More from Around the League

Pittsburgh WR Mike Wallace

There are only three of the 42 original restricted free agents who have not se-signed with their incumbent teams — Baltimore cornerback Ladarius Webb inked a five-year, $50 million extension and everyone else agreed to a one-year tender — and the number figures to be reduced to one this week.

Pittsburgh wide receiver Mike Wallace is probably the most notable remaining restricted free agent without a deal and has said, even though the offer sheet period has expired and his exclusive rights have reverted to the Steelers, that he will not sign until he has to.

The reasons why Oakland defensive lineman Desmond Bryant has not signed his tender are unclear.

That leaves Ravens cornerback Cary Williams, who figures to sign the one-year, $1.927 million tender this week, according to agent Marc Lillibridge. The two sides had been discussing a long-term contract for Williams, plucked by the Ravens from the Tennessee practice squad in 2009, but that may not happen now.

"The odds are that he'll sign the tender, play the season under the one-year deal, and then we'll both see what happens," Lillibridge told The Sports Xchange. "I think they want to see what they've got in (2011 first-round cornerback) Jimmy Smith before they make another big move. And that's fine with us."

Unlike with Wallace, the fact Williams has not signed his tender has nothing to do with his unhappiness with the club, but rather injury and logistics.

Williams, who started all 16 regular-season games and two playoff contests, underwent hip surgery after the season, has been rehabilitating in Tennessee, and unable to participate in any offseason workouts.

Said Lillibridge: "(Coach John) Harbaugh knew the story, understood that Cary would not be able to do anything, and was fine with that."

Williams is a great story, given his practice squad background, the fact he had started just one game prior to winning the starting job in Baltimore last year, and his newfound value in a league that places a premium on cover cornerbacks.

How valuable he is could be tested next spring, if he becomes an unrestricted free agent, which Lillibridge feels can happen if Smith plays well. Notably, Lllibridge and Harold Lewis represented Webb for his new $50 million contract, so they are familiar with the cornerback market.

A dying breed?

It's been a theme often repeated in this space, but this year's draft again magnified the diminished profile of the historically black colleges and universities in the NFL draft, with just one player, South Carolina State safety Christian Thompson being chosen last weekend.

The selection of Thompson, by Baltimore in the fourth round (130th overall), represented the fewest prospects from HBCU programs since the NFL implemented the common draft in 1967.

Talent evaluators, the latest being Ravens director of player personnel Eric DeCosta, insist their scouts spend just as much time at the HBCU schools as everywhere else. DeCosta's boss, general manager Ozzie Newsome has several times told The Sports Xchange the same thing. But there just don't seem to be as many "draftable" prospects at the schools as in the HBCU heyday, when the programs regularly produced a couple dozen candidates.

"It's still football," said Thompson, who began his college career at Auburn before transferring, "but you've got to really be good to be noticed."

In the last five years now, only 16 players from HBCU programs have been chosen, and the schools haven't reached double-digit prospects since 2000.

There have been just three HBCU players above the fourth round in the last five drafts.

In late February, The Sports Xchange noted that just two players from black schools, Thompson and Hampton cornerback Micah Pellerin, had been invited to the combine. Pellerin signed this week with Indianapolis as an undrafted free agent.

Looking for the big play

When the Pittsburgh Steelers selected Florida tailback Chris Rainey in the fifth round last weekend, the 159th prospect chosen overall, some people rationalized the pick by noting that new offensive coordinator Todd Haley had a similarly versatile player, Dexter McCluster on the roster when he was the Kansas City head coach.

But Pittsburgh sources insist that Haley didn't lobby for Rainey, arguably one of the fastest players in the draft, even though the onetime Gators standout doesn't exactly fit the typical physical profile for a Steelers' running back.

Rainey is just 5-feet-8 3/8 and 180 pounds, and doesn't run all that tough between the tackles, the antithesis of what Pittsburgh usually is seeking. And while McCluster averaged 8.8 "touches" per game in the 27 contests he played while Haley was coach, with 6.26 of them from scrimmage, the coach sometimes struggled to get the ball to the do-it-all back.

McCluster scored only twice from scrimmage under Haley's stewardship and he struggled with ball security, fumbling six times and losing four of them.

As a return man, he averaged only a modest 22.2 yards on kickoffs, and while better on punts (13.8-yard average) had just 18 runbacks.

Word is that the Steelers, who figure to go with Isaac Redman if starter Rashard Mendenhall isn't fully recovered from knee surgery, were seeking a big-play back. That's out of character for the Pittsburgh offense, at least the old one. Haley might bring some fresh ideas to the Steelers, but he'd also better devise a way to get the ball in Rainey's hands.

Punts

-- Odds are that cornerback Drew Coleman, released by Jacksonville on Thursday after only one season with the team, will re-join the Jets, for whom he played previously. But New York has some competition for Coleman, who has developed into a very good slot corner and blitzer off the edge. Likewise, there is early interest by several teams in nine-year veteran corner Drayton Florence, released by Buffalo on Thursday night. Florence has started 10 or more games in six of his nine seasons.

-- On the subject of corners, Atlanta, which added Asante Samuel the day before the draft began, will use Dunta Robinson more as a slot corner than in the past. In three-corner situations, Samuel and Brent Grimes will play outside, with Robinson moving inside.

-- Arizona will give fourth-round draft choice Bobby Massie, the offensive tackle from Mississippi what one coach termed "a very, very fair shot" to win a starting job on its suspect offensive line. Massie was considered at worst a mid-second round pick before the draft, but slipped badly. The Falcons thought long and hard about choosing Massie in the third round, but opted instead for a guy from a smaller school in Mississippi, Lester Holmes of Southern Mississippi.

-- Stephen Hill is expected to be an immediate starter for the Jets, perhaps even before first-round defensive end Quinton Coples. New York sorely needs the vertical dimension the former Georgia Tech star offers.

-- The 2012 draft included seven quarterbacks chosen in the first three rounds, including four in the first round, for the second year in a row. But there were only three quarterbacks tabbed in the final three rounds, the fewest since 1998, and, to some personnel directors, that was an indication of how the position has become so inflated by need.

-- Seattle, by the way, doesn't plan to install a very ambitious rollout package designed for draft choice Russell Wilson, whose lack of physical dimension (5-feet-10 5/8, 204 pounds) scared off some potential suitors. Coach Pete Carroll claimed that Wilson had just four passes deflected at the line of scrimmage in 2011, and worked principally from the pocket. There are skeptics in the league, though, that wonder about the vision hurdles that Wilson will face.

DolphinDigest.com Recommended Stories


Up Next


There is no denying the tragic nature of the death of linebacker Junior Seau last week, but the…

Tweets