Tag:Ryan Wilson
Posted on: March 2, 2012 10:12 pm
 

Hillis refutes CIA story, wants to stay in CLE

Hillis called CIA report '100 percent false,' adding that it 'makes me sound insane.' (Getty Images)

By Ryan Wilson

Once the Browns signed linebacker D'Qwell Jackson to a long-term deal, there was speculation that they might use the franchise tag on running back Peyton Hillis. Didn't happen. Instead, the organization chose to tag 37-year-old kicker Phil Dawson, which should tell you just where Hillis figures in the Browns' future.

Also not helping: a recent story that Hillis was contemplating retirement and entertaining thoughts of joining the C.I.A. 

On Friday, Hillis set the record straight on his professional future. Speaking with the Cleveland Plain-Dealer's Mary Kay Cabot, the running back called the reports that had given thought to joining the C.I.A. "100 percent false," adding that "it makes me sound insane."

Yeah, it does. But no one thought much of it given all that happened during the 2011 season, starting with the Madden curse (it's real!), the reports that his impending contract situation affected his decision to play, and the Boys and Girls Club Halloween PR disaster.

Given all that, it's not inconceivable that Hillis might decide to give up on football altogether.

"That's ridiculous," he told the Plain-Dealer regarding retirement. "I never one time mentioned anything to any coach about retirement or joining the CIA or anything like that. That's pretty much ridiculous and 100 percent false. I don't know what's going on or who came up with a story like that, but they should've come up with a better one to make it sound more legit.''

And a life as an intelligence officer?

"It makes me sound insane," he said. "Why would you give up football to go to the CIA? It's ridiculous and it hurts what people think about you. And I think it's very unfair.''

(To be fair, Tiger Woods gave some consideration to becoming a Navy SEAL, which is infinitely more preposterous than Hillis joining the C.I.A.)

As for Hillis' NFL future, he says he wants to stay in Cleveland.

"I've always loved this city and I still do love it and I still want to play for the Cleveland Browns. I'm not sure who wants me there and who doesn't want me there. It's out of my hands at this point. They've said they might want to re-sign me.''

Hillis even indicated that he'd be willing to take a hometown discount.

"Yeah, of course, just because I want to be a Brown. It just depends on what they want to do. When free agency gets here, I'd love to hear them out.''

A year ago, Hillis was one of the league's best running backs. Now he's happily discussing hometown discounts. There's a reason the man believes in the Madden curse.

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Posted on: March 2, 2012 8:36 pm
 

Dungy traces Manning's injury to Williams' D

In this photo from Oct. 22, 2006, Manning loses his helmet after getting hit in a game against the Redskins(Getty Images)

By Ryan Wilson

Former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams apologized Friday evening for his part in the team's "pay for performance" bounty program that rewarded players for injuring opponents. In fact, one NFL source told CBSSports.com's Mike Freeman that linebacker Jonathan Vilma offered up $10,000 to any teammate who knocked then-Vikings quarterback Brett Favre out of the game.

New Orleans' forgettable offseason
Freeman says to expect more leaks in the coming hours and days.

(Apparently, Williams had a similar program when he was with the Redskins; a former player told the Washington Post that compensation ranged from "hundreds to thousands of dollars" with the biggest payout thought to be $8,000.")

One story we should expect to hear more about: Peyton Manning. He missed the 2011 season with a chronic neck injury, and he's probably taken his last snap for the Colts. Back in September, Tony Dungy, Manning's former coach who now serves as an NFL analyst for NBC, traced Manning's neck issues to a 2006 game.

The opponent? The Redskins. And the defensive coordinator? Yep, Gregg Williams.

Sports Illustrated's Peter King wrote about Dungy's remarks in his Week 1 Monday Morning Quarterback column:
Dungy had an excellent observation on our ... NFL special on NBC. He said Manning's neck history dates to Oct. 22, 2006, when his neck got wrenched and his helmet ripped off on a hit by two Washington defenders. We showed the highlight on our Saturday show, and Manning, after being hit and crumbling to the ground awkwardly, lay there for a second, and when he rose, he stretched his neck and shook his right arm for a second, as if trying to get the feeling back in it.

"Earlier in the game,'' Dungy told me, "I'm outraged that there was a flag for roughing-the-passer on Dwight Freeney for just grazing the quarterback's helmet. So I'm yelling at the ref [Scott Green], 'Where's the flag! Where's the flag!' And I don't yell much, but I did then. So I didn't notice Peyton calling timeout and being shaken up. Peyton came to the sideline and said to [backup] Jim Sorgi, 'Jim, start warming up.' As the timeout went on, he said to us, 'I can stay in, but we need to run the ball here.' ''
Former Colts president Bill Polian told King that Manning was fine at the end of the 2010 season and had "no recurrence of the neck problems that caused his first surgery after the 2009 season."

In January 2010, a week before the Saints faced the Colts in the Super Bowl, Williams (by then New Orleans' defensive coordinator) was asked about some controversial hits on Brett Favre in the NFC Championship Game.

“Here’s the deal," he said. "When you put too much of that type of worry on a warrior’s mind, he doesn’t play all out. If it happens, it happens. And the only thing you’d like for me to say is that if it happens you hope he doesn’t get back up and play again.”

Williams may have been sincere when he apologized Friday, but the remarks above makes them seem less geniune. More than that, you might think that the only reason Williams is sorry is because he got caught.

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Posted on: March 2, 2012 6:07 pm
Edited on: March 2, 2012 7:59 pm
 

Gregg Williams: Bounty 'was a terrible mistake'

We'll let you decide what Vilma and Williams were discussing here. (Getty Images)

By Ryan Wilson

Twenty-four hours ago, the biggest problem facing the Saints was that they were roughly $5 million apart per season on a new contract for franchise quarterback Drew Brees. And while that's still a huge issue, it's taken a back seat to the revelations Friday that at least one Saints coach and about two dozen players conspired to intentionally hurt opponents and knock them out of games for money.

New Orleans' forgettable offseason
The coach: former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who served in that capacity under head coach Sean Payton for the 2009-2011 seasons, including New Orleans' Super Bowl title in February 2010. Williams left the Saints for the same job with the Rams in January after St. Louis hired Jeff Fisher (who Williams had worked with in Tennessee).

On Friday, hours after the NFL announced the Saints' "pay for performance" bounty program, Williams spoke on the matter:

“I want to express my sincere regret and apology to the NFL, Mr. Benson, and the New Orleans Saints fans for my participation in the 'pay for performance' program while I was with the Saints," Williams said in a statement released by the Rams.  "It was a terrible mistake, and we knew it was wrong while we were doing it. Instead of getting caught up in it, I should have stopped it. I take full responsibility for my role. I am truly sorry. I have learned a hard lesson and I guarantee that I will never participate in or allow this kind of activity to happen again.”

It's nice to own up to your problems, but this doesn't appear to be an isolated incident. Details via Mark Maske of the Washington Post:

"The Washington Redskins had a bounty system for big hits on opponents under former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams that was similar to the one revealed by an NFL investigation of the New Orleans Saints, four players who played under Williams said Friday," Maske wrote.

"Three of the players described a coach who doled out thousands of dollars to Redskins defenders who measured up to Williams’s scoring system for rugged play, including 'kill shots' that knocked opposing teams’stars out of a game."

“You got compensated more for a kill shot than you did other hits,” one former player said. Compensation ranged from "hundreds to thousands of dollars" with the biggest payout thought to be $8,000."

Wow.

Now that Williams has apologized, what happens next? More specifically: does owning up to it before the NFL weighs in lessen the punishment he'll face?

The short answer: who knows. We're not being glib but if commissioner Roger Goodell is anything he's unpredictable. The league has been criticized in the past for coming down hard on players but less so on coaches and front-office types. But early indications are that New Orleans' "pay for performance" bounty program is much worse than Spygate, and the sanctions could reflect that -- especially if Williams has a history of this behavior.

But it's one thing to punish the Saints; what happens if the Rams lose their defensive coordinator for any length of time?

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Posted on: March 1, 2012 8:54 pm
Edited on: March 2, 2012 10:23 am
 

Report: Saints, Brees $5M apart per year on deal

GM Mickey Loomis reportely thinks Brees is a 'very good' quarterback. (Ryan Wilson, CBSSports.com/US PRESSWIRE)

By Ryan Wilson

We're 12 days away from free agency, and the Saints and franchise quarterback Drew Brees are "roughly $5 million a year apart" on a new contract, according to Yahoo.com's Jason Cole.

CBSSports.com's Mike Freeman said as much Wednesday, adding that the differences could lead New Orleans to franchise Brees. It's an odd way to treat the guy primarily responsible for saving the organization in post-Katrina New Orleans. The same guy, by the way, who is two months removed from breaking Dan Marino's single-season passing record, and two years removed from leading the Saints to a Super Bowl.

All this prompted Freeman to ask: "What the hell are the Saints doing?"

Fair question.  "I've said this before," Freeman continued. "There are certain players, only a handful, where you open the vault and roll out the cash. You give them a blank check. Brees is one of those players. Franchising Brees is going to anger him, no question. Players despise the tag because it limits their earning potential. So you've ticked off your best player. For what? Why?"

Because, in an inexplicable turn of events, the Saints, according to Cole, are "privately trying to sell itself on the notion that Brees is simply a 'very good' quarterback."

Oh my. A quick refresher: between 1967 and 2005 (the year before Brees arrived), New Orleans made the playoffs a grand total of five times. In 38 years. They've been to the postseason three times since, including one Lombardi Trophy.

Cole writes Thursday that the "very good" quarterback meme "was the word coming out of the NFL scouting combine this past week, when Saints general manager Mickey Loomis tried to define Brees as 'very good' when the quarterback was called “great,” according to three league sources. All three sources were asking Loomis why it was taking so long to sign Brees to a contract extension. Loomis’ answer spoke volumes."

Cole thinks Loomis' foot-dragging will necessitate owner Tom Benson stepping in to fix things. Fortunately, he remembers what the pre-Brees Saints were like.

“Benson knows where this team was 15 years ago and he sees where it is now. He has to make the call. Mickey is not going to do it," a league insider told Cole.

This also means that the team can't move forward with Marques Colston or Carl Nicks, two important pieces to New Orleans' high-powered offense. It's likely that Colston will hit free agency while the team will franchise Nicks (not surprisingly, he's against it), but this assumes that a Brees deal gets done before March 5 (the last day a team can use the franchise tag).

The latest news coupled with the Colston/Nicks situation prompted CBSSports.com's Pete Prisco to tweet this:

PriscoCBS
Just a thought: If Drew Brees really is Mr. New Orleans, shouldn't he get a long-term deal done so others can get signed?
3/1/12 8:03 PM

PriscoCBS
Having said that, If Brees is smart he won't do it.
3/1/12 8:03 PM

Whatever happens, the Saints have to sign Brees. Because without him, this team will be our early favorites for the Matt Barkley sweepstakes. (Hey, it worked for the Colts!) By the way: if Brees is "very good," what does that make backup Chase Daniel?

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Posted on: March 1, 2012 8:12 pm
Edited on: March 2, 2012 10:21 am
 

2012 NFL Free Agency: Cornerback rankings

Follow all our 2012 free-agent rankings here (Getty Images)

By Ryan Wilson

Leading up to the start of free agency on March 13, we're compiling the best 2012 NFL free agents by position. These are the cornerbacks.

The NFL is a passing league, which puts a premium on quarterbacks and wide receivers on offense, and pass rushers and cornerbacks on defense. Incidentally, these positions are among the league's highest paid, too. Go figure.

1. Cortland Finnegan

Breakdown: The former seventh-round pick out of Samford has turned a draft-day oversight into a career fueled by motivation. Finnegan's on-field skills are sometimes overlooked by his trash-talking and knack for playing just past the whistle. But there's no disputing his ability. And if the Titans don't re-sign him (the two sides were reportedly far apart on a deal earlier this week), expect a CB-needy team to pony up. Like, say, the Cowboys.

Possible landing spots: Cowboys, Titans, Texans (for the sheer Andre Johnson/Kevin Walter awkwardness)

2. Brent Grimes

UPDATE: The Falcons franchised Grimes Friday

Breakdown:
Another small-school player who has emerged as one of the NFL's best cornerbacks. The Falcons are working to re-sign Grimes (worst case: they'll franchise him), who played opposite Dunta Robinson in recent seasons. ProFootballFocus ranks Grimes as their No. 1 free-agent CB, noting that he allowed just 258 total receiving yards in 2011.

Possible landing spots: Falcons

3. Carlos Rogers

Breakdown: Perhaps it's coincidence that Rogers' breakout performance came a year after he left the Redskins, the team that drafted him in the first round back in 2005. In Washington, he was considered a bust, a cornerback who got beat too often and dropped too many should-be interceptions. In San Francisco, he looked like the player the Skins envisioned they were getting on draft day. Rogers recorded six interceptions (he had eight in six previous seasons) and 18 passes defended in 2011, and said recently that he hopes to get a deal down with the 49ers before free agency. If not, he's a candidate for the franchise tag, assuming that honor doesn't go to safety Dashon Goldson

Possible landing spots: 49ers, Cowboys

4. Brandon Carr

Breakdown: Carr was taken in the fifth round of the 2008 draft as a Cover-2 cornerback. In three years, he's emerged as one of the Chiefs' best defenders and if he doesn't return to K.C. (the organization hopes to keep him), the Cowboys have grand plans of bringing him to Dallas (yes, just like Finnegan). Kansas City signed Stanford Routt in February but GM Scott Pioli said during a recent radio interview that "The signing of Stanford Routt does not impact where we’re at with Brandon Carr. As a matter of fact, Romeo and I both reached out to Brandon yesterday as this was unfolding and talked to him."

Possible landing spots: Chiefs, Cowboys

5. Lardarius Webb

                                                                            (Getty Images)
Breakdown: After a solid rookie campaign in 2009, Webb regressed in Year 2 only to have his best NFL season in 2011. The Ravens appear set to tender him as a restricted free agent and have him play opposite 2011 first-rounder Jimmy Williams. According to PFF, he didn't allow a single touchdown last season. Webb is also a capable return man.

Possible landing spots: Ravens

6. Terrell Thomas

Breakdown: Thomas suffered a season-ending injury during the preseason but the Giants could choose to re-sign him and let former first-rounder Aaron Ross walk. Thomas' 2010 season can kindly be described as disastrous, but he played well in 2009and at 27, he has plenty of upside. CBSSports.com's Pat Kirwan tweeted Thursday that the Giants and Thomas are closing in on a deal.

Possible landing spots: Giants

7. Tracy Porter

Breakdown: Porter is best known as "that guy who was on the receiving end of the Peyton Manning Super Bowl gift," but he hasn't lived up to expectations as a former second-round pick. That's not to say he's been a disappointment just that he hasn't been a breakout player. In his top-50 free-agent rankings, CBSSports.com's Pete Prisco offers an apt description: "He is a good, solid starting corner, and those guys get paid. The Saints probably won't be able to keep him. He turns 26 in August."

Possible landing spots: Lions

8. Aaron Ross

Breakdown: Ross, like former teammate Thomas, has been plagued by injuries. He's also one of the six Giants cornerbacks set to hit free agency. But unlike Thomas, the former first-rounder may have played his last down in New York. As the New York Daily News noted earlier this week, "(Thomas) was the starter over Ross before he tore his ACL in August. The Giants had even expressed an interest in extending his contract last summer before he got hurt." Still, like we said at the outset: this is a passing league, which means that even mediocre cornerbacks won't have trouble finding work. If Ross can stay healthy, he'll have a job.

Possible landing spots: Lions, Cowboys

9. Tim Jennings

                                                                            (Getty Images)
Breakdown: At first glance, Jennings is undersized and outmatched. That explains why the Colts parted ways with him in 2009, four years after they drafted him in the second round. It's with some irony then that Jennings' performed well in the Bears' defense. As PFF points out, Jennings is primarily a Cover-2 cornerback, a potential limitation given that teams are moving away from that scheme. Even though he was benched last year, Jennings didn't allow a touchdown. While he's not a starter, he provides quality depth in the right system.

Possible landing spots: Cover-2 teams looking for a nickel or dime back

10. William Gay

Breakdown: Gay, like most names at the bottom of this list, isn't an NFL starter. The Steelers tried that in 2010 with disastrous results. But Gay is a pretty good nickel back who can serve as a spot starter. Given that Pittsburgh has invested five years into him learning Dick LeBeau's scheme, they might try to bring him back. If not, he won't have any issues landing with another team.

Possible landing spots: Steelers, Lions

Honorable Mention

Richard Marshall, Eric Wright, Rashean Mathis, Ronde Barber, Marcus Trufant, Phillip Buchanon, Jason Allen, Kelly Jennings, Adam Jones, Antwaun Molden, Cary Williams (RFA), Jacob Lacey (RFA), Keenan Lewis (RFA)

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Posted on: March 1, 2012 5:30 pm
Edited on: March 1, 2012 5:46 pm
 

Report: Raiders will franchise Tyvon Branch

This means RB Michael Bush could be headed for free agency. (Getty Images)

By Ryan Wilson

The Raiders have informed safety Tyvon Branch that he will be franchised, the NFL Network's Jason La Canfora reported Thursday. Branch was the Raiders' leading tackler in 2011 and if the organization does tag him it will mean that running back Michael Bush, at one time thought to be a franchise-tag option, will hit free agency unless the team re-signs him (Bush was fifth in our Eye on Football free-agent RB rankings).

As CBSSports.com Rapid Reporter Eric Gilmore explains, Branch can expect to earn $6.2 million under the franchise tag, which is $2.2 million below the going rate for franchised safeties in 2011. The new collective bargaining agreement comes with a new formula for determining the position-by-position tag value.

Branch was selected in the fourth round of the 2008 draft out of Connecticut. In related news: he ran a 4.31 40 at the combine. (We were shocked too.) His pre-draft scouting report explains how the college cornerback ended up as an NFL safety:

"Despite his impressive 40 time and success as a kick returner, Branch struggles changing directions. An instinctive, physical defensive back, Branch is best suited to playing cornerback in a two-deep scheme or making the transition to free safety."

Turns out, it was the right move. Branch has started every game since 2009, and had 109 tackles, four passes defended, a sack and an interception last season.  And CBSSports.com's Pete Prisco writes that Branch "should have been on the Pro Bowl team last year. He had an impressive season at a weak position in the NFL. It makes sense for the Raiders to keep him."

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Posted on: March 1, 2012 5:08 pm
 

Report: Steelers to release DE Aaron Smith

Ward and Smith were the two remaining players the organization had drafted in the 1990s. (US PRESSWIRE)

By Ryan Wilson

The Steelers' veteran purge continues: a day after Pittsburgh announced that they would release wide receiver Hines Ward, defensive end Aaron Smith is next in line, according to NFL Network's Jason La Canfora.

NFL News, Notes
Smith, like Ward, was drafted in the 1990s, and was an integral part to the team's success for much of the 2000s. But after starting every game but one from 2000-2006, Smith missed five games in 2007, and played in just 15 games from 2009-11 while he recovered from an assortment of injuries. In Dick LeBeau's 3-4 scheme, the defensive ends aren't pass-rushing specialists; instead, they're responsible for taking on blocks (and often double-teams) while the linebackers behind them make the tackles.

At the height of his career, Smith was considered the prototypical 3-4 end. And while he wasn't a household name, his talents didn't go unnoticed; Patriots head coach Bill Belichick once singled him out as one if his favorite players to watch. But that was before injuries and age caught up to him.

Now 35, Smith's fate doesn't come as a surprise. In four games in 2011, he wasn't nearly the player the Steelers had watched for more than a decade. And with the organization's current salary-cap situation, there were going to be some roster casualties. On Wednesday, it was Ward, one of the best players in team history. Thursday it appears to be Smith. And in the coming weeks and months, linebackers James Farrior and Larry Foote, and nose tackle Casey Hampton could also see their careers in Pittsburgh come to an end.

But the Steelers have been preparing for this day; they drafted defensive linemen Ziggy Hood in 2009 and Cameron Heyward in 2011. Hood started nine games in 2010 and 14 games last season, while Heyward saw action in 16 games as a rookie.

Every offseason comes with player turnover, but the Steelers roster could look much different in 2012, especially if Mike Wallace ends up elsewhere.

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Posted on: February 29, 2012 9:57 pm
Edited on: February 29, 2012 9:59 pm
 

Jones wants Romo, not trading up for Luck, RG3

The only way the Cowboys will have RG3 under center is if Tony Romo changes his name. (US PRESSWIRE)

By Ryan Wilson

There's a perception that Tony Romo isn't an elite NFL quarterback and it comes primarily from one thing: he's been underwhelming in big moments. The Week 1 fourth-quarter interception against the Jets, the two pick-sixes against the Lions, not to mention head coach Jason Garrett opting to run instead of pass late in the game against the Patriots. These are three examples from the 2011 season (all three losses, by the way) and it's enough for some fans to give up on Romo altogether.

One enterprising soul even asked DallasCowboys.com writer Josh Ellis about the possibility the team would trade up in April's draft and take Robert Griffin III.

Ellis' answer, in part: "(Owner and GM) Jerry Jones explicitly said last week he wouldn't trade Romo for Griffin or Andrew Luck. So on draft day, just hope Griffin doesn't end up in Washington."

The best response to Jones' decree comes courtesy our buddy, PFT.com's Michael David Smith: "Some might see that as further evidence of Jones’s 50 concussions…"

But Jones' son, Cowboys vice president Stephen Jones, said as much in comments to the Star-Telegram.

"There are not many better than him out there," he said. "I hear it -- he hasn't gotten it done yet. I hear it, all of that. But you are not going to find much better than Tony Romo. Every year he improves. As he gets better, our chances get better."

Wait, Tiger isn't a Navy SEAL? (US PRESSWIRE)
Jones, it turns out, it's just making stuff up. Romo ranked fourth in Football Outsiders' QB efficiency metric behind Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady. The difference: those players have combined for five Super Bowl rings and their teams all made the playoffs last season. The Cowboys went 8-8 and lost four of their last five games (and their Week 17 no-show performance against the Giants cost them the division and a spot in the postseason).

Romo, meanwhile, has two years left on the six-year, $67.4 million contract he signed in 2007. Although the two sides have yet to discuss an extension, Stephen Jones' comments to the Star-Telegram says plenty.

"Tony is going to play a lot more than two more years," he said. "We are going to take care of Tony. Tony is going to be a Cowboy."

Silver lining: maybe some of Tiger Woods' Navy SEALS training rubbed off on Romo during the Pebble Beach Pro-Am earlier this month. It can't hurt, right?

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The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com