Monday, May 6, 2013
The Best Moves of the NFL Offseason
Well, that's about it. The game of musical chairs that is the National Football League offseason is pretty much done. We've had trades. We've had cuts and pick-ups and major signings and minor signings. We've had the draft and now we've had the post-draft rush for undrafted free agents. And with the exception of a few late moves like somebody picking up John Abraham, Brian Urlacher or (gasp!) Tim Tebow (double gasp!!), teams can look at their depth charts and know the majority of guys who will break camps with a job are on that board.
Let's take a look around the league and pick out the top impact additions for NFL teams this fall.
QB Carson Palmer, Arizona Cardinals — The Cardinals have been in a quarterback tailspin since Kurt Warner retired. If you recall, Warner was supposed to just come in as a veteran backup after he washed out as Eli Manning's veteran backup in New York. Then Matt Leinart was terrible, Warner took over and next think you know Bill Bidwell is sitting in the owner's suite at the Super Bowl.
Now, nobody is or should be saying Palmer has a Warner-type run in him, but the profile is similar — veteran QB who knows he's on the last chapter of his career, playing for a new coach, with Larry Fitzgerald running routes for him. And just like Warner a few years ago, Palmer has tasted success. He's won divisions and played in the playoffs. And his coach, Bruce Arians, likes nothing more than to air the ball with abandon. It could be a catastrophe (especially if their tackles don't play any better), but it could also be something special.
QB Alex Smith, Kansas City Chiefs — The 49ers better hope that Colin Kaepernick isn't a one-year wonder, because Smith was 19-5-1 with 30 TD and 10 INT in his last two years as a starting quarterback in San Francisco. He instantly give Andy Reid's new offense credibility, especially when paired with a solid-if-unspectacular offensive line blocking for Jamaal Charles (now two years removed from his ACL tear). When you see the Chiefs in second place behind the Broncos in the AFC West next season, the trade for Smith is going to be the reason why.
RB Steven Jackson, St. Louis Rams — Like Palmer, Jackson knows the clock is ticking toward the end of his career. But perhaps no back is in a better position to take advantage of his last chance as is Jackson. In St. Louis, it was an eight- or nine-man box on every play because the offense had no pass game to keep defenses honest. If people try that with Julio Jones, Roddy White, and Tony Gonzalez running wild for Matt Ryan, the Falcons offense is going to put up Tecmo Bowl stats. Jackson may only have two years left in the tank, but they could be an extremely productive two years.
RBs Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin, Green Bay Packers — One of these two guys struck it rich, but which one? Don't assume that just because Lacy was selected in the second round and Franklin in the fourth that Lacy will be the guy taking the majority of the snaps behind Aaron Rodgers. Remember back a few years (2008 to be exact), the Packers took a pair of quarterbacks: Brian Brohm in the second and Matt Flynn in the seventh. It was Flynn who ended up taking the back-up job while Brohm was cut less than 18 months after the draft and now plays for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the Canadian Football League. Here's betting that Franklin pulls ahead of Lacy during training camp and ends up leading the Packers in rushing next year.
WR Davone Bess, Cleveland Browns — I know Paul Kruger is the highlight of the Browns' roster revamp, but the addition of Bess as a security blanket to whoever ends up the starting QB (I'm still betting on Brandon Weeden) has the potential to be a real plus for this offense under Norv Turner. Put it this way — I know a lot of Dolphins fans, and not a single one of them was glad to see Bess head out of town.
WR Wes Welker, Denver Broncos — Point 1: The expectations for Welker in Denver are out of hand. In New England, he was option A and B, and sometimes C and D. In Denver, he's walking into an offense that features stud outside receivers in Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker. Combined last year, those two accounted for 179 catches on 264 targets. Brandon Stokley, the man Welker is replacing, caught 45 balls on 58 targets. Now is Welker a major upgrade over Stokley? Of course. But he's not going to come anywhere close to matching his production with New England. Point 2: While Welker is going to lose fantasy football value, his real football value to Manning is unquantifiable. Having Welker in the middle of Decker and Thomas is going to make that offense damn near unstoppable, and the Broncos are a clear favorite to win the Super Bowl as a result.
WRs Danny Amendola, Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce, New England Patriots — While Manning gets Welker, has any Hall of Fame quarterback ever gone through a total line shift in receivers without switching teams like Tom Brady will be this season? Brady threw for more than 4,800 yards last season, fourth most in the league, and it'll be up to Amendola, Dobson, and Boyce to come in and replace the production of Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd. And with both starting tight ends potentially on the shelf, the receivers' ability to quickly acclimate to a complex new system will that much more important.
WR Greg Jennings, Minnesota Vikings — Jennings isn't worth the cash the Vikings gave him, and fellow receiver Corderrelle Patterson wasn't worth the draft haul Minnesota gave up to get him, but really what choice did they have? Their pass game was pathetic last year (only the Chiefs threw for fewer yards), and that was before their one real receiving threat, Percy Harvin, was traded to Seattle. When you have an iconic running back like Adrian Peterson, you have to be able to take advantage of safeties cheating up to help the front. If the Vikings offense can't pass the ball next year, it won't be Christian Ponder throwing the passes in 2014.
TE Brandon Myers, New York Giants — If there's an award for least publicized signing that will have the biggest impact on fantasy teams next year, Myers is it. Playing in an overmatched offense last year in Oakland, Myers still caught 79 passes for more than 800 yards and 4 touchdowns. Now with a real offense, a good-to-great QB, quality receivers around him and a decent run game to occupy opposing linebackers and safeties, Myers could equal that catch total and double the TD total. And if you don't think he's ending up on Matthew Berry's "Love" list for this season, you're crazy.
Gs Andy Levitre and Chance Warmack, TE Delanie Walker, Tennessee Titans — If only because I'm sick of hearing Chris Johnson bitch about his offensive line. Listen dude, if you don't produce this year, it's not them, it's you. Shush up and run.
CB Darrelle Revis and S Dashon Goldson, Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Playing in a division with the Saints, Falcons, and Panthers, it was imperative the Bucs shore up their secondary if they were going to stand a chance. Done and done. Not only did they get Revis at corner, they also drafted Johnathan Banks in the second round out of Mississippi State. And by adding Goldson to 2012 first-round pick Mark Barron, they can both cover the deep middle and come up in run support. This is now a defense that can step on the field and look at Drew Brees (Weeks 2 and 17), Tom Brady (Week 3), Matt Ryan (Weeks 7 and 11), and Matthew Stafford (Week 12) and say "We got this." That's not something many teams can do.
S Matt Elam and ILB Arthur Brown, Baltimore Ravens — Out go Ed Reed and Ray Lewis, in come Elam and Brown. Now technically, Elam is replacing Bernard Pollard and Brown is moving into Jameel McClain's position as McClain replaces Lewis, but you get the point. Whether Elam and Brown can hold up under pressure week after week will determine just how close Baltimore gets to being the first back-to-back Champs since the Patriots in 2003-2004. Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome is getting a ton of credit for rebuilding the champs, but let's see how the two defensive rookies hold up once Manning starts with the arm-waving and audible-calling in Week 1.
LB AJ Klein, Carolina Panthers — I haven't seen this pick get any ink in the "draft picks most likely to contribute" columns, but the Panthers struck gold adding Klein in the fifth round next to 2012 first-round pick Luke Kuechly. With only the brittle Thomas Davis and Jon Beason ahead of him on either side of Kuechly, the chances of Klein being a starter by mid-season are better than 50-50. And with fellow rookies Star Lotulelei (first round) and Kawann Short (second round) clogging up the middle, Klein are going to be all over the field. When the Panthers make the playoffs next year, Cam Newton will get the credit. But it will be the rookies on defense that will have made the biggest difference.
K Caleb Sturgis, Miami Dolphins — What? With Mike Wallace and Dustin Keller and Dannell Ellerbe and Brent Grimes and Dion Jordan, I go with a rookie fifth-round kicker? Yep, because kickers are people too and Dan Carpenter is one of the worst incumbent starters in the league. Sturgis is coming off a stellar career at Florida, taking All-American honors last season and All-SEC honors the past two years (including over Minnesota All Pro rookie Blair Walsh in 2011). If the Dolphins are going to contend for a playoff spot in 2013, they're going to have to win the close ones. And that's why with all of the money they spent, the rookie contract for Sturgis may pay the biggest dividends.
Everything San Francisco Did — Seriously, nobody had a better offseason than the 49ers. At receiver, they added Anquan Boldin (trade with Baltimore) and Quinton Patten (drafted in the fourth round). At tight end, they drafted Vance McDonald from Rice, which, along with starter Vernon Davis, gives them the best 1-2 TE combo west of Foxborough. At running back, they added Marcus Lattimore in the fourth round, my favorite single pick in the entire draft. On the defensive line, they added Glenn Dorsey, a former top-five pick miscast in Kansas City. At linebacker, they got Tank Carradine (second round out of Florida State) and Corey Lemonier (third round out of Auburn). And in the secondary, they drafted perhaps the best safety in the entire draft in Eric Reid (first round from LSU), and signed corner Nnamdi Asomugha. Hell, they even got Phil Dawson as their new kicker. I don't know how anybody picks anything other than a San Francisco-Denver Super Bowl this preseason.
Honorable Mentions — Veteran Edition: Osi Umenyiora (DE, Atlanta), Elvis Dumerville (OLB, Baltimore), Jermon Bushrod (OT, Chicago), Jason Jones (DE, Detroit), Ed Reed (S, Houston), Gosder Cherilus (OT, Indianapolis), Sean Smith (CB, Kansas City), all those Dolphins guys I mentioned, Tommy Kelly (DT, New England), Adrian Wilson (S, New England), Chris Ivory (RB, NY Jets), Matt Flynn (QB, Oakland), Arrelious Benn (WR, Philadelphia), Chad Rinehart (G, San Diego), Percy Harvin (WR, Seattle), Jake Long (OT, St. Louis)
Honorable Mentions — Rookie Edition: Sharrif Floyd (DT, Minnesota, 1st), DeAndre Hopkins (WR, Houston, 1st), Dee Milliner (CB, NY Jets, 1st), Desmond Trufant (CB, Atlanta, 1st), DJ Swearinger (CB, Houston, 2nd), Darius Slay (CB, Detroit, 2nd), Montee Ball (RB, Denver, 2nd), Margus Hunt (DE, Cincinnati, 2nd), Robert Woods (WR, Buffalo, 2nd), Markus Wheaton (WR, Pittsburgh, 3rd), Keenan Allen (WR, San Diego, 3rd), John Jenkins (DT, New Orleans, 3rd), Leon McFadden (CB, Cleveland, 3rd), Barrett Jones (C, St. Louis, 4th), Ace Sanders (WR, Jacksonville, 4th), BW Webb (CB, Dallas, 4th), Jesse Wiliams (DT, Seattle, 5th), Ryan Swope (WR, Arizona, 6th), Bacarri Rambo (S, Washington, 6th), Marquess Wilson (WR, Chicago, 7th), Jordan Poyer (CB, Philadelphia, 7th), TJ Moe (WR, New England, UDFA), Jasper Collins (WR, Miami, UDFA), Conner Vernon (WR, Oakland, UDFA), Keith Pough (LB, Buffalo Bills, UDFA)