Let’s Get Real … and Then Talk About Draft Charades
Want a feel-good story amid all the misinformation swirling around the NFL? Saints owner Tom Benson is opening his wallet—widely—to help Steve Gleason achieve a dream. And, yes, the latest draft buzz, including a big trade at No. 1
Allow me several paragraphs before we get into draft news (or, at least, draft rumors about Johnny Manziel and Jadeveon Clowney) and an interview with high pick Khalil Mack. There’s something else of note, something real … and at this time of year, when so much is smoke and mirrors and disguising real intent in advance of the draft, real sounds good to me right now.
New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson is donating $5 million to help former Saints special-teamer Steve Gleason, who now is wheelchair-bound with ALS, and his Team Gleason foundation build and operate Team Gleason House for Innovative Living. The gift, Gleason said, will be used as an endowment for annual operating expenses for the home. The house, in New Orleans, will allow 18 ALS patients to live fairly close to self-sufficient lives in rooms where the operation of everything will be controlled by patients’ eyes. The home is scheduled to open in June, and Gleason doesn’t want to stop at just one in New Orleans.
“Call me crazy,’’ Gleason said Sunday afternoon, “but I envision a facility like this in every NFL city.”
Gleason actually didn’t “say” this. His ALS has advanced to the point where he cannot move any extremities, and he “types” by focusing his eyes on a computer screen, arduously recording words letter by letter on the laptop.
“This is more than a philanthropic project between Team Gleason and Mr. Benson. This has become a friendship between people—people who are looking creatively at a massive problem and seeking solutions. Let me say that I believe this is an example of how players (ex-players in my case) and NFL organizations can unite to proactively address a problem that has not only affected the NFL, but also tens of thousands of families around the country.”
I asked Benson what motivated him to make this gift. “Steve is part of our Saints family,” Benson said. “He suffers from a terrible disease, but yet his focus and resolve is centered around finding a cure for ALS and helping others who suffer from ALS live full and prosperous lives—and he is doing that right here in his adopted hometown of New Orleans. We could not be more proud of him and [wife] Michel and Team Gleason.”
Gleason has never blamed football—high school, college or pro—for his condition, even though his kamikaze style of play might have contributed to his diagnosis of ALS. Rather, he has focused on doing something about a cure, appealing to the United Nations two years ago to raise the profile to fight the disease, and going about his daily life as much as possible without limits. His goal is for each NFL franchise to lead the way to building an ALS home in each market. “This gift from Mr. and Mrs. Benson,’’ he said, “will help ensure that the Team Gleason House for innovative living will fully meet patient needs. Most of what ALS takes away, technology can give back. The Team Gleason House actually allows ALS patients to control their environment—computers, TVs, lights, doors, elevators—using just their eyes. This innovative concept allows patients to live very independently without bankrupting their families. This will allow them to collaborate with peers and colleagues to continue whatever their purpose in life may be.”
I’ll be corny for a moment here. There’s something familial about New Orleans that’s different from most cities—maybe every city. Gleason is from Spokane, Wash. He wasn’t a big football hero in New Orleans—though he did make a signature play, blocking a Falcons punt in the first post-Katrina game, which led to a Saints’ upset of Atlanta—but the city loves him like a son. He has made that happen, through the force of his giving nature and because the city feels for him and his family. And because he refuses to be beaten by a disabling malady for which there is no cure. “New Orleans is a unique city,’’ Benson said. “If you love it, it will love you back more than you know.”
Benson has put his wallet behind that love, and he seemed thrilled to do it.
“Steve has this saying: ‘No white flags,’” said Benson. “If someone is going to be behind finding a cure for ALS, it’s going to be Steve Gleason.”
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Ten days and counting, mercifully. Go fast, clock. Scatter-shooting what I know, now that the visitation period between players and teams is over, and the final boards are due to be set league-wide this week—if they’re not set already:
- Momentum is gaining for the Atlanta Falcons to move up for Jadeveon Clowney. Not saying it’s going to happen; I’d list the odds at 40 percent. But if the Texans want to trade the No. 1 pick, the Falcons, as of this morning, are their best option. When Clowney visited Atlanta last week, he left a very positive impression with the Falcons’ coaches and brass. I’d heard before that meeting that the Falcons weren’t inclined to entertain thoughts about making such a bold move, from sixth pick in the first round to No. 1 overall. Now they are thinking of it. Let’s look not only at the favorable view of Clowney now, but also at general manager Thomas Dimitroff’s history. In 2011 he was at No. 27 in the first round and wanted to move up to grab wide receiver Julio Jones. It took first-round picks in 2011 and 2012, a second-round pick in 2011, and fourth-round picks in 2011 and 2012—five picks overall—for Atlanta to go from 27 to six to get Jones. This year? To move from six to one, it would likely take Atlanta’s first-rounder this year and next—at least that would be close if you’re using the draft pick-trade chart. (The first overall pick is worth 3,000 points, the sixth 1,600. For an equal swap, the Texans might ask for more than two first-rounders, figuring there’s no way the Falcons will be drafting in the top 10 next year.) If the Texans would be happy to settle for, say, Blake Bortles or Khalil Mack, this would be a pretty good calculated risk to take, with a guaranteed first-rounder next year as the pot of gold for the risk Houston would be taking.
- There’s a rumor (apparently faulty) making the rounds about the Eagles moving up to try to get Johnny Manziel. I wouldn’t pass it along if the person who told me wasn’t smart and, to this point, reliable. But I just can’t see it, and I have someone who would know better than the rumor source telling me it absolutely won’t happen. Which seems smart to me, seeing that Nick Foles’ 27 touchdowns and two interceptions and 119.2 passer rating would be pretty damned foolish to throw out the window for Manziel. I just put it out there as an example of the kind of stuff that makes the rounds when so much of what happens at this time of year is designed to be a misdirection play. As Bills GM Doug Whaley said Friday, speaking to western New York reporters: “It’s finally one time where we can use you guys [reporters] to our advantage. There are things that you put out there to see if someone bites, and there are some things you put out there that are true. You have people read between the lines and you don’t want to show your hand. I’m sure everyone is doing the same thing.’’
- If Atlanta can’t get one, they can certainly get to No. 2. St. Louis holds two first-round picks—the second and 13th overall choices—and you should put something close to the mortgage down on the prospect of them trading one or both of them. The regime of GM Les Snead, in the two drafts in which he’s been in charge, has never not traded a first-round pick. In 2012 the Rams entered the draft with the second overall pick. They dealt that pick to Washington, acquiring the sixth and other stuff in return. Then they traded the sixth pick to Dallas for the 14th and other picks. In 2013, the Rams entered he draft with the 16th and 22nd picks in the first round. They traded up from 16 to eight to pick Tavon Austin, and traded down from 22 to 30 and picked Alec Ogletree. That means the Rams, under Snead, have traded their three first-round picks a total of four times. Any questions about their intentions with the two first-rounders on May 8?
- Manziel stuff. Come to find out that one team, at the NFL scouting combine, spent the entire 15-minute individual interview period with Manziel talking only about his personal life and his run-ins with trouble. When the horn blew to signify he had to go to his next speed-date, Manziel asked team officials and coaches in the room, “Any football questions?” There were none … This, by the way, from one NFL offensive coordinator whose team will not be choosing a quarterback high in this draft: “If I had the first pick in the draft, I’d take Manziel.” … I absolutely buy Dallas’ interest in Manziel. One: He is Jerry Jones’s kind of guy, and I believe Jones all along has had half an eye on Manziel, particularly if he could get him at a bargain position—say, the middle of the second round. I don’t believe Manziel will make it out of the first round, of course, but Jones could be sorely tempted at No. 16 overall if Manziel were there. Two: Tony Romo turned 34 last Monday, and his back is balky and twice surgically repaired, and Troy Aikman has been sounding the clarion call about the dangers of fooling with a bad back. Three: See number one.
- The top 10 of one team not in the top 10, though I do not know the order: Two quarterbacks (Johnny Manziel, Blake Bortles), four tackles (Greg Robinson, Jake Matthews, Taylor Lewan, Zack Martin), one defensive tackle (Aaron Donald), two pass-rushers (Jadeveon Clowney, Khalil Mack), one wideout (Sammy Watkins).
- Want a darkhorse for Carolina at 28—or, if the Panthers are lucky and he falls to 60? Guard-tackle Joel Bitonio of Nevada. Coach Ron Rivera went to Reno to meet him and came away impressed, I’m told.