OG Kraig Urbik signed a contract extension with the Buffalo Bills today. He’s played RG for them for the past couple of years and has done a good job. Urbik was once a 3rd round pick (79th overall) of the Steelers. He was cut by Pittsburgh because he struggled and got beat out by an undrafted player.
Judging young players is incredibly tricky. Darwin Walker was a 3rd round pick by the Cardinals in 2000. They cut him loose…less than 6 months later. The Eagles claimed him and Walker sat for all of that year. He sat for most of 2001 and then replaced Hollis Thomas when he got hurt late in the year. In 2002 Walker started and was a force. He was outstanding that year and earned an extension. He finished his career with 28.5 sacks, solid for a DT.
Were the Steelers dumb to cut Urbik? The Cards with Walker? Those guys had not performed as expected. Urbik did stay for a year. I do think the Cards jumped the gun on cutting Walker. The guy had 4 1/2 months. How do you cut someone that quick?
The players deserved to be taken where they were. I scouted both of them and liked each player quite a bit. They had size and talent. Walker was a good athlete. Urbik was a pretty polished blocker. Each should have been an above average NFL starter.
So what happened?
In a word…life. A team can make a good evaluation of a player, but that doesn’t mean that the player will work out. Just because a guy has the size, skills, strength, athleticism, and ability to play in the NFL does not mean he will succeed.
Some guys don’t handle adversity well. Some guys don’t handle money well. Some guys don’t handle free time well. And on and on. Football is a sport until you get to the NFL. Then it becomes a business. You’re a commodity…a replaceable commodity. Rutgers can’t go find another talented DL just anywhere. If say…Ramon Cooper-Smith (how’s that for a made-up name?) doesn’t light it up, the coaches have to try and figure out how to reach him. They’ll be patient. If Urbik or Walker doesn’t work out, they lose their job. The pressure at the NFL level is beyond anything players have ever experienced.
Those guys found a new home and succeeded. Maybe getting cut was the best thing possible. It woke them up. Or maybe they just fit the scheme better. Maybe the positional assistant who worked with them was able to have a better relationship and motivate them. All kinds of possibilities.
I mention all of this because we’re coming to the end of the regular season and a lot of fans will want the Eagles to cut a variety of players for a variety of reasons. Has Danny Watkins been a disappointment? Yes. Does that mean he needs to go and he’s got no NFL future? Absolutely not. The same is true for Nate Allen. And Jamar Chaney, Curtis Marsh, Casey Matthews, and other young Eagles.
The new coaches will study tape. They’ll meet with the players. Then the coaches have to decide if this is a player they want to keep around and try to work with or if they do think the guy is a lost cause. I gave examples of guys who succeeded earlier, but we all know that those are exceptions and not the rule. Most players do not bounce back. Jaiquawn Jarrett and Mike Kafka work at a local Dairy Queen under co-managers Jerome McDougle and Ryan Moats. Matt McCoy has a pending application.
This isn’t always about players who struggle so bad they get cut. I thought Donte Whitner was the next Brian Dawkins coming out of Ohio State. Loved him. The Bills shocked the world and took him in the Top 10. Whitner played there for 5 years. He was an average player. Finished that period with 3 FFs, 1 FR, 5 INTs, 1.5 sacks, 19 PDs, and a lot of boos. Whitner is in his second season with the Niners. He has 3 FFs, 3 FRs, 3 INTs, 14 PDs, and a lot of cheers. He isn’t a star, but is now considered a good player.
Carlos Emmons was a disappointment in Pittsburgh, but was a stud LB for the Eagles. Ryan Clark bounced from team to team, but has found a home in Pittsburgh and is the enforcer for that secondary. His steady play might be the most underrated part of the Steelers.
Trying to find a balance of cutting underachievers and giving young players a chance to develop is tricky. Very tricky. You never want to be the team that let go of the star early. Johnny Unitas was cut by the Steelers. How different would football history look if that move hadn’t happened? Would Johnny U have panned out anywhere close to what he did? Dallas had UDFA Brian Waters in camp in 1999 and cut him. He became an All-Pro OG for the Chiefs for almost a decade. Thomas Jones was an underachiever for the Cardinals, scoring 9 TDs in 3 years. He became a star for the Bears and Jets, rushing for more than 1,100 yards in 5 consecutive seasons and scoring 43 TDs on the ground.
There are times when behavior is an issue and the team that dumps/deals Jared Allen, Brandon Marshall, Brett Favre, or Cris Carter is going to look foolish. That kind of stuff can’t be helped. Sometimes a change of scenery is needed for a player to stop his self-destructive ways.
The new coaching staff will make changes. There will be a surprise cut or two, but you also may be surprised to see a player or two that we’ve written off turn out to be a solid role player or even starter. Don’t be too quick to completely write off Allen or Watkins or whoever. You never know when the light might come on and suddenly we’ve got a different player. Doubting them is fine, but keep in mind that their struggles aren’t necessarily permanent. Just ask Kraig Urbik’s wallet.