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FR: May-June cuts

This post compares cuts NFL teams made during the month of May. For previous cuts, start at the April cuts post and work your way back.

10 – Raiders (cut QB JaMarcus Russell) – The Raiders finally admitted that Russell, a former No. 1 overall pick, that he has become one of the biggest draft busts of all time. Russell has a big arm, and he went through a couple of offensive systems under Lane Kiffin and then Tom Cable. But Russell also showed an inadequate work ethic, and his noticeable belly became a tell about that. Russell’s failure became obvious last year, when journeyman Bruce Gradkowski took over the offense and got much better results. This offseason, the Raiders finally moved on from Russell, chalking up the $39 million they paid him as a sunk cost and trading for Jason Campbell as a replacement. Campbell, a QB who’s at least league average, if not a tick better, represents a huge upgrade over the underachieving and undermotivated Russell. Now Russell must show he wants to resurrect his career by getting in good shape and playing as a backup somewhere. But given Russell’s track record, a team would have to be completely desperate at quarterback to give him a shot, and aside from Buffalo, few teams are that needy. So Russell’s next shot won’t come easily.

9 – none

8 – none

7 – Patriots (cut CB Shawn Springs) – Springs was released after he reportedly failed a physical, although the Patriots indicated they may bring him back later in the offseason. Springs has been a good corner in the league for a lot of years, but his time as a starter is waning. He’s better as a No. 3 corner or even a veteran backup who gets a lot of time off during the regular season but who is available when it counts. Of course, all that assumes he can get healthy, which is no given for someone with 13 seasons of tread already on the tires.

6 – Seahawks (cut RB LenDale White, S Quinton Teal, QB Mike Teel, and WR Reggie Williams) – White had two good years out of four in Tennessee, but the Titans tired of his weight problems and attitude issues and dealt him to Seattle during the draft to move up a few spots in the fourth and sixth rounds. That light price in itself was a sign, but it appeared that White would be able to live up to his potential with his former college coach Pete Carroll. But when White was flagged for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy, which will shelve him for the first four games of the season, the Seahawks decided White wasn’t worth the hassle and released him. White has talent, but if Carroll, under whom White thrived at USC, doesn’t see White as worth a roster spot, then it’s possible that no one else will either. White now faces a huge crossroads, and if he doesn’t dedicate himself to performing on the field, he could end up in the UFL instead of the NFL this fall. Teal came over to Seattle from Carolina earlier this offseason, but after Seattle re-signed Lawyer Milloy and drafted Earl Thomas, Teal become redundant there. Teel, a sixth-round pick last season, got caught up in the Seahawks’ regime change after Seattle brought in Charlie Whitehurst and J.P. Losman to back up Matt Hasselbeck. Teel still may have some developmental potential, but the Patriots cut him after taking a quick look via waivers. Williams, a former first-round pick in Jacksonville, got a second chance in Seattle but wasn’t able to even make it last until training camp.

5 – Saints (cut DE Bobby McCray) – After adding Alex Brown this offseason, the Saints decided McCray was expendable in a move that saved the team over a million dollars. McCray had six sacks as he started eight games and played all 16 for the Saints in 2008 but slipped to just one start and 1.5 sacks in 16 games last year. At this point, he’s not going to provide a ton of pass rush, but he’d be a good minimum-salary gamble for a team looking for a third end who could start in a pinch.

4 – Dolphins (cut LB Reggie Torbor) – Torbor, a six-year vet, has never been a full-time starter in the NFL, and the Dolphins decided to move toward a younger (and cheaper) option at their backup inside ‘backer position. Torbor landed in Buffalo to help the Bills install their new 3-4 defense.

4 (con’t) – Chargers (cut DT Ian Scott and S Kevin Ellison) – Scott played as a backup defensive tackle for the Chargers last year, but he’s been passed on the depth chart and is just a replacement-level player. Ellison started nine games as a rookie for the Chargers last year, but he fell out of favor. Still, Ellison is young enough to be a prospect elsewhere, and that elsewhere is Seattle.

3 – Texans (cut RB Ryan Moats) – Moats had one monster game for the Texans last year, but fumble problems cut his playing time short, and with the addition of rookie Ben Tate and the emergence of Arian Foster, plus Steve Slaton in place, Moats faced a fight for a roster spot. Moats is good enough that the Vikings claimed him off waivers to take a look, but he’s not a starting-quality NFL back.

3 (con’t) – Cowboys (cut C Cory Procter) – Procter, who backed up for the Cowboys at guard and center, was released in what appeared to be a cost-cutting move. Instead of paying Procter more than a million bucks, the ‘Pokes can use a first- or second-year guy in a backup role at about a third of the cost. Despite that, though, Procter is good enough that the Dolphins are giving him a look.

2 – Buccaneers (cut LB Angelo Crowell) – Crowell was once a productive linebacker in Buffalo, but he missed the last two years with injury. At this point, it’s uncertain whether Crowell is anywhere close health-wise to a starting-caliber player.

2 (con’t) – Titans (cut WR Mark Jones) – Jones had a couple of good years as a return specialist, but injuries shelved him last season and continue to be a problem.

1 – Browns (cut PK Shaun Suisham) – Cleveland signed Suisham to put pressure on kicker Phil Dawson, who’s a free agent. But Suisham isn’t a long-term option, and Dawson has apparently called Cleveland’s bluff. The contract issue lingers, but Suisham won’t.

1 (con’t) – Broncos (cut QB Tom Brandstater and OT Maurice Williams) – Brandstater, who last year looked like a quarterback prospect, lost his roster spot after the Broncos added Tim Tebow and Brady Quinn in the offseason. He was claimed on waivers by the Colts and will get a shot to make the roster there. Williams, an offseason signee, wasn’t able to provide the OT depth Denver had hoped.

1 (con’t) – Chiefs (cut RB Kolby Smith and QB Matt Gutierrez) – Smith showed some flashes in Kansas City, but he fell behind Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones and became too expensive to be a third-stringer. He landed in Denver via waiver claim. Gutierrez knows the Patriot-ish system the Chiefs run but has never proved he’s better than a No. 3 quarterback.

1 (con’t) – Bengals (cut CB Keiwan Ratliff) – Ratliff has bounced around in recent years after starting his career with the Bengals, but he’s out of a job – likely because Adam Jones pac-manned up the last CB spot on the roster.

1 (con’t) – Redskins (cut TE Sean Ryan) – Ryan is a block-first tight end who has bounced around but who wasn’t going to pass Chris Cooley or Fred Davis.

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OP: End of the Lucky Horseshoe

Time for an outlandish prediction, or if you’d rather, a little preja vu…

The future arc of the Indianapolis Colts has been brewing in my mind for a while now, ever since Tony Dungy decided to retire after the 2009 season. And as the offseason has gone on, I’ve become more and more convinced that the horseshoe that has been pointed up for so long in Indy is going to turn downward. I’ve said as much in private email conversations for a while now, and now I’m goin’ public.

To leave the land of the metaphor and say it plainly, here’s the prediction:

The Colts won’t win 10 games this year.

That’s a big deal, because the Colts won at least 10 games in each of the 7 years of Dungy’s tenure (2002-08). In fact, Indy won at least 12 regular season games in each of the last six years.

But that run will come to an end this offseason. And here’s why:

*Jim Caldwell isn’t up to it – We’ve gone into this at great detail here on the site. (You can read here how I compare the Caldwell hiring to others this offseason and read here what I don’t like about Caldwell’s career path.) I lived through the Caldwell experience at Wake Forest when I was a student there, and while he is a very nice man he’s not a good coach. He came to Wake Forest with a Joe Paterno pedigree, and he gets this Colts job with a Tony Dungy pedigree. But a pedigree is not a guarantee. I simply can’t believe in Caldwell as an NFL coach.

*Staff turnover – The Colts apparently hired Caldwell as Dungy’s successor in waiting to preserve staff continuity. But that didn’t work, because the Colts will have new coordinators on offense, defense, and special teams. The offensive coordinator, Tom Moore, retired (along with OL coach Howard Mudd) in fears of losing pension money. Moore and Mudd will remain as consultants, and their replacements – Clyde Christensen as offensive coordinator and Pete Metzelaars as line coach – have been in Indy for 7 and 5 years, respectively. But losing Moore and Mudd cuts the staff’s overall experience, and something will get lost in transition. Even Peyton Manning has questions about how it’s going to work.

On defense, the Colts wanted a more aggressive scheme than Dungy’s patented Tampa 2, and so they encouraged coordinator Ron Meeks to resign. (He landed in Carolina.) That smacks of a new coach’s arrogance in trying to implement his system and his way. The Colts’ defense wasn’t great, but it was OK, and the personnel fit it. But Meeks was replaced by Larry Coyer, who has a reputation of being blitz happy from his previous stops. There’s no way the current personnel – which haven’t been upgraded on defense – can take a huge step forward with the new scheme with the current personnel. Instead, I expect a step back, if not two. And the fact that Coyer and Caldwell used to work together makes me wonder if cronyism, not strategy, prompted the move.

Caldwell also cut special-teams coach Russ Purnell loose. That’s not a big deal, except it’s another sign that Caldwell is trying extremely hard – too hard, in our opinion – to put his own stamp on the team. The team was winning 12 games a year, and a failed college coach wants to put his stamp on it?  That’s just not a good idea.

*The divisions are labor – The Colts have made hay in an AFC South that is traditionally a so-so division. Jacksonville and Tennessee have each been good at times, but rarely at the same time. But Tennessee should be tough this year, and Jacksonville (who always gives the Colts problems) should bounce back. Plus, Houston continues to get incrementally better. It will be hard for the Colts to get to 4 wins in the division. The Colts play the NFC West out of conference, which will help the win ledger, but drawing the entire AFC East plus a road game at Baltimore is no bargain. (Thanks to Andy for starting my thought process on the schedule.)

*Roster rut – If you look at the transactions ledger, the Colts have only added one free agent from another team – backup linebacker Adam Seward. They have lost some key players, including P Hunter Smith, DT Darrell Reid, CB Keiwan Ratliff, and most notably WR Marvin Harrison. The problem is that marginal draft picks will have to replace most of these guys. While that long-term strategy works, in the short term that could lead to some growing pains. And this is a team with too much in flux to afford many growing pains.

All in all, I see the Colts slipping noticably this year – even with Peyton Manning, Bob Sanders, Dwight Freeney, Reggie Wayne, and the other stars there. The personnel depth has always been so-so because the Colts had so many stars, and that will show up negatively especially as the defense attempts to change schemes.

And remember how fortunate the Colts were to get to 12 wins last year. Over the first half of the season, the Colts were 3-4 including two white-knuckles wins over Minnesota and Houston that could have easily gone the other way. The Colts will not be good enough this year to turn those white-knucklers into wins, and the difference will show in the win/loss record. The horseshoe isn’t lucky enough to save the Colts in 2009.

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Free agency (bi)weekly review pt. 5

Here’s the fifth installment of our free-agency relativity comparison. This one covers the period from April 11 to the beginning of the NFL draft. Again, these comparison levels are based only on the listed moves, not on previous offseason wheelings and dealings. For looks at the rest of the offseason, check out the previous post and follow the links back from there.

10 – Buccaneers (add QB Byron Leftwich) – Leftwich, once a top-10 overall pick, saw his career die on the vine when he was cut by the Jaguars just before the ‘07 season and then failed as a starter in Atlanta later that season. It seemed like Leftwich’s flaws – most notably his slow release and even slower feet – had overcome his career. But then Leftwich went to Pittsburgh as a backup last year, and in addition to pocketing a Super Bowl ring, he played very well in a couple of relief appearances. That raised his perception, at least in the public’s eyes. Still, Leftwich struggled to get many shots at competing for a starting job. He visited Washington and got an offer to return to Pittsburgh, but he held out until he finally got the chance he wanted in Tampa on a two-year deal potentially worth $7.5 million and almost certainly worth a minimum of $4 million. He immediately becomes the favorite to leap career journeyman Brian Griese, journeyman-in-training Luke McCown, and developmental project Josh Johnson on the depth chart and thus start for the Bucs. Leftwich has an infectious personality, and he still has enough talent to be a top-20 quarterback. He’s not a world-beater, but he’s still markedly better than anyone else Tampa had to choose from. That makes this addition a move that matters for 2009.

9 – Jaguars (add WR Torry Holt) – The Jaguars are flipping their receiving corps this offseason. They’ve released Jerry Porter and Matt Jones and let Reggie Williams leave via free agency. Now they make their first move to replace some of these losses by signing long-time Ram Torry Holt to a three-year deal potentially worth $20 million. If Holt delivers, it’s a big price. Holt was ridiculously productive in St. Louis and actually has his career on a Hall of Fame type of track after 10 seasons. But a knee injury has limited Holt’s explosiveness and effectiveness the last couple of years, which is why the Rams turned the page and let him go. The Jags are obviously banking on Holt to be their No. 1 receiver, but it’s still uncertain whether he’s able to perform at that level. Still, having Holt will help David Garrard, and it’s hard to see Holt as an unacceptable starter. The Jaguars needed help, and they got it, so you have to view the move favorably at least in that light.

8 – none

7 – none

6 – Chiefs (add LB Zach Thomas and TEs Tony Curtis and Sean Ryan) – Thomas didn’t do much in Dallas last year, but his long, productive tenure in Miami makes him a name worth noticing. His veteran wile, along with that of Mike Vrabel, will be helpful in installing a new 3-4 defensive system in Kansas City. Again, the Chiefs’ new grand poobah Scott Pioli takes a page from the Patriots’ playbook – this time it’s the “pick up lots of veteran linebackers” listing. It worked in N.E., so it’s worth trying in K.C. Meanwhile, after trading Tony Gonzalez, the Chiefs inked Curtis. Not only does he meet their quota of tight ends named Tony, he also brings someone with at least a little starting experience. He’s more of a blocker than a pass catcher, but he should find a role in K.C. Likewise, Ryan is a block-first tight end who is in position to fight for a job now.

5- Bills (add RB Dominic Rhodes) – With Marshawn Lynch staring down a three-game suspsension to open the year and backup Fred Jackson threatening a holdout, the Bills needed a solid RB option. Rhodes might be that. Here’s the rub, though: Rhodes had a renaissance last year in his return to Indy, but his one venture outside of the Colts’ system was a bust. That was Oakland, not Buffalo, but it is reason for cause. But given that the Bills really need three games out of him, it’s definitely worth a shot.

4 – none

3 – Lions (add WR Ronald Curry and FB Terrelle Smith) – Curry had a huge year in ’06 but otherwise wasn’t able to deliver on his athletic ability as a Raider. Still, he’s worth a shot as a No. 3 or No. 4 receiver, which is where he fits in with the Lions. Smith, who was a Cardinal last year, is a classic blocking fullback who fills that role adequately.

3 (con’t) – Redskins (add P Hunter Smith) – The Redskins had the worst punting game in the league last year and have brought in 4 punters since the beginning of last season. So it makes sense for them to get a solid vet in Smith, who had a good tenure in Indy. The tight salary cap situation with the Colts made Smith a luxury there, but he’s a solid addition in D.C.

2- Saints (add LB Anthony Waters) – Waters was a third-round pick in San Diego a couple of years ago, but he suffered a knee injury as a college senior that made his transition to the pros problematic. As a result, he never became a contributor with the Chargers. But the potential is still there, which makes him definitely worth a shot for the Saints.

2 (con’t) – Steelers (keep QB Charlie Batch; add CB Keiwan Ratliff) – Batch is a minimum-salary backup who’s worth a lot more in the locker room. He’s a coach in waiting and a great support for Ben Roethlisberger. The question is whether he can play if called upon. As clunkily as Big Ben moves, that’s something that must be considered. The Steelers need to start thinking about a higher-level backup for Roethlisberger – maybe a reclamation project like Byron Leftwich was last year, such as Rex Grossman or J.P. Losman, or hope that last year’s draft pick, Dennis Dixon, develops much faster than he has thus far. Ratliff is a solid backup corner who moves over from Indy to provide depth.

1 – Broncos (add OT Brandon Gorin) – Gorin’s another ex-Patriot who should know Josh McDaniels’ offense. He fits in as a backup tackle at best.

1 (con’t) – Colts (keep S Matt Giordano) – Giordano provides depth at safety, and his 13 special teams tackles last year show his value on those units.

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