“This is a time of year where it’s a great opportunity to improve our football team. It’s been an interesting off-season – I think you all know, we’ve done a lot of different things, made a lot of moves, a lot of changes in the coaching staff, throughout the organization, particularly the locker room and this is a great time to continue to do that. We’ve got eight picks, three in the top 50 and we’re pretty excited. I know I’m very excited about it. Just another opportunity, another vehicle that I always talk about to improve our football team. I will open it up to all of you and take some questions for awhile.”
Q: Are you comfortable with T
PIOLI: “Branden’s our left tackle. Obviously in the past he’s played other positions. We haven’t spent a lot of time playing him at other positions or practicing him at other positions. He’s our left tackle and he does a good job for us. And he improved a lot last year. Obviously, before I got here I watched all the tape from his rookie season and watched everything from last year and there was truly progression over the course of the season.”
Q: When he mentioned something to you about S Eric Berry at the number five pick, Peter King quoted you as saying…
PIOLI: “No, Peter King quoted Thomas Dimitroff.”
Q: Let me rephrase. Do you believe that there are any positions that you can’t take with the number five pick?
PIOLI: “No, I don’t. Other than kicker, I think I’d probably leave that position alone at number five. It’s a broader question that really comes down to or has something to do with economics and I think that’s what a lot of the discussion is that’s out there when people talk about what positions are acceptable, what positions aren’t acceptable. What we’re concerned about at five this year, which is where we’re at right now, as we were last year is finding a good player that’s the right player. I think the question you’re asking is ‘Can you take a certain player at a certain position at that spot.’ And there’s the economic question that has to do with what the general salaries are for players at different position, but Nick, I think there is also something else that has to be taken into consideration and I will always take into consideration which is that is a position that there will be a great deal of financial resources that are given to the player at that spot. So the type of person and the person that you’re picking at that spot is exceedingly important. I don’t know if it’s a matter of the position as it is the person that you’re taking when you’re high up in the draft because there is a commitment the club has to make.”
Q: When you look at the financial commitment, do you look at the financial commitments that you already have for players in that position or group of players?
PIOLI: “How much can you commit to a group or position? It’s absolutely something you have to take into account. Generally speaking, depending on the phase that your organization is in, there are different times where you say the philosophy we want to have from a model standpoint is that we want to put this amount into certain skill positions and this into non-skill positions or this into the offensive line. You set the model and you head in that direction but inevitably what happens is if you have a team that improves, sometimes players that are key players and key contributors tend to screw that model up, in a good way. That’s a good problem to have. What happens then is you have to go through and find a way to make it all fit. You set out with a model, it’s just like any business, here’s the model – here’s how we want to do things, but different dynamics affect it in different ways and that’s the beauty of building a roster of 53 players is at different times and different parts of a player’s career, their earning potential is different or what they’re earning is different and that impacts what’s happening positionally. You start out with a model and based on how your team evolves, you have to react to that because if you stay entrenched in one way of doing things, you potentially set yourself up for failure.”
Q: Based on the economic stuff, with a top pick in the draft, would you ideally like to trade down?
PIOLI: “I’ve mentioned this before. In terms of trades, we’re open for business. We could trade up, we could trade down. Right now we’re sitting at five. The important thing to remember about trades is I may have all the desire in the world to trade up or back, but if you don’t have a trade partner, it doesn’t matter. So from a preparation standpoint, you have to be ready for something that may or may not happen. We spend a lot of time, I think I’ve talked about this in the past – the process of preparing for the draft: where there’s the evaluation process; there’s the information gathering process; and now as we get down closer to it, there’s the strategy. And now, with different pieces moving, do you want to remain at number five, do you have an opportunity to move up higher or do you have an opportunity to move back and when you do that, you don’t generally move up or move back just to move up or back. If you’re being proactive about trying to trade, you’re generally moving up for a specific player. Until those opportunities come, I could want to trade all I want, but unless there’s a partner, you can’t do anything about it.”
Q: With the economic commitment of drafting at number five, does it make you think and pick more conservatively because you know that you’re committed for a large chunk of guaranteed money?
PIOLI: “A smart thing. Which goes back to what I was stating before, that’s why I don’t want to corner this organization into positions – saying you can or can’t do it based on a position. To me, there is so much you have to take into account with every pick you make: it’s the skill set of the player; the mental makeup of the player; it’s the fit of the player; it’s who the player is that is exceedingly important. These are young men, it’s not just number five, there is a lot of money that these players are going to get and who you’re giving that money to as a person is very important.”
Q: Going back to last year when you drafted DE
PIOLI: “By nature I’m not much of a risk-taker, if that’s the question. I don’t like to, and there are people who have been very successful being risk-takers. Personally, that’s really not in my makeup. I think that has something to do with it, as well. I’m not crazy about the boom-or-bust concept – understanding that there has certainly been times in the past where I’ve done that and been a part of it, not generally in a place where you’re going to expose your club or the entire organization to something that has the potential for too big of a bust.”
Q: What are some examples where you would say you have done that? Would you say Randy Moss? Corey Dillon?
PIOLI: “Again, there are different dynamics in there and that were more free agency and the risk involved in those situations was negated quite a bit because of the contracts that they were under.”
Q: S Brandon Meriweather from Miami. Was he not kind of a boom-or-bust guy?
PIOLI: “No. Brandon Meriweather really had one incident that was very public in a game. That’s part of what I think happens sometimes is there’s incidents that players are involved with that get a lot of exposure. Then there are a lot of incidents, there’s a lot of players in drafts in situations that all of you don’t know about that don’t get a lot of publicity that were much worse than that situation. For whatever reason, there are different amounts of attention given to different situations. We did a lot of homework on Brandon. When you’re taking a player in the 20s the risk is a little bit different.”
Q: I was just trying to stir your memory and give an example of someone who could have been considered a risk.
PIOLI: “And in our opinion, Brandon wasn’t that great of a risk because he had an incident or two. That’s part of the beauty of this process is we spend 12 to 14 months, even more, gathering information and trying to find out, just like someone who has a low test score, the immediate reaction is that player isn’t very smart. Then you have to do your homework, you have to look into things. If you make a snap judgment on any player based on one single incident or an isolated incident in their life or their test score, we’ve all been around the world to know there are certain players that grow up in different socioeconomic backgrounds -- their chance or ability at being further educated or being more educated than some of these standardized tests that we take, it’s different, so you have to dig and spend more time with a player. In the case of Brandon, we spent a lot of time with that player.”
Q: What’s the ballpark number of files that your personnel department has looked at in the past 12-14 months?
PIOLI: “Files in terms of how many players? [Yeah.] Wow. That’s part of the process. I think the starting point, it starts at a couple of thousand and then it whittles its way down. A big part of what happens on draft day has to do with all the guys that are out on the road. Last year we hired Phil Emery to be our college director who has just done an amazing job. I hadn’t worked with Phil before but he had worked with Thomas (Dimitroff) down in Atlanta and I knew Phil from the road and Phil did an amazing job coordinating a new scouting staff. We had a couple of scouts that we had retained, and pulling together a group of guys, and again we break it up into area scouts, and then we have regional over the top scouts, Phil covers the country, I get out on the road and you pull all of this information together. Let’s say it starts with a couple thousand players, then it’s down to a couple hundred and then it evolves into whatever your draft board is. It’s a 14-month process or longer. Our scouts that are working on pro days now, when they go to the Syracuse workout, they’re in there evaluating next year’s potential players.”
Q: Thursday, first round, about how many names do you have on your draft board?
PIOLI: “Ballpark, around 100 to 120. It depends on the year. There were times previously where we had fewer than that and part of that has to do with where you’re at in the program. Right now we have a lot of needs and understanding fits. At different times, in different years, some years there are far better players than there are in other years.”
Q: If it’s 100 or above 100, whatever the number may be, in the evaluation process, do all of those players fit the right 53 or are there varying levels within that?
PIOLI: “There are various levels within that – how they fit and where they fit and when you want to pull that name or don’t want to pull that name. So they have some amount of redeeming to the football team in our minds and again, it’s not just from a performance standpoint Bob, it has to do with makeup, as well.”
Q: Outside of quarterback, what positions in the draft would you say are loaded this year?
PIOLI: “I don’t think there’s a position that’s weak. I’m not sure what the definition of ‘loaded’ is, but there are certainly a lot of players that we feel and I feel can help this football team. I think there’s a lot of good players which is why I’m happy that we have four picks in the top 68. We’re pretty excited about that.”
Q: What are your thoughts about the new format of the draft this year?
PIOLI: “I like it but it’s a little bit confusing to me because for 17 or 18 years it’s been the same for me – you start on a certain day, you start at a certain time. It is kind of like getting used to games Sunday at noon out here. That’s one of the things that I put down on my list of things to get better at this year is to make sure that I leave the house at the right time and get into a better routine on game day. The format change, I love the concept of getting through 32 players, sitting back, having almost 20 hours to regroup, look at the board again and then go into a round where we’re going to have a pick at 36 overall and 50 overall. I like the idea of being able to pull back. Talking to a lot of other people around the league, they like the idea because I think it’s going to be a lot more conducive to a lot more movement in the second round, just like the top of the fourth round was always a busy part of the draft in terms of trades or potential trades. I know in the fourth round traditionally, even though there weren’t a lot of trades, there’s a lot of talk about trades and a lot of business attempting to be done. I think it’ll be very similar in the second round this year, too.”
Q: Do you feel like you have had an opportunity to be a little better prepared this off-season opposed to last?
PIOLI: “I think because of circumstances, I certainly wouldn’t say that we were not prepared last year. We were very prepared last year. This year there is just a little bit different feel and I think it has something to do with familiarity. There is a group of people, not only on the coaching staff but within the scouting ranks including myself, Todd (Haley), Joel (Collier) who have had pre-existing relationships and I think anytime you have familiarity or continuity, this isn’t necessarily continuity, but there is continuity within the relationships. It makes it more conducive for comfort and anytime that you are in more of a routine situation; you have a chance to make some better decisions. From a coaching staff, it is not just the coordinators, again, we have a couple of coaches who were players with Todd (Haley) and I as well as Romeo (Crennel) and Charlie (Weis). Richie Anderson was a player when we were with the Jets. Anthony Pleasant was with us in Cleveland, Baltimore, the Jets and New England. Otis Smith was also with us. There are a lot of people in this group, you know Maurice Carthon, who is a significant voice and someone that we depend on a great deal, having that familiarity is certainly helpful. I will give you a simple example. Last year at this time when we were going through things with the coaches, the terminology was different, what we call certain personnel groupings. The amount of time it takes to just get things down, like we are talking about is that offensive personnel grouping, is it called 11 or is it called Red? What do you call it? If you are talking about the inside, weak side linebacker? Is he the WILL? Is he the Jack? You are talking about the same thing but it takes people awhile to understand you are talking about the same thing, even things as simple as that.”
Q: How do you feel about last year’s draft?
PIOLI: “I think we still feel very good about the draft last year. It is one year later, we are expecting improvement from all of those players. I think we saw improvement from all of those players through the course of the season. We are seeing things that are very encouraging in the off-season program. Some of that has to do with those players and their expectations. They know what to expect now and when people have an idea of what to expect, I think it gives them an opportunity to perform better. We can already see the bodies of these guys changing. We are all expecting improvement; they are all expecting improvement from where they were last year.”
Q: You had said that DE Tyson Jackson had a little bit of learning to do. Having said that, are you satisfied with his performance last season?
PIOLI: “I’m not so sure we talked about the individuals specifically as we were more talking about the position. I think I said some of the same things about DE
Q: Do you think guys in the middle rounds like DE Alex Magee and CB
PIOLI: “I am expecting to see improvement from all of those players.”
Q: Are there certain positions that are naturally less risky than others?
PIOLI: “I think it is more that there are certain individuals that are more risky than positions. I think generally speaking, and there are always exceptions to the rule, offensive linemen are generally less risky. That being said, I think you have to go back to the individual. You can say, ‘oh he is an offensive lineman, he is a tackle, a solid pick, conservative pick, good idea.’ But let’s talk about the individual then. How is that person from a makeup perspective? To reiterate, by nature I am not a risk taker. There have been times in different drafts with different people, you mentioned free agency, there have been different times where we have taken some risk in the past. To me it is the risk-reward. With the people you are taking, how much are you putting at stake? I am not a Vegas guy or an Atlantic City guy.”
Q: There has been some discussion of DE Glenn Dorsey possibly playing nose tackle. Is there any truth to that?
PIOLI: “I think Glenn is a unique player. He has the physical skill and body type to play numerous positions. I think what we will do, like we do with a lot of other positions is, we are going to collect as many good players as we can and then the players themselves will sort out who are going to be the best ones on the field. Like you do with the offensive lineman, you get the five best players on the field. Glenn can do a lot of different things.”
Q: Do you expect to lean heavy on defense in the upcoming draft after being aggressive on offense in free agency?
PIOLI: “I think it has to do with opportunity. We didn’t go into free agency or the off-season saying, ‘ok, we need to go out and do this.’ Because until free agency starts, you know who the pool of players start out to be? Of all the free agents that we have signed, none of those players were scheduled to be unrestricted free agents other than our own with LB Mike (Vrabel) and WR Chris (Chambers). Beyond that, every one of those players weren’t even on the radar going into free agency. You have a general plan in mind but then once the game starts, you have to be ready and willing to adjust. What happened was, those opportunities became available. There were new players to the free agent pool. One of the more impressive things about this group that came here, every single one of those players really wanted to be here. That was a key. We are looking for professionals, we are looking for the right kind of people and all of those players very much wanted to be here. They asked a lot of the right types of questions that we were concerned with in terms of wanting to be here. We went into it thinking we know we have a lot of positions we need to improve. Those players came on our radar, some of them were more fit, some weren’t. Again, there are other players that we have pursued that won’t get out publically but it just doesn’t work out.
Q: In free agency it was a lot of offensive players, do you expect the draft to be mostly defense?
PIOLI: “I wouldn’t make assumptions because I am not making any assumptions. If you make assumptions or if I make assumptions or get a plan that is so strict, you put yourself in a position to lose other opportunities.”
Q: Do you feel like drafting players is your biggest strength?
PIOLI: “I don’t know what my reputation is, but this is what I do. It is my job to evaluate players, not only on the field, but who they are, which is an important part. I believe that player personnel is not only the evaluation of the skill-set and playing ability, but is the makeup of the player and who the player is as well as trying to determine his fit. I am sure you are all tired of me talking about the right 53 but it is a core belief of mine and it was a core belief of some of the teams I have seen win championships at every level, whether it is pro football, college football or high school football.”
Q: Is it possible to over-think this process?
PIOLI: “Absolutely, and that is part of what starts happening. You see what happens is, I was having this conversation with someone that is close to me in the business, this is the time of the year when you start talking about all the things that guys can’t do. So yes, it is because you spent so much time, so much energy evaluating. Unfortunately it is human nature for all of us in our jobs, the more time you spend picking on any person or looking at, evaluating or judging anyone we are involved in a relationship with or potentially involved in a relationship with, the more you look, the more you are going to find to try and talk yourself out of it. There have been players I have over thought about but a wise man I was speaking to recently said you are going to find holes in everyone if you keep looking too hard.”
Q: You said at the combine, the second year was going to be better for you and Todd (Haley) because with Romeo (Crennel) and Charlie (Weis), there was going to be somebody to push back. Have you gotten that pushback you were looking for?
PIOLI: “Oh yeah. (Laughing) But it is good, disagreement doesn’t have to be conflict or it doesn’t have to be aggressive. It needs to be thoughtful and energized. The pushback has been great. Pushback doesn’t necessarily have to be conflict, it is just other ideas. Anytime anyone of us in any leadership role thinks that we have all the answers, it is over, you don’t have a chance. I am a firm believer in that. We try to surround ourselves with, it is something big picture that I want to talk about with this entire organization. We want to have questions asked on a lot of different things, now there is a way to ask questions and a way not to ask questions. I lived and work in a leadership role for a very long time but still in the role of a subordinate. There is a way to have that to generate energy, real energy that makes us all more thoughtful.”
Q: Is there any pushback allowed in the draft room or does that have to happen before it begins?
PIOLI: “It has to happen before then. For instance, part of the process that Todd and I are going through now along with a couple other people that are very involved in the process, then it comes down to just Todd and I sitting together. We have gone through different scenarios we have gone through the situation, ‘ok if we are at five, this player, this player and this player goes, what are we going to do?’ And if that is the player we want and someone comes and says, ‘you know, we really want to move up,’ and they are offering us tremendous value, we ask ourselves, ‘if we move away, how far back do you think we can go and potentially still get the player or what group of players will be available if we move back to a certain distance where we can still improve the football team at the level we want to improve it and what is the value of additional picks that will help us get more?’ Draft picks are like currency. When you talk about the strategy part of this, this is where you start treating it different because it is a very delicate balance between understanding the human aspect in what we are doing in this and the business part, collecting and gather currency which is picks to make business decisions that have to do with human beings. To me, that is a fascinating part of this whole thing.”
Q: Of the 125 people on your draft board, how many have first-round grades?
PIOLI: “Now it is 125? (laughing) It is north of 100. There are still players being eliminated from the board or pushed down on the board or moved to a different section. Not dramatic moves, but we are still getting information from different sources and different people on different things. We don’t use that system. I don’t believe in that system because I am not sure what a first-round grade means. It is a longer conversation for another time and I would seriously love to have it with everyone here because it is something I have never understood from the early parts of being in this business. Someone says, ‘oh he is a first-round pick,’ and I ask the scout, ‘well what does that mean? Is he going to play or is he not going to play? Is he going to be a starter?’ What we do here is completely different from what the Pittsburgh Steelers do or what the Carolina Panthers do. What they view as a first rounder is completely different from what we might view as a first rounder. I try to not get caught up in that because I have seen first round guys that are great and I have seen first round guys that are busts. You go back to Tommy (QB Tom Brady) who was a sixth rounder. I have just never been able to grasp or understand that theory or that philosophy.”
Q: Can you talk about the right side of your offensive line and T Ryan O’Callaghan?
PIOLI: “The way the season ended is the way it is right now. The right tackle is Ryan O’Callaghan. I thought at the end of the season we were getting better on offense. I am pretty comfortable with Ryan O’Callaghan, I think we are pretty comfortable with Ryan O’Callaghan. That doesn’t mean that we can’t get more good players, but I think Ryan O’Callaghan did a nice job when he came in here.”
Q: Do you think G
PIOLI: “Yes. We think he has the skills to be able to do what we want out of the right guard. It is not always guard, guard because certain players for whatever reason can’t always make that transition. Ryan has enough versatility and flexibility physically and mentally where we think he is going to be able to do that. The other thing is, G Brian (Waters) is good enough and there are a lot of things that can be done with that group of offensive linemen.”
Q: Do you have a general feel going into the draft how things will go?
PIOLI: “I just think typically I don’t get antsy. I can’t control certain things that happen so to waste energy or emotion on things I can’t control (is not worth it). We have a plan, we have an idea. If people jump ahead of us and take a player that we were considering or contemplating, the more time and energy you spend worrying about that or being upset about that is time and energy it sucks away from you to make a good decision or making a smart decision. Again, you go through those scenarios and that is part of the reason I like to keep a very small group of people in the draft room on draft day because I have been in some draft rooms and heard stories of different things happening and I don’t want people in there that can’t control their emotions or their thoughts. It needs to be a thoughtful time, not a reactionary time.”