With the advent of April—and with less than two weeks to go before the NFL Draft debuts in prime time—it felt as though the time was right to follow up the earlier story about the top stories of the 2010 NFL Offseason so far. Yes, to be correct, the initial posting was the “Top Stories of 2010 NFL Free Agency – 1st Edition”; however, the moves aren’t all free agent signings, so expanding the terminology was necessary.
Now that I’ve lost half my audience due to rambling, onward with the 2nd Edition of the top moves in the NFL. Thanks to the addition of polls here at The Sports Geeks, each story has questions for you all to weigh in on.
How the (NFC) East was Won(?)
Obviously, the biggest move of this second part of the offseason was the trade that sent former Philadelphia Eagles QB Donovan McNabb to the Washington Redskins. With the 4th Overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, many draft experts expected that the Redskins would use that placement on the board to select a franchise quarterback for the future; while that might still be the plan, it seems much less likely now that they have gotten their hands on a veteran signal-caller like McNabb.
Time will tell whether or not the Eagles or Redskins won out on this move. Coach Andy Reid clearly felt as though his Eagles were ready to begin a new season with the somewhat-proven Kevin Kolb under center. In two games filling in for an injured McNabb last season, Kolb was quite impressive as well. However, it’s reasonable to expect that Philadelphia will see some drop-off as Kolb attempts to settle into the role of full-time starter and as teams collect more footage to game-plan his starts. Should the Kevin Kolb experiment stutter out of the gate, the Eagles could turn to backup Michael Vick, but it would seem that such a scenario is not preferred based on how limited his “spot” appearances were in 2009.
As for the Redskins, they certainly improve at the QB position; Jason Campbell is by no means a terrible quarterback—certainly not the worst in the league—but he lacks the winning experience of McNabb. The issue in Washington is that the offensive line is porous and the receiving corps is unremarkable; the former biggest “name” WR on the team, Antwaan Randle El, signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers this offseason, leaving McNabb with the following “weapons”:
- WR Santana Moss
- WR Anthony Armstrong
- WR Malcolm Kelly
- WR Marko Mitchell
- WR James Robinson
- WR Devin Thomas
Only Moss, from that list, has more than three years of NFL experience; at 10 years experience in the league, he is also not the spry, young offensive threat he was earlier in his career.
Both Redskins fans and Eagles fans have been trying to claim big expectations for the 2010 season thanks to the trade, but it seems most likely that the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants will be put in the best situation for improvement. While McNabb remains in the division, he is put at the helm of a weaker team; while the Eagles had an explosive offense at times in 2009, Kolb will be in his first season leading the team. The trade may have positive results in Washington and Philadelphia in the long-run, but in the short-term look for the Cowboys and Giants to try to take advantage of the coming season.
About those Redskins… (and their RB stable)
The Redskins have also stockpiled a three-headed running back monster through signing former Steeler Willie Parker, former Kansas City Chief/Cincinnati Bengal Larry Johnson, and returning Clinton Portis. The assumption is that new head coach Mike Shanahan will be staging some sort of open competition for the starting spot, but there’s also a chance that all three players could remain on the team and be inserted for certain down situations. However, the youngest of the three players—Parker—will be entering his 8th season this year; given the shelf-life of running backs, this stable of former star backs might put up disappointing numbers. The entire Washington Redskins offense will be an interesting story to watch as the season draws closer.
A Trade, Essentially
In the 1st Edition of this offseason reporting, I spoke briefly about Arizona Cardinals LB Karlos Dansby and his decision to sign with the Miami Dolphins. Since then, disgruntled Dolphins LB Joey Porter decided that he would fill that opening and sign with the Cardinals. He then celebrated his signing by getting arrested on suspicion of drunk driving and resisting arrest. Even without acknowledging that Porter’s skills are in decline, this doesn’t project well for Arizona.
This story doesn’t get a poll; no need to ask who has a better chance of seeing an upside here.
Kickers on the Move
To the surprise of many—including former kicker Neil Rackers and his agent—Arizona decided to take their special teams game in a new direction by signing former New York Jets kicker Jay Feely. In return, Rackers scheduled a visit with the Jets and then surprised onlookers by signing a deal with the Houston Texans and being put in a competition situation with Texans kicker Kris Brown. Meanwhile, the Jets now field Dallas Cowboys cast-off Nick Folk as their place-kicking starter.
Feely and Rackers—despite missed kicks in the AFC Championship and NFC Wild Card Games, respectively—have to be considered among the top-tier kickers in the league. Folk, meanwhile, has certainly been mid-level at best despite a promising start to his career; in 2009, he only made 18 of 28 field goal attempts, while Feely went 30-for-36 (3-for-5 in the playoffs) and Rackers went 16-for-17 (1 for 3 in the playoffs). Safe to say that—for this kicker carousel—the Cardinals won, the Texans won, and the Jets lost (link goes to video of Folk missing a 24-yard field goal against the Saints… indoors).
But that doesn’t mean we’re taking a QB with the 1st Pick… (Sure, guys)
The St. Louis Rams bid farewell to veteran quarterback Marc Bulger this offseason, leaving them with A.J. Feeley, Kyle Boller, and Keith Null on the depth chart. If the Rams plan to start the season with any of those players under center, they better be prepared for another cellar-dwelling year and a very angry fanbase. Despite the clear implication that QB prospect Sam Bradford is all but assured to be the Rams selection for the 1st Overall Pick in the 2010 draft, the Rams brass are playing coy regarding their plans.
Given that the Rams finished with a single win and the worst record in the entire NFL for the 2009 season, it’s safe to say that even drafting a franchise QB won’t turn anything around right away. Though Bradford might have a bigger upside than last year’s #1 pick Matthew Stafford, he would find himself in a situation where he won’t exactly be surrounded by talent on the field.
As good as prospects Gerald McCoy and Ndamukong Suh may be, both are DT’s; the Rams aren’t very good on either side of the ball, but their fanbase and their franchise need somebody settled in the quarterback position for the long haul. If St. Louis is serious about their decision to move away from Bradford, they better hope that there’s a solid Plan B in mind; otherwise, they might become the favorite for relocation in the NFL’s plans to move a franchise to Los Angeles.
The Odd Man Out Finds a Spot
The clear loser in the Cleveland Browns moves at the quarterback position earlier this offseason was former starter and former Pro Bowl QB Derek Anderson, who was the only player without a team once the dust settled in Ohio. Since then, he has inked a deal to play for the Arizona Cardinals as a backup who could potentially compete for the starting job if Matt Leinart should have trouble re-establishing himself as “the guy” in the desert.
Good to know that a guy who played eight games in 2009 and compiled 3 touchdowns and 10 interceptions—including a Week 5 game in Buffalo where he completed 2 of 17 pass attempts with an interception—can still sign a two-year contract worth $7.25 million.
Wish I could make that kind of money for being less than half successful at what I do. Anderson’s final completion percentage for 2009 was 44.5%, which was actually 4.3% worse than Oakland Raiders QB JaMarcus Russell for the season.
The “I Called It” Award, 1st Edition
In the 1st Edition of my offseason transactions coverage, I detailed the New England Patriots sudden lack of tight ends on the roster with the departures of Benjamin Watson to the Cleveland Browns and Chris Baker to the Seattle Seahawks. In my comments, I mentioned that the Patriots should look at Tennessee Titans free agent TE Alge Crumpler as a potential option. Shortly after the article went live, rumors came out that Crumpler and the Patriots were discussing a deal, and the deal was finalized shortly after that.
Given his age, Crumpler probably won’t be coming into New England as a game-changer; at least now, however, the Patriots will be fielding someone at the position who actually has NFL experience.
Edit: With big wide receiver moves in the AFC East, I’ve decided to add some discussion of the Santonio Holmes and Brandon Marshall trades to this story; even though both were made after this story was published originally.
Stretching the Field in the AFC East
For the past decade, the New England Patriots have dominated the AFC East division with an offensive emphasis on the passing game. That dominance continued last year despite the New York Jets leading the league in rushing and defense. The air attack would appear to be key to the division—with future Hall of Famers in Tom Brady, Randy Moss, and potentially Wes Welker—and so it comes as little surprise that the Jets and Miami Dolphins have made moves to increase their own passing attacks.
On Sunday, the Jets provided a willing partner for the Pittsburgh Steelers’ desire to get rid of “problematic” star receiver Santonio Holmes; the Jets only needed to send a 5th-round draft pick to get the services of the 7th-ranked receiver in the league for 2009. Of course, such a good price comes with drawbacks, as Holmes will be suspended for the first four games of the season and the Jets will have to handle his absence to begin their 2010 campaign. This morning (April 14th, 2010) reports came out that the Denver Broncos had traded their own disgruntled receiver, Brandon Marshall, to the Dolphins for 2nd-round draft picks both this year and next year. Marshall—ranked 14th in the league in receiving yards in 2009—immediately upgrades the Dolphins receiving corps and gives quarterback Chad Henne a new go-to target.
Without question, these moves are big for the Jets and Dolphins; each team now has a legitimate receiving threat. However, last year the Dolphins ranked 20th overall in passing offense while the Jets finished 31st, with only the Cleveland Browns putting up lower numbers. The passing game requires a strong quarterback to go with big-name receivers, but among qualifying quarterbacks in the league in terms of QB Rating, Henne finished 22nd and Jets QB Mark Sanchez finished 28th; Sanchez was below the statistical average of the QB Rating (66.7) and behind Buffalo Bills QB Ryan Fitzpatrick (26th). Henne and Sanchez both threw for 12 touchdowns in 2009—good for 24th in the league—but Henne threw 14 interceptions and Sanchez put up 20 picks, putting both players in the red for TD-INT ratio. Both players, admittedly, were in rookie campaigns, but history shows more often than not that a sophomore slump can be likely; in order to give their teams hope for the 2010 season, both players will need to improve their play to best make use of their new offensive weapons.
With these big-name moves, much is being said about the likelihood of the Jets and Dolphins legitimately competing for the division in 2010. The Jets are a bandwagon darling so far this offseason given their big moves, and fans of the green and white have legitimate cause for hope with all of the moves their front office has made so far. And despite missing the playoffs last year, the Dolphins swept the Jets in regular season play, which gives their fans a chip on their shoulders and a reason to celebrate the landing of Marshall as a major offensive playmaker.
On paper, there is every reason to believe that the first AFC East Champion of the 2010’s will not be the New England Patriots. The team is beginning to show their age and has had a quiet offseason, with only the additions of WR David Patten and TE Alge Crumpler—both players in the late stage of their careers. By contrast, it is clear that the New York Jets have “won” the offseason in terms of trades and signings, head and shoulders above any other team in the league. However, the real test will come in September when teams line up for the NFL’s Kickoff Weekend. The AFC East—considered basically the sole property of the Patriots throughout the 2000’s—could be a legitimate three-team race for 2010; words not heard since Brady crumpled with massive knee injuries to start the 2008 season.
Well, there you have it; the 2nd Edition of my coverage of the Top Stories of the 2010 NFL Offseason. Any big moves that you think I overlooked? Let me know in the comments below.