Monthly Archives: February 2010

Your turn: 2010 NFL Team Needs

What do NFL teams need this offseason? We asked you to answer that question for your favorite NFL team. Here’s what you came up with. And thanks, everyone, for the help. We gave shout-outs to the author of every entry.

By the way, if your favorite team isn’t represented, leave a comment and we’ll add your thoughts to the mix.

AFC East

Jets – Defensively, the Jets need a defensive lineman, more likely than not a rusher who can get to the quarterback. They also need to get another NT, since Kris Jenkins, while great, gets banged up a lot. They also need either Donald Strickland to hang out with Darrelle Revis a lot and get better as the other corner, or draft another one. Offensively, the Jets need to see what shape Leon Washington comes back in. They should be able to spread out the carries so that Thomas Jones doesn’t run out of gas at the end of the year like he did this year. I’d like them to get another interior offensive lineman, in case something happens to Alan Faneca, seeing as he’s been in the league since the famed Kordell Stewart era. We could also use a third receiver, Wayne Chrebet-type without all those pesky concussions. I should point out, as a Jet fan, that this next year of high expectations is typically when we crash and burn. I guess my point is that if by week 10 Mark Sanchez is still standing and in relatively good shape, I think we’ll be okay. But if he Testaverdes it in the first game of the season or Penningtons it in the preseason, we’re screwed. – Pete Z., Missouri

Patriots – The Patriots don’t need much to compete with the Jets, but in order to compete with the rest of the league, I think they need: 1. A pass rusher not named Julius Peppers; 2. More help in the secondary. I’m not sure whether Leigh Bodden will be back, and even though Darius Butler should be better and they have some decent young safeties, this is a big area of need. Of course, a better pass rush would help the secondary as well; 3. With the late-season injury to Wes Welker, the Pats need more depth at WR. Julian Edelman showed promise, but you can’t rely on Edelman and Sam Aiken to take the pressure off Randy Moss. I’d like to see more of Brandon Tate, but he’s still a relative unknown. With a ton of draft picks, I’d like to see them use a 2nd-round pick on a WR or to trade for a WR. I’ve seen speculation about Anquan Boldin, but I think his $$ demands would be too high for them to consider. The Patriots have some big decisions to make financially — what to do with Bodden, what to do with Vince Wilfork, and hopefully avoiding spending big money on Peppers. – Carl B., Virginia

AFC South

Jaguars – We need pass rushers! – @TouchdownJax, Florida

Titans – The Titans need consistency and spark on Special Teams. They missed Chris Carr as much as Albert Haynesworth last season. Defensively their secondary struggled mightily. I don’t know the ins and outs of this discussion, but I hope they can clean up their coverage woes. I’d also like to see a better answer to what happens if Chris Johnson goes down. I’m not convinced Javon Ringer is that answer. Obviously with Vince Young’s second half they are moving ahead with Vince… my fingers are crossed. – Hudson N., Tennessee

AFC West

Chargers – Some say a new GM, others a new head coach, but since they have extended contracts those changes are not happening. Local media have been reporting the shopping of Shawn Kemp, er Antonio Cromartie, for about a month in an attempt to get a RB to replace LaDanian Tomlinson. If this happens it addresses one need. The talk is they need to figure out what they are doing with Shawne Merriman. He wasn’t fully back this year and he and A.J. Smith do not see eye to eye. The major needs are interior defensive linemen (the Jamal Williams injury revealed a huge weakness in the D-line); a right tackle (still cannot believe they passed on Michael Oher last year for Larry English); a hitter in the secondary (look at the Shonn Greene run for this glaring need); and an every-down back if they do not acquire one via trade. Thank God they play in the AFC West so there is always a playoff chance. – Andrew H., California

NFC East

Cowboys – The Cowboys need a kicker who can make a clutch kick – or any kick period. Dallas’ offense lacked that weapon with both Nick Folk and his replacement. Dallas’ offensive line could probably use some youth as well. Many of the main cogs are getting up there in age, so starting to replenish now will only help for the future. – Mark R., Illinois

Eagles – The Philadelphia Eagles desperately need to upgrade their linebacking corps and pass rush. The offense (mostly) fired on all cylinders last season, as long as the Cowboys weren’t the opponent. But if they’re going to continue to implement the blitzing schemes of the late Jim Johnson, they need the personal to do so, and the likes of Jeremiah Trotter won’t get it done. I wouldn’t be opposed to the rumored Donovan McNabb for Julius Peppers swap, and then focus on linebackers in the draft and free agency. Kevin Kolb, with time to practice with the first team, seemed perfectly capable of running the offense, and it just seems time for the McNabb era to end gracefully. It’s been a good run, at times great, but a Super Bowl seems unlikely with McNabb at this stage of his career. – Rob W., South Carolina

Redskins – For my local Redskins, their big decision revolves around Jason Campbell, and whether you draft a QB in the first round or go with an OL to protect Campbell and/or whichever QB you draft later on. The Skins are the team most likely to be impacted by the uncapped season, because it impacts whether Campbell becomes restricted or unrestricted next year. Not to mention, they’d likely be the biggest spenders AND would be able to cut Albert Haynesworth without taking a cap hit in an uncapped year. – Carl B., Virginia

NFC North

Bears – I’m a Bears fan and first thing is we gotta get rid of that overrated crybaby little girl named Jay Cutler and either draft Colt McCoy or Dan LeFevour or trade for Donovan McNabb. Then draft nothing but offense linemen and then sign Terrell Owens. – Alex V., South Carolina

NFC South

Falcons – The Dirty Birds from the ATL still have question marks all around the defense. Beginning at the LB position, Mike Peterson definitely brought leadership to a struggling defense by replacing “douche-bag” Keith Brooking. However, he was average at best only recording 1 sack for the season and a mediocre 82 tackles. We STILL don’t have a left CB and we need more depth in the D-line. Julius Peppers would be a wonderful acquisition for the defense. However, like Peterson (who’s 33 years old) Peppers doesn’t make us very youthful. You have to be optimistic going into 2010 with Matt Ryan coming back from a turf-toe injury, as well as “hopefully” having Michael Turner back at full strength. Not to mention, having Harry Douglas back at WR and on special teams gives us a very overloaded target base for Ryan to throw to. It’d be nice to add a little more depth on the OL. However, leave it to Thomas Dimitroff to pull a rabbit out of his hat in the coming months in the free agent market, along with having a stelar draft class to go along with it, too. – Chris O., Georgia

Panthers – The Panthers need a clean bill of health from their front seven. On offense, they desperately need a second receiving threat to complement Steve Smith and some competition for Matt Moore in camp. They should probably resign Tyler Brayton, especially if they are going to let Julius Peppers walk. – Chase N., Texas

The Panthers need one thing and one thing only. A QB. The NFL is a quarterback league. We all know that. I don’t have the answer as to how to get one. I just know they need one. Let Peppers go. Too much drama. Go get a QB – Chad N., South Carolina

NFC West

Rams – For the St. Louis Rams – Where do we start? On offense: they have a great running back in Steven Jackson, but need a capable backup. They need a better QB, a true number 1 receiver (Donnie Avery is good, but probably not a true #1), a good TE to fit their attempt at the West Coast scheme. O-line needs a better tackle than Alex Barron, who has been a disappointment. Rookie Jason Smith was good in limited duty due to injuries. On defense: they have good safeties and a good MLB (rookie James Laurinaitis looks like a keeper). They really need depth and improvement at corner and better OLBs and their DL is particularly weak. Chris Long (#2 pick overall), looks like an above avg end, but not much more (not a bust, but close). Leonard Little doesn’t have much left, DTs feature nothing special and it looks like Ndamukong Suh is a great choice for #1 overall. – @TheTicketGuys, Missouri

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FR: Franchise Players 2010

As we did last year, we’re going to use Football Relativity as a tool to compare this year’s class of franchise and transition players. We’ll compare them on a 10-point scale, with 10 being a franchise MVP and 1 being a why-bother-keeping guy. We’ll update this post with franchise players until the Feb. 25 deadline to name them passes. If you want a history of the franchise tag, Wikipedia has you covered. And for this year’s tag amounts, check out this post. All players below got the franchise tag unless otherwise noted.

A few general thoughts: Some defensive ends who might have normally been franchised, including Aaron Kampman of Green Bay or Kyle Vanden Bosch of Tennessee broke free instead because the DE franchise tag cost so much – $12.4 million. That artifically-high tender resulted from Julius Peppers’ $16 million-plus salary in ’09.

Also, fewer players were franchised this year because some players who would have normally hit the open market were instead free because the league is moving into an uncapped year. Instead of needing four accrued seasons to become free, players now need six seasons, and that leaves many players restricted instead of unrestricted. That means that some 2009 franchise players, including S O.J. Atogwe of the Rams and TE Bo Scaife of Tennessee, were given restricted free agent tenders instead of franchise tenders. Basically, the teams still get the right to match any offer those players get, and if they sign elsewhere they will get 1st- and 3rd-round draft picks instead of two first-rounders. That’s a financial boon to those teams.

Now, on to the comparison of the 2010 franchise players. And as we did last year, we’re linking to Pro Football Weekly’s scouting reports where available.

10 – NT Vince Wilfork, Patriots – The massive Wilfork won’t see unrestricted free agency because the Patriots used the franchise tag on him. That guarantees Wilfork a one-year, $7 million contract but keeps him from hitting the lottery with guaranteed money in a long-term contract elsewhere. The Pats say they want to find a long-term solution with Wilfork, but the franchise’s unwillingness to pay other players like Asante Samuel or Richard Seymour is enough reason to make Wilfork’s agent nervous. Wilfork is the prototypical 3-4 nose tackle, and that makes him incredibly valuable. He’s a run stuffer who can collapse the pocket, and there just aren’t many of those guys walking the earth. So Wilfork is definitely worth the $7 million to the Patriots this season, and he might still end up cashing a bigger check by the time his status is resolved.

9 – none

8 – none

7 – NT Aubrayo Franklin, 49ers – Franklin doesn’t get the pub that other 3-4 nose tackles do, but he’s developed into a solid player at that position since joining the 49ers from Baltimore three seasons ago. After four seasons as a backup in Baltimore, Franklin has been a full-time starter in San Francisco, and his ability to take on blocks has helped Patrick Willis and the rest of the Niners’ defense fly around. That makes Franklin a core player in San Francisco, which makes it no surprise that the Niners decided it was worth a guaranteed $7 million in 2010 to keep him. Franklin may not be quite the impact player that fellow NT Vince Wilfork is for New England, but he’s better than a declining Casey Hampton of Pittsburgh and is a guy San Francisco just can’t afford to lose. This is good use of the tag by the 49ers, especially in an uncapped year, because Franklin is a big reason their defense is emerging as a force.

6 – none

5 – DE Richard Seymour, Raiders The Raiders paid handsomely – a 2011 first-round pick – to acquire Seymour from the Patriots on the eve of the 2009 opener, so it makes sense for them to protect that investment by paying a premium to keep Seymour in 2010. The $12.4 million franchise tag for defensive ends is steep, especially for an end who had just four sacks last season, but Seymour is a quality leader who can help the Raiders’ dysfunctional locker room as well as their pass rush. For his part, Seymour doesn’t seem to mind the franchise tag, which makes sense because it’s no guarantee that a 30-year-old defensive end like him will get much more than $12 million in guaranteed money with a 2011 lockout looming. So look for Seymour to lock in that money while the Raiders seek a long-term deal (or perhaps even trade Seymour once 2010 is officially an uncapped year).

4 – NT Ryan Pickett, Packers -The Packers joined the list of teams putting the $7 million franchise tag on a nose tackle by tagging Ryan Pickett. Pickett, once a first-round bust in St. Louis, has found himself in Green Bay, and his ability to move from defensive tackle to the nose was a key in Green Bay’s smooth transition into the 3-4. He’s 30 at this point, but Pickett is probably a better nose tackle than at least Casey Hampton and may be equal to Aubrayo Franklin among the franchise-tagged nose tackles this season.

3 – none

2 – PK Jeff Reed, Steelers – Pittsburgh planned taking advantage of the uncapped year rules by using both a franchise tag and a transition tag, but they signed potential franchise player NT Casey Hampton on the day the franchise tags were due. That left Pittsburgh the freedom to use the franchise tag instead of the transition tag on Reed. Reed has been the team’s kicker since late in the 2002 season, and his ability to successfully kick in the tricky winds of Heinz Field is a big asset. He’s made at least 82 percent of his field goal tries in all but two of his seasons, and he continues to be a solid kickoff guy as well. In a year when so many teams had kicker problems in the playoffs, keeping a dependable guy like Reed is worth the one-year, $2.8 million franchise tag.

1 – PK Olindo Mare, Seahawks – Mare almost got cut after Week 3 (as we noted in this post), but now that the free-agent market is opening the team has decided that he’s worth keeping around and paying a one-year, $2.8 million salary. Mare isn’t an elite kicker, but he’s been solid over his 11-year career, and in a year when so many teams struggled with kickers (especially in the postseason) he could have easily found another home. And Pete Carroll, who didn’t have the beef with Mare that old coach Jim Mora did during the season, saw that Mare has made 48-of-53 field goals in Seattle and is also one of the shrinking number of kickers who’s just as good on kickoffs and on field goals. That makes the investment feasible for the Hawks – and a nice payday for Mare.

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One happy franchise player

Another team used the franchise tag Wednesday as the Raiders announced they were going to keep DE Richard Seymour. But unlike most NFL players, Seymour wasn’t upset by being tagged. Some thoughts on why that’s true and why the Raiders decided to spend $12.4 million on Seymour in 2010 are below; we’ll compare Seymour to other franchise and transition players in a post soon.

The Raiders paid handsomely – a 2011 first-round pick – to acquire Seymour from the Patriots on the eve of the 2009 opener, so it makes sense for them to protect that investment by paying a premium to keep Seymour in 2010. The $12.4 million franchise tag for defensive ends is steep, especially for an end who had just four sacks last season, but Seymour is a quality leader who can help the Raiders’ dysfunctional locker room as well as their pass rush. For his part, Seymour doesn’t seem to mind the franchise tag, which makes sense because it’s no guarantee that a 30-year-old defensive end like him will get much more than $12 million in guaranteed money with a 2011 lockout looming. So look for Seymour to lock in that money while the Raiders seek a long-term deal (or perhaps even trade Seymour once 2010 is officially an uncapped year).

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Westbrook joins the RB unemployment line

The over-30 running back unemployment line grew a little longer Tuesday as the Eagles announced that Brian Westbrook would be released March 5, joining Jamal Lewis and LaDanian Tomlinson. Below are some thoughts on that cut, plus franchise players in Green Bay and Pittsburgh and a multiple Pro Bowler who was also released in Denver.

In Philadelphia, Westbrook had a terrific eight-year career that was stymied this year by multiple concussions. When he was healthy, Westbrook was a dynamo running and catching the ball, breaking 2,100 yards from scrimmage in 2007, his best season. But injuries often sidelined or at the least slowed Westbrook even before concussion problems popped up this year. Those concussions make Westbrook a dubious gamble for any other team this year, although in a third-down back role he probably has more ability to break free than LaDanian Tomlinson does at this point. But one more concussion should lead to retirement for Westbrook, which will limit his marketability. The Eagles, meanwhile, save $7.25 million in 2010 and hand the reins over to LeSean McCoy, who had a solid if unspectacular rookie season, and fullback/big back Leonard Weaver (a restricted free agent). That’s a pretty good duo to go into 2010 with if the Eagles can get Weaver signed.

In Green Bay, the Packers joined the list of teams putting the $7 million franchise tag on a nose tackle by tagging Ryan Pickett. Pickett, once a first-round bust in St. Louis, has found himself in Green Bay, and his ability to move from defensive tackle to the nose was a key in Green Bay’s smooth transition into the 3-4. He’s 30 at this point, but Pickett is probably a better nose tackle than at least Casey Hampton and may be equal to Aubrayo Franklin among the franchise-tagged nose tackles this season.

In Pittsburgh, Casey Hampton has long been a stalwart of the Steelers’ 3-4 defense as the nose tackle, as he has started every game he has played since his second season in 2002. At age 32, he has moved from being a penetrating player to being more of a Pat Williams-style stopper in the middle, but he still has significant value in that role. He’s not the player that some of the other franchise-tag nose tackles are this season, but he’s still easily worth a one-year, $7 million contract. In fact, the Steelers are tagging him with the hope that they can agree to a long-term deal with him. Pittsburgh is also taking advantage of the uncapped year rules by using both a franchise tag and a transition tag. Jeff Reed has been the team’s placekicker since late in the 2002 season, and his ability to successfully kick in the tricky winds of Heinz Field is a big asset. He’s made at least 82 percent of his field goal tries in all but two of his seasons, and he continues to be a solid kickoff guy as well. In a year when so many teams had kicker problems in the playoffs, keeping a dependable guy like Reed is worth the one-year, $2.6 million price tag.

In Denver, the Broncos announced they were releasing Casey Wiegmann, who had a solid career with Denver, Kansas City, Chicago, the Jets, and Indianapolis as a guard and center. Wiegmann, whom we tabbed as the best No. 62 in the league this year, made the Pro Bowl for the 2008 season, but as the Broncos change blocking schemes Wiegmann’s zone-blocking prowess no longer fits.But he still has enough veteran wile to fit in somewhere if he wants to keep playing. The Broncos also released RB LaMont Jordan, who has bounced around to several teams over the past few years.

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Big move, big man

Two tremors in the NFL landscape began this week, as the Chargers released RB LaDanian Tomlinson and the Patriots announced they would use the franchise tag on NT Vince Wilfork. Here are thoughts on both moves. We’ll compare the Tomlinson release to others entering the league year next week, and we’ll compare Wilfork to other franchise players once the deadline for tagging players passes later this week.

In San Diego, Tomlinson had a great career for the Chargers, but like most running backs in the NFL, he is hitting the wall hard now that he’s 30. LDT hasn’t been the same back the last two seasons, and he’s no longer an elite player as a rusher or receiver. The Chargers redid his contract last year to give him a chance to prove he was back, but Tomlinson was unable to do so, and that made this decision the right move professionally. Now the Chargers will rely more on Darren Sproles as their backfield sparkplug while they look for a back who can carry enough of the load to keep the diminutive Sproles healthy. Tomlinson leaves San Diego as one of the greatest Chargers of all time – the kind of player whose number should be retired by the franchise. Unfortunately, he also leaves as a washed-up running back whose next stop will remind us not of his salad days but of Emmitt Smith in Arizona, Tony Dorsett in Denver, or Franco Harris in Seattle.

In New England, the massive Wilfork won’t see unrestricted free agency because the Patriots used the franchise tag on him. That guarantees Wilfork a one-year, $7 million contract but keeps him from hitting the lottery with guaranteed money in a long-term contract elsewhere. The Pats say they want to find a long-term solution with Wilfork, but the franchise’s unwillingness to pay other players like Asante Samuel or Richard Seymour is enough reason to make Wilfork’s agent nervous. Wilfork is the prototypical 3-4 nose tackle, and that makes him incredibly valuable. He’s a run stuffer who can collapse the pocket, and there just aren’t many of those guys walking the earth. So Wilfork is definitely worth the $7 million to the Patriots this season, and he might still end up cashing a bigger check by the time his status is resolved.

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OP: Whither Julius Peppers, 2010?

Last offseason, we pondered the question of whither Julius Peppers (not once but twice), and then we reflected once Peppers decided to play the season in Carolina for the $18-million plus franchise tag. Now, Peppers is on the precipe of the open market again, and we once again think we know how this whole situation should play out.

If the Panthers want to keep Peppers for another year, it’ll cost 20 percent more than it did in ’09. That $20-million-plus outlay is strong, even in an uncapped year. And since Peppers continues to seem disinclined to sign a long-time deal in Carolina, it seems as though the Panthers’ only choices are the franchise tag or letting Peppers go. And letting him go is what the Panthers should and will do.

Peppers had 10.5 sacks last year, which is solid but not spectacular enough to justify the league-topping salary. And that’s pretty much his average season, since he has 81 career sacks in eight years. He’s an immense talent who is a very good but not great player. Even more, Peppers doesn’t want to be a franchise standard. He’s felt the pressure of being a North Carolina kid who went to North Carolina and then played his career at home, and he’s ready to leave the Carolinas for greener pastures somewhere else.

All those reasons are fine, but if the Panthers didn’t have other options on the free agent market, letting Peppers go would be unadvisable. But this year, even with the market limited by the potential uncapped year, there are pass rushers available. Someone like Aaron Kampman of Green Bay or Kyle Vanden Bosch of Tennessee or Richard Seymour of Oakland or even Adewale Ogunleye of Chicago could approach 10 sacks at a far lesser cost than what Peppers would cost in Carolina. And while Seymour and perhaps Vanden Bosch will get tagged, a couple of those guys will break free. And the Panthers have always shown the willingness to make quick, aggressive strikes in free agency – the kind of approach that could guarantee the arrival of someone like Kampman.

This move would save the Panthers $10 million or more this year, and it could help them hold onto Tyler Brayton, a solid if unspectacular run-stuffer who has started across from Peppers the last couple of years.

So that’s what the Panthers should do, and that’s what we expect they will do. Panthers fans, say goodbye to Peppers – and hope that a Vanden Bosch or a Kampman is on his way to Charlotte ASAP.

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‘Got things to do’

The end-of-the-week surprise in the NFL came from Buffalo, where OT Brad Butler announced his retirement. Here are some insights on that retirement, which we’ll compare to other 2010 retirements in an upcoming post.

Butler missed all but two games of the ’09 season with an ACL injury, but he had started the previous two years at right tackle. Now, at age 26, he’s decided to leave the NFL via retirement so he can pursue his passion for public service. It’s unusual to see a starting-caliber player leave NFL money behind so early, but you have to admire Butler’s desire to do something to help communities and individuals with his life. His former teammate, SI’s Ross Tucker, said that the retirement wasn’t really a shock for those who knew Butler. In Tucker’s words, Butler’s “got things to do.”

For the Bills, this is a blow, because Butler was one of the few veterans slated to return to the offensive line for 2010.

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