Dec. 20, 2001
By Pete Prisco Senior Writer

At last week's meeting of NFL executives and salary-cap managers, the expansion plan for the Houston Texans was discussed at length.

The Texans were hoping for a more liberal plan than the one given to the Cleveland Browns in 1999. They won't get it.

The stocking plan will basically be the same one used by the Browns, which wasn't nearly as generous as the one Carolina and Jacksonville used in 1995. It was much more friendly in terms of draft picks, with each team getting two per round.

Most team executives thought that far too generous, especially after the Jaguars and Panthers went to their conference championship games in their second season, 1996.

Like the Browns, the Texans will get the first and 15th picks in Rounds 2-6 and the first, 15th and 32nd picks in Round 7. They will have just one first-round pick, No. 1 overall; the Jaguars and Panthers had two.

It's not necessarily the actual number of players selected that counts, however. Of the 21 taken by the expansion franchises in 1995, only Jaguars tackle Tony Boselli remains with his team. But armed with the extra picks, the Jaguars were able to trade for quarterback Mark Brunell before the draft. That's what those choices can do: give a team draft-day flexibility.

Houston was hoping to get a better stocking plan because it is felt free-agency is so much different than when Jacksonville and Carolina came into the league. Teams are locking up their own players, limiting the market.

The concept was new in 1995, allowing the expansion teams to spend freely and land several key players. The Jaguars signed 12 and the Panthers 17, although Panthers kicker John Kasay is the only one of the 29 still on either roster.

The Browns were able to sign 14 unrestricted free agents in 1999, which doesn't give Houston's argument about the change in free agency a whole lot of support.

For the Feb. 18 expansion draft, the Texans will be able to choose from a pool of players made up from five from each team. They can take 37 each and must have 30 of them, or 38 percent of their salary cap from those players, on the roster until June 1. That date is moved up from July 15, which is how long Cleveland, Jacksonville and Carolina had to keep those players on the books.

One of the key discussions about the expansion draft last week regarded players with "spiked" contracts. Their salaries will balloon next season, and teams might want to dump them into the pool hoping the Texans will take them and get their salary-cap money, including amortized bonuses, off the books.

The Texans are lobbying to make it so each team can include in the pool just two players who earn at least $1.2 million and are scheduled for a 75 percent salary increase the next year.

The proposal, which would prevent teams from loading the pool with players with huge contracts, is still being discussed. In 1999, there were 150 players exposed; 15 had "spiked" contracts, and only one was selected.

If the Texans are smart, they'll make sure the draft is what builds the franchise. Carolina and Jacksonville are in down cycles because poor drafting in 1995 came back to haunt them.

Around the league

  • The NFL sent each of its teams a memo Thursday notifying them that Roger Goodell has been promoted to the league's Chief Operating Officer. Goodell, who had been the vice president of business, properties and club services, is the clear No. 2 in rank to commissioner Paul Tagliabue . Since the departure of president Neil Austrian last year, Goodell has been acting as the No. 2, but this promotion makes it official. The league also notified its clubs that Tom Spock , the executive vice president of new media/Internet and enterprises, was resigning.
  • San Francisco coach Steve Mariucci might be denying those Notre Dame rumors, but there is certainly friction between Mariucci and Terry Donahue and Bill Walsh . Several sources who know Mariucci have talked in recent weeks about how unhappy he is in his current situation. It's tough being a coach of a team and having two former coaches, one who led the ***** to three Super Bowls, looking over your every move. If Notre Dame does opt to wait until after the season, Mariucci would certainly give it strong consideration, according to the sources. If he were to leave, Donahue, who is said to be yearning to get back into coaching, would take over. Incidentally, Walsh might just be a consultant, but word from the ***** camp is that he is around the facility daily, which can't be something that makes Mariucci happy.
  • Packers safety LeRoy Butler , out for the season with a shoulder injury, plans to have it heal without surgery. Butler, a four-time Pro Bowl selection, plans to play next season despite some talk that he was considering retiring. "I'm playing," he said. "I don't know who's saying that stuff. That needs to be cleared up." Without Butler, the Packers have been forced to start rookie Bhawoh Jue in his spot. Jue, who came into the league as a corner, has done a solid job, but the Packers badly miss Butler's smarts. That could be a big void if they are forced to face that St. Louis passing attack in the playoffs.
  • Even if Bucs coach Tony Dungy somehow gets a reprieve after the season, which isn't likely with Bill Parcells ready to take over, he would almost certainly be forced to fire offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen . Tampa Bay has been awful on offense in Christensen's first season. He is Dungy's third offensive coordinator, and with each one, the offense appears to become even more disoriented. The Bucs can't run, a Dungy staple. Players are starting to question the way things are being done, and Christensen is facing the firing squad. Some have taken to calling him "Clod" Christensen, and there have even been some fans that have longed for the days of Les Steckel -- if you can believe that. Line coach Chris Foerster is also rumored to be in trouble. Watch out if the Bucs lose to New Orleans on Sunday. It could start getting ugly.
  • After last Sunday's victory over the Ravens, Steelers wide receiver Plaxico Burress talked about a "bounty" he said he heard the Ravens had put on the Steelers receivers. Burress wasn't sure exactly who did it, or what the details were, but he said he heard it through the "grapevine." What grapevine? "In this league, you hear things," said Burress. Since none of the Steelers receivers were knocked out, nothing will be made of it. Then again, the Ravens defensive backs would have had to get close to those receivers to hit them, which they didn't that night.
  • It doesn't look like Jim Mora is going to be back next season as coach of the Colts, but if he does get a reprieve defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and special-teams coach Kevin Spencer won't be back. This was the year the defense was going to make improvement, but that hasn't occurred, and that's a big reason the Colts aren't going to be in the playoffs. Management could tell Mora that for him to keep his job, he has to let those two loose.
  • Redskins owner Dan Snyder is still nosing around about the possibility of hiring a general manager to take over running football operations. That would not jibe well with coach Marty Schottenheimer , who now handles that for the Redskins. Two names being mentioned are James Harris and Phil Savage of the Ravens. Harris is the director of pro personnel, and Savage is the director of college scouting. There is also some talk around the league that Ozzie Newsome , the Ravens vice president of player personnel, might be looking to get out.
  • One personnel guy to keep an eye on after the season is Oakland Raiders personnel executive Mike Lombardi. He helped stockpile the Raiders with veteran players from other teams who made it possible for Oakland to win the AFC West. Lombardi does a solid job, but he doesn't get a lot of credit. The right job could lure him away from Oakland.
  • The ***** coaches were raving about rookie tight end Eric Johnson in the preseason, and now we know why. The former Yale receiver, who bulked up to play tight end, is perfect for the San Francisco system. He has caught 33 passes for 281 yards and three touchdowns, displaying a style similar to former ***** tight end Brent Jones. Johnson gives the ***** a viable option in the middle of the field, which makes it tougher to double Terrell Owens outside.