View Full Version : Pro Football Weekly team reports
06-02-2009, 09:00 AM
This is the first of an 8 part series written by Pro Football Weekly, I will print each of them in this thread as they come in.
AFC East offseason team reports
By Matt Sohn
June 1, 2009
Mission accomplished: Terrell Owens brings brash confidence, emotional baggage and a VH1 camera crew to Buffalo. He also brings hope. The splashiest free-agent signing the Bills have made under Dick Jauron could be the missing link that turns a dormant offense into a force. Even though No. 2 RB Fred Jackson was initially tendered a one-year deal as an exclusive-rights free agent, the club wisely rewarded him with a four-year deal after he showed real promise late last season. The draft netted some sorely needed DE talent, as Aaron Maybin very well might be the best pass rusher in the class. An offensive line in transition benefits from the youthful energy and versatility of rookies Eric Wood and Andy Levitre.
Unfinished business: As high as the hopes are for the freshmen along the line, there’s no getting around the reality that OLT Jason Peters’ departure to Philadelphia cripples a front line that had difficulty opening up running lanes in 2008. Ground-game production could continue to be a source of concern considering the team will be without the services of Pro Bowler Marshawn Lynch for the first three games, courtesy of his growing rap sheet. The club’s passive approach to finding a legitimate tight end was odd, given the lack of one on an offense yearning for a more creative passing attack. The Bills didn’t so much as sniff the few veteran TE options in free agency, and they waited until the fourth round to pick up athletic but raw Southern Mississippi product Shawn Nelson.
Mission accomplished: When the current regime arrived in South Florida a year ago, it laid out a blueprint of building the club from within — keeping the existing key cogs in place and developing their homegrown talent. By inking quality veteran contributors Yeremiah Bell, Vernon Carey and Channing Crowder to multiyear deals with just days — hours, even — before the players were set to hit the open market, Bill Parcells and crew stood true to their plan. Perhaps no position has been as big a thorn for the Fins the past couple of years as free safety, and signing Gibril Wilson after he was released by the Raiders instantly turns a downtrodden situation into a considerable strength. Although it’s unrealistic to expect Miami icon Jason Taylor to revert to his Defensive Player of the Year form of 2006, it’s a good bet he’ll significantly upgrade the pass rush on third down and in nickel packages.
Unfinished business: It’s never good to rely on rookie contributions to salvage problem areas, yet that’s quite possibly the reality facing Miami at wide receiver and cornerback. Furthermore, the Dolphins’ multiple draftees at the two positions don’t rank among the can’t-miss variety, particularly at wideout. Their most consistent receiver, Greg Camarillo, is spending the offseason rehabbing from ACL surgery, and they can only hope that a CB corps that gave up far too many big plays in ’08 will be better following the arrival of veteran Eric Green and rookies Vontae Davis and Sean Smith. The team neglected to shore up issues at nose tackle in April’s draft, meaning that undersized and overaged Jason Ferguson again will need to hold his ground in the trenches. Backup Randy Starks could face league sanctions following a recent traffic arrest.
New England Patriots
Mission accomplished: A cast of cornerbacks mired in mediocrity since Asante Samuel chased the big dollars to Philadelphia received a welcome boost with the additions of Shawn Springs and Leigh Bodden. Given Bill Belichick’s track record in coaxing the best out of veteran newcomers, it’s fair to assume that the pair will pay immediate dividends on the back end. Both are slated for starting duty. Determined to keep Tom Brady’s offensive arsenal fully stocked, the team added proven commodities at wide receiver (Joey Galloway and Greg Lewis), running back (Fred Taylor) and tight end (Alex Smith and Chris Baker). All are legitimate candidates to contend for starting jobs.
Unfinished business: Losing out to Miami in the Jason Taylor sweepstakes and the decision not to pursue any other big-ticket outside linebacker leave career reserve Pierre Woods as the top option to man the OLB post opposite Adalius Thomas, who will be 32 by Week One. Considering the Pats’ struggles pressuring the quarterback last season, it may be necessary to dip deep into the defensive playbook for ways to collapse the pocket. As sacrilegious as it may be to suggest, there’s at least some concern regarding Brady. Not only has he directed all of two drives since Super Bowl XLII, but his trademark passion and work ethic have been questioned after he chose family over football the past two offseasons.
New York Jets
Mission accomplished: It’s not often a club is purged of one of the more prolific quarterbacks in league history and is able to breathe a sigh of relief because of it. The ’09 Jets are precisely that rarity. Although there’s genuine uncertainty regarding the QB derby between Kellen Clemens and hotshot rookie Mark Sanchez, the Jets are better off without the Brett Favre hysteria overshadowing the entire operation. New head coach Rex Ryan has done a good job leading the team in a more united direction after the divisive and passive-aggressive tenure of Eric Mangini. Of course, “Kumbaya” brotherhood doesn’t mean squat without talent and schematic strides. Wisely, those areas have been addressed as well, at least defensively. The free-agent addition of ILB Bart Scott gives the defense a tough-minded centerpiece, and CB Lito Sheppard, a trade acquisition, allows Ryan to call for more man coverages. An attacking, instinctive defense is being implemented after the defenders had been chained to Mangini’s cerebral and calculating system for three mostly frustrating years.
Unfinished business: The offense is lagging just as much as the defense is evolving. OTAs proved troublesome for both Clemens and Sanchez, as it’s abundantly clear that they both have a lot to learn. Making matters tougher for the neophyte slingers is the discord at running back, where Pro Bowlers Thomas Jones and Leon Washington both are clamoring for more lucrative contracts. Furthermore, the other skill-position players are almost as green as the quarterbacks. By granting Laveranues Coles his release, Jerricho Cotchery stands as the only accomplished wideout, and second-year TE Dustin Keller remains a work in progress following a promising but uneven rookie campaign.
06-08-2009, 08:01 AM
NFC East offseason team reports
By Eric Edholm
June 2, 2009
Mission accomplished: The roster was trimmed of incongruous personalities (Terrell Owens, Pacman Jones, Tank Johnson), poor fits (Zach Thomas, SS Roy Williams) and declining players (Brad Johnson, Anthony Henry). Added were depth and youth with 12 draft picks and a few stopgap veterans. DE Chris Canty was a big loss in free agency, but Igor Olshansky is a blue-collar mauler who knows Wade Phillips’ scheme and should be a solid replacement. Jon Kitna is an upgrade over Johnson, and S Gerald Sensabaugh might be motivated enough with a one-year deal to be an improvement over Williams’ flawed coverage. Although none of the rookies is expected to start, they help beef up needy special-teams units and build depth. Top pick Jason Williams might fill a key role in replacing Kevin Burnett as the nickel linebacker.
Unfinished business: We don’t know yet whether, considering the talent lost, especially Owens, the Cowboys can be as explosive. WR Roy Williams enters the spotlight and has big shoes to fill following last season’s blockbuster trade. Behind him are more questions — namely whether Miles Austin or Patrick Crayton can fill a starting role opposite Williams. The offensive line wore down by season’s end, so it will be a unit that must stay healthy and spry. And the secondary has turnover and questions. Can Sensabaugh be an upgrade? Will FS Ken Hamlin rebound from a poor season? And how will the cornerbacks shake out, especially with Mike Jenkins and Orlando Scandrick? Jenkins struggled as a rookie but makes first-round money and might get the chance to start over Scandrick.
New York Giants
Mission accomplished: The Giants added incredible depth to a front seven that already was considered one of the best in football. With DE Osi Umenyiora’s return (knee) and the additions of DTs Chris Canty and Rocky Bernard and LB Michael Boley, the Giants have an attacking group up front that rivals the champion Steelers’. First-round WR Hakeem Nicks is expected to vie for time immediately and could push either Steve Smith or Domenik Hixon for a starting job. With the loss of Plaxico Burress from last season, the Giants had lacked a little juice in the passing game. The team lost three starters and one co-starter in RB Derrick Ward but have to be considered among the deeper and more talented rosters in football.
Unfinished business: There’s no guarantee that Hicks will be ready from Day One, and he’s not a field-tilter the way Burress was. The loss of Ward shouldn’t go overlooked, either. Although the Giants have three candidates to replace his carries — Ahmad Bradshaw, Danny Ware and rookie Andre Brown — none has done it over the course of a season. With starting RB Brandon Jacobs having incurred so much wear and tear and Ward having played such a key role, someone must step up. But the biggest loss might not have been a player. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo left to take the Rams’ head-coaching job and has turned things over to Bill Sheridan, who had worked under his wing for the past two seasons. He has a wealth of talent to work with and the system is in place, but can Sheridan match Spagnuolo’s nerve for sending pressure in crucial situations? We’ll see.
Mission accomplished: The offensive line, which took a step back last season, was overhauled with some new faces and one position change. OLT Tra Thomas and ORT Jon Runyan have moved on, replaced by Jason Peters and Shawn Andrews, respectively. This new OT combo could be the best in football. Andrews kicks out to right tackle from right guard, where he played his first five seasons, and he’ll be joined by brother Stacy Andrews, who played right tackle with the Bengals but will settle in at right guard in Philly. The offense received a boost with rookie WR Jeremy Maclin and RB LeSean McCoy (and possibly TE Cornelius Griffin), and the secondary added reinforcements with S Sean Jones and CB Ellis Hobbs.
Unfinished business: There are some unsettled topics, such as CB Sheldon Brown’s contract demands and subsequent trade request. Hobbs’ arrival allows the Eagles flexibility, and though Eagles fans still might pine for a trade involving Brown that lands a top-flight receiver such as Anquan Boldin, that bird might have flown the coop. Nabbing Peters appears to have been a shrewd move, and the Eagles rewarded him with a lucrative extension, but now he must play up to the money. He was far far better in 2007 than he was in ’08 in Buffalo, when he was slowed by a holdout and injuries. Shawn Andrews also has a lot to prove. He’s coming off major back surgery, which ended his season after two games, and has battled depression, as well. Surrounding him with Peters, his college roommate, and brother Stacy is Andy Reid’s way of making Shawn as comfortable as possible, but he still must respond with perhaps his best season yet.
Mission accomplished: After a year as relative wallflowers, the Redskins got back into the offseason derby. They made the first — and biggest — splash of free agency by landing the crown jewel, DT Albert Haynesworth. Last year’s fourth-ranked defense in theory should be better with Haynesworth disrupting inside. If there was a weakness on defense, it was the lack of big plays — namely turnovers and sacks. But Haynesworth and rookie pass rusher Brian Orakpo could go a long way toward alleviating that. The Redskins were tickled when Orakpo fell to the 13th pick and wasted no time nabbing him. They also have big plans for him, planning to install Orakpo as a first- and second-down strong-side linebacker and as a third-down rush end.
Unfinished business: Lots to sort. Right tackle is wide open, with the team needing someone to replace Jon Jansen, who was released. Stephon Heyer is one candidate, as is reclamation project Mike Williams (the No. 4 overall pick of the Bills in 2002), but insiders say it might go to ex-Panther Jeremy Bridges. There is pressure on the 2008 draft’s pass-catching trio of Devin Thomas, Malcolm Kelly and Fred Davis to improve and add juice to the offense. Their development will be a major training-camp focus. The grand Orakpo experiment could flop if the rookie fails to grasp the SLB position; otherwise, that job could fall to the tough but short H.B. Blades, who appears to fit best inside. Lastly, how is QB Jason Campbell’s confidence heading into the final season of his contract after the team tried to replace him with Jay Cutler or Mark Sanchez? The Skins can’t win unless Campbell has a strong, consistent season.
06-08-2009, 08:04 AM
AFC North offseason team reports
By Mike Wilkening
June 3, 2009
Mission accomplished: The Ravens could not retain ILB Bart Scott, but they did re-sign ILB Ray Lewis, the leader of the defense and still an above-average starter at age 34. The secondary depth has been bolstered considerably by the signings of CBs Chris Carr and Domonique Foxworth and the re-signing of Samari Rolle. The Ravens lost promising C Jason Brown in free agency but responded by signing veteran Matt Birk, a longtime standout. In the draft, the Ravens addressed a need at right tackle by trading up for Michael Oher, who will replace Willie Anderson. In May, the Ravens added WR Kelley Washington, who has a chance to make the club because of his size and special-teams prowess.
Unfinished business: The Ravens have yet to sign OLB Terrell Suggs to a long-term contract, an agreement that would help Baltimore from a salary-cap perspective while ensuring Suggs does not hit the free-agent market in 2010. Also, the team’s WR play could be something of a concern if Derrick Mason’s shoulder injury proves to be a long-term issue. Mason has said he will be ready for the start of the regular season, but if the injury limits his effectiveness, the passing game will be compromised. Another story line to watch is whether youngsters Steven Hauschka or Graham Gano can make a strong claim for the PK job. The Ravens are looking for a kicker who can handle field goals and kickoffs after having carried two kickers last season due to Matt Stover’s lack of leg strength on kickoffs.
Mission accomplished: QB Carson Palmer is back practicing with the club after a right elbow injury ended his ’08 campaign after only four games and ended any flickering hopes of the Bengals being competitive. Also, Palmer has been the club’s vocal leader in the offseason and made headlines when he called out WR Chad Ochocinco for skipping voluntary workouts. The Bengals were not active in free agency, but they did sign ex-Jets WR Laveranues Coles, a capable replacement for the departed T.J. Houshmandzadeh. Also, the Bengals’ draft was widely praised. First-round pick Andre Smith is likely to start at right tackle, and several other rookies are expected to contribute in Year One.
Unfinished business: Ochocinco’s future with the club remains a story to watch; it is no secret he would like to play elsewhere, but the Bengals have not been willing to move him. If Ochocinco remains on the roster, questions will linger about his effectiveness after he slumped last year, as well as his role with the club, considering the praise Chris Henry has garnered in the offseason. Also, keep a close eye on the play of the offensive line, which is slated to have new starters at left and right tackle, left guard and center. The O-line must protect Palmer and open more holes in the running game for the Bengals to succeed. Finally, the stage is set for what could be some interesting contract negotiations between Smith and the Bengals. Smith has fired and rehired agent Alvin Keels, and the Bengals’ plans to play him at right tackle could complicate matters.
Mission accomplished: Give new head coach Eric Mangini and new GM George Kokinis credit. Placed in the untenable position of having just four draft picks when seeking to revamp the roster, the Browns’ brain trust ended draft weekend with eight picks and at least one first-year starter in C Alex Mack. Along the way, the Browns dealt TE Kellen Winslow for multiple picks and traded down three times in Round One of the ’09 draft. Also, Mangini shook up the defense, adding a half-dozen veterans, most notably LB Eric Barton and S Abram Elam, both of whom are expected to start. The QB competition between Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson got some much-needed definition when Quinn took the first snaps with the first-team offense in OTAs.
Unfinished business: While Quinn appears to have the early edge for the starting job, he still has to hold off Anderson (and perhaps even long shot Brett Ratliff). WR Braylon Edwards has said he wants to stay in Cleveland, but with only one year left on his contract, and with his name coming up in trade talks with the Giants earlier in the offseason, his future with the club remains a matter of speculation. Also, WR Donté Stallworth has stayed away from the club as he faces a DUI manslaughter charge that clouds his NFL future. RS Joshua Cribbs, signed through 2012 at a below-market rate, would like a new contract, but will the Browns oblige? Cribbs is one of the NFL’s top returners, and the Browns are expected to give him a look on defense.
Mission accomplished: The Steelers have long been adept at keeping their core players, and signing OLB James Harrison and WR Hines Ward to contract extensions outweighs anything they could have done in free agency, considering their lack of salary-cap space (and traditional unwillingness to make much of a splash in free agency). The Steelers weren’t completely silent, adding WR Shaun McDonald and CB Keiwan Ratliff; both will compete for reserve roles at positions where the Steelers needed to bolster their depth. In the draft, the Steelers added some much-needed youth to their defensive line with the selection of DE Ziggy Hood. It will take Hood time to learn the Steelers’ defense, but he will have every chance to become a future starter at an important but unappreciated position in the Steelers’ 3-4 scheme. Rookie Kraig Urbik will push to start at right guard as a rookie. Also, deep-threat WR Mike Wallace, short-yardage RB Frank Summers and CBs Keenan Lewis and Joe Burnett will be in the mix for playing time.
Unfinished business: The defending Super Bowl champions enter this season with only two major position battles — Darnell Stapleton is trying to hold on to his starting job at right guard, and William Gay is likely to replace the departed Bryant McFadden at cornerback. Other than that, the focus will be on improving the club’s few weaknesses. Urbik and fellow rookie A.Q. Shipley, a center, are the only significant new additions to the offfensive line, so it largely falls to the group previously on hand to become more consistent. Also, the Steelers will look to get more out of the running game after struggling somewhat last season. Second-year RB Rashard Mendenhall, who missed most of last season with a shoulder injury, is likely to spell speedy starter Willie Parker, who has battled injuries the past two campaigns.
06-08-2009, 08:08 AM
NFC North offseason team reports
By Eric Edholm and Dan Arkush
June 4, 2009
Mission accomplished: After going through 11 different starting quarterbacks in his eight years as general manager, Jerry Angelo pulled a stunning blockbuster with the acquisition of 26-year-old Pro Bowl QB Jay Cutler. Angelo also fortified a suspect offensive line with the free-agent additions of seven-time Pro Bowl OLT Orlando Pace, Kevin Shaffer and Frank Omiyale, and capped off the month of May by signing ex-Ram Pisa Tinoisamoa, a strong candidate to start at strong-side linebacker. Significant changes were also made in the Bears’ coaching staff. Head coach Lovie Smith has decided to take on the bulk of the play-calling duties on defense from coordinator Bob Babich. In addition, new D-line coach Rod Marinelli and new DB coach Jon Hoke add a combined 20 years of valuable experience to the staff.
Unfinished business: While Cutler is considered a dramatic upgrade over Kyle Orton, the effectiveness of the targets he will be throwing to remains very much open to question. Second-year pro Earl Bennett and rookies Juaquin Iglesias and Johnny Knox need to quickly make their presence felt in the Bears’ WR corps. On the other side of the ball, a number of high-priced defenders need to step it up. At the top of the list is MLB Brian Urlacher, who had only two interceptions and zero sacks last season. Right behind him are DT Tommie Harris, a virtual nonfactor early last season who also had personal issues off the field, and RCB Nate Vasher, who has played in only 12 of 32 games due to injury and has only two interceptions since signing a five-year, $28 million deal before the 2007 season.
Mission accomplished: After an 0-16 season, the new front-office duo of Martin Mayhew and Tom Lewand started from scratch. They began by hiring head coach Jim Schwartz, who shared their vision of building a tough, hard-nosed roster and doing lots of housecleaning from the Rod Marinelli era. There could be as many as six new starters (seven, if you count DE Cliff Avril, who started four games in 2008) on a defense that ranked dead last in nine major categories last season and was one of the worst in recent NFL history. Julian Peterson and Larry Foote make the LB corps respectable, along with Ernie Sims. CBs Phillip Buchanon and Anthony Henry are upgrades, and rookie S Louis Delmas could be an instant contributor. The team also believes it landed its quarterback of the future in Matthew Stafford. He has work to do, but the Lions are in a long rebuilding process and can wait for him to grow.
Unfinished business: There are still a few holes in the starting lineup. Left guard appears wide open, with Daniel Loper (a Schwartz import from the Titans) figuring to push Damion Cook, though Loper mainly has played tackle. Defensive tackle is also up in the air. Veteran Grady Jackson, 36, likely fills one starting spot, but he probably comes off the field on passing downs. Chuck Darby, a better fit in Marinelli’s Tampa-2 front, and Andre Fluellen are the best of the holdovers. Rookies Sammie Lee Hill and John Gill can’t be expected to provide a huge, immediate boost. Kevin Carter’s name has been mentioned as a possible free-agent addition, but he has yet to sign. Stafford won’t vie for the starting job right away with Daunte Culpepper here, but he’ll be expected to show something early.
Green Bay Packers
Mission accomplished: Head coach Mike McCarthy didn’t wait long to reconstruct his coaching staff following a disappointing 2008 campaign, whacking eight coaches, led by defensive coordinator Bob Sanders. (Special-teams coach Mike Stock is also gone, having retired.) McCarthy replaced Sanders with Dom Capers, who has been entrusted with assembling an aggressive, new 3-4 scheme that will be unique within the NFC North. Capers, who has a good track record with similar transformations previously in his career, should get an instant boost from a pair of first-round rookies expected to become defensive cornerstones — NT B.J. Raji and OLB Clay Matthews. On offense, QB Aaron Rodgers did a very respectable job in his first year under center replacing Brett Favre.
Unfinished business: Pro personnel evaluators leaguewide have their doubts that holdover defenders such as Aaron Kampman, Cullen Jenkins, Nick Barnett and A.J. Hawk will be able to successfully handle converting to a 3-4 scheme. Kampman, who is moving from left end to left outside linebacker, where he will at times be asked to drop into coverage, will be under particularly close scrutiny. There are also battles brewing for starting jobs this offseason at three positions — left outside linebacker, where Matthews appears to have an early edge on Brady Poppinga; right tackle, where a replacement must be found for longtime starter Mark Tauscher; and punter, where holdover Jeremy Kapinos will try to hold off challengers Durant Brooks and Adam Graessle.
Mission accomplished: The biggest question marks on offense appeared to be at wide receiver and right tackle, and the team used its first two picks on WR Percy Harvin and ORT Phil Loadholt, who met in last season’s national championship game. Though he reportedly failed a drug test and is considered a durability worry, Harvin possesses explosiveness that simply wasn’t on the roster before. And though Loadholt is making the switch to right tackle, where he must beat out incumbent Ryan Cook, he has the power and wingspan to start immediately. The Vikings also added several special-teamers who will help those needy units.
Unfinished business: There’s a little something to sort out with a certain retired quarterback who has been known to waffle on future plans. Brett Favre’s potential addition could be the flashpoint to the offseason. No matter how Harvin or Loadholt performs, no matter how great a player Adrian Peterson is, the success of the Vikings would be traced — unfairly or not — to the right arm of Favre. And right now, the health of that arm is in question. The future Hall of Famer has been tied to the Vikings this offseason, and if he’s going to play another season, it appears to be Minnesota or bust. But can he hold up for a full season? QBs Tarvaris Jackson and Sage Rosenfels (acquired from Houston) are the fallbacks, and if Favre stays retired, those players’ confidence might be shaken as a result of the Vikings’ pursuit of Favre. The team, having not added a D-lineman this offseason, appears confident that it will receive a positive ruling in the substance-abuse case involving DTs Kevin Williams and Pat Williams, who could be subject to four-game suspensions.
06-08-2009, 08:12 AM
AFC South offseason team reports
By Mike Wilkening and Matt Sohn
June 5, 2009
Mission accomplished: The Texans believe ex-Cardinal Antonio Smith is the answer to their problems at left defensive end. Smith is strong vs. the run and has some upside as a pass rusher. If he notches 6-8 sacks and makes life easier for DRE Mario Williams, he will have done his job. The Texans also made a change at backup quarterback, trading Sage Rosenfels, who was in the last year of his contract, to Minnesota and replacing him with ex-Lion Dan Orlovsky, who could benefit from working with head coach Gary Kubiak, a noted tutor of passers. In the draft, the Texans added a big, tough strong-side linebacker in USC’s Brian Cushing, who figures to start immediately. Cushing also might be able to contribute as a pass rusher. Second-round DE Connor Barwin has upside and could be a starter down the road, and TEs Anthony Hill and James Casey are insurance in the event Owen Daniels departs after the ’09 season.
Unfinished business: Daniels, MLB DeMeco Ryans and CB Dunta Robinson (who received the franchise tag) would like lucrative long-term contracts; whether the Texans will be able to keep all of them in the long term remains to be seen. Daniels and Ryans can be safely counted among the top players at their positions in the AFC, and Robinson is the most important player in a Texans secondary that needs to cut down on mistakes and force more turnovers. The play of the defensive line is another story line to watch; new defensive coordinator Frank Bush’s biggest challenge will be getting more pressure from the front four. Williams is a blue-chip performer, but he cannot do it alone if the Texans are to finally make the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.
Mission accomplished: A team as consistent as the Colts doesn’t need much tweaking. Yet the leaguewide mantra of trying to stay a step ahead of the pack keeps every team from standing pat, Colts included. A running game that finished worse than every team’s but the Cardinals’ in 2008 added a well-rounded complement to Joseph Addai in first-round RB Donald Brown, who will be given the opportunity to play a prominent role. Because the Colts practice their stated belief of building through the draft, all newcomers expected to play significant roles are rookies, including DT Fili Moala and WR Austin Collie. Their ability to re-sign LBs Tyjuan Hagler and Freddy Keiaho to cap-friendly deals was big, considering their dearth of bodies at the position.
Unfinished business: Generally, when a team loses a player ranked second in NFL history in receiving, his departure will dominate the negative story lines of the club. Yet the Colts’ release of stalwart WR Marvin Harrison because of a bloated salary takes a backseat to the retirement of coaching luminaries Tony Dungy, Tom Moore and Howard Mudd. Because the Colts had a thorough succession plan in place at head coach with Jim Caldwell, the retirements of the longtime offensive coordinator and OL coach could be bigger losses than Dungy. Although Moore and Mudd are expected to rejoin the team in advisory roles, their absence on the sideline could be felt as replacements Clyde Christensen and Pete Metzelaars adjust to their new positions. That’s not to diminish the departure of Harrison, as the Colts now need one of their green youngsters to step into the No. 3 WR job that’s vital for the spread offense’s success.
Mission accomplished: Less is more. That’s what the Jaguars are hoping after they purged themselves of troublesome WRs Matt Jones, Reggie Williams and Jerry Porter. The trio had worn out their welcomes not only on the field, but off the field as well, allowing the Jaguars to move forward with a fresh start at the position. Bringing aboard Canton candidate Torry Holt after his release in St. Louis is certainly a step in the right direction, even if it’s unreasonable to expect him to revert to his Pro Bowl ways. An offensive line that has been almost as much a concern as the moribund receiving corps — at least last season — received a major face-lift in the draft with touted prospects Eugene Monroe and Eben Britton, as well as in free agency with ex-Eagle Tra Thomas.
Unfinished business: It’s generally thought that teams whose offseason additions are expected to pay immediate but not long-term dividends are Super Bowl contenders. Thus, it could prove short-sighted for the Jaguars — who stumbled to a 5-11 train wreck in ’08 that’s indicative of how much further they have to go — to invest in the diminishing returns they’re likely to see from Holt and Thomas. Of course, while they signed those two, they pulled the cord on arguably the greatest player to ever don their uniform, Fred Taylor, because of salary-cap implications. By doing so and not signing a promising replacement running back, they put newly minted featured RB Maurice Jones-Drew in the unenviable position of needing to carry a bigger load than the 5-foot-7 sparkplug has ever had to do.
Mission accomplished: Yes, losing Pro Bowl DT Albert Haynesworth stung, but the Titans responded by bolstering their interior depth with the signing of ex-Buccaneer Jovan Haye and drafting Auburn’s Sen’Derrick Marks in Round Two. Haye played hurt last season but notched six sacks in 2007, and Marks has upside. Both will be parts of a deep DT rotation that collectively will try to make up for Haynesworth’s loss. The Titans also bolstered their WR corps, signing former Steelers deep threat Nate Washington and drafting Rutgers’ Kenny Britt in Round One. Washington will keep defenses honest and may thrive in an offense that could have a potent play-action passing game if RBs Chris Johnson and LenDale White perform as they did a season ago, and Britt has No. 1-receiver type talent and will play right off the bat.
Unfinished business: Sure, the Titans tried to replace Haynesworth, but there is no doubt he was one of the game’s more dominant defensive players the past two seasons. They will miss him no matter how the rest of the line plays, and how his loss affects the defense won’t be completely known until regular-season play. On offense, an intriguing competition for the No. 2 QB job looms between Vince Young and Patrick Ramsey. Young desperately needs to rebound after a lost 2008 campaign; if he doesn’t, Ramsey — who played in Mike Heimerdinger’s offense in Denver — could be poised to win the job, a development that likely would close the door on Young ever fulfilling his potential in Tennessee.
06-08-2009, 08:17 AM
NFC South offseason team reports
By Dan Parr
June 6, 2009
Mission accomplished: The Falcons achieved their top goal this offseason by injecting their defense with younger, quicker bodies in the draft, and they also made a good offense even better by trading for TE Tony Gonzalez, which cost them only a second-round pick in 2010. After letting SS Lawyer Milloy, WLB Keith Brooking, SLB Michael Boley, CB Domonique Foxworth and NT Grady Jackson go in free agency, Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff spent seven of his eight draft picks on defensive players, two of whom could start from Day One. The addition of Gonzalez, a 10-time Pro Bowler, gives QB Matt Ryan something he lacked last season — a pass-catching tight end who will force defenses to alter their coverage.
Unfinished business: Michael Vick has been released from prison and is under home confinement in Virginia, awaiting word from commissioner Roger Goodell on whether or not he will be reinstated by the league in time for the 2009 season. Falcons owner Arthur Blank has said Vick will not play for his team again, but if he’s reinstated, Atlanta will have to either trade or release their former star quarterback. Aside from the pending Vick issue, the club’s offense is pretty much set, but there is much to be sorted out on defense with several starting spots up for grabs. With a young group on “D,” the coaching staff will be working hard in OTAs to make sure everyone has the defensive sets and calls down come training camp. Dimitroff is also negotiating a contract extension with Pro Bowl WR Roddy White’s representatives, but that process has been complicated by the uncertainty surrounding the Collective Bargaining Agreement.
Mission accomplished: Much of Carolina’s offseason work was completed in February, when it re-signed OT Jordan Gross and franchised DE Julius Peppers. Each move was extremely costly and left the Panthers with little salary-cap space with which to work. In order to give the club more cap flexibility to sign its draft picks, GM Marty Hurney released veteran CB Ken Lucas and inked QB Jake Delhomme to a contract extension in late April, which reduced the $11 million cap figure the 34-year-old carried for 2009. The Panthers traded next year’s first-round pick to move up in the second round of this year’s draft and selected Florida State DE Everette Brown, who could be Peppers’ eventual replacement.
Unfinished business: There’s very little chance Peppers will be traded this year, but he has yet to sign his franchise tender, which is worth $16.7 million for one year, and has not backed off his statement that he no longer has any interest in playing for the Panthers. Peppers could hold out of training camp in an attempt to pressure Hurney, but thus far his attempts to force the general manager’s hand have been unsuccessful, and he doesn’t have much leverage. The Panthers could use another veteran or two on the offensive line after losing some depth in the offseason. With a shortage of cap space, however, the team will have to be extra cautious about any moves it makes and may not be able to sign a free agent who could help its cause.
New Orleans Saints
Mission accomplished: The Saints appear to have made several much-needed upgrades on defense, which was their top priority for the second straight offseason. The revamping of the “D” began with the hiring of Gregg Williams — an aggressive, proven guru — as defensive coordinator. After re-signing a key piece in MLB Jonathan Vilma, who flirted with joining the division-rival Buccaneers, the team followed it up with a series of moves to improve its secondary. New Orleans signed CB Jabari Greer and FS Darren Sharper and also drafted Ohio State CB-S Malcolm Jenkins in the first round (14th overall). Besides achieving its objective of gaining quality depth in the secondary, the team also re-signed some important players on the other side of the ball, including OG Jahri Evans, WR Lance Moore and OT Jon Stinchcomb, ensuring stability on a finely tuned offense.
Unfinished business: The Saints have been scouring the market for running backs all offseason, and after deciding not to trade back into the first round to draft Chris “Beanie” Wells, GM Mickey Loomis has said the team has explored the possibility of signing free agent Edgerrin James. New Orleans could ultimately take a pass on James, as other veteran backs could become available later this summer. Head coach Sean Payton seems unsatisfied with his backfield, and there’s a good chance he’ll add another rusher before the season. Although the Saints are hoping to get the four-game suspensions of DEs Charles Grant and Will Smith staggered, it appears they will be without both players early on following a judge’s decision to uphold the StarCaps ruling. With that, the club needs to add depth at end.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Mission accomplished: The Buccaneers needed to surround young head coach Raheem Morris with seasoned coordinators, and they did that by bringing in Jeff Jagodzinski on offense and Jim Bates on defense. Tampa Bay made the rest of its offseason moves with an eye toward the future, knowing 2009 would be a rebuilding year. Arguably the Bucs’ boldest move was landing a signalcaller to groom in Kansas State QB Josh Freeman, as they traded up two spots in the first round to get him at No. 17. Whether he develops into a quality franchise quarterback remains to be seen. First-year GM Mark Dominik also kept top receiver Antonio Bryant by designating him as the franchise player and added a complementary target for Bryant at the start of free agency, trading draft picks to the Browns for TE Kellen Winslow, who was signed to a new six-year contract in April.
Unfinished business: Dominik is expected to cut Brian Griese soon if he can’t get a low draft pick for him in a trade, but that would still leave Tampa with four quarterbacks. One player from a group consisting of Byron Leftwich, Luke McCown and Josh Johnson will likely be cut or traded by the end of training camp, although McCown has a slight edge at winning the starting job. Either McCown or Leftwich likely will hold the top spot on the depth chart until Freeman is ready to take over. The Bucs have plenty of salary-cap room and could snatch up a high-profile player or two when they become available this summer. Cornerback is a position they could still target in free agency, as they lost starter Phillip Buchanon to the Lions and have yet to sign anyone to replace him.
06-08-2009, 08:20 AM
AFC West offseason team reports
By Michael Blunda and Dan Parr
June 7, 2009
Mission accomplished: If Josh McDaniels’ goal was to remodel the Broncos drastically in short order, he certainly has done that. Denver has a new starting quarterback, new faces throughout its defense and a new franchise running back, in all likelihood. The Broncos started the offseason by signing a slew of players within the first few weeks of free agency, adding three veteran running backs and a defensive leader in S Brian Dawkins. McDaniels encountered his first crisis as a head coach, one some would argue was of his own making, when communication broke down between the team and Jay Cutler after about a month of feuding between Cutler and McDaniels. The first-time head coach settled the feud by trading Cutler to the Bears for Kyle Orton and three draft picks, including first-rounders this year and next. McDaniels found that franchise back in Knowshon Moreno with his first pick in the draft and a defensive building block in DE-OLB Robert Ayers with the first-round pick he acquired from Chicago.
Unfinished business: One of the more pressing concerns still lingering in Denver is whether or not WR Brandon Marshall, a repeat violator of the league’s personal-conduct policy, will receive a suspension. It appeared that he was headed for a lengthy suspension after he was arrested for disorderly conduct in March, but the charge against him was dismissed and there has been no word from the league on any official punishment. It’s conceivable that he won’t face any time off. The Broncos have yet to name a starting quarterback, allowing Orton and Chris Simms to battle for the job, although Orton is considered the front-runner. There are also several personnel issues that must be sorted out on defense as Denver moves to a 3-4 scheme.
Kansas City Chiefs
Mission accomplished: After the Chiefs’ 2-14 disaster of 2008, owner Clark Hunt set out to refurbish his franchise by putting new minds in charge of the decision making. To oversee football operations as general manager, Hunt aimed high and landed his No. 1 choice in Scott Pioli, who had helped engineer the Patriots to three Super Bowl titles. Pioli then tabbed Cardinals offensive coordinator Todd Haley as the head coach in charge of improving the Chiefs’ on-field product. To help him do that, Pioli acquired QB Matt Cassel and LB Mike Vrabel from New England for a second-round pick, giving the Chiefs both a franchise quarterback and a veteran defensive leader. A unit in desperate need of talent, the “D” was bolstered further when the Chiefs used their first two picks in April’s draft on anchor D-linemen Tyson Jackson and Alex Magee.
Unfinished business: Although Kansas City brought in a lot of defensive help this offseason, the club failed to address properly one of its biggest weak spots: the offensive line. Glaring holes continue to exist on the right side, and Pro Bowl OLG Brian Waters hasn’t exactly hit it off with the new regime. Considering Cassel’s penchant for taking sacks, he could find himself on the turf frequently this season. Cassel also lost probably his best would-be target in future Hall of Fame TE Tony Gonzalez, who was dealt to the Falcons for a 2010 second-rounder. Other than WR Dwayne Bowe, the Chiefs are left with a lackluster group of pass catchers. Backfield issues also could arise if Larry Johnson acts up and the Chiefs opt to part ways with him; their RB stable is very thin.
Mission accomplished: Oakland’s priority after the key — and extremely expensive — re-signings of P Shane Lechler and CB Nnamdi Asomugha was to provide QB JaMarcus Russell with a better supporting cast, specifically at offensive tackle and in the receiving corps. The team made additions at both spots, although not without controversy. The Raiders signed OT Khalif Barnes to compete for a starting spot and drafted Maryland WR Darrius Heyward-Bey with their top pick, seventh overall. Many evaluators felt that taking Heyward-Bey, who was the first receiver to be plucked despite not being the top-rated player at his position on many boards, with the seventh pick was a reach, but he instantly jumped to the top of the team’s depth chart, rising above an unimpressive collection of targets. The Raiders also got insurance in case Russell regresses, signing veteran Jeff Garcia.
Unfinished business: The Raiders dangled several players — including DE Derrick Burgess, S Michael Huff and RBs Justin Fargas and Michael Bush — in trade talks this offseason, and there’s a chance one or more of them could be dealt before the season starts, although it doesn’t appear that any trade is imminent. Javon Walker is recovering from surgery, which was performed in April without the Raiders’ consent, and he could miss part of training camp. After a disastrous first season in Oakland, it would not be a shock if Walker is released before Week One.
San Diego Chargers
Mission accomplished: Coming off an AFC West title and a trip to the divisional round of the playoffs, the Chargers had an offseason goal of getting healthy. With many of their top stars dealing with injuries for much of the 2008 campaign, the Bolts wanted to make sure they entered ’09 as close to 100 percent as possible. Such seems to be the case, with players such as LB Shawne Merriman, who missed 15 games after undergoing reconstructive knee surgery, looking great in spring workouts. San Diego also was able to avoid a potential mess by restructuring the contract of RB LaDainian Tomlinson to ensure he remained a Charger without crushing the club’s salary cap. The Chargers lost only one key contributor in DE Igor Olshansky, and they bolstered their LB corps by bringing in free agent Kevin Burnett and drafting Larry English in Round One.
Unfinished business: The right side of the O-line was the Chargers’ offensive weak spot last season, but they did nothing in free agency to improve the unit. They’ll have to hope that either ORG Kynan Forney steps up to replace departed starter Mike Goff or that one of their rookie linemen emerges as an impact player. Also, Olshansky’s loss leaves San Diego a bit thin on the defensive line. Ryon Bingham and Jacques Cesaire are expected to share duties at left end, but each has question marks. SS Clinton Hart gave up catch after catch in ’08 as the Chargers finished last in the AFC in pass defense, yet he appears on track to remain in the starting lineup. If Hart isn’t unseated in training camp, it’s likely the team’s struggles containing opposing tight ends will continue.
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