News & Info/Headlines
So, we'll start in Baltimore, where the Ravens filled their open running back spot Thursday, acquiring Willis McGahee via trade with the Bills.
According to the team's official web site, Baltimore sent three draft picks -- two this year and one in 2008 -- to the Bills for the fifth-year running back. Associated Press sports writer John Wawrow reports that McGahee, with whom the Bills had become dissatisfied, the Ravens expected him to take a physical either late Thursday or on Friday.
McGahee had one year left on his five-year contract with Buffalo and had been seeking an extension. The Ravens quickly granted his wish.
McGahee signed his new contract in front of local television crews at the Miami airport.
As Profootballtalk.com editor Mike Florio first reported, the two sides agreed to a seven-year deal that can worth up to $40.12 million. ESPN.com and NFL.com subsequently reported the same.
Per Florio, McGahee will receive $7.5 million to sign, an initial option bonus of $6 million and a second option bonus of $1.5 million. The salaries are $595,000 in 2007, $605,000 in 2008, $620,000 in 2009, $3.6 million in 2010, $6.0 million in 2011, $6.5 million in 2012 and $7.2 million in 2013.
If the Ravens cut McGahee before the back-end salaries kick in, he will earn a total of $20.42 million over four years. In terms of "new money," the deal outlined above places McGahee among the NFL's five highest-paid running backs. ...
Of course, the Ravens' need for a featured back suddenly became more pressing Wednesday evening after free agent Jamal Lewis turned down Baltimore's "take it or leave it" offer to sign with Cleveland.
As BaltimoreRavens.com staffer Mike Duffy suggested, pending a physical later this week, McGahee's punishing, physical style could be a perfect fit in the Ravens' offense, which thrives on grinding the ball on the ground and utilizing receivers out of the backfield.
"This is a runner who can make people miss and has the explosion and speed to take it the distance," said Ravens general manager and executive vice president Ozzie Newsome. "He also has the power and size to run inside. He's a viable receiver out of the backfield and is a good pass blocker, not something every back can do.
"He also plays physical and with toughness, which are things we pride ourselves on here."
McGahee will take over as the No. 1, ahead of sparingly used backup Mike Anderson and Musa Smith, who has primarily been used on special teams.
"We're getting a dynamic back who has the potential to diversify our running game," head coach Brian Billick said. "We've studied him, and he brings the same passion and preparation that is common to Miami players, like our Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. Getting a player as good as Willis is another example of how Ozzie and his department size up the market and use our resources well."
Said Ray Lewis: "From what I've seen of Willis, he is a heck of a warrior. The way he runs and the passion he plays with is contagious. He plays the game the way it's supposed to be played. I'm truly excited to have him as a teammate."
After being selected by the Bills with the 23rd-overall pick in the 2003 NFL Draft, McGahee sat out his rookie season while rehabilitating a serious knee injury in his final collegiate game -- the national championship against Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl.
Since then, the University of Miami product has rushed for 3,365 yards and 24 touchdowns. His most prolific season came in 2004, when he totaled 1,128 yards and 13 touchdowns on 284 carries, a campaign followed by his 1,247 yards and five scores on 325 carries in 2005.
Last year, McGahee struggled at times while running for 990 yards and six touchdowns on 258 carries. In fact, McGahee's yards per game production had been on the decline the past two years.
After rushing for 1,128 yards in 11 starts in 2004, including seven 100-yard outings, McGahee had just five 100-yard rushing days in 15 starts in 2005, and just a pair of 100-yard rushing games in 14 starts this past season.
Some would argue that McGahee has primarily been a one-dimensional back during his time in Buffalo.
He did not factor much in the passing game the past two years under two different coaching staffs. In offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild's new system this past season he recorded a career low 18 receptions. He also ranked 25th among running backs in all-purpose yardage in 2006.
As a result the Bills offensive coaching staff quietly yearned for a more versatile number one tailback to more fully execute Fairchild's scheme.
Although he showed toughness playing with cracked ribs and a badly sprained ankle last season, McGahee was criticized by observers for his tendency to look for the "home run" play too often instead of hitting the hole with authority to get a consistent four yards.
He failed to average better than 3.8 yards per carry in a full season as the club's starting back.
The Bills are also said to have been disappointed in McGahee for conducting most of his offseason workouts in his native Miami, rather than traveling to the team's Orchard Park headquarters.
Yahoo! Sports correspondent Jason Cole recently reported that coaches were particularly distressed by McGahee's failure to study the playbook last offseason. They expect more of the same this year.
"Willis literally didn't know what to do on the plays," a source told Cole last month. "After the play was called, we'd have another coach signaling to Willis what to do because he didn't know. He'd miss blocks (in pass protection) a few times, not because he was beat, but because he didn't know what he was doing.
"He just doesn't study. ... His teammates noticed it and it affected how they viewed him in the locker room."
Cole added to that report today, advising readers that one Bills staffer claims a member of the coaching staff had to signal plays to McGahee specifically during the season to explain to McGahee what to do.
McGahee also created a stir when he was quoted in a magazine article suggesting the NFL consider moving the Bills to Toronto, a comment he later said was taken out of context.
All that being the case, I'll remind you that a change of scenery is often a good thing.
McGahee obviously wasn't 100 percent on board with the Bills -- and the Buffalo area, for that matter -- the last year or two. The hope here is a move to Baltimore re-energizes him to the point he can establish himself as a front-line Fantasy back. ...
On the other hand, finding holes in Baltimore could be difficult.
As BuffaloBills.com staff writer Chris Brown reminded readers this morning, the Ravens cut veteran guard Ed Mulitalo and lost starting right tackle Tony Pashos in free agency to Jacksonville; starting left tackle Jonathan Ogden is still contemplating retirement and Pro-Bowl fullback Ovie Mughelli signed with Atlanta. ...
As for the Bills. ... With fullback Daimon Shelton and reserve halfback Shaud Williams the only backs currently under contract, Buffalo becomes the last team still looking for their primary ball carrier.
It's safe to say that with four first-day picks, the Bills could look to add a young running back in the draft. But signing a veteran seems probable.
They have shown interest in the Colts' Dominic Rhodes and the Titans' Chris Brown and both have visited the team.
Without going into detail, Bills head coach Dick Jauron referred to both players as potential options.
"We have a number of options right in front of us," Jauron said. "We'll have to move forward. But we're confident we will run the ball, and run the ball effectively."
Former Patriots running back Corey Dillon was scheduled to visit Buffalo today, but as Scout.com's Adam Caplan first reported this afternoon, the former Bengal and Patriot postponed his visit. He is expected to set up another trip some time next week.
Or not. ... NFL Network insider Adam Schefter suggested this afternoon that Dillon isn't all that keen on joining the Bills and that he might be more interested in a team like the Eagles, a more likely playoff contender.
Caplan confirmed that tonight, explaining that Dillon's people are looking for a winning team that will utilize him in a clearly-defined -- and somewhat limited (10 carries or so) -- role. Caplan further suggested that Dillon would like goal-line work to be part of that role.
It does seem like a good fit. ... It's also an interesting development given the Bills' obvious need at the position. We'll have to see if team officials in Buffalo continue to pursue Dillon or pull the trigger on Brown or Rhodes.
They may also choose to re-sign their own free agent Anthony Thomas. ...
In St. Louis. ... The Rams agreed to terms with free agent tight end Randy McMichael on a three-year contract, the team announced today.
According to St. Louis Post-Dispatch staffer Jim Thomas, league sources say his three-year deal with the Rams is worth about $3 million per year.
"This has been in the works for a while," head coach Scott Linehan said in a release posted on the team's official web site. "We even considered trading for him. He is an every-down tight end and a proven starter in the league. He does a lot of things well."
McMichael, 27, averaged 65 catches over the past three seasons for Miami.
He had 62 receptions for 640 yards and three touchdowns in 2006. His career-high for five seasons in Miami was 73 catches in 2004. In fact, McMichael is the Dolphins' all-time leader in receptions among tight ends and his 80 career starts rank second most behind Newsome for most consecutive starts by an NFL tight end to open a career since 1970.
McMichael, 6-3 and 250, is considered a very good blocker.
McMichael played for Linehan in 2005 when Linehan was offensive coordinator for the Dolphins.
His arrival could hinder the development of second-year man to be Joe Klopfenstein, whose integration into the passing game was taken slowly last season with coaches wanting to make sure he was up to speed on blocking and pass protection.
As the Sports Xchange recently suggested, Klopfenstein was expected to make a big jump in 2007 from the 20 catches for 226 yards he totaled this past season, while starting all 16 games.
That might not be as realistic an expectation now. ...
It's also worth noting the signing comes just days after tight end Dominique Byrd was arrested on suspicion of DUI in Los Angeles. Byrd is already facing charges for assault and armed criminal action due to his alleged role in a Dec. 4 nightclub scuffle in St. Louis. ...
In Philadelphia. ... Bethel Johnson, who played for three seasons in New England and then last year in Minnesota, agreed to terms on a one-year deal with the Eagles on Thursday and will provide competition at the wide receiver position as well as at the kickoff return spot.
As philadelphiaeagles.com insider Dave Spadaro pointed out, Johnson is a player with modest numbers -- 39 receptions for 606 yards and 4 touchdowns in his career and an average of 24.6 yards per kickoff return with 2 touchdowns. But he has something very few players have:
New England quarterback Tom Brady once said of Johnson, "He's as fast as anyone I've ever seen. When I drop back, I can't throw the ball far enough for him not to be able to run it down."
Johnson set career receiving marks at Texas A&M and then played with the Patriots for three seasons, winning two Super Bowls. He was traded from New England to New Orleans, but things did not work out in New Orleans.
Johnson was cut by head coach Sean Payton and signed in October by the Vikings. In 11 games in Minnesota last season, Johnson caught 9 passes for 156 yards and returned 43 kickoffs for an average of 23.4 yards per return. ...
In Miami. ... According to New York Newsday reporter Arthur Staple, Jay Feely wanted to stay with the Giants, but team officials decided kicker wasn't a position on which they needed to spend extra money. So they chose not to make a competitive offer and Feely agreed to a three-year, $6-million deal with the Dolphins last night, with roughly $2.5 million guaranteed.
Feely, 30, wrapped a visit with the Dolphins on Tuesday and said the Giants had called his agent to say they would be making a new offer above the one they made two weeks ago, which was not strong enough to keep Feely from testing the free-agent market.
But according to Staple, the Giants didn't up their offer as Feely had anticipated a day earlier.
That leaves the Giants seemingly prepared to go into 2007 with undrafted rookie Josh Huston and a veteran kicker who would be unsigned as training camp approaches. The Dolphins will cut veteran Olindo Mare to make room for Feely, so Mare will be the most attractive kicker on the market.
Feely made 84 percent (58 of 69) of his field-goal attempts in two seasons with the Giants, though two of his most memorable games for Giants fans were unpleasant for him: The three missed kicks in Seattle in 2005 and the 52-yard attempt last season against the Bears that Devin Hester returned for a touchdown.
Feely didn't miss another field goal after that, going 12-for-12 in the final seven games and the playoff loss to the Eagles. ...
The Dolphins also signed receiver Kelly Campbell to a contract today. Terms of the deal weren't immediately available.
Campbell, 26, went to camp with the Dolphins in 2006 before being waived/injured on September 2. He spent a portion of the season on the team's injured reserve list.
In three previous NFL seasons, all with the Vikings, Campbell has totaled 57 receptions for 1,062 yards and eight touchdowns. ...
In New York. ... Fullback Darian Barnes, who started six games last season with Miami, signed with the Jets today.
Barnes, who is entering his sixth NFL season, entered the league as a rookie free agent with the New York Giants in 2002. He also has played for Tampa Bay and Dallas and had three receptions for 22 yards last season.
That's it for now. ... Things seem to be slowing down a bit, but we're not done yet.
As always, you'll find breaking items in the News & Views section of the site with more in-depth reviews of top stories available here in the Headline News section, where you'll also find the weekly Fantasy Notebook each Sunday during the offseason.