By Ryan Bukowiecki (@ryanbski)
The time for waiting is just about over now, the pinnacle moment of the NFL off-season has finally arrived.
Over the next three days the NFL Draft will play out appropriately as the ultimate highlight of the off-season and after this point it is all mostly routine upkeep for the league’s 32 teams leading up to the start of training camp and the pressure associated with preparing for actual games. It is a long wait for the NFL draft and in just a matter of hours, many team’s fortunes will change either positively or negatively.
Make no mistake, it is absolutely critical for every team to have a successful draft because a bad draft will have long term ramifications that no fan base wants to deal with. This week’s build up has had plenty of NFL news and nuggets, some of which will affect a few teams in the lead up to the Draft.
A familiar name has been in NFL news with a direct connection to the Bears. On Tuesday, kicker Robbie Gould made a public plea to the 49ers to trade him to a team that is closer to his family in Chicago. Along with Gould, a big trade hit the transaction wire as the Seahawks sent defensive end Frank Clark to the Chiefs. The news continued into Wednesday when quarterback Ben Roethlisberger signed a two year extension with the Steelers.
Expect plenty more surprises once the draft gets started on Thursday night.
Ever since the Bears released Robbie Gould, it has been a downward spiral at the kicking position. The Bears have not been able to identify someone that could fill the talented shoes of Gould. Sadly, the inability to find a reliable kicker hurt the Bears last season when they had kicker Cody Parkey.
Fans were certainly dreaming of Gould returning back to the Bears but after the 49ers placed the franchise tag on him back in March, it all but ended the possibility of his return to Chicago. Alas, then came Tuesday as the kicker made his trade request public asking the 49ers to send him to a team closer to his family.
Of course it doesn’t mean that Gould only wants to come to the Bears but that would likely be his top destination. Looking geographically at the teams near Chicago, his only real options seem to be the Vikings, a faint shot with the Packers, maybe one of the Ohio teams and the Bears. Many teams in the surrounding area have established veterans at the kicker position and would likely not want to give up more assets or money.
Gould would be an upgrade for a lot of teams but that doesn’t mean that teams will be rushing to call the Niners. The Vikings are an intriguing option since their kicker Dan Bailey has been just okay hitting on just 75 percent of his kicks. Green Bay did bring in a kicker to compete with established veteran Mason Crosby but it would seem unlikely that the Packers would pursue Gould.
In Ohio, kicking struggles really hurt the Browns early in the year but things started to settle once kicker Greg Joseph was brought in in week three. There is also the possibility that this is a leverage move by Gould for more money but all indicators seem to point to Gould genuinely wanting to at least leave San Francisco.
Kicker is an unknown for the Bears and getting Gould would bring a lot of insurance, maybe we will once again see Gould in the Navy and Orange.
Pass Rushers and Passers
A day of big NFL moves has been a rarity for most of April, but teams are more inclined to make moves once the draft approaches.
The big move that happened on Tuesday was the trade of defensive end Frank Clark from the Seahawks to the Chiefs in exchange for the Chiefs first round pick (29th), next year’s second round pick and both teams swapped their third round picks this year.
Minutes after the trade, Clark agreed to a new five-year deal worth $105.5 million with $63 guaranteed (just two million less than Russell Wilson’s recent guarantee). Clark is a talented young pass rusher but with an expiring rookie deal and a large pay day looming, the Seahawks felt it wise to trade the star. The Chiefs are a team in need of pass rushing after losing edge rushers Justin Houston to free agency and Dee Ford in a trade to the 49ers.
Part of the reason why the Chiefs let their edge rushers go was because of a scheme shift from a base 3-4 to a base 4-3. Steve Spagnuolo is the new defensive coordinator taking over for Bob Sutton. Switching schemes will sometimes require some personnel changes which is part of the reason why the Chiefs chose to pursue Clark, as well as wanting a established veteran versus putting faith in an inexperienced rookie. Both teams will need pass rushing to pursue their championship dreams but the Seahawks recently made quarterback Wilson the highest paid player in the NFL.
Having both Wilson and Clark under contract would have put the Seahawks in a financial bind. Ideally they would have been able to keep Clark but now with two first round picks, the Seahawks have the ammunition to find a replacement pass rusher.
Another big move came on Wednesday when the Steelers locked up quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to a two-year extension, netting the quarterback a cool $68 million. Roethlisberger is very important for the Steelers and the move comes with some risk as he has talked about retirement in the past. But with the losses of wide receiver Antonio Brown and running back Le’Veon Bell, the offense couldn’t afford losing Roethlisberger anytime soon.
The Steelers have their quarterback to still have the chance to be one of the league’s elite, but the team is now on the clock to find the heir apparent to their two time winning Super Bowl quarterback.
Watching the Draft (for dummies)
The NFL draft is slowly becoming a staple in the yearly must see events on the sports calendar. Popularity for the event has never been higher with three networks covering the draft on ABC, of course on the NFL Network, and the original broadcaster ESPN.
Therefore, if you are new to watching the NFL Draft, here are some helpful hints to keep in mind while you enjoy watching your team select players.
- Every draft has a pinnacle player or team selection in the first round, it changes every year but this year it starts at number one. The pinnacle player is quarterback Kyler Murray, where he does or doesn’t go will have a resounding impact on the rest of the first round.
- Drafts are different every year with strengths and weaknesses, this draft does not have a lot of top end talent outside of defensive lineman. When their isn’t a lot of top end talent, teams are more likely to trade down or “reach”, a reach is termed for when a team takes a player that probably should have been drafted at a later selection.
- Mostly when analysts grade a selection it will be either “good value”, a “reach” or to “fill a need”. These terms are simply for the viewers at home, no pick can be evaluated in the moment. It takes three years to grade a draft pick fairly because so many variables go into a draft pick working out than just how talented they are.
- Some selections will be considered “safer picks” versus “boom or bust” and there can be some merit to that. The type of players that are considered safer have a combination of athleticism, production and intangibles any team would want. Boom or bust players tend to be supremely athletic but either lacking in intangibles or production in college. Again it isn’t a bad thing if your team selects either because even the “safe” picks are no guarantee.
- In terms of team strategy, a draft is a fluid thing. Teams have been going over various scenarios in hopes to get the guys that they believe will be available when their turn comes. Things change once the draft gets going, certain position groups can start coming off the board faster than teams expected. For example, perhaps there is a “run” on wide receivers where five get selected in a block of ten picks. In this example the “run” on receivers may encourage teams to select one, which in turn will push other valuable players down to teams lower in the draft order.
- Finally, all draft picks are important. It is widely talked about how six time Super Bowl champion quarterback Tom Brady was selected in the sixth round of the seven round draft. A great player can be found anywhere and there are plenty of examples of it. Teams have to make good picks in the first round but stars can be found anywhere if teams are good enough at identifying talent.
Ryan Bukowiecki covers the Chicago Bears and professional football for WARR