Tuesday, March 06, 2007

The Wackiness Of The NFL Offseason

"Has the whole world gone crazy!..."

The wildness of the NFL never ceases to amaze me. Just when you think you know everything, it turns out you know aboslutely nothing. So I'm going to do my best in attempting to bring you up to speed on the wheelings and dealings so far...

Who said this was the "No Fun League?"

The first real major splash came out of the Bay Area, as San Francisco, who hasn't got a decent free agent since the Eddie DeBartolo ownership era (no salary cap, literally got whoever they wanted), went above and beyond to sign the top free agent corner, Nate Clements, to an 8 year, $80 million contract, the most ever for a defensive player. Now I said all along that Clements would be getting some serious bank for his play not only at corner, but as a return man...but I mean, $80 million? Clearly, the Niners are trying to send a message to the league and their fans, which is basically saying "we refuse to be a doormat in this league any longer." Although this definitely fills a void in their defense, San Fran has a long way to go before you can come close to calling that unit "legitament." However, it is good to see that the Niners are making some kind of push to at least attempt to recreate some of the success they had in the Eighties through the mid Nineties. I don't believe Alex Smith is going to be anywhere close to being a "franchise QB," but they have a good deal of young talent, and if they continue to land top free agents like Clements, they have a very good shot of getting back into the playoff picture given the division they play in.

Of course, I have to talk about the Patriots, who, as of right now, get an A+++ (I was almost going to go all "Christmas Story" right there and just string together a massive "+" series, but I think you get the idea). First of all, they made the absolute right decision in franchising Asante Samuel, who proved last year that he is indeed at least in the discussion for the "top 5 corners in the league." So, the Pats obviously figured that paying him like a top 5 corner, at least for one year, would be totally worth it, given how far under the cap they were (I want to say around $26 million...whatever it may have been, it was big...really big). Considering they will almost surely take a corner with one of their two first round picks, corner was not exactly going to be a strong suit, but when you bring a guy like Asante back into the fold, it makes your secondary immensly better.

(I figured it would also be good of me to tell you the others who were franchised as well this year...)

Dwight Freeney, DE, Indianapolis
Charles Grant, DE, New Orleans
Justin Smith, DE, Cincinnati
Lance Briggs, LB, Chicago (he is also currently seeking a trade because of this)
Cory Redding, DT, Detroit
Josh Brown, K, Seattle

(Notice the three defensive ends at the top of the list. It is by no accident that these guys were given "the tag." Think about it: They will all be receiving the exact same amount ($8.644 million) next year. If any one of these guys signed a lucrative contract that was front-ended (most of the dollars coming up front, which seems to be the trend in the market right now), then you would probably be talking about giving any one of these guys an excess of $10 million for next year, so that was obviously a smart move)

Then, the Pats made what I thought to be an even more surprising move in signing former Balitmore LB Adalius Thomas to a six year deal. Many believed Thomas to be the #1 free agent in the market this year, and given the Pats usual "stand-offish" attitude when it came to big free agent names (Roosevelt Colvin I think is pretty much the only "name" the Pats ever signed in the offseason to a huge deal like this...and by no coincidence is he also a linebacker). Thomas is arguably the most flexible at playing different positions in the league. He has the ability to play outside linebacker, defensive end, and has even played a bit of safety before...he is that good and that fast. The debate about who has the best linebacking core has officially been answered. When you talk about Thomas and Colvin on the outside, along with Tedy Bruschi and Mike Vrabel on the inside, it's almost like a joke now. The Pats found an answer to the "Willie McGinest problem" that they have tried to figure out over the last year and a half since his departure to the Browns. You have to believe Peyton Manning heard about this and thought about that whole "repeat" thing they're trying to do...not so fast!

Then, in what could be the most underrated move of the offseason, the Pats acquired Wes Welker from the Dolphins for a second and seventh round pick (Welker was a restricted free agent, and the Pats were going to construct an offer sheet in which they would have gotten Welker for just a second rounder; however, the Pats, especially their owner, Bob Kraft, were aware of the dealings that happened last year for Steve Hutchinson, who is obviously a better player than Welker, but was in a similar situation last year when his old team, Seattle, and his current team, Minnesota, had an all-out war in terms of the necessary compensation the Seahawks should receive in the deal; so Kraft gave the Dolphins the seventh rounder as a sign of "good faith"...there's a reason he's the best owner in the NFL). Welker was notorious for being a "Patriot killer." Seemingly every time the Pats played the 'Fins, Welker would have a big game, or make some kind of big play (or even kick field goals like he did three years a go when Mare got hurt and they didn't have a backup). So, what better way to stop a guy than to sign him on your own team! Also, you're talking about a guy who is 25 years old and can be put immediately into the "Troy Brown" position (I got 3-to-1 he plays nickelback next year...place your bets!). Welker is also a character guy. He's about putting the team first, and what better team for that than New England. I was so happy they went out and got Welker, because I've always liked the guy, we needed receiving help, and I couldn't take anymore of the guy ripping the Pats apart. So bravo to that one.

The rumors continue to swirl about what the Pats could have in mind as far as getting a #1 type wideout. Two names that have been coming up as of late have been Randy Moss and Donte' Stallworth. Both of these guys have serious baggage that comes with them. Moss being the most obvious of the two given his history of contract holdouts, lack of hustle, fake-mooning, and everything in between. Stallworth has been less difficult, but still...he has been difficult. Also, it is now coming out that Stallworth has participated in the league's "substance abuse program," meaning that a suspension will be upcoming if he is caught again. This just seems bizarre that the Pats are even linked to these two guys. Normally, they are all about a guy like Welker...one with character, integrity, and a "team-first" attitude. Both Moss and Stallworth seem to be out as much for themselves as individuals as they are for the team, if not more for just them. Here's my opinion on this: I feel like this is something that Belichick can claim as a "challenge," and if you know this guy, he is all about challenges. Both of these guys have been written off by most NFL execs. In fact, the Pats came out during a press conference before the 1998 Draft, and said "there is no way we are drafting Randy Moss under any circumstances." So why the change of heart all of a sudden? Well, you have to figure that Moss' value, if sent off in a trade, is at an all-time low. I mean what are the Raiders expecting in return? A fourth rounder, maybe a third? If you had told me three years ago that I could get Randy Moss for a fourth round pick, I would at least have to think about it. But in all honesty, I cannot see this happening...ever. It's just that Randy Moss is the antithesis of everything the Patriots stand for. Why do you think the Super Bowl teams are introduced...as teams? Look no further than Super Bowl XXXVI, when the Rams had their stud offensive weapons all introduced seperately, and the Pats went as a unit. I will never forget Pat Summerall saying "here are the New England Patriots, wishing to be introduced as a team." That just sent chills through me. As far as Stallworth is concerned, I can at least think the Pats will look into it, but the fact that they just traded a second-rounder to get Welker, and given how much Bill likes to maneuver around in the Draft (by the way, I will be stunned right now if they keep both first-rounders...stunned; with losing a second rounder, but yet filling their three biggest needs (LB, CB (Samuel), and WR), they effectively are now going to be looking for value, so I see them trading out of at least one of their first rounders), I can't see the Pats making any more big splashes in the trading market.

Eric Steinbach going to Cleveland, in my mind, makes it all the more likely that the Browns will be drafting Adrian Peterson with the third overall pick in an attempt to make him their "franchise running back" (by the way, how about that call I made on the coin flip?...if I said it once, I'll say it again: "Tails never fails!"). This is a big time signing that has fallen on deaf ears for the most part. You're looking at a guy in the prime of his career that can play both guard and tackle (although for a guard, he is a little "undersized"). I love this pickup, and from what I can gather, a lot of Cleveland supporters are fully on board with this. If they can get some defensive depth through free agency and the Draft, the Brownies definitely could be looking at getting over that .500 hump real soon.

So, I realize it's a little late to recap the Combine, but I mean I just haven't been able to update the blog as much as I intended (note to immediate family reading this: notice the large space in between posts...I'm studying!). Anyway, I just wanted to throw some things out there about who benefited themselves the most, and who may have seen their values start to go in the wrong direction.

The big winner was obviously Calvin Johnson, as he once again proved how much of a genetic "freak" he is. Johnson measured in at 6'5, 235 lbs and then ran a 4.35 40! I mean this guy is an animal...easily the best athlete in the draft. Unfortunately for him, it seems like the first three teams picking (barring any trades) have more pressing needs than getting a standout receiver (again, this can change through trades or free agency very quickly). Johnson seems to be the unanimous #4 pick going to Tampa, who recently got aging Joey Galloway to restructure his contract.

Another big winner was LaRon Landry, safety from LSU. Landry impressed scouts with his speed (4.35 40), his athleticism (37 1/2 vertical leap), and his knack for being able to read receivers in the simulated route running. Landry has moved from a top 20 into a surefire top 10 pick, with many experts having him going either at #8 to Houston or #10 to Atlanta. Landry capitalized on Reggie Nelson's "fair" showing, as Nelson was one of the quickest risers up the Draft board. Again, that 40-yard dash is a huge key for a guy being able to elevate his stock, with Landry being no exception.

And now I want to sum up the rest of the winners:
Greg Olsen, TE, Miami
Adrian Peterson, RB, Oklahoma
Chris Henry, RB, Arizona
Gaines Adama, DE, Clemson
Tim Crowder, DE, Texas

As far as the losers, you don't have to look to far (at least in my case) for this guy...Sidney Rice, WR, South Carolina...and it wasn't really even his fault! Unfortunately for Rice (who is going to be an even better pro as his stock slips, meaning he will land with a better team...it's not all that bad...ask Troy Williamson), a bunch of receivers have been passing him on the draft board, with even more nipping at his heels (Anthony Gonzalez impressed a bunch, and Robert Meachem almost assured himself of a top-20 selection). This one really hit home for me because I know how good this guy is. I think if he had stayed another year though, he would have been a lock for going in the top-10. In the end, Rice saw that he had a first round grade, and he bolted. I personally don't blame him, because he would be risking an awful lot by playing another year and continuing to get double teamed on every single play. Again, this guy is going to be huge...huge I say! Unfortunately for him, he will not be drafted as high as he deserves.

The biggest loser had to have been Quentin Moses, DE from Georgia. After being projected as a top-10 pick before the season began, Moses had a sub-par year, and an even more sub-par performance at the Combine, which has rendered him a mid-to-late second round grade. Still, this guy has shown he has a lot of potential, but in a "what have you done for me lately?" league, and his track record for having a poor work ethic, Moses will be looking to try and prove the skeptics wrong at the next level.

Other guys who underperformed and/or got leapfrogged:
Lawrence Timmons, LB, Florida St.
Darrelle Revis, CB, Pittsburgh
Daymeion Hughes, CB, California
Zach Miller, TE, Arizona St.
DeMarcus Tyler, DT, North Carolina St.

To wrap everything up, I just have one last thing to say: Why in God's name is Leon Hall so far down on every draft board! Are you kidding me? I recently saw a mock draft that had him going 23rd! In a league that covets a shut-down corner as much as about any other position (note the Clements deal and the 'Dre Bly to Denver trade...yeah, they don't come cheap). Hall was a standout at Michigan, earning all conference honors two years in a row. He was also an All-American in his senior year. You couple the fact that the biggest knock on him was his speed, and then ran a 4.37 40 at the Combine...I mean what's not to like? Plus, when you have a school that pumps out guys like Ty Law and Charles Woodson, you definitely have a good track record to go by. I mean I watched the Michigan/Notre Dame game this year, and Hall simply dominated in both the passing game as well as the running game, as the Wolverines used him in blitz packages off the edge to slow down Darius Walker. Maybe I'm "gushing" a little too much about the guy, but I just can't understand how a guy with top 6 or 7 talent can slip to the mid-to-late first round? Hall has done everything in his power to prove that he is going to excel as a pro, yet it seems there is still some skepticism about his play. I don't know, I'm just throwing this out there and being like "what the hell is with that?" I am going to be following Hall closely though as he tries to make a name for himself in the NFL, which I have no doubt he will do.

That's all for now. My tournament preview is going to be a touch delayed given that I will be in Florida until next Wednesday. However, I will make my predictions available, and also, I will be providing information about many of the schools that look like they will get in, so you can pretty much interpret from that who I'm probably leaning towards. Take care everyone. Peace.

~Mell-o

1 comment:

Nicole said...

you are KILLING me with the "legitament" thing... it's legitimate. in a nice way :)