Free-agent moves shake up the first round of NFL draft

The NFL draft is impacted by what happens during free agency. A look at how recent moves might influence some of the top 20 picks on April 22:

St. Louis Rams

First-round pick: No. 1

Recent additions: Signed free-agent defensive tackle Fred Robbins and free-agent quarterback A.J. Feeley.

The Rams didn't bring in A.J. Feeley to be the starter, but his arrival could help determine who the starter is in 2010.
The Rams didn’t bring in A.J. Feeley to be the starter, but his arrival could help determine who the starter is in 2010.

What it means: Rams officials are torn. They could choose either Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford or one of the top defensive tackles—Ndamukong Suh of Nebraska or Gerald McCoy of Oklahoma—with the first-overall pick. The Rams also could find a last-minute trading partner for a team that covets Bradford.

Bradford is preparing for his crucial March 25 workout in Norman, Okla., that Rams coaches and personnel men will dissect.

If Bradford looks good and the medical reports on his surgically repaired throwing shoulder are favorable, the Rams should take him. Remember, the last two drafts have produced four NFL starting quarterbacks—the Falcons’ Matt Ryan, the Ravens’ Joe Flacco, the Lions’ Matthew Stafford and the Jets’ Mark Sanchez.

If Bradford becomes a franchise quarterback for somebody else, it would haunt the Rams for years.

Adding Robbins and Feeley simply gives the Rams insurance no matter the draft-day decision. Feeley, 32, has not thrown a regular-season pass since 2007 but could act as a mentor to Bradford, particularly if the Rams release veteran Marc Bulger.

"I see my role as an older quarterback that is there to help out in any way possible," Feeley said on a conference call. "Regardless if it’s playing or in a backup role, I’m just there to contribute. Whether it’s a young guy they draft or if Marc is there or whoever is there, I just want to help out."

Robbins was with the Giants when Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo was the Giants’ defensive coordinator. But Robbins is a 32-year-old journeyman. Suh and McCoy could be Pro Bowl players for a decade.

So it comes down to this: It is important for the Rams to figure out who is better—Suh or McCoy. But it is more important to figure out whether Bradford is good enough—and durable enough—to be their quarterback for the next 10 years.

Seattle Seahawks

First-round picks: Nos. 6 and 14

Recent move: Brought in restricted free-agent wide receiver Brandon Marshall for a visit.

What it means: The Seahawks are considering trading a first-round pick to the Broncos for Marshall—a major decision for the Pete Carroll regime. Marshall is coming off three consecutive seasons of at least 101 catches, and he turns just 26 years old March 23. But his talent on the field has been accompanied by issues off the field.

It’s a tough call for Carroll, but the two picks in the top half of the first round are more valuable.

Marshall is good, extremely good, but would be a better fit for a team closer to contending status like the Bengals or Dolphins. Despite Marshall’s production the past three years, the Broncos have not made the playoffs. He cannot turn around the Seahawks by himself, and they have many needs.

If the Seahawks keep their picks, they could get a quarterback (Jimmy Clausen) or left tackle (Anthony Davis, Bryan Bulaga or Russell Okung) at No. 6 and then a running back (C.J. Spiller) or pass rusher (Carlos Dunlap) or cornerback (Joe Haden) at No. 14.

The Seahawks spent big on wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh last season, and a different approach might be the prudent course. It will be interesting to see what Carroll decides.

Jacksonville Jaguars

First-round pick: No. 10

Recent addition: Signed free-agent defensive end Aaron Kampman.

What it means: With a league-low 14 sacks last season, the Jaguars still could draft a pass-rush end like Derrick Morgan or Jason Pierre-Paul. With Kampman in the fold, GM Gene Smith now has the flexibility to address needs like linebacker (Sergio Kindle or Rolando McClain) or safety (Eric Berry or Earl Thomas).

Signing Kampman is a good move, assuming his knee is sound. Kampman has 54 career sacks and says he again will be an effective pass rusher despite season-ending knee surgery in November.

A move back to his natural defensive end position in a 4-3 scheme is welcome news after he had difficulty adjusting to outside linebacker when the Packers switched to a 3-4 last season.

"There’s a lot of nuances to outside linebacker," Kampman said. "I’m excited to put my hand back on the ground. I have a fire burning to do that."

Miami Dolphins

First-round pick: No. 12

Miami is free to pursue other needs after securing Karlos Dansby.
Miami is free to pursue other needs after securing Karlos Dansby.

Recent addition: Signed free-agent inside linebacker Karlos Dansby.

What it means: No longer desperate for a linebacker, the Dolphins might target Tennessee nose tackle Dan Williams in the wake of veteran nose tackle Jason Ferguson being suspended for the first eight games of next season after testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs.

If Dolphins president Bill Parcells feels a No. 12 pick is too rich for a nose tackle, the team could look at Berry or Thomas to fill the void at safety after losing out on free-agent safety Ryan Clark to the Steelers.

Atlanta Falcons

First-round pick: No. 19

Recent moves: Signed free-agent cornerback Dunta Robinson.

What it means: GM Thomas Dimitroff filled a a huge hole at corner and now has flexibility on draft day. Dimitroff now just might jump on a pass-rusher like Dunlap or Pierre-Paul if available at 19.

This story appears in March 10’s edition of Sporting News Today. If you are not receiving Sporting News Today, the only daily digital sports newspaper, sign up today for free.

Clifton Brown covers the NFL for Sporting News. E-mail him at cliftonbrown@sportingnews.com.

The NFL draft is impacted by what happens during free agency. A look at how recent moves might influence some of the top 20 picks on April 22:

St. Louis Rams

First-round pick: No. 1

Recent additions: Signed free-agent defensive tackle Fred Robbins and free-agent quarterback A.J. Feeley.

The Rams didn't bring in A.J. Feeley to be the starter, but his arrival could help determine who the starter is in 2010.
The Rams didn’t bring in A.J. Feeley to be the starter, but his arrival could help determine who the starter is in 2010.

What it means: Rams officials are torn. They could choose either Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford or one of the top defensive tackles—Ndamukong Suh of Nebraska or Gerald McCoy of Oklahoma—with the first-overall pick. The Rams also could find a last-minute trading partner for a team that covets Bradford.

Bradford is preparing for his crucial March 25 workout in Norman, Okla., that Rams coaches and personnel men will dissect.

If Bradford looks good and the medical reports on his surgically repaired throwing shoulder are favorable, the Rams should take him. Remember, the last two drafts have produced four NFL starting quarterbacks—the Falcons’ Matt Ryan, the Ravens’ Joe Flacco, the Lions’ Matthew Stafford and the Jets’ Mark Sanchez.

If Bradford becomes a franchise quarterback for somebody else, it would haunt the Rams for years.

Adding Robbins and Feeley simply gives the Rams insurance no matter the draft-day decision. Feeley, 32, has not thrown a regular-season pass since 2007 but could act as a mentor to Bradford, particularly if the Rams release veteran Marc Bulger.

"I see my role as an older quarterback that is there to help out in any way possible," Feeley said on a conference call. "Regardless if it’s playing or in a backup role, I’m just there to contribute. Whether it’s a young guy they draft or if Marc is there or whoever is there, I just want to help out."

Robbins was with the Giants when Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo was the Giants’ defensive coordinator. But Robbins is a 32-year-old journeyman. Suh and McCoy could be Pro Bowl players for a decade.

So it comes down to this: It is important for the Rams to figure out who is better—Suh or McCoy. But it is more important to figure out whether Bradford is good enough—and durable enough—to be their quarterback for the next 10 years.

Seattle Seahawks

First-round picks: Nos. 6 and 14

Recent move: Brought in restricted free-agent wide receiver Brandon Marshall for a visit.

What it means: The Seahawks are considering trading a first-round pick to the Broncos for Marshall—a major decision for the Pete Carroll regime. Marshall is coming off three consecutive seasons of at least 101 catches, and he turns just 26 years old March 23. But his talent on the field has been accompanied by issues off the field.

It’s a tough call for Carroll, but the two picks in the top half of the first round are more valuable.

Marshall is good, extremely good, but would be a better fit for a team closer to contending status like the Bengals or Dolphins. Despite Marshall’s production the past three years, the Broncos have not made the playoffs. He cannot turn around the Seahawks by himself, and they have many needs.

If the Seahawks keep their picks, they could get a quarterback (Jimmy Clausen) or left tackle (Anthony Davis, Bryan Bulaga or Russell Okung) at No. 6 and then a running back (C.J. Spiller) or pass rusher (Carlos Dunlap) or cornerback (Joe Haden) at No. 14.

The Seahawks spent big on wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh last season, and a different approach might be the prudent course. It will be interesting to see what Carroll decides.

Jacksonville Jaguars

First-round pick: No. 10

Recent addition: Signed free-agent defensive end Aaron Kampman.

What it means: With a league-low 14 sacks last season, the Jaguars still could draft a pass-rush end like Derrick Morgan or Jason Pierre-Paul. With Kampman in the fold, GM Gene Smith now has the flexibility to address needs like linebacker (Sergio Kindle or Rolando McClain) or safety (Eric Berry or Earl Thomas).

Signing Kampman is a good move, assuming his knee is sound. Kampman has 54 career sacks and says he again will be an effective pass rusher despite season-ending knee surgery in November.

A move back to his natural defensive end position in a 4-3 scheme is welcome news after he had difficulty adjusting to outside linebacker when the Packers switched to a 3-4 last season.

"There’s a lot of nuances to outside linebacker," Kampman said. "I’m excited to put my hand back on the ground. I have a fire burning to do that."

Miami Dolphins

First-round pick: No. 12

Miami is free to pursue other needs after securing Karlos Dansby.
Miami is free to pursue other needs after securing Karlos Dansby.

Recent addition: Signed free-agent inside linebacker Karlos Dansby.

What it means: No longer desperate for a linebacker, the Dolphins might target Tennessee nose tackle Dan Williams in the wake of veteran nose tackle Jason Ferguson being suspended for the first eight games of next season after testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs.

If Dolphins president Bill Parcells feels a No. 12 pick is too rich for a nose tackle, the team could look at Berry or Thomas to fill the void at safety after losing out on free-agent safety Ryan Clark to the Steelers.

Atlanta Falcons

First-round pick: No. 19

Recent moves: Signed free-agent cornerback Dunta Robinson.

What it means: GM Thomas Dimitroff filled a a huge hole at corner and now has flexibility on draft day. Dimitroff now just might jump on a pass-rusher like Dunlap or Pierre-Paul if available at 19.

This story appears in March 10’s edition of Sporting News Today. If you are not receiving Sporting News Today, the only daily digital sports newspaper, sign up today for free.

Clifton Brown covers the NFL for Sporting News. E-mail him at cliftonbrown@sportingnews.com.

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