Friday, February 11, 2011
NFC East Prospects
Nope, it has nothing to do with the draft. Well, not overtly anyway. It's time to peer into the crystal ball of a sport notoriously resistant to the power of crystal balls. Or maybe crystal balls are just junk. Who knows? Who cares? Either way, let's look at the NFC East. Dallas Cowboys: We'll do it alphabetically, because that's about as good a method as any. So that means the Cowboys are up first and what a season it was. To forget if nothing else. The loss of Tony Romo muted any questions about whether he would be able to repeat on his playoff win from the season before. A season where the Cowboys dreamed of playing the big game in their big new stadium ended in despair. Instead it largely fell to Jon Kitna to steer the ship, a job which he didn't do too bad at. But he wasn't awesome either. Neither was much of the Cowboys team, leading to the early exit of Head Coach Wade Phillips. After a protracted period of engaging in the letter of the Rooney Rule, if not the spirit and intent, the Cowboys appointed Jason Garrett as the new top man. Previously just the offensive coordinator, Garrett now has to get used to being directly accountable to Jerry Jones. Good luck with that Jason. To compliment Garrett and basically to fill the gap left by Phillips, the Cowboys have hired Rob Ryan to come in and run the D. It's a 3-4 already so the transition on the surface should be quite smooth. Not sure how DeMarcus Ware is going to take it though. As the leading sack collector in the league this year he will surely get plenty of shots again next year, but the Ryan pedigree will likely mean a more diverse range of blitzes than the Cowboys have run in previous years, perhaps nipping Ware's sack tally a little at the expense of an overall increase in sacks for the D. Providing everything goes well of course. As for the impending free agency, which for the sake of argument we will presume as going ahead as normal, the biggest question is where the Cowboys will drop their Franchise tag? On the market this off season will be offensive tackles Alex Barron and Doug Free, one of whom I'm guessing the Cowboys would rather like to hold on to. Another candidate is possibly Marcus Spears, who only played 8 games this season, though it's a much less likely option. To be honest, I'm not sure how worthy any of the 3 are. Two other names worth mentioning, though certainly not in the franchise debate, are Sam Hurd and Gerald Sensabaugh. The loss of Sensabaugh would hurt more, by far, but Hurd is a handy little player to have around, even if Miles Austin, Roy Williams and Dez Bryant are burning holes in your cap sheet. I wouldn't be surprised to see the Cowboys dump the expensive Williams this off season and retain Hurd as a back up. But then Jerry does seem quite smitten with Roy. As for the draft, the Cowboys start at number 9 this year. So, choices abound. The expectation at the minute appears to be that there will be a run on defensive ends/outside linebackers, which isn't really a position the Cowboys will have much interest in, so don't be surprised to see them move back a few spots. A new tackle would be nice, but the only one estimated to be worth a 9 slot would be Gabe Carimi, who could already be gone by that point. Other than that, the Cowboys really don't have many needs. Maybe a defensive back, if someone like Prince Amukamara falls that far. All in all, 2011 should be a good year for the Cowboys. They have good coordinators now. They will have Romo back. They have three great running backs, plenty of speed at the wide receiver position, they have Witten at tight end and their defense is relatively well rounded. What could possibly go wrong? They're the Cowboys. Something always does. New York Giants: Despite speculation that he might be shoved out the door for missing the playoffs, Tom Coughlin has hung in there. Of course I say "hung in there". The Giants were 10-6 last season. Their defensive line tore Jay Cutler a new a-hole. At times they looked collectively like an unstoppable juggernaut. Unfortunately there were far too many occasions when they looked eminently stoppable. That will be the focus for change in 2011. There's not really a lot to say though. The Giants will go as far as Eli Manning takes them. I know people love to rave about Eli because of his Super Bowl performance, but that's starting to look like a forgotten memory. His play recently just hasn't matched that of those around him. I personally believe that far from being one season away from greatness, Eli is the piece that is holding the Giants back. Sadly I don't think enough people agree (a statement which presumes that I'm right). The list of unrestricted free agents however is what catches the eye most. Kevin Boss, Ahmad Bradshaw, Barry Cofield, Derek Hagan, Domenik Hixon, Mathias Kiwanuka, Steve Smith, Jim Sorgi.... Ok, so Sorgi isn't such a big worry, but that is a lot of talent potentially walking out the door there. What is surprising though is that when you look at the Giants roster at those various positions and, except for maybe tight end, you can't help but say "they won't miss that guy....". The Giants are actually pretty well stocked. Their attention then would probably swing toward the draft, with the Giants picking at number 19. The obvious shot is at mike linebacker. Last year many in New York had their sights set on Rolando McClain, but when the Raiders swooped on him early, the Giants were left fuming. Their response was to take Jason Pierre-Paul, who turned out (so far) to be an unexpected steal (of sorts). This year there is no real leeway for the Giants. Unless something very tempting comes up in free agency, it's going to be a linebacker draft for the boys in blue. Maybe one in the first round if the talent is there, probably one in the second if it's not. Tack on perhaps one mid-round choice and maybe a late round project. That's really how bad the situation is for the Giants. Defensive back is also a weakness. Looking ahead at their season? It should, theoretically speaking be a good year for the Giants. They have the talent. They really, really do. But again it comes back to Eli, or maybe even just the Giants reliance on Eli. If he has even just a mildly good year, they can go far. If he bottles it, then the rest of the team will get dragged down with him. Again. Philadelphia Eagles: Andy Reid strikes again!! Last year it was McNabb who was assured of his spot on the team, only to find himself shipped to Washington. This year it was defensive coordinator Sean McDermott. It looked like he was staying in Philadelphia one minute, then the next Reid had shipped him out of the building. His replacement was naturally going to be.... wait, what? Juan Castillo? What the hell? This is what many Eagles fans were wondering when they heard the news. Juan used to be the offensive line coach, a job that has now been taken over by former Colts line coach Howard Mudd. And while the Mudd hiring is a smart move, I just don't get the Castillo appointment. I think Andy Reid must have been drunk. Or maybe he was just being Andy Reid, except instead of having one his temporary bouts of insanity during a game and while holding a red flag, he instead had it while making this personnel move. Who knows though. Maybe Juan Castillo has some secret plan. Maybe he's dug out his old playbook from when he was a high school/college defensive coach and is ready to unleash all hell on the world. Maybe as an offensive line coach he has spent the last 12 seasons studying so much tape of teams blitzes that he has managed to absorb just about every blitz the league has to offer, and can draw them up on a borad, techniques and all, without even having to refer to the playbook. I'm going with the Andy Reid insanity plea. On to free agency then and I guess there is little doubt now that Michael Vick will find himself slapped with a franchise tag. That'll be an interesting situation to watch as I'm intrigued to know if anybody might see Vick as worth the hefty price given his skills and the impact that he had on the Eagles offense. There are a lot of other noteworthy names on the Unrestricted list as well. Kicker David Akers, Stewart Bradley, Omar Gaither, Jerome Harrison, Ellis Hobbs, Quintin Mikell, Sav Rocca, Ernie Sims and Reggie Wells all deserve a mention. That's a long list, and if they tag Vick you have to wonder how much money will be left over to start paying these guys. That then leads to draft time and a swathe of "needs". LeSean McCoy will be the only true running back left on the team. They'll only have three true linebackers left on the team. No punter or kicker assuming Akers and Rocca don't return. And we all know how sketchy the Eagles defensive backs can be. The question is where do you start on that list. The Eagles might just go for a 'Best Available' strategy and treat 2011 as a rebuilding year of sorts. Which answers the question about where their 2011 season is headed. Namely down. Vick is special, as is DeSean Jackson, but that's two players on offense. The defense will need some serious work and some serious help just to stay competitive. Unless the offense can tear teams apart like it did in 2010, it's going to be a long and miserable season in Philly. Washington Redskins: Finally we come to the second most dysfunctional franchise in football after the Raiders. No, scrap that. The Raiders drafted well in 2010 so despite the inexplicable decision to dump Tom Cable, the Raiders get a pass for now. The Redskins are the kings of "What the hell are you doing?" this off season. So what are they doing? Who knows? The combination of Dan Snyder and Mike Shanahan leaves everybody baffled it seems. Take Donovan McNabb for example. They trade for him, pay him up nicely, then for some reason turn against him and try to make him public enemy number 2 in Washington. The number 1 spot goes to Albert Haynesworth. On reflection, you have to see both sides of the Haynesworth story. On one side you have the fact that he took $100 million from the Redskins, and as a result they should be able to play him at any position on the field that they see fit, including but not limited to; Nose Tackles, 3 technique, quarterback, cheerleader, water boy. On the other hand, it is slightly deceitful when you hire a guy who thinks he's going to be rampaging through the offensive line, only to turn around and say "ah ha, gotcha! You're really just going to be used as a road block in the middle!" Neither Haynesworth nor McNabb is up for free agency this year, but something tells just about everyone that both will likely be gone. Initially the Redskins will be expected to hold out, looking for a trade. But given that nobody seriously believes that the Redskins are going to hold on to these two into next season, the much more likely outcome is that they will be dropped some time before the start of free agency, possibly at the eleventh hour. As for their general list of unrestricted freebies, the Redskins actually don't have too much to worry about. Rex Grossman is on the block but as the preferred choice of the Shanahan's, I imagine he will get tied up before deadline day. Rocky McIntosh and Jamaal Brown will be missed in their own ways, as will Santana Moss and Casey Rabach. But the Redskins aren't big on bringing back free agents. They much prefer to go out and splurge on brand new ones. They also pick tenth in this years draft, so more opportunity for Snyder to open the check book and hand someone a wad of money. It's possible the quarterback will be one of the positions of interest, maybe with names ranging from the more sensible like Ryan Mallett to the more Snyder-esque hit and hope approach, such as Cam Newton or Jake Locker. The 'Skins could probably also use a corner (or two), a decent wide receiver (or two), and another decent linebacker (or two). Looking ahead to their 2011 season. God, please don't make me do it. I seem drama appearing. I see a spat between father and son Shanahan. I see a team in revolt. I see a team that is revolting. I see a fan base in revolt. I see a fan base that is revolting. I see Dan Snyder in revolt and revolting at the same time, while also hanging his Head Coach out to dry. And I see yet another bottom of the pile performance from what is quickly becoming a laughing stock of a franchise. Wait, did I say becoming? :) Ah who am I to talk. I'm a Niners fan.... Anyway, that's the NFC East done. I can't decide whether I want to go NFC South next or AFC East? I'll think about it, probably over the weekend. Till then, keep praying for a new CBA everyone.