Wednesday, March 31, 2010

My New Job with Jaguars DE Aaron Kampman

March 29, 2010 Issue

Kirk Ferentz’s agent: At the top of his game

March 31, 2010

By Mike Hlas

I somehow missed this in all the March Madness madness, but the Kansas City Star’s Bill Reiter had this story earlier this month on Neil Cornrich, the longtime agent of Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz.

A few excerpts, with thanks to the Star and Reiter:

He has represented — or still does, because the secrecy makes it hard to know — football coaches Bill Belichick, the Stoops brothers, Jim Leavitt, Bo Pelini, NFL players Mike Vrabel, Dallas Clark and Aaron Kampman, and many, many others.

He’s the most important sports figure you’ve never heard of, which is just the way he likes it. He rarely gives interviews, rarely allows the public to peer into his private world and, for all his cool and calm, seems a little perplexed he agreed at all to this intrusion. …

“I don’t think he ever plays the tough guy,” says Mike Wahle, a former NFL Pro Bowl guard for Carolina and Cornrich client. “Never puffs his chest. Not a peacock. Never been a guy who’s trying to have a confrontation or make enemies. But at the same time, if he has leverage — or he knows he’s in control — he’s going to push the issue. He’s a tiger but he doesn’t often bare his teeth.” …

Think to do things like include a clause in Dana Stubblefield’s contract that bars his team from designating him with the franchise tag, setting up a financial windfall and that leads Len Pasquarelli to gush you look “like the smartest man in America.”

Make Mike Wahle the highest-paid interior lineman at the time with a $28.5 million deal. Land $42 million — including $27.5 over the first three years — for the Colts’ Dallas Clark, making him the highest-paid tight end ever, two years before he becomes a Pro Bowler. Point out to people this is 50 percent more money than the next closest player at that position.

Outmaneuver schools like Kansas State, so much so that a head coach with a 17-20 record is given a secret $3.2 million buyout. …

And what about Ferentz?

Kirk Ferentz wanted to be a head coach.

The Cleveland Browns were moving to Baltimore and his boss, Bill Belichick, was out of a job. Ferentz asked for advice and Belichick, before he left, told his young assistant: This is business. Get an agent.

Belichick gave two names. His own agent and Neil Cornrich.

Cornrich’s name stopped Ferentz cold. Was Belichick kidding? That guy was often loathed within the Browns organization, so much so they had an unprintable nickname for him.

“I’m kind of surprised you picked him,’” Ferentz remembered saying. “He said, ‘He’s one of the smartest guys out there.’ ”

Until then, Ferentz had intentionally kept Cornrich at arm’s length during his time in Cleveland. The agent, to put it bluntly, had handed the organization its lunch on several occasions.

Not so great if he’s the enemy. But not so bad when he’s your agent.

“His passion is negotiating,” says Ferentz, who two years later became the football coach at Iowa. “He is always on the cutting edge. Back in ’93 when free-agency began, he understood the way (it) was going to work and the bylaws of the NFL probably better then a lot of coaches and NFL executives did.”

That Ferentz started as a Cornrich adversary only to become a client and close friend is a telling transition.

There’s much more to this story than the passages I cited here. I recommend you go back to the link and check it out. And, for Cornrich’s own take on things, here’s his Web site. After the Star’s piece on him, he has story after story on his clients, coaches and players.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Cornrich is the secret agent man


March 6, 2010

CLEVELAND | The Mercedes S550 pulls up to the hotel silver and sleek and shining with the gleam of money and power.

The man behind the wheel waves, and this alone is a minor miracle. With his slew of secret clients and the invisible strings he pulls across America’s sports landscape — including negotiating contracts that could cost two Kansas universities as much as $10 million in payouts to its former football coaches — it’s a wonder he showed up at all.


Neil Cornrich jumps lightly from his car, his black bouffant blowing in the wind, his Diesel jeans and sharp-looking black sweater completing the picture.

This is today’s super agent, a hybrid of disparate pieces cobbled together: Part warrior and part Buddha, part loyalist and part cunning adversary, part West Coast and part East Coast, part see-and-be-seen man about town and part mystery man.

Part true friend. Part skilled enemy.

“Let’s go see Cleveland,” the 52-year-old says as he climbs back into his car and hits the road. “Wait. Is that tape recorder on?”

It’s not, but please understand the man’s wariness. Cornrich is the guy who negotiated the contracts for Mark Mangino and Ron Prince, recipients of million-dollar go-away money. He has represented — or still does, because the secrecy makes it hard to know — football coaches Bill Belichick, the Stoops brothers, Jim Leavitt, Bo Pelini, NFL players Mike Vrabel, Dallas Clark and Aaron Kampman, and many, many others.

He’s the most important sports figure you’ve never heard of, which is just the way he likes it. He rarely gives interviews, rarely allows the public to peer into his private world and, for all his cool and calm, seems a little perplexed he agreed at all to this intrusion.

“I don’t want the spotlight,” he says later. “Are you writing that down?”

Of course this is being written down. No one knows anything about Neil Cornrich.

• • •

The man likes control. Control over his career, his car, his adversaries, this drive. He’s gotten where he has by being better than everyone else. That starts by dictating what needs to be dictated.

He hits the accelerator and the Mercedes shoots forward. Then the car slams to a halt, jarringly fast.

“What is this traffic!”

Cornrich swears with frustration. Even traffic jams should bend to his will. The lanes to the right — where he’s stuck — are gridlocked, but the left is a fast-buzzing blur.

“Hold on.”

The car creeps through bullets of moving traffic, and death seems certain. Finally, mercifully, there is open road.

“This is better,” Cornrich says merrily. “This’ll seem out of the way but don’t worry, we’ll circle back.”

Cornrich possesses a deep and jealous pride of his hometown, and the new route goes through its eastern heart. He fondly cruises through the tree-lined streets of Beachwood and Shaker Heights, where money and family and friends shaped him as a boy.

This is the Cornrich paradox: He is not what you think he is — a shady, slick, untrustworthy sports agent craving credit and the rush of fame — even though he is the things that fill out that caricature.

He is a hard-edged negotiator, he is and has been loathed by those he opposes, he does get better deals for his clients than most and, if you’re not careful, he can have you waking up one day, reading the fine print of a contract, muttering, “How did this happen?”

But in person, he seems more like a mix of a west-coast surfer in rich man’s clothes and an intellectual who spends his time at coffee shops pondering the meaning of man. He’s as likely to quote von Clausewitz’s “On War” as he is to show the shark beneath the welcoming smile.

“I don’t think he ever plays the tough guy,” says Mike Wahle, a former NFL Pro Bowl guard for Carolina and Cornrich client. “Never puffs his chest. Not a peacock. Never been a guy who’s trying to have a confrontation or make enemies. But at the same time, if he has leverage — or he knows he’s in control — he’s going to push the issue. He’s a tiger but he doesn’t often bare his teeth.”

Cornrich’s world revolves around his father and his two sisters and the memory of his mother. So now, as he talks at length about how his father taught him to be good to everyone, always, he does so with heartfelt conviction. Then he’s talking about what happens if peace meets the end of peace, using a theoretical story about a guy in a bar trying to start a fight.

“I’m going to tell the guy, ‘Look, I don’t want to fight. I don’t. We’re fine,” he says. “I don’t want to fight. Why fight? Peace is better. It is.

“I don’t want to go outside with him,” he says. “Even if he insists, I don’t want to. I want to be able to walk away.”

He’s quiet as the car hums.

“I don’t want to have to hurt him.”

• • •

The making of a sports agent from Cleveland goes something like this:

Be born into a close-knit family with wealth and a lot of love. Devour books. Admire unconditionally the father with the Bronze Star from fighting in Korea who became the extraordinarily successful lawyer and the mother who gave up teaching elementary school to be a stay-at-home mom.

Protect your sisters.

Play sports with a competitiveness that borders on obsession, from wrestling to tennis to boxing to football.

Make friends easily. Stay in touch. Go to the University of Michigan for undergrad and then go to Aspen for a few years to find yourself and then return home and enroll at Ohio State for law school. Think about the world deeply and plan with ambition and knowledge. Graduate, join the family practice. Tell your father, at whose law firm you work, that you want to be a sports agent.

Read the fine print, all the fine print, and understand better than your adversaries the nuances of the law and the rules and the bargaining agreements that will dictate the flow of money.

Hang up on your very first client, a promising Ohio State lineman named Kirk Lowdermilk, because you’re convinced it’s your friend Dave playing a joke on you. First, though, snap at Lowdermilk by saying something like, “Look, I just started for my dad’s firm and I have stuff I’m expected to do and I don’t want to get fired.” Then hang up.

When Lowdermilk calls back and insists he is, in fact, Lowdermilk, take the call.

With that client and the clients to come, see the negotiations like another wrestling match, a battle that if they take it personally afterward, well, hell, that’s on them. Fair is fair, even when one guy is beating the snot out of the other.

Have a handy response to the complexities of your makeup that goes like this: “Don’t confuse a person’s pleasant demeanor with a lack of resolve.”

Think to do things like include a clause in Dana Stubblefield’s contract that bars his team from designating him with the franchise tag, setting up a financial windfall and that leads Len Pasquarelli to gush you look “like the smartest man in America.”

Make Mike Wahle the highest-paid interior lineman at the time with a $28.5 million deal. Land $42 million — including $27.5 over the first three years — for the Colts’ Dallas Clark, making him the highest-paid tight end ever, two years before he becomes a Pro Bowler. Point out to people this is 50 percent more money than the next closest player at that position.

Outmaneuver schools like Kansas State, so much so that a head coach with a 17-20 record is given a secret $3.2 million buyout.

Watch your business explode.

• • •

Kirk Ferentz wanted to be a head coach.

The Cleveland Browns were moving to Baltimore and his boss, Bill Belichick, was out of a job. Ferentz asked for advice and Belichick, before he left, told his young assistant: This is business. Get an agent.

Belichick gave two names. His own agent and Neil Cornrich.

Cornrich’s name stopped Ferentz cold. Was Belichick kidding? That guy was often loathed within the Browns organization, so much so they had an unprintable nickname for him.

“I’m kind of surprised you picked him,’” Ferentz remembered saying. “He said, ‘He’s one of the smartest guys out there.’ ”

Until then, Ferentz had intentionally kept Cornrich at arm’s length during his time in Cleveland. The agent, to put it bluntly, had handed the organization its lunch on several occasions.

Not so great if he’s the enemy. But not so bad when he’s your agent.

“His passion is negotiating,” says Ferentz, who two years later became the football coach at Iowa. “He is always on the cutting edge. Back in ’93 when free-agency began, he understood the way (it) was going to work and the bylaws of the NFL probably better then a lot of coaches and NFL executives did.”

That Ferentz started as a Cornrich adversary only to become a client and close friend is a telling transition. Cornrich says he wants peace but promises to win if there’s war, and it helps explains the love and hate surrounding the man and the pickle Kansas State — and many other institutions and teams who have sat opposite Cornrich at the bargaining table — finds themselves in.

During Cornrich’s negotiations last year with then-Kansas State athletic director Bob Krause, there were pleasantries by e-mail that masked the coming fury of lawsuits, accusations and counter accusations.

In the end, though, the e-mails read like not only a polite groundwork for negotiation but a carefully constructed effort to document Prince’s buyout. The e-mails are, many observers agree, a very smart tactic by a sports agent schooled at making people comfortable while getting what he wants and ensuring there’s proof of the agreement.

When Prince was fired, he was due a $1.2 million buyout. But K-State officials then discovered a “secret” agreement that outlined an additional $3.2 million in buyout payments and the school headed to court to challenge it. The school’s lawsuit alleged Cornrich had acted in bad faith and deliberately excluded K-State officials from the negotiations. It’s a claim Prince’s countersuit, which asks for an additional $3 million in punitive damages, denies.

At Kansas, Cornrich represented coach Mark Mangino, who after being forced to resign received a $3 million buyout.

In 2005, the NFL Players Association suspended Cornrich for a year after he testified as an expert witness against the estate of the late Chiefs linebacker Derrick Thomas, which was found to be a violation of the association’s conflict of interest policy.

There’s also the general fact that many people view Cornrich as a shady character, views that sound similar to those of Ferentz in 1996.

Nonetheless, Cornrich has landed huge contracts for many athletes and coaches, a fact his Web site can be quick to point. As he can be, if you can get him to talk.

In his very first negotiation, a young Cornrich convinced Lowdermilk, the third pick of the third round the 1985 draft, to hold out for a better signing bonus. Lowdermilk was skeptical. Some of the people who cared about him were skeptical (including Glen Mason, then an Ohio State assistant and a one-time KU coach, who tried to have Cornrich fired but later became his client).

Cornrich held firm, and had his first client hold out.

“They’re offering $65,000 to sign and a $70,000 signing bonus,” Cornrich said proudly. “He ended up getting a $251,000 bonus, which was basically three times the 30th pick. That was pretty good for my career.” Oh, and one more detail. “No. 30 was Isaac Holt (at) $80,000 and $75,000. So we crushed them.”

During the wooing process, Cornrich has presented at least one prospective client with articles and evidence that show other agents they’re considering are less than stellar. He plays hardball.

Given Cornrich’s love for Eastern culture and his propensity to mix bits of Gandhi and Buddha with sports stories and out-loud love letters to Cleveland, it is appropriate that his Yin and Yang are so starkly at odds: Loved by so many, loathed by so many, and totally at peace with the difference.

• • •

The Mercedes rolled through downtown Cleveland and into a cavernous concrete parking garage nearby Quicken Loans Arena.

Cornrich backed up his car very slowly. He got out. No other cars were even remotely near his vehicle. His Mercedes looked appropriately spaced between the lines but he didn’t think so. He pulled out, reversed again, looked again, and again was displeased.

He asked his passenger to get out of the car and indicate how he should maneuver the car. His passenger didn’t see how Cornrich could park any better — particularly in an empty garage. Cornrich proceeded to park until the Mercedes was perfectly aligned. This took a very long time.

Then, with such courtesy that it seemed disingenuous — though two days with him would show such grace that are a staple of his dealings with everyone he encountered — Cornrich walked toward the parking attendants to ask if it was OK that he’d parked where he had.

The two people, a man and a woman each wearing bright vests, looked at Cornrich as if as he were the strangest sight they’d ever seen — someone driving a sleek Mercedes asking their permission for anything.

Once inside the arena, Cornrich stepped into the luxury suite of Dan Gilbert, who owns the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Oscar Robertson was visiting in the corner. Bernie Kosar made a beeline for the food. Jerry West walked in looking decades younger than he is, which made Cornrich point and say, “Man, he looks good.” All-Star Antawn Jamison, who Cleveland had acquired in a trade the night before, sat in one of the red seats with worn wooden armrests. He was close enough to touch.

Cornrich pointed toward the crowd in front of him. “My sister’s at the game,” he said. “So is my nephew. So is my brother-in-law.”

He pointed straight ahead. “There’s Michael Milken.” Milken, the billionaire Cornrich had had dinner with a short time earlier. An appropriate dinner companion, given his dual reputation as a villain (for financial crimes that sent him to prison) and hero (for his philanthropic efforts and willingness to spend his fortune in the fight against cancer).

Outside the suite, people walked down the bowl of the arena to their seats and back again. People continued to spot Cornrich and shout to him, and vice versa.

One man gave a thumbs-up and waved.

“I saved that guy’s life,” said Cornrich, who as a child yanked his friend out the path of a speeding bus.

Another guy yelled out “Neil!”

“I just got that guy two tickets to the Super Bowl,” he said.

As the game wore on, Cornrich grew disinterested. He disappeared for a long time. When he returned he was ready to leave.

Cornrich, who is single but has a girlfriend who lives out west, wanted to go home. His dog needed to be let outside.

“This is what he does for a living, but he’s not caught up at all in it,” his sister Karen Hess said later. “He leads a very simple life. He’s not in this at all so he can be like, ‘I was at a Super Bowl party’ or the other lists and glitz of the sports world.”

As the game headed to overtime, Cornrich slipped out, unseen and unnoticed.

• • •

The people are beautiful. The instructor once walked the catwalks of America’s modeling scene. Cornrich, contorted and focused, scrunches himself into a position that does not look humanely possible.

The yoga studio is close to his work, and this place, too, mixes the many parts of the man. His sister is across the room. His mother is buried nearby, and during the drive over he stopped his car despite the traffic and pointed out her grave. She died four years ago, four months after a being told she had cancer.

The yoga, punctuated by music, is intense and brutal and strangely peaceful. The routine drives sweat to the mats beneath, and it is a battle between oneself. Cornrich, unlike some others, doesn’t falter.

Afterward, he drives to his country club, showers, throws on Kansas State warm-ups and has a quick lunch before driving to his office. There are dozens of signed footballs and pictures of clients, including one from Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli. Both men say he is a Cornrich friend but not a client.

“What else do you need to know?” Cornrich asks.

There’s so much. His successes and failures, his friends and enemies, his life as a sports agent and his attempts to stay rooted in his hometown. Why he keeps his clients secret, whether he’s the shark of the sports world or the Teddy bear of Cleveland. How a kid from here so ably learned the skill of shifting millions of sports dollars out of the pockets of some and into the bank accounts of others.

His answer is a parable about Gandhi during the revolution.

“People said, ‘We need violence,’ ” Cornrich says. “He said, ‘No we need to go do this, but we must do it right.’”

Cornrich leans forward.

“So Gandhi went on a train and traveled all over to spread his message. And one day a woman gets into to see him somehow. She asks him, ‘What is your message?’ ”

The woman wants something concrete, something to grasp on to, to explain away the great man and what he intends for India. She wants to know who Gandhi is, what he intends and whether it is his enemies or his friends who know him truly.

Gandhi answers, “Come back tomorrow.”

The next day, Gandhi hands her a tiny piece of paper.

Cornrich smiles: “She says, ‘Is this it?’ And he answers, ‘My life is my message.’ 

Friday, March 26, 2010

Neil Cornrich speaks at Harvard Law School

Spring 2010 Sports Law Symposium – Friday, March 26, 2010

The theme for the symposium is “Operating in the Shadow of Upcoming Collective Bargaining Negotiations.” We hope that each of our panels and keynote address will shed light on the key issues facing each league as it approaches the expiration of its collective bargaining agreement. In addition to discussing the key issues that will need to be resolved to avoid a labor stoppage in each league, we will look to explore how the labor uncertainty is affecting current operations within each league, and how any sort of a labor stoppage might affect the short-term and long-term interests of each league. In exploring each of these issues, we hope to draw from our panelists’ varied backgrounds to fully understand what is at stake for the leagues, teams, unions, players, and other entities close to the game.

Sports Legacy Institute Kickoff Luncheon

• Chris Nowinski, President and CEO, Sports Legacy Institute
• George Atallah, Assistant Executive Director of External Affairs, NFLPA
• Ted Johnson, Former NFL Player
• Isaiah Kacyvenski, Former NFL Player
• Christian Fauria, Former NFL Player
• Pete Kendall, Former NFL Player
• Moderator: Professor Peter Carfagna, Harvard Law School

• Robert Manfred, Executive Vice President for Labor Relations, MLB

• Derek Jackson, Vice President and General Counsel, Florida Marlins
• David Prouty, Chief Labor Counsel, MLBPA
• Timothy Slavin, Assistant General Counsel, MLBPA
• Joseph Rosen, Partner, Brown & Rosen
• Daniel Halem, Senior Vice President, General Counsel for Labor, MLB
• Moderator: Jimmy Golen, Associated Press

• Adolpho Birch, Vice President of Law and Labor Policy, NFL
• David G. Feher, Partner, Dewey & LeBoeuf
• Neil Cornrich, President, NC Sports
• Sarah Stuart, Senior Counsel, Reebok
• Moderator: Professor Michael McCann, Vermont Law School

• Jeffrey Mishkin, Partner, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom
• Hal Biagas, Executive Vice President of Management, Wasserman Media Group
• Michael Zarren, Assistant General Manager and Team Counsel, Boston Celtics
• Robert Tilliss, CEO, Inner Circle Sports
• Moderator: Professor Peter Carfagna, Professor, Harvard Law School

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

NC Sports Clients Mike Stoops, Kirk Ferentz get the most out of their talent

From Bret Feddern's "2010 College Football Rankings: 10 Leaders Who Out-Coach Their Talent"

March 24, 2010

More often than not, mediocre coaches get credit for the success of programs and recruits they inherited rather than their own efforts or merits.

Almost any head coach can be successful when inheriting a team full of four- and five-star recruits and a healthy foundation under the program.

Unfortunately, not all coaches are awarded their position under such circumstances, and not all programs have the ability to lure in four- or five-star recruits.

Those situations prove that a college football head coach needs to be a professional who can train and develop football talent in players.

In order to rebuild a program, a coach has to do more with less. That means taking average recruits and developing them into the best they can be.

There are several coaches in college football these days that have been doing just that.

Mike Stoops, Arizona

The state of Arizona isn't exactly a hotbed for high school football activity.

Since much of the state is a desert wonderland, the temperatures don't lend the most conducive atmosphere to football. That hasn't stopped Arizona head coach Mike Stoops from turning the Wildcats into a Pac-10 competitor.

Stoops has always gotten more out of less, from when he was a player to his time as a head coach. He is a true believer in hard work, and that has paid off well for Arizona.

This past year, despite losing key players in talent positions, Stoops was able to land the Wildcats in the Holiday Bowl and finish the season ranked No. 23.

Kirk Ferentz, Iowa

Kirk Ferentz might be the king of doing more with less.

Ferentz and the Iowa Hawkeyes coaching staff have consistently overachieved with the talent they've had on hand.

That, or experts have underestimated every recruiting class at Iowa since Ferentz took over.

According to Rivals, recruiting classes at Iowa under Ferentz have averaged a ranking of 40 nationally. Yet, year after year, Iowa sends player after player to the NFL.

This year, Iowa had seven invites to the 2010 NFL Combine, which tied for the most players from any one school. This year's NFL Draft could see six Hawkeyes selected.

Ferentz is known to look for the diamond in the rough, and it works well for him. If you need proof, just ask Dallas Clark.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Friday, March 19, 2010

Kampman leaves Packers, heads south

Aaron Kampman will be glad to put his hands on the turf at Jacksonville next season. He returns to defensive end, signs with Jaguars.

By Rob Reischel

March 17, 2010

Aaron Kampman never fully took to playing linebacker in Green Bay's 3-4 defense. He missed the final six games of 2009 after tearing his left anterior cruciate ligament. After turning 30 in November, many think Kampman's better days might be in the past.

But make no mistake about it, when Kampman signed with Jacksonville on the second day of free agency, Green Bay lost its best defensive player of the past decade and an all-time great Packer.

In eight seasons with Green Bay, Kampman
went from an unheralded fifth-round draft choice to a player that posted the fourth most sacks (54) in franchise history. He exemplified hard work, professionalism and maximized every ounce of talent he had.

"Aaron Kampman, you definitely want to wish him the best," Packer coach Mike McCarthy said at last weekend's Fan Fest.

"He was an excellent representative of the Green Bay Packers both on and off the field. You never know, you may have an opportunity to work with him again someday. That's the type of outlook that I have when you lose a person like Aaron.

"He was a joy to coach, a very productive player on the field, but even a better person in the community and among his teammates in the locker room. We do wish him the best, but this is a part of our business."

Despite the knee injury, the Jaguars liked what they saw and gave Kampman a four-year, $26 million deal with $11 million guaranteed. Green Bay made an offer as well, but it isn't believed to have come close to what the Jaguars offered.

"I think for me the better fit was down here," Kampman said. "I think that the direction of (Green Bay's) organization maybe didn't include me as much as it had in the past. So I think it was the right time for me to make this transition."

After the Packers switched from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 scheme, there was no guarantee that Kampman would stick around.

The standout defensive end was asked to switch to linebacker - a position that was completely new and unnatural to him.

Kampman had 42 tackles and 3 1/2 sacks during nine games last season, but he didn't have nearly the impact at linebacker as his first seven seasons at defensive end.

"I'll just say this: I like to go forward," Kampman said. "There are a lot of nuances at outside linebacker. I'm a guy who likes to work on his craft and hone it down to the minutest detail. I was doing seven-on-seven in practice rather than one-on-ones. Normally, when I break down film, I look at offensive tackles and I study them to the T, but (at outside linebacker), I had to break down receivers and running backs.

"It was a more difficult transition in that sense and then just being out there in a two-point rather than a three-point stance. So I'm excited to put my hand back on the ground, very excited. I have a fire burning to do that."

Kampman certainly played with that fire during his time in Green Bay.

Kampman was the poster boy for all of the NFL's underdogs. Despite a stellar career at the University of Iowa, NFL scouts were never sold on Kampman.

He ran the 40-yard dash in a disappointing 4.87 seconds at the 2002 NFL combine, making it questionable if he could succeed at defensive end. He also lacked ideal size (6-foot-4, 284 pounds) to survive inside at defensive tackle.

So it wasn't a great shock that Kampman was still on the board for Mike Sherman and the Packers to select in the fifth round of the 2002 draft.

Kampman got his chance to shine early when injuries sidelined players such as Joe Johnson and Vonnie Holliday.

By 2004, the Packers committed to Kampman as a starting defensive end and he made the organization look fantastically smart.

From 2006 to '08, Kampman's 37 sacks were the third most in football. He sculpted his body and became a lean, yet powerful edge rusher. And he watched enough film to rival Roger Ebert.

"You can go down and down the list and find a lot of guys that are drafted late, then come here and want to prove to everybody that they can play," wideout Donald Driver once said of Kampman. "And Kampman's one of those guys."

Kampman, a man of great faith, became extremely involved in the Green Bay community. He also remained loyal to his roots and returned to Parkersburg, Iowa - the area where he grew up - and played a role in that town's cleanup after it was struck by an F5 tornado in 2008.

Through it all, Kampman played terrific football for Packers. He went to the Pro Bowl in 2006 and '07 and led the NFC in sacks in 2006 (15 1/2 ).

"You can win a lot of games with a team full of Aaron Kampman's," said Bob Sanders, who was Green Bay's defensive coordinator from 2006 to '08. "He never quits. He's a tremendous worker, sets a great example for the rest of the team. Really, he's all you ask for as a coach."

Green Bay will move forward with second-year man Brad Jones, who filled in admirably when Kampman was injured last year. The Packers could take an outside linebacker somewhat high in April's draft as well.

As for Kampman, he'll try finding new life in Jacksonville, where he'll play right defensive end for the first time as a pro.

"I think I can help; I hope I can help," he said. "I've been on a very young team in Green Bay. What I have learned is that with the great teams I have been a part of, they care of one another.

"That is how you build consistency and you build championships over time, you're consistently good. Hopefully, I will have an opportunity to get to know this locker room and over time develop that respect to where I can provide a positive influence."

That's something he certainly did during eight memorable seasons in Green Bay.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Katie Smith signs with Washington Mystics

By Howard Fendrich

March 17, 2010

WASHINGTON — OK, Katie Smith, no pressure or anything, but get a load of the basketball big shots name-checked by Washington Mystics general manager Angela Taylor at Tuesday's news conference announcing your signing.

For starters, Taylor called Smith "the LeBron James of this free-agency process."

Later on, Taylor noted that Smith is the third-leading scorer in WNBA history and, when points from the ABL are added in, the highest scorer in all of U.S. women's professional basketball, which prompted this assessment:

"She is the Wilt Chamberlain or the Michael Jordan of the WNBA," Taylor said, adding: "She is truly one of the best players to ever have played this game."

That is a lot to live up to, certainly.

Still, Smith does bring some serious credentials to a building Mystics team that went 16-18 last season to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2006.

The 5-foot-11 guard helped the Detroit Shock win two WNBA championships and was the MVP of the 2008 finals. She also was a member of three Olympic champion U.S. basketball teams -- at the 2000, 2004 and 2008 Summer Games.

"I'm going to be happy to have her on a team and not have to play and coach against her," Mystics coach Julie Plank said.

The 35-year-old Smith missed the last seven games of last season and the playoffs with Detroit because of a herniated disc in her back that left her numb.

But she pronounced herself fit Tuesday.

"The timing of the injury allowed me to have a whole full offseason to do what I needed to do and not rush back," Smith said. "Now it's just getting on the floor and getting the rust off and getting the timing back."

She has averaged 15.7 points, 3.1 rebounds and 2.8 assists for her WNBA career across 11 seasons with Minnesota and Detroit. Her 5,446 points rank behind only Lisa Leslie and Tina Thompson in league history.

With her time in the ABL, where she also was a league champion, Smith's point total is a record 6,879.

The Mystics are hoping Smith can help continue the franchise's improvement, bringing a sense of been-there, done-that to last season's youngest playoff roster.

"She's everything that I'm striving to be. She's been an Olympian. She's won WNBA championships. She's done everything there is possibly to do," Mystics leading scorer Alana Beard said. "Her mental toughness, her leadership, her experience is definitely what we need to take that next step and win a championship."

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Stoops Aims to Revive FSU Defense


March 15, 2010

TALLAHASSEE | The Arizona Wildcats' defense was atrocious - ranked well below 100 - when Mark Stoops took over as defensive coordinator in 2004.

Along with his brother, Arizona coach Mike Stoops, Mark helped turn the Wildcats into one of the nation's top 25 defenses.

"Where we came in, it was a very difficult situation, one of the worst in college football," Stoops said. "It didn't happen as fast as we'd have liked, but (we're) very pleased with where the program is right now."

Stoops finds himself in another difficult situation this season as Florida State's defensive coordinator. The Seminoles were 108th in total defense in 2009. Arizona, by comparison, was 25th.

The 42-year-old Stoops said FSU fans will see some differences from what Mickey Andrews did for the past 26 seasons. Stoops said FSU will retain its 4-3 defense but emphasized that it will offer "multiple" looks.

"I think the biggest change that you will see is that there will be a difference in some zone coverages," Stoops said. "They will be more multiple on the back end, and we will play some man and some zone, but we will mix it up.

"We will attack, but in the Pac-10 with Arizona, we led the conference in sacks, and I wouldn't say we are an overly aggressive blitzing control defense. I think we are very precise."

Precision was missing last season as the Seminoles allowed 30 points per game, missing tackles and giving up big plays that contributed to a 7-6 record.

Andrews retired in November, and coach Bobby Bowden was forced to retire a few weeks later. New coach Jimbo Fisher has overhauled the staff, bringing in five new assistant coaches.

The defensive staff, with the exception of Bartow native Odell Haggins, is new to FSU but familiar to Stoops. "What a phenomenal class act. Tremendous worker and great knowledge," Stoops said of Haggins, calling him "Mr. FSU."

Stoops said leaving Arizona was a tough decision but that he wanted to return to coach in Florida, was intrigued by FSU's tradition and had a desire to work with Fisher, whom he had formed a friendship with on the recruiting trail a decade ago.

"It's a blank canvas," Stoops said. "We're going to start fresh."

Stoops did just that at Arizona. Before that, he spent the 2001-03 seasons at Miami (going 3-0 against FSU). He coached a Hurricanes secondary that was loaded with future NFL stars, including Ed Reed, Sean Taylor and Antrel Rolle.

Stoops returned to the Sunshine State less than three months ago and hit the ground running with recruiting. While he's focused on the future, he emphasized his respect for the past when referencing his recent meetings with Andrews.

"I love just visiting with him, talking about things, and having him around our players," Stoops said. "I hope he stops by and is a presence around here."

Stoops said he is humbled to be replacing Andrews.

"It's very big shoes to fill," Stoops said. "He's a legend in my eyes."

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Iowa Legislature honors Hawkeyes’ Kirk Ferentz

UI football coach Kirk Ferentz on Jan. 5, 2010


MARCH 10, 2010

University of Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz was honored today at the Iowa Capitol for “one of the most entertaining, talented, and successful teams in Hawkeye history.”

“It was an exciting year, to say the least,” Ferentz told the Iowa Senate this afternoon. “It’s a little easier to look back now that we know what the results were.”

In January, the University of Iowa claimed its biggest bowl victory in a half-century, defeating Georgia Tech 24-14 in the Orange Bowl.

It was the Hawkeyes’ first victory in a Bowl Championship Series game and most significant bowl victory for the school since its 38-12 triumph over the University of California in the 1959 Rose Bowl.

Ferentz told senators today that many Iowans have told him in the last couple months that the football team and the bowl victory brought them joy.

“That’s one of the great things about sports,” Ferentz said. “It gives everybody a chance maybe to get a release for a couple hours during the week and just focus on something that maybe takes their mind off some hardships or tough times and certainly our state’s been through some tough times in the past couple years. If it helped in any way, we’re really thrilled about that.”

The best part of his job is working with the outstanding student athletes and staff, he said.

But Ferentz teasingly chided Ron Stewart, who was on the sidelines of the 1959 Rose Bowl game as a child, and is now the Hawkeye’s chief of security.

Stewart let security slip the night of the Orange Bowl game, he said.

“At the end of the bowl game, he helped those guys nail me with the Gatorade and I got a cold shower that night,” Ferentz said.

Ferentz repeatedly thanked lawmakers for their support for all the University of Iowa’s programs.

“I’m very proud to be an Iowan,” he said. “I’ve coached at other places and believe me when I tell you that we have a very, very unique support level in Iowa and I’m very appreciative of that.”

Both the House and Senate sponsored resolutions today offering congratulations.

After the Senate approved its version, sponsored by Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, and Bob Dvorsky, D-Coralville, Ferentz earned chuckles when he said: “I don’t know much about politics other than watching a little bit on television. I’m just guessing, not too many things get passed through here this quickly.”

Here’s what Senate Resolution 108 says:

“A Resolution to celebrate the highlights for the 2009 football season of the University of Iowa football team.

“WHEREAS, the 2009 University of Iowa football team will be remembered as one of the most entertaining, talented, and successful teams in Hawkeye history; and

“WHEREAS, the 11 wins equals the program’s 2002 record for victories in a season; and

“WHEREAS, the regular season win total of 10 was achieved for only the fourth time; “and WHEREAS, for the first time ever, the Hawkeyes won the first nine games of a season; and

“WHEREAS, Iowa played in a January bowl game for the sixth time in eight years; and

“WHEREAS, Iowa won a Bowl Championship Series-caliber bowl game for the first time since 1959 in beating Georgia Tech in the 2010 FedEx Orange Bowl 24-14; and

“WHEREAS, the Hawkeyes finished the 2009 season with an 11-2 overall record and a 6-2 Big Ten mark, finishing in a second place tie; and

“WHEREAS, the Hawkeyes have won at least nine games for the fifth time in the last eight years and for the seventh time in school history have won 10 games or more; and

“WHEREAS, the Hawkeyes were ranked seventh in both major polls at the conclusion of the season, the highest final ranking for the program since 1960; and

“WHEREAS, defensive end Adrian Clayborn was named Most Valuable Player of the FedEx Orange Bowl; and

“WHEREAS, Coach Kirk Ferentz was named Big Ten Coach of the Year for the third time; and

“WHEREAS, offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga was picked as the Big Ten’s Offensive Lineman of the Year; and

“WHEREAS, All-Big Ten first teamers included Bryan Bulaga (OL), Dace Richardson (OL), Tony Moeaki (TE), Adrian Clayborn (DE), Pat Angerer (LB), Tyler Sash (DB), and Amari Spievey (DB), and five additional Hawkeyes were named to the league’s second unit; and

“WHEREAS, Bryan Bulaga and Pat Angerer were named first-team all-Americans, Tyler Sash was a second team choice, and Adrian Clayborn made the third team; and

“WHEREAS, the Iowa Hawkeyes have earned 70 wins since the start of the 2002 season, which places them at a tie for the 16th highest total in Division I football; and

“WHEREAS, Iowa’s football record in the 2000 decade was 80-45 (.640), a record that ranks as the best decade in Iowa football history, based on total wins;


“That the Senate congratulates the University of Iowa football team for a stellar season and looks forward to a great season in 2010.”

Shannon, Miami hope to take next step

Things are looking up for Randy Shannon and Miami as they gear up for 2010, when the Hurricanes should be a top 25 team.

By Tom Dienhart

March 11, 2010

Randy Shannon is having fun. It's March, and his Miami Hurricanes are deep into spring practice.

"This is a critical time of the year," he said. "We have to get some things figured out. But we are getting closer. We are getting better."

This is a big spring in Coral Gables, a spring that may serve as the opening salvo in a big season for Shannon and his Hurricanes.

The brush strokes of Shannon's first three seasons have been bold and dramatic. They had to be. He inherited a listing program that was broke, a roster that had grown talent-poor.

Look at Miami now. The Hurricanes will enter 2010 as a top 25 team capable of winning their first ACC title -- and their first league crown of any kind since the 2003 Big East crown -- and perhaps even contending for a national championship.

"You look at our records -- 5-7, 7-6, 9-4 -- you hopefully can take that next step and get two more wins," said Shannon, who led the 'Canes to their first nine-win season since 2005 last fall. "It seems like in this conference, you have to get 11 wins to win it. We will strive for it and work for it."

This spring, it's all about fine-tuning the roster. Shannon's to-do list includes shoring up an offensive line that must replace both tackles. The running back situation is a bit dicey, as Graig Cooper's status is unknown after he suffered a knee injury in the Champs Sports Bowl. And the Hurricanes are operating this spring without quarterback Jacory Harris, who is out while recovering from an injury to his throwing hand.

"They used to be young guys," Shannon said. "Now they have played two years and are in their third year. From watching them develop and watching how they respond, I think they are ready to take that next step."

If they don't, will Shannon be around? He has only one year left on his contract. There have been reports of Miami athletic director Kirby Hocutt and Shannon discussing a contract extension, but nothing has transpired. Hocutt didn't respond to an interview request for this article.

"It would be nice if it gets done in the near future," Shannon said.

Shannon was promoted from defensive coordinator and took over after Larry Coker was fired following the 2005 season. Shannon inherited a team that largely was devoid of talent. Miami had 11 players drafted in 2002, including five first-rounders. There were eight draftees -- with four first-rounders -- in 2003, and nine in 2004, with a record six going in the first round. But there have been just six first-rounders in the past five drafts and just four total picks in the past two drafts.

Miami has made inroads on the recruiting trail, topped by the nation's No. 5 class in 2008.

Miami has made progress in the classroom as well as on the field. Miami and Notre Dame were awarded the AFCA's Academic Achievement Award at the end of 2009 for graduating 100 percent of the eligible class of 2002 freshmen.

Shannon also has operated a clean program,
with only two Miami players having been arrested -- on misdemeanor charges -- since 2005.

"We have worked hard and think we have things pointed in the right direction," Shannon said.

Miami also has climbed back to respectability despite sub-standard facilities and the lack of an on-campus stadium. Shannon is doing his part, as he personally has raised $1.8 million for facilities.

Shannon is the lowest-paid coach in the ACC, making around $900,000; he is the only one making less than $1 million a season.

That Shannon has just one year left on his contract has had a negative impact on Miami's recruiting. The Hurricanes had their lowest-rated recruiting class in 2010 under Shannon, finishing fourth in the ACC.

"People will always look to try and create some advantage and may have tried to use that as a talking point," Shannon said. "But my focus was on the student-athletes, connecting with them, and getting them to understand what a great family we have here, have always had in the football program, and that we are building something special that they can be a part of."

Some of that building process has involved coaching changes. Shannon fired offensive coordinator Patrick Nix after the 2008 season and hired Mark Whipple off the Philadelphia Eagles' staff to run the offense.

Whipple developed the Miami passing game into something to be feared. He also played a big role in developing Harris, who emerged last fall as one of the nation's most promising quarterbacks in leading Miami to victories over the likes of Oklahoma, Georgia Tech and Florida State.

Miami's offense ranked fourth in the ACC (399.9 ypg) and 45th in the nation in 2009, a big step up from 2008, when the Hurricanes averaged 326.0 yards and were 89th in the nation.

This season's offense should be more productive than last season's attack. The staff is excited about a talented trio of receivers in LaRon Byrd, Leonard Hankerson and Travis Benjamin. The key is finding two new starting tackles and developing young running backs such as Lamar Miller and Damien Berry.

"I feel like it's my time to show the fans and my coaches what I have, so I'm just trying to come out here and compete and make myself and the team better," said Miller, who redshirted last season. "I want to improve my blocking and pass protection. In high school, we didn't do that much pass-protection because we ran the ball a lot."

The defense, which is Shannon's bailiwick, returns 11 players who made at least six starts last season. Now, it's time to deliver big results.

"Do I feel pressure?" Shannon asked. "All the time because it's Miami -- the pressure of winning and just the pressure of knowing what expectations are. But at Miami, you don't just have to win games, you have to win championships.

"You can't win eight, nine or 10 games; you have to win it all to have any success. And the following year, you have to do it again. But it is fun."

Draft winds
Last year, Miami saw its record 14-year streak of producing at least one first-round NFL draft choice end. And it ended with a resounding thud, as the Hurricanes had just one player selected: linebacker Spencer Adkins in the sixth round by the Atlanta Falcons.

The streak began in 1995, with defensive tackle Warren Sapp being picked 12th overall by the Buccaneers. It ended with safety Kenny Phillips being chosen 31st overall in 2008 by the Giants.

Most draft experts think Miami will have five or six players picked in the April draft, but none look to be first-round selections.

Tight end Jimmy Graham is regarded by most as Miami's top prospect, and he played just one year after football after arriving at Miami on a basketball scholarship. Others who figure to get drafted are offensive tackle Jason Fox, linebacker Darryl Sharpton, running back Javarris James, cornerback Sam Shields and tight end Dedrick Epps.

Who could be Miami's next first-round pick? It may be defensive lineman Allen Bailey, offensive lineman Orlando Franklin or quarterback Jacory Harris (if he comes out) in 2011.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Ravens' Marshal Yanda a "red-star" player

From Tony Lombardi's "Q&A Eric DeCosta: Part II ~ With Boldin in nest, will Ravens' draft strategy change?"

March 9, 2010

TL: What is a red star player and have you drafted any over the past few seasons?

ED: A red-star player is a guy who is tough, durable, smart, productive and clean off the field from a character perspective. He’s got to play with a high motor and be relentless on tape. A few that we’ve drafted over the years include Haruki Nakamura, Marshal Yanda, Ed Reed, and Ray Rice. Oh, and Cedric Peerman was a red-star last year too. We lost him to Cleveland and then Detroit. Lardarius Webb could have been a red-star from an ability standpoint but some off-field concerns kept us from being able to designate him.

Jaguars can't resist urge to splurge on Aaron Kampman

By Gene Frenette

March 9, 2010
Well, so much for the Jaguars being flea-market shoppers in NFL free agency. Anybody who thought this franchise would only try to win on the cheap, or not make any moves to excite the fan base, needs to rethink that misguided logic.

Given the right circumstances, the Jaguars will open up the checkbook. That's why they never let Aaron Kampman go anywhere after making Jacksonville his first visit, handing him $11 million in guaranteed money to stake his future here.

It's hard not to like this transaction. The 30-year-old Kampman is a high-motor pass rusher who figures to be a lot more productive than Hugh Douglas or Bryce Paup, neither of whom proved worthy of owner Wayne Weaver's investment.

From an image standpoint, this quick free-agency splash for Kampman looks more sensible than the 2008 splurge for Jerry Porter and Drayton Florence. There were questions about how they would fit in as soon as the ink was dry on their contracts.

When you see Kampman's body of work - though some uncertainty remains about how he will recover from a torn anterior cruciate ligament - at least he has the resume and pedigree NFL personnel look for in a football player.

There won't be much doubt about whether center Brad Meester's high school teammate has the work ethic to make the Jaguars better. Meester has given the Jaguars everything in his tank for nine years, and Kampman wouldn't be one of Meester's closest NFL friends if he operated any differently.

The Jaguars are as desperate as ever to find a solution for an anemic pass rush. Because there was no guarantee that an impact rookie would fall to them in the NFL draft, signing Kampman gives them more flexibility on draft day.

It seems like the right call. With 47 sacks in his last 72 games and a history of durability before this knee injury, Jaguars general manager Gene Smith felt Kampman was a "calculated risk worth taking."

Let me put this in a way longtime Jaguars fans can understand: Kampman is ex-Jaguar Joel Smeenge (34 sacks from 1995-2000) with more ability to collapse the pocket. His presence should make it easier for Derrick Harvey, Terrance Knighton and John Henderson to put the quarterback down.

If his first public appearance Monday in his new NFL home means anything, Kampman should be a natural for this market. His blue-collar Iowa roots, playing well above his fifth-round draft selection, elevating himself into an elite pass-rusher - those are qualities that put people in the seats.

When he talked about his edge of mental toughness, Kampman said he learned from watching ex-Packers teammates such as Vonnie Holliday, Brett Favre and William Henderson.

"I looked at what separated them from other guys," Kampman said. "I learned at an early point in my career that the mind was still the greatest asset on the football field, coupled with your heart."

In the Jaguars' history, high-priced free agents have proven to be more fool's gold than instant success, but it doesn't mean you stop taking expensive swings to improve the team.

In Smith's 14 months as GM, he's given little reason to not trust his judgment. Paying for Kampman looks like a smart move.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Saints' Payton calls Dallas Clark Colts' "best player"

From Peter King's "Ten Things I Think I Think"

March 8, 2010

6. I think NFL Films did a heck of a job on the Saints' Super Bowl video -- with one exception. The video comes out Tuesday, and I highly recommend it for the (as usual) inside-the-game aspects that you'll never see anywhere else. I got a chance to preview the DVD this weekend, and the only thing the video doesn't capture, in my opinion, is how different this Super Bowl title was from all the others.

This Super Bowl was a win as much for the community and Saints Nation as it was for the team. And though NFL Films touches on that several times in the sometimes transfixing video (interviewing local luminaries like Anne Rice about the meaning of it, and Drew Brees as well), it missed the chance to immerse the video in the local emotion of it. I thought the Tuesday Super Bowl parade deserved more than the credits rolling over it at the end of the video. [It turns out the Saints are going to put out their own DVD of the parade and other local events, and so NFL Films was not allowed to include much of substance from the parade. A shame.]

Here are some of the highlights from the Saints' season and the Super Bowl DVD that I liked, and that I'm sure you will:

a. Four men dressed as priests in white robes at one game ... and one of the "priests'' is holding a crucifix with a beer coozy around the middle of it. That's right -- a beer coozy, the foam thing that keeps beer cold. Just classic.

b. You'll see from two more NFL Films angles how easy a time Brett Favre would have had running for the first down on the play he threw the interception to lose the NFL title game. I know he said he couldn't have run for it, and maybe he couldn't -- but from my view, he had such an open field in front of him, he easily could have made the five or six yards that would have made the winning field goal by Ryan Longwell conceivable.

c. What a year Pierre Thomas had. He's the most underrated player on the team, easy.

d. What a playoff season Reggie Bush had. They have to keep him, even at $8 million for the year, in 2010.

e. Sean Payton to his offense on the sideline before attempting the fourth-and-one in overtime of the NFC title game, the two-yard plunge by Pierre Thomas: "You got the call here right? I love this call. I don't like it. I love it ... Hey, don't think. Ball security, Pierre.''

f. In the Super Bowl, Scott Fujita, miked, came to the sideline in the first half and reported on the progress about the mantra that was the defensive gameplan against Peyton Manning: "I'm getting Peyton good, man. Got three shots now.''

g. Sean Payton presaged the Manning first-half touchdown pass to Pierre Garcon, right over sub corner Usama Young. "Saw that one coming a mile away,'' he said.

h. You'll love the cinematography on the one-handed sack by Dwight Freeney and wonder to yourself: Imagine if Freeney were healthy for that game. What kind of difference would he have made?

i. In the second half, Payton walks to defensive assistant Joe Vitt, one of his most trusted coaches, and said pointedly: "Dallas Clark's got 149 yards now. Let's not let their best player beat us! That's a sin.''

Monday, March 08, 2010

Ex-Packer Kampman joins Jaguars

March 7, 2010 news services

Aaron Kampman, a two-time Pro Bowl defensive end, has signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars as an unrestricted free agent, the team announced Sunday.

A Change Of Plans?

The Jaguars were widely expected to draft a defensive end with the 10th overall pick in this year's draft. The signing of Aaron Kampman might alter the plan, writes Paul Kuharsky.
The team did not disclose the length of the contract or financial terms.

Kampman played his first eight NFL seasons with the Green Bay Packers. He has 54 career sacks and recorded at least 9½ sacks per season over three of the past four seasons.

A Pro Bowl selection in 2006 and 2007, Kampman moved to outside linebacker in 2009 as Green Bay shifted to a 3-4 defense. He had 55 tackles, including 3½ sacks, before a knee injury ended his season on Nov. 22.

Kampman flew into Jacksonville on Friday night, met with the team's staff on Saturday afternoon and negotiated into late Saturday night, according to the Florida Times-Union.

He should boost a pass rush that ranked last in the NFL with a franchise-low 14 sacks. The sack total is the fifth-lowest in NFL history.

The Jaguars used veterans, rookies, former first-round draft picks and a few undrafted guys in hopes of generating consistent pass rush last season. Even with different schemes, various blitzes and some new faces, nothing really worked.

Owner Wayne Weaver, general manager Gene Smith and coach Jack Del Rio all vowed to revamp the defensive line, knowing the team stood little chance of making the playoffs without more quarterback pressure.

Jacksonville, which also elevated its special teams with the signing of Kassim Osgood this weekend, targeted Kampman before free agency began Friday. The Jaguars hoped to land Kampman or former Tennessee defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch, who signed a four-year contract worth $26 million with Detroit.

Kampman's deal could be similar. Although he is coming off a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, Kampman is a year younger than Vanden Bosch, and despite playing in just nine games in 2009, finished with half a sack more than his counterpart.
The signing of the 30-year-old Kampman also sends a strong message to former first-round draft pick Derrick Harvey and second-rounder Quentin Groves, who both struggled in their two seasons.

Kampman has 592 tackles, 13 forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries in 112 career cames. He was a two-time Academic All-America at Iowa.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Two NC Sports clients among best free agent signings

By Christopher Price

March 5, 2010

With free agency set to begin Friday and the Patriots facing a number of key personnel decisions, we’re going to take a look at the best and worst of Bill Belichick’s forays into free agency with the Patriots. Yesterday, we looked at the five worst signings of the Bill Belichick Era. Today, here are the five best:

5. Defensive lineman Anthony Pleasant — signed as an unrestricted free agent on March 22, 2001

In the year following Belichick and Scott Pioli’s arrival in New England, they signed a ton of free agents, but few are more representative of the change in culture in New England — at least in the early days — than the arrival of Pleasant in Foxborough.

Pleasant, who was a part of the Patriots from 2001 through 2003 before he retired, gets a spot on this list for three reasons: One, he was a Belichick veteran from way back, having played for him in Cleveland (from 1991 through 1995) and New York (1998-99), and the fact that he had an extensive background with the coach made Belichick’s transition easier at the beginning of his head coaching career in New England.

Second, in his he was responsible for raising an entire generation of young Patriots defensive linemen, including Richard Seymour and Ty Warren, both of whom still refer to AP in reverential tones. In fact, in his three seasons in New England, few players were more respected in the locker room than Pleasant, who gave a memorable pregame speech before the 2002 finale against Miami where he compared Tom Brady to Moses.

And third, he was a pretty good defensive lineman — in 2001, he started all 16 regular season games on the defensive line and registered 43 tackles (35 solos), six sacks, two interceptions and forced one fumble. He also finished tied for second with Willie McGinest on the team with six sacks.

4. Running back Antowain Smith — signed by the Patriots on June 7, 2001
In the early days of the Belichick Era, the Patriots found a ton of low-cost free agents on the defensive side of the ball like Pleasant, Roman Phifer, Mike Vrabel, Bobby Hamilton and Otis Smith. But they also did well finding talent on the offensive side of the ball as well, with guys like Antowain Smith and David Patten.

The running back out of Houston, who was a salary dump by the Bills after the 2000 season, ended up starting 15 of 16 regular season games at running back in 2001 and led the Patriots (and ranked sixth in the AFC) with 1,157 yards rushing. He had a good postseason, capped off by a 92-yard effort in Super Bowl XXXVI.

He played another two seasons in New England, adding another 1,624 rushing yards and another Super Bowl ring. He bounced around the league for two seasons after leaving the Patriots, but never achieved the same level of success he had in New England.

3. Linebacker Rosevelt Colvin — signed by the Patriots as an unrestricted free agent on March 11, 2003

Prior to Colvin’s signing, the popular belief was that New England was unwilling to shell out big bucks in pursuit of elite free agents. But after a visit to Foxborough, it didn’t take long for Colvin to sign with the Patriots. (Of course, Belichick’s interest in Colvin should have been clear fromthis press conference, which the Patriots’ head coach gave in 2002 days before a game against Colvin and the Bears.)

Contracts are all relative, but despite a pair of season-ending injuries (2003 and 2007), no big ticket free agent has had a better overall career in New England than Colvin. A hip injury in the Week 2 win over the Eagles left him sidelined for the rest of the 2003 season and a foot injury sustained in November 2007 prematurely ended that campaign for him, but he was a pass-rushing presence for most of the rest of his career with the Patriots, finishing with 20.5 sacks from 2004 through 2006 (with a high of 8.5 in 2006).

Colvin was released by the Patriots in early 2008. He had a brief stint with the Texans in 2008, spending two-plus months with Houston before getting cut and returning to New England for a second time at the end of the 2008 season. He finished with 26.5 sacks in six seasons in New England.

2. Linebacker Mike Vrabel — signed by the Patriots as an unrestricted free agent on March 16, 2001

It’s important to remember how far out of left field Vrabel came: He was considering law school before Belichick gave him a call. But Vrabel remains one of the greatest examples of the strength of New England’s personnel department in the early stages of the 21st century — finding players who fit their system. A third-round pick of the Steelers in 1997, Vrabel was washing out in Pittsburgh — he was sitting behind several other linebackers, relegated to working as a pass-rushing specialist and and special teams duty throughout the first four years of his career. (His biggest achievement may have been sacking Drew Bledsoe and forcing a fumble with less than two minutes left in a 1997 playoff game against the Patriots.)

There was relatively little fanfare in his arrival in New England, but it was soon clear that Vrabel fit perfectly into the Patriots defense at outside linebacker, ending up as a defensive cornerstone on a team that won three Super Bowl titles. In eight years in New England, Vrabel had 48 sacks, including 12.5 in 2007. Almost as importantly, he helped set the tone in the locker room, helping create a businesslike atmosphere that provided guidance for many of the younger players.

1. Safety Rodney Harrison — signed as veteran free agent on March 12, 2003
In the early days of the 21st century, the Patriots had a very good team, but it took the arrival of Harrison to make them truly great. He may not have been around for Super Bowl XXXVI, but no single free agent had a greater impact on the franchise in the ensuing seasons than Harrison.

Harrison arrived in New England after a 2002 season that saw the Patriots get away from their mission statement: “We are building a big, strong, fast, smart, tough, and disciplined football team that consistently competes for championships.” Harrison wasn’t afraid of knocking anyone on their ass — he mixed it up with Tom Brady, Troy Brown and Kevin Faulk in his first few weeks of training camp, and delivered a high-intensity dose of attitude to a team that had started to believe its own press clippings.

Harrison had great numbers, but his greatest worth can be seen in a small slice of footage from an NFL Films highlight package from the 2003 AFC Championship Game where Belichick and Harrison embrace. Belichick then adds, “Am I glad we got you.”

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

First impressions of Patriots guard Stephen Neal… the wrestler

By Ian Rapoport

February 20, 2010

Speaking of cleaning out the digital recorder… as we did yesterday afternoon. I just went back over my interview with Neil Cornrich, the agent for guard Stephen Neal. Remember, Cornrich had discussed how his client decided against retiring earlier in the week.

But Cornrich, a huge amateur wrestling fan, also reminisced about the first time he saw Neal… dominating the collegiate wrestling ranks at Cal State Bakersfield (left, from an InterMat article). And really, it’s insane to think about how unbelievable Neal was on the mat.

Check out his bio. It tells of him finishing his last two collegiate seasons as an undefeated Div. I champion, then how he became the 1999 U.S. Freestyle champion, Pan-Am Games champion, and World Champion. He became one of two Americans to be named FILA International Freestyle Wrestler of the Year. The other was the icon, John Smith.

So, Neal was pretty sick. No wonder he has eyes toward further abusing of Brock Lesnar (who he beat in college)in the UFC after retirement.

Anyway, Cornrich was one of the people who helped discover Neal and point him toward football. What does he recall?

“The first time I ever saw him in my life, I saw him win an NCAA championship as a junior in Cleveland,” Cornrich recalled. “I was sitting there with John Frank, one of my best friends who played tight end for the 49ers who’s now an E.N.T. surgeon — Ear, Nose and Throat surgeon teaching at Columbia Medical School — and Kirk Lowdermilk, who was a state heavyweight champ and Big 10 champ at Ohio State, a great pro player himself. We sat out there, going, wow, who is this guy? And Kurt Lowdermilk was considered one of the toughest guys in the NFL. We sat there and went, ‘Wow.’ ”

And Neal’s transformation from wrestler to football player was impressive. Even still, he would be one of the guys in the NFL who could take down any other in a dark alley. And that says something.

Cornrich summed up Neal’s feelings about his career path.

“He is eternally grateful to Coach (Bill) Belichick for allowing him to have the opportunity to successfully transition from being a world champion wrestler to a pro football player,” Cornrich said. “And knows that without Coach Belichick’s patience, guidance and instruction that that probably wouldn’t have happened.“

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