unfortunately, coaches who know how to do this are about as rare as the elite signal callers themselves.

Quarterbacks need to be trained and developed in the same system. This is a somewhat rare occurrence due to the high turnover rate which accompanies coaching positions in the NFL. While unfortunate, it is somewhat unlikely for young quarterbacks to be groomed in stable situations. Just take a look at 2011 first round draft pick Blaine Gabbert, who has played under three different coaching regimes in three seasons.

SURROUNDING ENVIRONMENT

Most first-round quarterbacks are landing with teams that, simply put, are flat-out bad. Yes, it’s generally a given that bad teams need to select a quarterback in the first round because they are losing with their current signal-caller. Living up to the expectations that come with the position are hard enough, but when you throw in a poor supporting cast, there is little room for error before it all comes crashing down.

INTANGIBLES

A successful quarterback must possess elite intangibles. He can’t be “one of the guys.” Once the quarterback departs the facility, that’s fine. But as the team’s leader, it’s more than just being liked. It’s about commanding respect and convincing your peers that you are “all in.”

The other players need to see the quarterback’s character, work ethic and commitment to being great. It has nothing to do with talent or the hype of playing the marquee position and everything to do with paying the price. That’s where leadership starts.

Becoming a winning NFL quarterback is a difficult task. The quarterback can’t evolve all on his own. He needs help. As the statistics will bear out, very few make it. No position brings stability and realistic optimism to an organization other than the guy who touches the ball on every snap. If you had to grade an organization on just one thing, it would be how they managed the quarterback position…for better or worse.

Follow Jerry on Twitter: @RealJerryAngelo

Jerry Angelo was the General Manager of the Chicago Bears from 2001 to 2012. Prior to joining the Bears, Angelo spent 14 years overseeing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ scouting department as their Director of Player Personnel. Angelo graduated from Miami University in 1971. 

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Managing draft day

The draft is the most exciting time of the year for all organizations. It is literally and figuratively “D” day—the one day when everyone who works on the football side of the building will feel vindicated based on all their hard work. The time and manpower spent on the draft can’t be calculated. It’s

The draft is the most exciting time of the year for all organizations. It is literally and figuratively “D” day—the one day when everyone who works on the football side of the building will feel vindicated based on all their hard work. The time and manpower spent on the draft can’t be calculated. It’s a marathon coming to its conclusion with nobody in sight between the organizations and the finish line. Optimism is high based on everybody’s tremendous efforts.

The draft is the one time of year where the coaches and scouts come together without any real bias. They worked together hand in hand and are now going to see the fruits of their labor. In a business where your livelihood is based on wins and losses, there is nothing more satisfying than drafting a player everybody agrees can help the team win. Regardless of the team or where they are drafting, everyone will feel like they won and that enthusiasm will carry over into training camp and up to the first kickoff on opening day.

In reality, this euphoria will only have long-lasting benefits for a handful of teams. Most of the franchises will get a poor grade three years from now due to this draft class. For those that will pass, certain tenets must both take and be in place. I want to touch on some of those tenets today.

First of all, it’s critical to go into the draft free of “needs.” This gives you the freedom to jockey up or down on draft day with the potential to land more draft picks for the present and future drafts, as well as acquiring the best players on the board.

Most teams set three draft boards:

1. Best to worst, regardless of position, for 7 rounds
2. Best to worst by offense positions
3. Best to worst by defensive positions

There will also be a board with each team’s logo or name along with the number of draft picks that team possesses, as well as those slots listed underneath them. Once a player is drafted, his card comes off the board and is placed under the team logo that drafted him.

What the best-to-worst position boards tells you is how many players at certain positions are being taken and who is still available at the position. This is important because if you want to draft a player at that position, you’ll know how many players are still available. If there aren’t many left who garnered a favorable grade from your team, you may have to take a player at that position with your next selection.

Radio City Music HallFinding success at Radio City Music Hall often times means staying true to your board.

The best-to-worst regardless of position board shows you how and when the better players are coming off the board. It lets you know what players are going to be there for your pick when the time comes. It is also the board you rely upon when teams call to ask about a trade. This board gives you the ability to see who could still be available to you at their slot, should you choose to make a deal.

There isn’t much time between rounds and when you’re fielding multiple calls, you have to think quickly. Some teams don’t wish to be disturbed and just want to select from the players that are available when it comes time to pick. George Young was a big believer in this method. Some don’t like the confusion that comes with fielding calls and guessing who you may or may not be able to select at the new slot if you choose to trade. George was never one to get cute or beat himself. That’s why he’ll go down as one of the best at what he did.

On the flip side of the equation are the teams that try to collect as many picks as they can, risking certain players in order to do so. New England is a model for collecting picks. Patriots head coach Bill Belichick is probably the only HC who drafts as if he’s the owner of the franchise.

The different mentalities are what make the draft fascinating for the NFL’s 32 teams. You never know what to expect, but you better be prepared for everything. There will always be a club or two that will be in a fortunate position where a team will call and give them just about anything to get their pick. We can all remember the year New Orleans gave up their entire draft to get Texas running back Ricky Williams. Usually when teams give up the mother-load for any position but quarterback it winds up backfiring. But you can’t blame teams for trying. Instead, you blame them for losing.

As a team, you need to be prepared for all the top players. I have witnessed too many situations where a quality player everybody thought was going higher fell to a team that was unprepared for that specific scenario. Because the team didn’t spend the necessary time talking about the player, they decided to pass. Their excuse: “Something must be wrong with him.”

As big of a mistake as this is, you’d be surprised at how many times a quality player has continued to slide because teams never thought he’d be there when it came time for them to pick.

The prime example of this scenario is the 2005 draft day slide of Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers was projected to go high for no other reason than the fact that he was a quarterback and it was a very weak year for signal-callers. Alex Smith was the first selection to San Francisco that spring, while Rodgers was the next quarterback taken, although that didn’t take place until pick No. 24 by Green Bay.

A gift, some might say, that continues to keep giving.

To summarize, the first thing any team must do is make sure they are prepared for any top player falling to their draft slot.

The first three rounds are looked at as the premium rounds. These are the rounds where teams feel they can get legitimate starters with talent, good measureables and production.

If there is an art in drafting, it comes in the form of projecting where the players you want will go. This is critical to planning. You must have a very good idea of not only the round in which the player is going, but also what part of the round. The teams that do this well on draft day act instead of react. You don’t have the time in between rounds to sit as a staff and talk it over.

If a trade is proposed, you have to know how far down you can move based on the way you set your board. Say you have three players you are willing to draft if they are still available when you’re on the clock. A team calls wanting to trade up to your spot and they are currently four picks behind you, but are willing to offer a third round selection to make it happen. The chances are highly probable that one of your three players will still be there, so you make the deal.

Drafting is not an extension of someone’s ego. It’s about finding players that fit your coach’s schemes and possess the mentality and persona you want your fans and organization to identify with. That’s it. Anything else is losing football.

If this isn’t the case for an organization, these are the comments you are likely to hear from within the walls of a club on draft day:

“That’s my guy.”
“If we don’t take him, we’re crazy.”
“I never liked him, I don’t know why he’s on the board.”
“If we draft him, you coach him.”
”Stinks, can’t play.”
”Too dumb, why did we take him?”
”I got to have him, he’s the only guy who can help us win.”
”Nobody ever listens to me.”

This all is said within earshot for anybody to hear and these are things I’ve listened to over the years in the draft room after we made our pick because somebody didn’t get their way. Obviously, it was about someone’s ego. And the friction it created was sometimes worse than anything your opponents can do to you.

Drafting requires a team mentality with a goal of selecting the best players that fit what you want to do, regardless of what draftniks and the media have been saying for the last five months. I would rather do what I believe to be right than try and look wise to the ignorant.

I remember in 2007 when quarterback Brady Quinn came out of Notre Dame. I didn’t like him. I had seen him play several times and just didn’t feel like he was accurate enough, particularly when it came to getting the ball down the field. I’ve found that with quarterbacks you either love them or you don’t. There is no gray area when it comes to evaluating signal-callers.

Back to Quinn, he was the guy who had the big buzz going on around him that year.

There was a plethora of media types, including Quinn’s head coach at the time, Charlie Weiss, who thought he was going to be the next Tom Brady. Cleveland was targeted to take him because of their need for a quarterback. I know Phil Savage, who was the Cleveland general manager at the time. Phil is a great evaluator. And while I never talked to him about Quinn, I would have found it hard to believe that he loved the Notre Dame quarterback the way a lot of the media portrayed him.

As it happened, Cleveland took another player, offensive tackle Joe Thomas, with their first round pick instead of Quinn. However, the Browns then moved back into the first round at pick No. 22 and took Quinn. That’s where I feel teams make mistakes. I understand the importance of the position and if you don’t have a quarterback, you may have no other choice. But to take one, he’s got to be a guy you love. And if Cleveland loved Quinn, they should have taken him with their original first round pick or traded down and picked up a few other selections before pulling the trigger on their new signal-caller. Again, that’s just my theory.

In the end, Thomas was the right pick and Quinn wasn’t.

Osi UmenyioraOsi Umenyiora has notched 82.5 sacks during his 10-year NFL career.

I was in Chicago in 2003 and we were hell-bent on taking a defensive lineman in the first round. We were a 4-3 scheme at the time and relied more upon big-bodied defensive linemen than slender ones. Michael Haynes, a defensive end from Penn State, was the player we drafted in the first round. To my recollection, no one loved him, including me. But he was the best available lineman in the eyes of many. Haynes had the credentials, led the Big Ten in sacks that year, played well at the Senior Bowl and was a bright kid. There was another player out of Troy State I really liked who was much more exciting to watch than Haynes in college. He was more of a conventional 4-3 defensive end.

It was ultimately my decision and I opted to select “the people’s choice” and passed on Osi Umenyiora, who the New York Giants selected in the second round. The point I’m trying to make is that it’s easy to get caught up in perception and need, but in the end, if you did your work and you have a strong conviction, do what you believe is the right thing for the club.

Drafting isn’t a science and it’s not an art. It’s watching a lot of tape, practices and workouts. It’s talking to a number of people who can give you the needed insight on a player’s heart, his love for the game and his character. There is nothing mystical about it. It’s hard and everyone has an opinion. In the end, it’s not about who is right, it’s about being right.

What separates the people who draft well from the ones who don’t is the belief in their work and the willingness to stand on a table and to sell it.

A toast to those scouts and coaches who are willing to stand for what they believe, rather than fall for the cries of the masses. They are the ones who make a difference and the ones who have the rings to show for it.

Follow Jerry on Twitter: @RealJerryAngelo

Jerry Angelo was the General Manager of the Chicago Bears from 2001 to 2012. Prior to joining the Bears, Angelo spent 14 years overseeing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ scouting department as their Director of Player Personnel. Angelo graduated from Miami University in 1971. 

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Drafting the best vs. drafting for need

As we continue to get closer to the 2014 NFL draft, I’d like to share a few thoughts. If I were giving advice to someone about drafting, I would start with this concept: Draft as if you’re an expansion team, not a sinking ship. History has shown that you can find starters, pro bowlers

As we continue to get closer to the 2014 NFL draft, I’d like to share a few thoughts. If I were giving advice to someone about drafting, I would start with this concept: Draft as if you’re an expansion team, not a sinking ship. History has shown that you can find starters, pro bowlers and, in some cases, Hall of Famers in the later rounds and as college free agents. But the focus has to be on acquiring the best players.

Having said that, you need to approach the draft with an open mind and without the pressure of filling needs. The “filling needs approach” is not only unsound, but you also find yourself embellishing lesser players who then end up filling those holes you have on your roster in lieu of better players.

Filling needs should have been addressed during the free agent period, regardless of the quality of the veterans you had sign to do it. They should be able to be plugged in at least for a year to take care of those voids. We called those players “stop gap guys.” Players that can “hold the fort,” as Bill Parcells would say, until the infantry arrives.

Jadeveon ClowneyWill pass rusher Jadeveon Clowney hear his name called with the first overall pick?

Again you want to eliminate any potential bias on draft day. This is the only way to ensure you draft the best players available. I can say this without question: The best picks we made were the ones we didn’t “need.”

In this year’s draft, I want to give you my first five picks in order of how I’d take them. Their positions are irrelevant, as these are the best of the best and guys I would trade up to acquire. You can’t minimize “special” and these are the players who have the capabilities to be special at the next level.

On Sundays during the fall, games are won by special players. Look at it this way: Most teams have approximately the same amount of special players (8-10), regardless of both their positions and which side of the ball they play on. There are a few instances of teams with a couple more “special” players and, of course, some with less. But, by in large, the majority of teams possess 8-10. That was essentially the purpose of free agency, to create parity. Parity is the distribution of those special players. These players also consume a significant portion of a team’s salary cap dollars.

Getting back to this year’s draft, here’s an interesting note: Four of my top-five players are underclassmen. Another intriguing note: Both Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins and Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack are from the state of Florida. How did they get out of the state?

I’m going to reference two words: “Ceiling” and “Floor.” Let me define both:

Ceiling: The best the player can be, his fullest potential.

Floor: The worst a player can be in the event he doesn’t reach his potential.

Let’s use South Carolina pass rusher Jadeveon Clowney as an example. Clowney has everything you look for as a pass rusher. He’s a great athlete who has dominated throughout his career. Simply put, Clowney is a great talent with the production to match and is virtually unblockable when he’s going all-out. So his ceiling is obviously very high. In fact, in my opinion, it’s the highest of any player on the draft board.

The downside, however, is that Clowney had a poor 2013 season. He has been labeled as inconsistent and a sometimes difficult player to coach. This can easily affect his ability to reach his ceiling and if so, the question becomes what’s the worst he can be? Given that Clowney is a pure pass rusher and just mediocre as a run stopper, if he fails to develop against the run, what’s his floor? Most likely, it would be the lowest of my top-five players.

Different criticisms abound regarding Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel. That’s why I have Clowney and Manziel ranked fourth and fifth, respectively, simply because it’s tough to determine what their floors truly are.

Most players who end up busting out of the league have low floors. It’s very hard for players to dominate in the NFL. Most players are role players and are solid, but not special starters. The league is predominately made up of those types. For a player to be special at the NFL level is a rare feat. At the college level, a great athlete can be flawed but still play to 70-80 percent of his abilities and dominate because there is such a disparity in talent between the top athletes and the next level down. This isn’t the case in the NFL.

While there still is a disparity between the top athletes at the professional ranks, the disparity isn’t nearly as great as it is in college football. These players get hit with the labels like “underachiever,” “can’t play with pain” and “soft.” All of these terms define the flaw the player had in college, but you really didn’t notice it until he got to the next level.

MY TOP FIVE

1. Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn: Robinson is the safest, most talented player in this year’s draft. Gifted tackles like him have a good history of playing well and for a long time in the NFL. Somebody recently compared Robinson to San Francisco’s Anthony Davis, but that’s talking apples and oranges. Robinson is the next Walter Jones, with a rare combination of power and athleticism.

Sammy WatkinsClemson’s Sammy Watkins is the best receiver available in this year’s draft class.

2. Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson: No receiver has been this electrifying since Calvin Johnson came out of Georgia Tech. He is big, fast and explosive. Watkins’ after-the-catch yards are unreal. He is competitive and explosive. He has a rare ability and rare skill set in that he can be lethal as both a vertical receiver and in the short game. He’s Sterling Sharp with top-end speed. Watkins saved his best game for last in Clemson’s bowl game win over Ohio State. However, he’s young and will have to be handled the right way. Watkins is sensitive and naive, but he wants to be great and with the right coach and quarterback, he will be.

3. Khalil Mack, LB, Buffalo: Not an elite athlete, though his workout numbers would differ, but has an elite package. A combination of size, speed, strength and toughness with top production, as well as durability. People talk about Mack’s marginal coverage skills, but who cares? Linebackers don’t go into the Hall of Fame because of their coverage ability. Remember, Lawrence Taylor didn’t know when to drop or where to drop. The old saying comes to mind when I think about Mack: “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.” He can rush the passer in a variety of ways, has a big motor and is stout versus the run.

4. Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina: Has it all. When his motor is running, he can’t be blocked by one player. He can win the one-on-one battles with his speed and his moves. He’s scary, in that you don’t know how to play him, so offensives will wind up assigning two players to defend him. That means Clowney is a player that offensive coordinators are going to have to account for and that, in turn, messes with their game plans. But the big question is can you trust him? He won’t play hard 100 percent of the time for 16 games because it’s simply not in his DNA. He’s never had to work for anything and he’s going to be rewarded by being the first or second overall pick, so why should he change his behavior now? You’ve rewarded it! That’s his biggest knock in my book. The key to Clowney is figuring out if he has a pride factor. If so, he’ll set new standards at the position.

5. Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M: You got to love him, but I wouldn’t touch him unless I knew there was a rock solid plan in place that tailors to his style. It’s not how he measures, it’s how are you are going to play him. Right now, the only coach I would trust to handle Manziel correctly would be Sean Payton and maybe offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak and 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh. All three played the quarterback position and know how to both develop signal-callers and develop schemes with the non-conventional types. Manziel is not Drew Brees. Brees made his living in the pocket as a colligate player, Manziel didn’t. Durability will be an issue. He’s not a natural leader, but his teammates respond to him and that’s what counts. Manziel will do more to elevate the overall play of a team right now than any other player on the board.

THE NEXT FIVE

This next level I look at a bit differently. This level features the players who have the highest floors and are the best bet to play to their ceilings. This is not to say the following five guys won’t be outstanding players, because they very well can be. The likes of Cris Carter, Michael Irvin, Emmitt Smith and Mike Singletary are some players who probably would have fallen into this category, but not solely because of athletic prowess.

6. Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
7. Taylor Lewan OT, Michigan
8. Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida
9. Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburg
10. Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A & M

Follow Jerry on Twitter: @RealJerryAngelo

Jerry Angelo was the General Manager of the Chicago Bears from 2001 to 2012. Prior to joining the Bears, Angelo spent 14 years overseeing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ scouting department as their Director of Player Personnel. Angelo graduated from Miami University in 1971. 

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A broken and deeply flawed system

I commend the Northwestern University football players for speaking out. Changing the present system in which college athletes have played under has been discussed for quite some time. The inequities that these athletes face have been well documented and the time is now to do something about them.

College athletes, particularly

I commend the Northwestern University football players for speaking out. Changing the present system in which college athletes have played under has been discussed for quite some time. The inequities that these athletes face have been well documented and the time is now to do something about them.

College athletes, particularly those who make their universities and the NCAA millions and billions of dollars, have been ill-treated and bullied long enough. I’m not saying that the universities don’t indulge their athletes. In some cases they do, and in some cases it’s to the point of spoiling them. Saying that, I believe college athletes should be given an increased stipend for their efforts. Yes, they are on scholarship, but unlike other students who are on scholarship, they have to spend the majority of their free time physically and emotionally earning their scholarship.

Student athletes have to go to meetings and learn just as they would in their regular classes on campus. They then proceed to go through rigorous practices run by their other faculty, their coaches, who are every bit as demanding as any college professor. This protocol is not only emotionally and mentality challenging, it’s also physically grueling. No one talks about that. People assume that it’s easy stuff. They only see the end product—the games—but have little idea what the cost of preparing for those games truly is.

Being a former college coach, scout and GM, I have seen firsthand the time, pressure and commitment needed to keep a scholarship. And unfortunately, I have seen the physical damage that football has put on the bodies of student athletes.

College sports are great entertainment for millions of people. If the universities and their governing body are making money from it, why shouldn’t they pay the athletes their fans come to see?

Let me say it again: Student athletes earn their scholarships based on the extra work they perform, which is beyond that required for normal students. That being said, why shouldn’t these student athletes get paid? School administrators can talk all they want about their amateur status, but it’s a weak argument. Major football conferences pay head coaches more than college presidents and assistant coaches more than most of the faculty.

Kain ColterKain Colter and the players at Northwestern are trying to change the system.

Why aren’t faculty members screaming about that? Isn’t it unfair? These aren’t dumb people, as they are entrusted to educate the best minds of future generations. Why do they accept it?

Because they know sports are both a business and a lucrative profession that directly benefits anyone employed by the university.

One policy I would implement right away if I were an NCAA governing member would be to establish sites around the country dedicated for the use of second medical opinions for all student athletes. If an athlete wants a second opinion, they should have the ability to go to a designated specialist to get it and have it be taken care of by the NCAA.

For decades, I have heard NFL players complain about their alma maters and about how they don’t trust their school physicians and trainers. Some felt as if their coaches had taken advantage of the situation by exploiting them with the wear and tear they were subjected to during the year.

Certainly, we can all agree that the addition of more games to the schedule increases both revenue and the risk of injuries and the deterioration to the bodies of student athletes. But over the decades as a typical college schedule climbed from 10 games to 13, nobody was speaking for or defending the health risk and time requirement that falls on the athlete.

I would also monitor how much money an institution can invest in its facilities. This is not money well spent. It is money spent for the sole purpose of luring recruits to sign, along with giving the wealthiest alumni regal boxes and club seats to enjoy just 6-8 times per year.

If I were a college president, I would want the lure of my campus to be the academic center and the curriculums the university offers the students to enhance their lives. After all, most of these athletes won’t be moving on to professional sports after their tenure is up at their universities. That’s not to say athletes shouldn’t have state-of-the-art equipment to work with or facilities to work in. It’s the excessiveness that some universities will allow their coaches to have in order for recruits to see their buildings in lieu of what they stand for.

Universities talk often about graduation rate. I certainly agree, but the stat I’d love to see is what those graduates are doing two years after they got their degree. I would add another heading and would call it “Employment After Graduation.” My point here is that a degree is meaningless for a student athlete if they can’t apply it by getting a beneficial job. Many student athletes are encouraged to take meaningless classes for the benefit of staying eligible and having a soft workload. In terms of its worth to a scholar athlete, it’s not worth the paper it’s written on.

I believe universities should look at partnering with technical schools to offer an associate degree in some type of trade. The goal of all institutions is to educate its most precious resources: The students. Education is about coaching, training and guiding their talent to success, regardless of their field.

I feel it’s an injustice to graduate athletes with a meaningless degree, because some have little or nothing to offer based on their capabilities. When I used to ask college football players what they were going to do with their degrees, silence entered the room or the player talked about doing something that is no more practical than the degree itself. So while the NCAA may argue that there is equal value in a degree for play and practice, a vast number of student athletes leave the schools wealthier than when he came in, but the institution left the athlete no better off when he arrived as he exits with a worthless degree.

Isn’t the whole idea education? That people leave better off than when they came in? If you can’t do that, don’t admit them.

Follow Jerry on Twitter: @RealJerryAngelo

Jerry Angelo was the General Manager of the Chicago Bears from 2001 to 2012. Prior to joining the Bears, Angelo spent 14 years overseeing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ scouting department as their Director of Player Personnel. Angelo graduated from Miami University in 1971.

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Tape vs. Workouts

Pro Days are a very big deal for NFL organizations. This is the last time teams will rally onto college campuses around the country, reassuring themselves of the work they put in during the year while additionally determining the final fate of these draft prospects.

The area scout’s mindset is different from the

Pro Days are a very big deal for NFL organizations. This is the last time teams will rally onto college campuses around the country, reassuring themselves of the work they put in during the year while additionally determining the final fate of these draft prospects.

The area scout’s mindset is different from the coaches. This specific scout has spent more than eight months evaluating the players in his designated region of the country. His many visits to college campuses are well documented based on airfare, car mileage and the many meals he ate on the road at local diners or in the driver’s seat of his car while traveling to the next school.

For the area scout, the Pro Day means closure.

Pro Days are a great place to mix and network with other clubs. Some teams may be represented by four to six employees, meaning they have a sincere interest in a particular player or players at that school. Most teams generally send two or three officials to watch and gather information based on the workouts.

A lot of intelligence can be gathered by attending a Pro Day. Between pro coaches, scouts, NFL front office types and the college coaches—who mingle with their NFL guests—there is a lot of news, data and advice being garnered and bantered around by the football fraternity.

The ability to watch athletes perform on their own college campus allows you to see them in a more relaxed atmosphere. When players are at the Combine in Indianapolis, they can be overwhelmed or overhyped, so they may not perform the way they would at their school or when they are less tense.

I remember a receiver out of the University of Miami named Horace Copeland who ran a 4.6 40-yard dash at the 1993 Combine. Horace was regarded as one of the faster receivers in the country that season, so that 4.6 had many scouts in disbelief. At his Pro Day on Miami’s campus a few weeks later, Copeland ran in the 4.4s, which was much more in tune to how he played as a member of the Hurricanes.

NFL CombinePro Day workouts provide draft prospects a more comfortable setting to improve on their Combine numbers.

It is not uncommon for players to run much better on their home turf. Most teams will take the best results of a player, regardless of where he works out. However, if a player did not perform well at the Combine and then failed to improve on those numbers at his Pro Day, then the obvious is the obvious. There have been many players who looked fast or overly talented on tape, but couldn’t perform in shorts.

The one player that comes to mind in this instance is an elite pass rusher, who the Baltimore Ravens drafted in the first round. This prospect looked like a great athlete on tape at Arizona State—where he was a premier pass rusher—so much so that he declared early for the draft. I remember this player’s agent, Gary Wichard, being so livid after a workout performance that he lit into his client behind closed doors.

I talked to Gary sometime after that workout and he told me what he said to his client. I was shocked, but that’s what made Gary one of the better agents. He told his players how it was and didn’t tell them what they wanted to hear. He felt his player hadn’t trained hard enough, so he let him know it.

Unfortunately, this player’s follow-up workout on his college campus didn’t erase his previous performance. It was slightly better, but by most accounts was certainly not a “first round” workout. I give credit to Baltimore general manager Ozzie Newsome for drafting Terrell Suggs. He relied on the tape and he was right. He got a special player at a real value based on where the Ravens took him, as opposed to where Suggs was projected to go. So the lesson here is that you can’t overrate these workouts.

When I made an evaluation on a prospect, at least 60-70 percent was based on his college tape. The workouts are important, but the tape talks the loudest about a player. The question each team has to figure out is what emphasis you place on the workout versus the player’s game tape. That’s what separates scouts and organizations. I always told our scouts, “Information gatherers made a living, evaluators made money.”

Evaluating players is no science. You can look for the same things from player to player, but no two players are alike. Each prospect possesses certain strengths and weaknesses. The good evaluators are able to discern those and determine if he’ll be able to play over his shortcomings. That’s the bottom line for scouts: Who can play, who can’t play and why.

The teams that do the best jobs of this will find good players during the later rounds. The league is full of later round picks and college free agents who not only made teams, but started and excelled as one of their team’s better players.

Most of these players didn’t have great workouts, but they had good tape and the one thing that no stop watch can measure: A warrior’s heart.

Follow Jerry on Twitter: @RealJerryAngelo

Jerry Angelo was the General Manager of the Chicago Bears from 2001 to 2012. Prior to joining the Bears, Angelo spent 14 years overseeing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ scouting department as their Director of Player Personnel. Angelo graduated from Miami University in 1971. 

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Free agency observations

After taking a more in-depth look at the 2014 NFL free agency period, there were quite a few things that jump out at me.

First, owners appear to have more money than good players to spend it on, as evidenced by the “billion dollar” figure that was thrown out after the initial wave

After taking a more in-depth look at the 2014 NFL free agency period, there were quite a few things that jump out at me.

First, owners appear to have more money than good players to spend it on, as evidenced by the “billion dollar” figure that was thrown out after the initial wave of free agency settled. I guess you can categorize that first wave as a tidal wave of cash. For some teams, let’s hope it isn’t a tsunami.

Michael JohnsonFree agent defensive end Michael Johnson struck it rich in Tampa Bay.

The second observation I made was in how teams valued different positions. Just about any player who can—or at one time could—rush the passer productively got paid. The rushers outnumbered their counterparts, offensive linemen, almost 2 to 1 when it came to signing a premium contract, with the exception of a few offensive tackles.

But the defensive players deemed pass rushers had no commonality in terms of a profile, other than the fact that they were players who can, did or presumably could rush the passer. Their age, durability issues and/or marginal production had little adverse effect on the teams willing to pay them.

Here’s a look at some of the defensive linemen who recently cashed in:

(name, age, sacks in 2013)

Julius Peppers: 34, 7.5
DeMarcus Ware: 31, 6.0
Jason Babin: 33, 7.5
Justin Tuck: 31, 11.0
Michael Johnson: 27, 3.5
Jason Hatcher: 32, 11.0
Karlos Dansby: 32, 6.5
Henry Melton: 27, 0*
Jonathan Babineaux: 32, 1.0
Lamarr Houston: 27, 6.0
Chris Clemons: 32, 4.5

*Appeared in just three games last season due to injury.

The other teams willing to spend a lot of cash did so by addressing their respective secondaries. All of the bigger corners and safeties teams felt could play benefited from free agency. The number of defensive backs that were rewarded lucrative deals doubled the amount of wide receiver and tight end signings. They can now buy new homes in posh neighborhoods.

Is this to say that the defensive linemen were better than the offensive linemen or that the secondary people are better than the guys they have to cover? The answer to both questions is no. Rather, it’s the value of what these players can do and the scarcity of those types that can do it.

That’s why they got paid the big money.

It’s important to keep in mind the purpose of free agency, which is to upgrade or fill voids on your roster. Before you can become good, you have to get better at each position and that’s what free agency allows teams to do. The first order of business for all teams when it comes to free agency is to make sure that the core positions get upgraded. You want the positions that make your schemes work to be filled with the best possible players.

–The Falcons, Jaguars, Bears, Packers and Raiders addressed their defensive fronts.

–The Broncos and Patriots went hard to upgrade their secondaries.

–The Buccaneers, Raiders and Giants looked at their cards and decided that they wanted a new hand.

So teams that got started by addressing and filling their needs did it in a big way.

The next big marketplace where teams can continue or begin addressing their needs takes place in May with the draft. The beauty of the draft versus free agency is that there won’t be any competition for these players as well as the fact that these rookies are going to make very little when compared to what was spent during the first two waves of free agency.

There are reasons why some teams constantly win and why others continue to lose. It starts with self-evaluation, which is one of the hardest tasks for team decision makers to perform. The teams that correctly know who they are and what they have to do to get better are the same ones that win.

The teams that react impulsively without a correct understanding of what is broke continue to spend big money and lose. In a very short time we will be able to identify the winners and losers.

Follow Jerry on Twitter: @RealJerryAngelo

Jerry Angelo was the General Manager of the Chicago Bears from 2001 to 2012. Prior to joining the Bears, Angelo spent 14 years overseeing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ scouting department as their Director of Player Personnel. Angelo graduated from Miami University in 1971. 

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The right systems for Manziel and Clowney

Two of the more intriguing prospects in this year’s draft class are Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel and South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. Both are household names without having taken a single snap in the National Football League. That’s quite a PR accomplishment, given that both are also underclassmen.

To find success

Two of the more intriguing prospects in this year’s draft class are Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel and South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. Both are household names without having taken a single snap in the National Football League. That’s quite a PR accomplishment, given that both are also underclassmen.

To find success at the professional ranks, the key for both players comes down to one word: coaching.

Though Manziel and Clowney play different positions, they both fall within the same unique circumstances. They need special coaching. It’s not an easy task to find the right coaches for players such as Manziel and Clowney, just as it’s no easier or harder to find a special player. I contend that the great players need as much coaching as any other player. The difference is that when the player gets and accepts the coaching, he makes the coach look great. Both the player and coach need each other to reach their potential.

In regards to Manziel, it’s about building an anti-pro offense, similar to what the Heisman Trophy winner operated while in college. NFL offensive coordinators have been very reluctant to deviate from their pro style offenses. They would rather take a less talented and decorated player, who fits the NFL prototype, than adjust or create a scheme for a more talented non-conventional type.

The type of coach Manziel needs may be better served without an NFL background. The former Aggie needs a coach who designs his attack by spreading defenses out, which includes utilizing wide-line splits and employing three or four receivers on every down. A blocking tight end and fullback would be extinct in this scheme.

The offensive linemen would be linear, relying more on their footwork and speed rather than raw strength and power. They need to be able to get downfield to pick off defenders in space when the offense goes to their quick screens and draws. When Manziel’s number is called through the headset, the basketball-like linemen need to run his interference.

Johnny ManzielUS PRESSWIREJohnny Manziel will go as far as his coaching and system allows him.

The ideal running back for this offense would look like Darren Sproles or a college-like Percy Harvin. He has to hit the hole in full stride and at full speed. He would also be a threat as a receiver. The outside receivers would be tall, easy to find and possess the ability to win all one-on-one contests vertically.

This style of offense would be quick-hitting and up-tempo. It would feature multiple packages and everyone who measures less than six feet would be a threat after the catch. The offense and its play-calling would be as unique as the quarterback himself. The beauty of this offense is that the team’s second and third quarterbacks would be similar versions of the starter who could be acquired in the later rounds of the draft or as college free agents.

As for Clowney, there should be no problems finding his fit in any even front (4-3) defense at either end position.

Clowney’s defensive coordinator will enjoy creating mismatches that will exploit slow-footed, beefed-up offensive linemen. He will have to be accounted for by offensive coordinators if they want to successfully throw the ball downfield.

Remember, Clowney’s length and speed are rare. The more an offensive lineman has to retreat, the more space Clowney has to work with. He is almost unblockable when creating that kind of space between himself and his opponent. The key is finding a coach who can push the right buttons in order to get this guy to play as if he loved football and not himself. The South Carolina product would discover quickly excuses are for losers and won’t be tolerated.

Clowney is going to go through a transition at the next level. He will not dominate on talent alone, as he did in college. He’s going to have to learn to play hard in every game, not just the big ones. The coach that tutors Clowney will have to be as tough on him as any of his opponents. If he isn’t, Clowney will always be talked about as a guy who never lived up to his potential.

Both players have high ceilings and invisible floors. The variance will be determined by their coaches.

Follow Jerry on Twitter: @RealJerryAngelo

Jerry Angelo was the General Manager of the Chicago Bears from 2001 to 2012. Prior to joining the Bears, Angelo spent 14 years overseeing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ scouting department as their Director of Player Personnel. Angelo graduated from Miami University in 1971. 

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The offseason blueprint

With free agency ready to unfold, there are certain observations to keep in mind.

After the season ends, the usual protocol for teams is to have extensive meetings with the pro personnel staff and assistant coaches. These meetings entail an evaluation of every player on the team.

In these meetings, everything about

With free agency ready to unfold, there are certain observations to keep in mind.

After the season ends, the usual protocol for teams is to have extensive meetings with the pro personnel staff and assistant coaches. These meetings entail an evaluation of every player on the team.

In these meetings, everything about each player will be discussed.

1. A grade will be given to each player based on his performance for the season
2. We would talk about his fit within the scheme
3. We would go over his durability and medical records

Questions would be asked, such as:

1. Can we win with this player?
2. Is he someone we want to re-sign or extend?
3. What is his two-year plan for us?
4. Is he one of our core players (meaning a player who is critical to our success)?

In summary, these meetings would accomplish several elements:

1. The value each player had with the team, now and going forward
2. We would determine our team needs (players we had to replace)
3. We would determine our team wants (players we could live with, but would like to upgrade or create some type of competition for going into camp)
4. Determine if there were any players that needed special attention during the offseason from a medical perspective

With all of this in place, we could now outline and pinpoint what our cap model was going to look like for free agency while considering extensions for our own players. The whole idea was to evaluate and plan for the immediate and short-term future.

Jairus ByrdFree agent safety Jairus Byrd is without question a ‘first wave’ player.

We called the first phase of free agency the ‘first wave.’ The first wave includes the players teams will covet and pay top dollar to acquire. There will be little recruiting and courting with these soon-to-be multi-millionaires. They will be signed shortly after free agency official begins. This first wave will run approximately several weeks.

The ‘second wave’ starts approximately two to three weeks after the commencement of free agency. The second wave is determined after the all the big money has been spent on the first wave players. Once that market ends, the second market begins.

Unlike the first wave, this market will take some time to unfold. There will be more recruiting for these players because there won’t be a big disparity in the contracts offered. Teams will pressure these players to sign or they will go to another option. These players have value, but teams won’t be held hostage by them. Front offices accomplish a key goal by signing these players before the draft: They fill a need, which provides more latitude to operate when it comes time to draft.

There are always teams that do next to nothing until the first wave has ended because they feel the second wave of players offers much better value. This is a good tactic and can work well because you’re getting more value for your money while still addressing your needs.

When I was in Chicago, we got some terrific values in the secondary marketplace. Thomas Jones, Tim Jennings, Rubin Brown, Fred Miller and Roberto Garza were just a few acquisitions signed during the second wave of free agency who played prominent roles on our team.

The third and final wave takes place following the draft. What teams didn’t accomplish during the first two waves and the draft, they will now look to address during this phase. These players won’t be household names or popular in the jersey sales department, but they address concerns and create good competition going into camp.

Teams will have a good sense of the players included in this final wave due to what transpires during the draft. ‘Bubble’ players due to age and/or expensive contracts are often released if their team finds a replacement via the draft. This is not an uncommon post-draft practice. It will create a small, but new market for players. When teams go into free agency or the draft with a feeling of desperation, it usually works against them.

As you can see, there is a strategy to this entire process. Teams will go into free agency with as many as three plans to accomplish their goals. The key is to be patient and not become a hostage to any position or player, unless he is truly special.

Follow Jerry on Twitter: @RealJerryAngelo

Jerry Angelo was the General Manager of the Chicago Bears from 2001 to 2012. Prior to joining the Bears, Angelo spent 14 years overseeing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ scouting department as their Director of Player Personnel. Angelo graduated from Miami University in 1971. 

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Why GM-head coach relationships fail

The head coach-general manager partnership is a franchise’s most integral relationship. Ownership speaks for itself, but ownership isn’t going anywhere. The same cannot be said for the head coach and general manager. Their relationship is the glue that keeps the organization together and flourishing.

All great organizations have a “team first” attitude. That

The head coach-general manager partnership is a franchise’s most integral relationship. Ownership speaks for itself, but ownership isn’t going anywhere. The same cannot be said for the head coach and general manager. Their relationship is the glue that keeps the organization together and flourishing.

All great organizations have a “team first” attitude. That frame of mind begins with the head coach and general manager.

Rarely does a head coach-general manager partnership commence with the hiring of both at the same time and dissolve with the firing of both at the same time. That’s not the way it happens in the NFL. All alliances between the two eventually erode or implode in some fashion and it’s just a matter of time before the relationship runs its course. That’s a fact.

The relationship between the head coach and general manager is a critical one. They set the standard for the football side of the organization. If they fail, it sends a negative vibration felt by all and results in cracks to what is supposed to be the foundation of the organization. People start taking sides, players lose faith and the owner is eventually forced to make a move.

As a general manager, the toughest task I ever faced was hiring a head coach. There are no instructions or rules of conduct. In Chicago, we were fortunate to have one of the longer lasting partnerships in the league. Our philosophies were similar, we saw our roles as caretakers of the franchise and we were able to put our egos aside to get the job done.

What gives the relationship the best chance for success is getting both men getting to their second contract. If the general manager hires the head coach, it’s usually a simple formula. However, when the head coach is hired before the general manager, things are a bit more complicated and the power pecking order can become abstract. In this scenario, the chances of the relationship evolving positively over the long run are little.

The head coach has to possess a sense of loyalty to the general manager. The best way to achieve that dynamic is for the general manager to hire the head coach. In the same token, the general manager now knows that the head coach is “his guy” and, as a result, he’s going to do everything he can to make the coach successful.

Jim Harbaugh and Trent BaalkeRecent reports indicate that 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh and general manager Trent Baalke aren’t seeing eye to eye at the moment.

Sure, this may all appear to be common sense, but don’t ever be fooled into thinking that the NFL as a whole uses this approach as the voice of reason.

Unfortunately, even when things are done the right way in the beginning, the chances are still high that the relationship will dissolve at some point in the future. Most of the time a breakdown between the general manager and head coach occurs. But sometimes, the owner intercedes because he wants a new “face” for the franchise. Whatever the case, their union is always on borrowed time.

Here are some of the key reasons for a fractured relationship:

1. The head coach starts winning and wants more say, which is another way of indicating he wants more control. He is the face of the organization and when he makes it known, he puts ownership in a compromising position. Regardless of how the matter is settled, the relationship between the coach and general manager will never be the same.

I found that when head college coaches jumped to the NFL to take a head coaching position, it was hard for them to acclimate to the partnership model with the general manager. It’s simple to understand why. In college, the head coach is the bottom line on everything. He doesn’t share any of his authority with the athletic director like he will be required to do with a general manager. That is just one pitfall when you hire a head college coach.

2. Another challenge the partnership faces is when things are going bad or have gone bad. Now the general manager and head coach transition into survival mode. It’s not an attractive role to employ, but it’s the reality of the situation. Instead of the two coming closer together, they grow apart and the fingers start pointing. I’ve witnessed many good relationships end because of this. If there is five percent bad in a person, losing will bring it out of them over time.

3. More times than not when a head coach and general manager are brought together for the first time in a quick marriage, they haven’t talked, planned or built protocols regarding all the minor issues and decisions. This, ultimately, could have an effect on the alliance.

It may be as simple as:

1. How to cut a player
2. Which people make up the traveling party for away games (i.e. injured players, practice squad players, family and/or friends)
3. The access and freedom assistant coaches have with the media and agents
4. How assistant coaches are used in the college draft and/or free agency
5. How the itinerary is shaped for an away game

There are enough of these smaller points that don’t get flushed out until after the head coach and general manager have begun working together. As a result, they can adversely affect the relationship.

4. One of the biggest pet peeves possessed by both coaches and personnel people is how players are being developed or used within the scheme. This issue is more than capable of finding that “last nerve.” Matters can become personal and emotions start to dictate. It can get heated and adversarial.

Another peeve of coaches and personal people deals with veteran players who have declined in production, but the coaches want to hold onto them. This usually occurs because of the leadership value said players bring to the team. Personnel people aren’t trained to think that way. Both make valid points in this discussion, but it can get contentious.

Once their egos take hold, it’s no longer about being right, it’s about who’s right. And any time it’s about “who is right” as opposed to “getting it right,” it’s the beginning of the end.

The partnership can only work if there is mutual respect, open communication and trust. That’s not a given, regardless of how the head coach and general manager came together. That trust often takes time to mature, but sometimes it doesn’t happen at all. At that point, it’s no longer about the team.

Jerry Angelo was the General Manager of the Chicago Bears from 2001 to 2012. Prior to joining the Bears, Angelo spent 14 years overseeing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ scouting department as their Director of Player Personnel. Angelo graduated from Miami University in 1971. 

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What happens next?

Now that the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine has concluded, teams will begin to analyze the results of all the physical testing that they should receive by the end of the week. These reports—broken down by position—will show the top players at each activity, as well as the average performance at each drill.

It

Now that the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine has concluded, teams will begin to analyze the results of all the physical testing that they should receive by the end of the week. These reports—broken down by position—will show the top players at each activity, as well as the average performance at each drill.

It will take a few weeks for the physiological and Wonderlic tests to arrive, but the teams will have them in plenty of time before the draft to digest the information.

Once teams get a good look at all the workout numbers, they will begin to align their draft boards. Most teams currently have grades on players based on the work their scouts did during the college season. Area scouts have been studying and evaluating these players for six months. But until they have an official workout on a player, they can’t solidify their grade.

Regardless of how well a player performed during the year, his Combine numbers must correlate with the game tape. If a scout indicated that the prospect played fast and graded him accordingly, but the player ran slow at the Combine, in all likelihood his grade will be lowered and vice versa.

The scout’s grade is subjective in terms of speed and athleticism. If you’re going to select a player in the first three rounds, you want him to have very good workout numbers. If teams make a mistake, they want to make what’s called a “fast mistake” or an “athletic mistake.” So there will be some jockeying going on next week when teams start constructing their draft boards.

The next step is for teams to formulate their post-Combine game plan. They will determine what players they want their position coaches to work out and what players they want to bring into their facility for one of their official 30 visits.

Johnny ManzielUS PRESSWIRETeams in need of a quarterback will spend a lot of time over the next few weeks discussing the pros and cons of drafting Johnny Manziel.

The league allows each organization to bring in 30 players of their choice, primarily for medical reasons, but teams bring in whoever they feel they need more information on and/or to just get to the know the player a little better. The teams must inform the league of who these players will be and, again, no more than 30 can visit a team’s facility before the draft.

All of this will take place during a four or five-week period before the draft. These workouts and visits are very important because they will clear up any discrepancies the teams may have on these players.

April is a busy time as well. By this point, teams have acquired all the information they need to go into their final meetings with coaches and scouts. Here they will determine which players they want and in what order.

The information at hand will mold their draft. This information will consist of several grades from the area scout, the crosscheck scout, the position coach and the director’s report, as well as input from the general manager. Needless to say there are a lot of irons in the fire to deal with, but only one will be used. These meetings will flush out all the information and conclude a consensus grade that everyone agrees with or feels is acceptable.

At this point, two draft boards will be constructed. The first is a ‘best-to-worst’ regardless of position, while the second is a ‘best-to-worst’ at each position. The boards will also highlight the players the team has an express interest in acquiring. Most teams have what I call a ‘short list’ of players they want to select. These players are the ones teams designate and jockey (trade) to acquire during the draft.

As you can see, there are a lot of factors teams have to digest and consider. Backup plans, trades, calls from teams inquiring about their draft pick—all of this takes place in a small window, so the preparation before the draft is extremely critical. Because on draft day, you want to act, not react to situations that may occur.

Every team feels good coming out of a draft, but the winners are the teams that prepared the best by evaluating objectively and with a clear picture of the type of player they needed in order to upgrade their team.

They made sure that the player they took also had the personal fiber and favorable medical result they coveted. Teams may not have gotten the best prospects, but they got the players that they can win with.

That’s good drafting.

Jerry Angelo was the General Manager of the Chicago Bears from 2001 to 2012. Prior to joining the Bears, Angelo spent 14 years overseeing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ scouting department as their Director of Player Personnel. Angelo graduated from Miami University in 1971.

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NFL Draft 101

The draft has taken on a life of it own with the fans and media. Its popularity has risen so much that the networks are now dedicating three days of coverage to the annual selection show.

The National Football League has done a great job of marketing the draft and the media does

The draft has taken on a life of it own with the fans and media. Its popularity has risen so much that the networks are now dedicating three days of coverage to the annual selection show.

The National Football League has done a great job of marketing the draft and the media does an equally great job of educating fans on the college prospects. Give credit to Joel Buchsbaum and Mel Kiper, the two people who were most instrumental in the original schooling and enlightening of fans from the media side. They were pioneers who passionately believed in what they did (and, in Kiper’s case, still do) and educated their audiences with behind the scenes insight that draftniks fed on.

Joel BuchsbaumJoel Buchsbaum was the original draftnik.

If the truth were known, Buchsbaum and Kiper probably opened the NFL’s eyes on just how marketable the draft could be.

Looking now and seeing what the event it has turned into, I credit much of the success for its popularity to Joel and Mel. Joel passed away and he is sorely missed. I don’t know a guy in football who didn’t have great respect for the work he did. He was a true icon, not only as a sports writer, but also as a fan. His heart bled the NFL and nobody knew it better.

Why has today’s draft become even more important to teams?

All organizations want to build through the draft. You are getting young, fast, talented, healthy players, entering into the prime of their careers, and you’re getting them cheaper than ever under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement.

What are the consequences of drafting poorly?

Teams have to go into the veteran free agent market and pay handsomely for older players to fill the voids they failed to address with younger players during the draft. Their payroll skyrockets with no real assurance of winning.

There is nothing wrong with signing veteran players in free agency. We had very good success with the veteran players we signed in Chicago and Tampa, particularly on the offensive line, where we had some injuries and younger players who failed to meet expectations. The key here, however, is to not enter the marketplace as a hostage to a number of positions that require upgrades.

My goal for each draft was to find at least four players we could win with. Between seven draft picks and a dozen or so college free agents acquired after the draft, that’s a bigger challenge than you may think. Why? Because while drafting talent is easy, drafting a talented player with solid character and a good medical is a difficult task. The fact that approximately 70 percent of players drafted in any given offseason will be out of the league in three to four years tells you how difficult it is to identify great players.

<p> How do we grade players?

I’ll give you an example of how the grading system for some teams generally looks. This is an abbreviated scale, but this will give you a good idea of the criteria that distinguishes between elite and lesser talent.

A typical grade on a player would have a two-digit number. That number reflects how the team projects the prospect will play when he gets into the league.

8.0 grade: Special player, will impact a game and dominate at his position
7.0 grade: A potential pro bowler, a player you win because of
6.5 grade: A solid rank and file starter you could win with
6.0 grade: A solid backup who could start, but limited
5.5 grade: A role player but not a starter. A specialist
5.0 grade: A talented player, but not draftable. Developmental

You would also see a + or – next to the number grade indicating whether or not the player fits the scheme. In addition, there are letter grades that would indicate a player’s character, his intelligence and his medical status. These are subjective grades based on the team’s research and evaluations. These grades would vary from team to team.

The letter system would be a simple A, B, C, D, F.

CHARACTER

A: No concerns, an exemplary person, top intangibles, a leader
B: Good person, not great, but a guy you want on your team, dependable
C: Some issues, need to work with him, can’t trust 100 percent, but can live with him
D: Some character flaws, can’t trust him, really don’t want him, but would consider late
F: Character reject, don’t want him under any circumstances

MEDICAL

A: Clean, no major surgeries, no missing of practices or games
B: Overall good, missed some practice time and games with small injuries
C: Had major surgery but came back from it, no real missed time
D: Multiple surgeries, missed practice time and games throughout career, risk
F: Too many medical issues and concerns, won’t hold up and hasn’t in college

MENTAL

A: Very bright, picks it up quickly, can coach other players, no mental errors
B: Smart, no mental errors, can make game day adjustments with, can trust
C: Needs reps but will get it, listens well, must stay on him to make sure he has it
D: Poor retention, drifts, will have it down by game day, but must rep him every day
F: Can’t trust to get it, has too many mental errors, limited in what you can ask of him

The mental grade is based on what the prospect will be asked to do given his position. Obviously, a quarterback or offensive lineman has more tasks to perform mentally on game day than most of the other positions. So you want brighter players at those spots.

A typical grade would look like this: 7.0+ B, C, and C

Breakdown: 7.0+ (talent level and scheme fit) B (character) C (intelligence) C (durability)

So without watching or knowing the player and just by looking at the grade, you would say that this is a very talented prospect who fits the scheme, possesses very good character, will need some repetition learning, had surgery, but came back and played and should be fine.

If there were another player who was rated a 7.0+ with A, B, B grades, you would rank him ahead of the first player.

You can see how players get juggled around on a draft board when you take into account all the circumstances that teams must consider. A player could have an F medical grade, yet a team may still draft him. Some teams would never draft an F medical. Some teams are less concerned about a player’s character or mental makeup than others.

There is a significant gray area from team to team and organizations have to make their own decisions and stick with them. It’s a risk/reward business and it’s up to each team to determine their own risk tolerances.

Breaking down the rounds

In most drafts, after the first two rounds, the highly talented players with production and good play history are gone. The third round still provides a solid opportunity to get a quality starter, but there is a big drop-off once you get near the middle of the round.

Russell WilsonStriking gold: Seattle found a Super Bowl-winning signal-caller during the third round.

In the fourth round you will witness teams assuming more risk, perhaps with a player who possesses top talent and good production, but has questionable character or a poor medical grade. Other teams will just take the best football player they saw on tape, regardless if he had an average workout.

The fifth and sixth rounds are when you’ll see teams all over the board. These are the rounds where teams really need to focus on strong traits. These are the ‘sleeper’ picks where general managers and scouts can make a name for themselves. There are good players in these rounds, but they truly are diamonds in the rough.

To me, the seventh round was the start of college free agency. There are still some good players in this round, but you’ll need some luck finding them.

Every team thinks and selects a little differently, which is what makes the draft exciting and fun to follow. Again, the goal is to come out with at least four good players you can win with. When you do the math and multiply those four players over four years, you have 16 players still on their rookie contracts who are potentially in the starting lineup. That’s pretty strong from a contribution and cost value position.</p>

You figure the other players will be a combination of guys drafted five or six years ago but had their contracts extended, as well as veteran players acquired during the offseason and free agency.

It’s the NFL draft that provides the best opportunity to build a talented and winning team.

Jerry Angelo was the General Manager of the Chicago Bears from 2001 to 2012. Prior to joining the Bears, Angelo spent 14 years overseeing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ scouting department as their Director of Player Personnel. Angelo graduated from Miami University in 1971.

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The battle within

Believe it or not, the biggest challenges facing the NFL’s 32 teams at the commencement of the offseason tend to come from inside the organization rather than outside.

A lot will be both written and said about free agency and the draft, but little is mentioned regarding the process teams go through when

Believe it or not, the biggest challenges facing the NFL’s 32 teams at the commencement of the offseason tend to come from inside the organization rather than outside.

A lot will be both written and said about free agency and the draft, but little is mentioned regarding the process teams go through when determining which players they like and believe will improve their respective rosters.

One of the hardest aspects for clubs when making personnel decisions during the offseason is getting everyone on the same page. The reason? The scouts and coaches, who are primarily responsible for evaluating players, often times have different points of view due to their respective occupations. That’s because scouts evaluate players year round, while coaches evaluate players seasonally.

But because of the nature of the tasks both departments perform, coaches sometimes feel that they are the authority on the positions they coach. There is some truth to this, but to say they are expert evaluators would be a stretch.

The challenge is to get the evaluation right. It’s not about who’s right, it’s about the organization being right.

The Scouting CombineThe annual Scouting Combine is one of the biggest offseason events for NFL front offices.

That’s all that matters.

From the scouts’ perspective, they must know exactly what to look for at each position, and that comes with guidance from each position coach. The position coach must articulate what he needs and wants at his position because the scouts are the eyes and ears for the coaches when they are on the road evaluating college players. The scouts are the ones the club entrusts to present the right players that will allow the organization to compete for a championship.

The biggest difference between the scout and coach is that the scout is taught to look at the traits a player possesses and project what he can be now and in the future. The coach is more inclined to look for a finished product. He’s not trained to project what a player can be, as his focus is more geared toward the present. The drawback to this line of thinking is that there are a considerable number of juniors declaring for the draft who are not finished products.

These different outlooks can make it very challenging for those in charge.

I’ve outlined some of the common differences between scouts and coaches. These differences serve as the potential roadblocks clubs can face internally.

1. Scout: “How did the player get from point A to point B from an athletic standpoint?”
Coach: “Is he where he’s supposed to be?”

2. Scout: “How quick and fast is he?”
Coach: “I question his toughness.”

3. Scout: “How mentality fast does he play, based on his football smarts?”
Coach: “Can he learn the playbook?”

4. Scout: “What type of functional strength and speed does he play with?”
Coach: “How much does he bench press and what’s his 40 time?”

5. Scout: “In time, this player can be one of the better players at his position.”
Coach: “What can he do for us now?”

6. Scout: “Player is ‘raw,’ but very talented. Will need time.”
Coach: “Too big a project to take on.”

My rule: If we can’t come to a consensus on a top player, we take him off the draft board. The worst thing you can do as an organization is draft a player high or sign one for big money during free agency and know that someone who is responsible for his success and development is vehemently against the final decision.

I remember one time in Chicago when two of our offensive coaches had a big disagreement regarding a veteran player, yet we went ahead and signed him, overriding one coach in the process. Unfortunately, that was the coach who was assigned to coach that player.

Needless to say, the situation resulted in a bad ending.

I’m not saying everybody has to be in love with the player, but there has to be a positive feeling amongst the entire staff. Drafting isn’t an extension of somebody’s ego. It’s about finding players who fit the coaches’ schemes and the philosophy of the organization.

What the consistently good teams do is identify the type of player they want at each position. They define the traits a player needs to possess as well as the deficiencies they are willing to live with. Ownership has a say in the process as well. They want to be represented by individuals who are not going to be an embarrassment to the club and the city it represents. Those are the major tenets.

I once asked a prominent coach what he wanted in a player at his position. By the time I finished taking all my notes on what he wanted, I said to myself, ‘If we had the first pick in the draft, we may not be able to find what he described to me.’

Richard ShermanMost teams felt CB Richard Sherman didn’t fit what they wanted to do. As a result, Seattle snagged the future All-Pro in the fifth round.

The good coaches know they aren’t going to get the perfect player. So they focus on telling the scouts what a player has to have at his position in order for him to a have a role and a chance to succeed within the scheme.

Scouts are looking for players whose strengths accentuate what the coaches are going to ask of him within their schemes. There are a handful of teams that do this well. They may not necessarily get the best player available, but they get the best player that fits them and that is what’s most important.

Some teams, I’ve found, draft players for one system while playing another. In this case, good players can flounder in some organizations and if they are cut, will go off and flourish in another system.

To ensure we were all on the same page and together, we operated off this format:

1. Meticulous notes on what was said and by who. It’s not about who was right or wrong. It’s about establishing accountability, and the best way to do that is through documentation.

2. Accurately define each player’s profile. What we need and what we can live with.

3. Proper forum for scouts and coaches to talk through each player profile, to ensure everyone is on the same page. Designate certain times of year to do this.

4. An end of the year, follow up meeting to go over how the players performed based on the grade we gave them. Did the player meet expectations? If he didn’t, what was the reason?

PLAYER DEVELOPMENT

Once a player is drafted, certain elements are understood. First, the evaluation process is over and it’s now time for our coaches to get him up to speed. The player is not perfect, so there is work to be done. The good organizations focus of what a player can do and what his role is going to be within the scheme based on his positive traits.

One of the integral aspects to a player’s development is the commitment the club is willing to make. It’s easy to get on the bandwagon when the player looks good right out of the box. But what happens when he doesn’t? An element of any great organization is the patience they demonstrate while developing their new and younger players.

The real test of an organization is how it handles talented players who aren’t ready to play. This can be the beginning of the end for some organizations, yet the secret code for the success of other organizations.

What happens to struggling organizations is that they tend to over-focus on the now. The reason: The season is ready to start and the franchise needs to win its first game. Once that mindset prevails, player development stops.

The alternate approach is to keep older veterans, who the team wanted to replace with the younger prospects. The vets still can play, but not at the level a team needs to win consistently. Why do they abort the development of the younger player in lieu of the vet? Because the coach trusts the vet. And the reason for that trust is because the vet knows the system.

What eventually happens is that you wind up with an old team that can’t win and costs you more money. The team hits the wall, coaches get fired and you start over. Teams that do this lost the war before the battle even started.

When I was in Tampa serving as the director of player personnel, we had two young players we drafted during the third round. Both started off slowly and were on the verge of being cut and had it not been for a coaching change, both players would have been dumped by the previous staff. The new staff was much more patient and saw the younger players’ potential and strengths and adjusted their scheme accordingly.

The players? That would be Ronde Barber and John Lynch.

Jerry Angelo was the General Manager of the Chicago Bears from 2001 to 2012. Prior to joining the Bears, Angelo spent 14 years overseeing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ scouting department as their Director of Player Personnel. Angelo graduated from Miami University in 1971.

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