- John Clayton, NFL senior writer
- 0 Shares
The draft is done. Teams have had their first minicamps, and rookies are set to report back this week for offseason training sessions.
Still, to this day, Terrell Owens doesn't have a job. You know Owens probably will land somewhere, but we are four months into an offseason in which no team has shown significant interest.
The Oakland Raiders have talked about Owens internally, but it hasn't gotten past that point and might not for a while. Owens would make sense now that the Raiders have turned over their offense to Jason Campbell.
At 36 (he'll be 37 in December), Owens probably doesn't have a 1,000-yard season left in him. There have been only six 1,000-yard seasons from wide receivers who are 36 or older, and three of those were from Jerry Rice. Older receivers can last longer if they work mostly from the slot in three-receiver sets, but Owens' game is built more for the outside, running patterns from the outside into the middle of the field.
Still, he's the best receiver on the street. He had 829 receiving yards last season, more than any other receiver without a job. His average of 15.1 yards per catch was respectable. But price is the problem. He might not be willing to sign for less than $5 million, and it's doubtful this year's free-agent market will deliver that kind of windfall.
Plus, Owens has witnessed a perfect storm of lost opportunities for teams in need of receiving help. The Ravens acquired Anquan Boldin. The Seahawks lucked into Golden Tate with the 60th pick in the draft. Bill Parcells clearly wasn't going to bring him to Miami, but the door was completely shut when the Dolphins traded for Brandon Marshall. Carolina got younger at receiver in the draft, as did Tampa Bay. Most -- if not all of the playoff teams from 2009 -- have two or three 50-catch wide receivers, and unless the Redskins want to do something with Owens, those doors aren't open at the moment.
The only team that makes sense is the Raiders, and that might not happen for a while -- if at all.
From the inbox
Q: I have heard that Shawne Merriman is on the trading block and I was wondering what you think about him going to a team that allows him to play as a 4-3 defensive end. He has the size, and the knee injuries seem to have permanently affected his ability to cover TEs and RBs.
Kyle in Los Angeles
A: I think it would work, but I don't know that a lot of 4-3 teams agree. The best thing Merriman did when he was healthy was get a running start from the outside linebacker position and use his power or elusiveness to beat a block and make a tackle. It would take an adjustment from him to line up in a three-point stance and rush, but I think he could make the transition. He fits the best in a 3-4 scheme. The key for him is getting his knee right and regaining explosiveness. That's what has been missing in his game.
Q: The general consensus from the Bucs' front office is try to improve on last year (seven, maybe eight wins). That's fine as far as I'm concerned, but how do they expect the financial support (ticket sales, etc.) from the fans when they have all but admitted this plan of slow progress?
Ed in Cape Coral, Fla.
A: They can't be blamed for not spending much this offseason because there weren't enough quality players on the open market. For that, they can get a pass. What the Bucs must do is start rewarding some of the young, core players once they start getting toward the end of their contracts. It's one thing to not go into free agency, but it's another thing to lose talent. The Bucs can't afford to do that. I'm not convinced that the Bucs are ready to make that next step to get to seven or eight wins, though. For talent, they are the fourth-best team in the NFC South. To advance, they have to be able to get to 2-4 in divisional play. If Jimmy Clausen makes an impact on the Panthers, the Bucs might be stuck at the 0-6 or 1-5 mark. They do have an easy nondivisional schedule and might be able to go 4-6 outside the division. To get to seven wins, though, they would need to go 3-3 in the division, and I think that will be tough.
Q: Given Brett Favre's success last season and the good possibility that he'll come back for a second season with the Vikings, do you think it makes the other great QBs in NFL history think that maybe they might just have another year or two left in the tank?
Gary in Middlebury, Ind.
A: Trust me, all great quarterbacks believe they can go a year or two longer than their bodies will allow. Troy Aikman wanted to do it until he realized the problems with concussions. Dan Marino pushed the thoughts of going another year or two. Steve Young, Jim Kelly and so many others thought of going the extra year. Go back to Joe Namath and Johnny Unitas to find other examples. So many of the great quarterbacks want to come back if the last pass they threw during the previous season was an interception.
Vachon in Los Angeles
A: There will be no quarterback controversy in Pittsburgh, even though the franchise quarterback has filled the city with his personal controversies. The Steelers would take the 4-0 start and then let Ben Roethlisberger take back the starting job. Leftwich understands that. So does Dixon. To go 4-0 or 3-1 with Leftwich or Dixon, the Steelers will have to go back to the running game that they abandoned last year. Once they get Roethlisberger back, they can expand the offense and become more of a passing team, but I would expect them to be more balanced this year. Without Santonio Holmes, they lack explosiveness and youth at wide receiver. Roethlisberger gives the Steelers the ability to be a playoff or possible Super Bowl team. His problems off the field haven't changed that.
Q: What is your opinion on the compatibility and expected level of play from Ryan Mathews with the San Diego Chargers? I understand the risk involved in San Diego trading up to get him, but it seems to me that he is more than capable of being a consistent and reliable rusher.
A: The risk was losing draft choice value to fix other positions, but there isn't a risk in the value of Mathews. The plan is for him to get 250 carries and about 40 catches. If he gains around 1,100 yards, the offense should be even better. LaDainian Tomlinson averaged only 3.3 yards a carry last year, and that led to his release. If Mathews averages 4.3 or more yards a carry, the Chargers should be more balanced and more dangerous. Remember, they still have Darren Sproles coming off the bench to give them big plays. The schedule is easy, which also will help the equation.
Q: There are a lot of rumors about O.J. Atogwe not wanting to sign his tender with the Rams. I've seen the list of teams with possible interest. My question is, why would Detroit not be interested in him? He is clearly an amazingly gifted athlete who would fit an area of need (safety) in Detroit. Plus, it would mean one less position the Lions would have to address next year, allowing them to focus on linebackers and offensive linemen. What are your thoughts?
Bruce in Uniontown, Pa.
A: Who says the Lions won't become involved? I think they could, but there's no need for them to tip their hand now. On June 1, Atogwe's restricted tender would rise to the franchise level (nearly $7 million), and it seems unlikely the Rams will keep him at that price. Like it or not, the Lions have been one of the most aggressive teams in picking up veteran players, and Atogwe would be a good, young player to acquire. I think they will be in the hunt.
Q: My question pertains to the saga that is JaMarcus Russell. I realize that the guy has a cannon for an arm, but what is it that intrigues coaches so much? If arm strength was all you needed to play QB in the NFL, the landscape of quarterbacks around the league would look much different. Realistically, don't you think Russell will never be able to even achieve the status of a serviceable starting quarterback in the NFL?
Kevin in Grosse Point Park, Mich.
A: Most coaches will tell you that accuracy is more important than arm strength, and that is clearly the case with Russell, who has one of the best pure arms I've seen since Terry Bradshaw and John Elway. He never got better, though. What was so disappointing was watching him not get the ball to wide receivers. He could sync up with tight end Zach Miller, but he never got on the same page with wide receivers. He couldn't look off cornerbacks. You need a quarterback who can make all the throws. I don't know where Russell goes from here. He's 24 and he's talented, but I'm not sure where he would be a good fit.
Q: Can you tell me why the Browns chose to run the 3-4 defense when the linebacking corps was a weakness last year? They had the personnel to put some pressure on the QB and slow down the run if they played the 4-3.
Eli in Portland, Ore.
A: I know why they went to the 3-4 years ago, but I thought it was a mistake then. They made the move because Romeo Crennel was the coach, and he's a master of the 3-4. The Browns didn't have a nose tackle. Even after acquiring Shaun Rogers, who is a Pro Bowl-caliber nose tackle, the Browns can't stop the run. I just think too many teams have made the conversion to the 3-4, and the Browns are one of them. Now the pressure is on the coaches to get the most out of the existing talent.
Q: How about this trade: The Bills giving the Eagles Marshawn Lynch for Michael Vick? The Eagles need a running back and the Bills need a QB. I realize the Eagles may be concerned with Kevin Kolb not having a reliable backup such as Vick, and if they do feel this way, they can turn around and sign JaMarcus Russell. For the Bills, they get rid of a problem player and fill a lingering need at QB.
Matthew in Charlotte, N.C.
A: Not a bad proposal, but I'm not sure Lynch really fits the Eagles' offense. The Eagles like backs who can catch the ball, not a back who can pound the ball on first and second downs. Lynch does have good hands, but he would take playing time away from LeSean McCoy. The Bills have shown no interest in Vick. I don't see that changing.
John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
The Raiders appear to make sense for free-agent WR Terrell Owens, but don't expect anything to happen in the immediate future, John Clayton writes in his latest mailbag.