2011 Offseason Grades – NFC East

Without further ado, offseason grades for the NFC East

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES

NFL DRAFT

2011 DRAFT PICKS: Danny Watkins, G (1-23); Jaiquawn Jarrett, S (2-54); Curtis Marsh, CB (3-90); Casey Matthews, ILB (4-116); Alex Henery, K (4-120); Dion Lewis, RB (5-149); Julian Vandervelde, C (5-161); Jason Kelce, C (6-191); Brian Rolle, OLB (7-237); Greg Lloyd, ILB (7-237); Stanley Havili, FB (7-240)

 

If Casey is half as good as his brother Clay, he will be remembered as an absolute steal in the 4th round.

Philadelphia had 11 picks in this year’s drafts and when I look at how they used it I see it as “honest”.  The Eagles were aware of their weaknesses and drafted position by position to tighten things up.  A lot of people considered Watkins a reach in the first round, but Andy Reid believes he can be a Week 1 starter.  Watkins has good strength and is an adequate pass blocker and run blocker.  The one thing I always noticed when he played at Baylor is he is a “play to the whistle” type player so I think he’ll fit in fine in Philly.  Jarrett was a good pick up to help solidify the safety position and Curtis Martin seemed like an obvious choice for a team that, at the time, was weak at cornerback position.  Making Alex Henery the first kicker off the board made it pretty obvious that Akers was on his way out (which surprised me).  They doubled up on centers late with Vandervelde and Kelce clearly acknowledging their need there.  Philly did a good job of drafting in positions of need, I just don’t know how many of these players will have an impact. I love the Casey Matthews pick.  He was a great player at Oregon and comes from a great line of impact players who were underappreciated in the draft.  If Casey is half as good as his brother Clay (who is a leader on the Packers’ defense) then he was an absolute steal in the 4th round.

 

 

 

FREE AGENCY

KEY ADDITIONS: Nnamdi Asomugha, CB (Raiders); Ronnie Brown, RB (Dolphins); Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, CB (Cardinals); Cullen Jenkins, DT (Packers); Vince Young, QB (Titans); Steve Smith, WR (Giants); Jason Babin, DE (Titans); Ryan Harris, OT (Broncos); Akeem Jordan, LB (Eagles); Evan Mathis, G (Bengals); Jarrad Page, S (Patriots); Derek Landri, DT (Panthers); Anthony Hargrove, DL (Saints)

KEY LOSSES: Kevin Kolb, QB; Quintin Mikell, S; Brodrick Bunkley, DT; Leonard Weaver, FB; Ernie Sims, LB; Max Jean-Gilles, G; Dimitri Patterson, CB; Stewart Bradley, LB

Nnamdi Asomugha was the obvious prize of free agency but I'm a big fan of the addition of Ryan Harris to this Eagles' line

A lot has been said and just how unbelievable the Philadelphia Eagles’ offseason has been.  I have not seen this much hoopla about a team’s free agency since the 2007 Patriots when they brought in Moss, Stallworth, Welker, and Thomas, among others.  Last season the cornerback position was a glaring weakness for the Philadelphia Eagles but they shored up that position through free agency and trade by bringing in 2 of the top 10 cornerbacks in the league.  Mikell was a gigantic loss for the Eagles at the safety position but Page should make for a good replacement and I really do believe it would behoove the Eagles to, at this point, move Asante Samuel to the safety position.  Steve Smith was a nice risk to take given Maclin’s mystery illness.  I love the addition of Babin and Jenkins.  I really believe that they will benefit from Trent Cole in the same way Kevin Smith and Ray Edwards were able to benefit by the addition of Jared Allen.  Vince Young was a great pick up if for no other reason, then to do with him what they did with Kolb and McNabb – flip him on the trade market for higher value.  The most unsung of this group but maybe the Eagles’ best pick up was Ryan Harris at tackle who should solidify that offensive line for the Eagles but there still remain some questions at center.

WASHINGTON REDSKINS

NFL DRAFT

2011 DRAFT PICKS: Ryan Kerrigan, DE (1-16); Jarvis Jenkins, DT (2-41); Leonard Hankerson, WR (3-79); Roy Helu, RB (4-105); Dejon Gomes, S (5-146); Niles Paul, WR (5-155); Evan Royster, RB (6-177); Aldrick Robinson, WR (6-178); Brandyn Thompson, CB (7-213); Maurice Hurt, G (7-217); Markus White, DE (7-224); Christopher Neild, DT (7-253)

While I am not a fan of the Cornhuskers, I'm a big believer in what Roy Helu, Jr. can accomplish in the NFL

Mike Shanahan has a reputation as someone who can develop quarterbacks but where does this come from?  He inherited a first ballot Hall of Fame quarterback in John Elway and has not had a strong QB ever since.  That being said, QB is the most obvious weakness for the Redskins and I feel that they made a huge mistake in trading down when they could have drafted, who I believe to be, the best quarterback in the draft in Blaine Gabbert.  Any time you get the opportunity to draft a franchise quarterback, you need to take it and I feel like this is a mistake that will haunt Washington fans for years. However, the Redskins did get great value in trading down and Kerrigan and Jenkins should do wonders for their front four.  The pick that Redskins fans should be excited about is landing Nebraska running back Roy Helu in the 4th round.  This kid is a strong running back who in college could easily break tackles and can accelerate in the gaps.  I really think that Helu has a bright future as a number one running back in the NFL.

 

 

 

FREE AGENTS

KEY ADDITIONS:Barry Cofield, DT (Giants); Josh Wilson, CB (Ravens); Stephen Bowen, DE (Cowboys); Santana Moss, WR (Redskins); Chris Chester, C (Ravens); Jamal Brown, OT (Redskins); Jabar Gaffney, WR (Broncos); Tim Hightower, RB (Cardinals), Donte’ Stallworth, WR (Ravens); Kellen Clemens, QB (Jets)

KEY LOSSES: Albert Haynesworth, DT; Donovan McNabb, QB; Carlos Rogers, CB; Casey Rabach, C; Maake Kemoeatu, DT; Phillip Daniels, DE; Jeremy Jarmon, DT; Vonnie Holiday, DE

Given their draft, trading defensive end Vonnie Holliday for Tim Hightower was a move that could pay dividends for Mike Shanahan

Mike Shanahan got younger in the front four completely rebuilding it this offseason.  He addressed this need with the first two rounds of the draft and then went out in free agency and signed Barry Cofield, and Stephen Bowen who is one of the better young defensive ends in the league.  Re-signing Santana Moss was a necessity and the addition of Stallworth and Gaffney bolsters that receiving corps.  Chris Chester was a really solid pick-up as well to help strengthen a weak offensive line.  I will continue to say that I feel like the McNabb trade was a bad decision for Washington because after passing on Gabbert and trading Donovan, the Redskins are without a QB.  I do like the Tim Hightower trade quite a bit for Washington and between Hightower, Helu, and Torain, Shanahan should find a tandem that he can work with in his famous “running system”.


NEW YORK GIANTS

NFL DRAFT

2011 DRAFT PICKS: Prince Amukamara, CB (1-19); Marvin Austin, DT (2-52); Jerrel Jernigan, WR (3-83); James Brewer,  OT (4-117); Greg Jones, ILB (6-185); Tyler Sash, S (6-198); Jacquian Williams, LB (6-202); Da’Rel Scott, RB (7-221)

 

The Giants had to be excited to find a cornerback like Amukamara available to them at pick 19

From a value standpoint, the New York Giants had an excellent draft.  I really did not think that Amukamara would fall past the Detroit Lions at 13 but he fell to the Giants and they were wise to take him.  Marvin Austin should help out that defensive line of theirs.  He fell because he lacks consistency but he has the talent to be an elite defensive tackle.  The two late picks of the Giants that I really like for them is James Brewer in the 4th round who has the skills to be a servicable tackle and could help out their O-Line but I feel that they did not do enough to address their aging offensive line.  Tyler Sash was a good risk to take in the seventh round.  He was a standout safety at the University of Iowa and was a cornerstone of a great defense.  In college he was an aggressive player who was a great tackler and had an ability to get his hands on the ball.  He has some parts of his game he needs to tighten up to play at the pro level but has the potential to do well in that Giants defense.

 

 

 

FREE AGENCY

KEY ADDITIONS: Mathias Kiwanuka, DE (Giants); Ahmad Bradshaw, RB (Giants); Ben Patrick, TE (Cardinals); Stacy Andrews, OL (Seahawks); Kevin Boothe, G (Giants); David Baas, C (49ers)

KEY LOSSES: Rocky Bernard, DT; Shaun O’Hara, C; Rich Seubert, G; Shawn Andrews, G; Steve Smith, WR

Re-signing Ahmad Bradshaw was the Giants' no. 1 priority going into the offseason

New York was so cash-strapped going into this season that they really couldn’t do much in free agency.  They were able to re-sign their top two priorities in Ahmad Bradshaw and Mathias Kiwanuka.  The Giants already had offensive line issues and now have lost Shaun O’Hara, Rich Seubert, and Shawn Andrews.  I do believe that David Baas is an upgrade for them over the aging O’Hara and I like the addition of Stacy Andrews but I feel this line has a long ways to go.  I do see the Steve Smith loss really hurting this team because, if nothing else, he took pressure off of Hakeem Nicks.  Overall the Giants were able to replace what they lost which still leaves the Giants looking pretty average in a much improved NFC.

DALLAS COWBOYS

NFL DRAFT

2011 DRAFT PICKS: Tyron Smith, OT (1-9); Bruce Carter, OLB (2-40); DeMarco Murray, RB (3-71); David Arkin, G (4-110); Josh Thomas, CB (5-143); Dwayne Harris, WR (6-176); Shaun Chapas, FB (7-220); Bill Nagy, C (7-252)

 

Some say Smith was taken too early but if he plays well, you can never take a Pro Bowl OT too high

A lot of people criticized Dallas for not trading out of their pick to try and get more value at the offensive tackle position but the Cowboys got the man they wanted in Tyron Smith and 9th overall and I believe he was a perfect pick for the Cowboys.  I believed that the Cowboys needed to fix their offensive line issues and so the fact that they waited until the 4th round to continue to do that was confusing.  The Cowboys also should have addressed the cornerback position earlier.  Given the departure of Marion Barber, the DeMarco Murray pick makes sense in the 3rd round.  The best value pick here was Dwayne Harris who is a small, speedy receiver with great hands that should do nicely in the slot for the Cowboys offense and provide a great target for Tony Romo.

 

 

 

 

 

FREE AGENTS

KEY ADDITIONS: Jason Garrett, Head Coach (Cowboys’ Offensive Coordinator); Doug Free, OT (Cowboys); Kyle Kosier, G (Cowboys); Marcus Spears, DE (Cowboys); Jason Hatcher, DE (Cowboys); Gerald Sensabaugh, S (Cowboys); Abram Elam, S (Browns)

KEY LOSSES: Marion Barber, RB; Roy Williams, WR; Leonard Davis, G; Marc Colombo, OT

The best offseason move the Cowboys made was removing the interim tag from Jason Garrett's title.

The Cowboys had a down year last year in a season where many had them pegged to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.   With Tony Romo healthy again and a new head coach, this is a team that hopes to bounce back in a serious way.  Jason Garrett was the only man for the job and as one of the hottest head coaching candidates available, the Cowboys were smart to hang on to him before he left to go elsewhere.  Then Garrett turned around and brought in one of the best defensive minds in the game in Rob Ryan to help that Cowboys defense regain old form. Like the Giants, the Cowboys were limited by their cap situation but that did not stop them from re-signing most of their important players.  Roy Williams was going to be gone regardless and the Cowboys are sold on the future of Felix Jones and Tashard Choice (along with DeMarco Murray) in that backfield.  Sensabaugh is a good safety but the addition of Elam at that position was a great move by Dallas.  The loss of Marc Colombo does hurt, but Tyron Smith should prove to be an upgrade at the position.


When I look at the landscape of the NFC East, it’s kind of a mixed bag.  A strong Philadelphia Eagles team drastically improved almost overnight.  The Redskins have gotten stronger at some positions and weaker at others.  The New York Giants look like a team that will once again, just miss a wildcard spot, and the Dallas Cowboys didn’t do much but they did fire their head coach and they do get their Pro Bowl quarterback back in the fold which should make a huge difference.  As always, this is going to be a fun division to watch. 

Questions? Comments? Snide Remarks? Let me hear ’em!

Advertisements

The Legacy of a Freak

According to reports that came out earlier today, Randy Moss has officially filed his retirement papers with the NFL.  While that does not mean we will never see Randy Moss on an NFL playing field again (his teammate of a month last season could tell you that); it does at least raise the possibility.   This is however, a player that already took a two year sabbatical in Oakland only to come back to the game with the greatest receiving season of all time in 2007, so I personally have a hard time believing he is done.  As a Vikings fan, I would love to see him finish the career the way it started – in purple, in the Metrodome, reviving the career of an aged former Eagles’ quarterback while passing the 15,000 yard and 1000 reception plateau.  I really do believe that Moss would still offer an upgrade at the wide receiver position to at least half of the teams in the NFL.   However, if Moss is indeed retired, what is his legacy?  How can I even begin to describe the player whose talent is indescribable?

Over a 13 year career, Randy Moss wowed fans with his athleticism.

The Viking’s Offensive Coordinator during Randy Moss’s rookie year, Brian Billick, once stated that Moss had a combination of height, speed, hands, and leaping ability that the NFL had never before seen and might never see again.  He went on to say that, “Every field or court he’s ever stepped on to play whatever game he was going to play, he was the best athlete.”   Patriots coach Bill Bellichick has referred to Moss as one of the most intelligent and greatest players that he had ever coached.   There is no doubt that Randy Moss is an incredibly gifted athlete and one of the greatest receivers to ever play the game but how will he be remembered?

I find it next to impossible to accurately describe the athletic capabilities of Randy Moss.  Sure I could throw out his 153 touchdown receptions, 14,858 yards receiving, and his 954 career receptions.  I could talk about his 29 career touchdowns of more than 50 yards or his 64 100 yard games.   I could mention that he has the 5th most touchdowns all-time of any non-quarterback.  I could remind you of his rookie record of 17 receiving touchdowns in 1998 or his all-time single season record of 23 receiving touchdowns in 2007.   But if I really want to describe the physical presence and game-changing ability of Randy Moss, I really need to only write one sentence:

On the two highest scoring offenses in NFL history (1998 Vikings and 2007 Patriots), Randy Moss was the highest scoring player.

I am usually not so good at being that straight to the point but that’s the simplest way to describe Moss’s athletic prowess.   Now in his “retirement” many have raised concern that Randy Moss was “not as great as he could have been”.   I would agree with that assessment.  Jerry Rice was twice the wide receiver Randy Moss is with only half the talent.  However Rice did not change the game quite like Randy did.  If indeed Moss was not at 100% for the majority of his career, than his numbers are even more staggering and an even stronger testament to his incredible ability.

I still remember the first time that I watched “the Freak” play on TV.   It was Week 5 of the 1998 NFL season and my parents let me stay up for Monday Night Football  to watch the Vikings, play against my favorite quarterback, Brett Favre, and the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field.   I remember that first possession as Randall Cunningham took the snap and threw the ball deep down the field to Randy Moss and he almost effortlessly reeled it in and ran for a 75 yard touchdown.  I had never seen anything quite like it.

Cris Carter had always been my favorite player growing up, and still is, and while all Carter did, “was catch touchdowns”, I knew that he could not do what this kid Randy had just done.  The 75 yard touchdown pass was called back due to an offensive holding call but it didn’t seem to hurt as Randy Moss would have 5 more receptions in the game for 190 yards and 2 touchdowns leading the Vikings to a perfect 5-0 record.  While many knew that Moss was special at the time, they had no idea he had just changed the entire landscape of the NFL.

It is my belief that the NFL has had five major turning points in the  Super Bowl era:

  1. The AFL’s New York Jets’ upset of the NFL’s Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III which led to the AFL-NFL merger (1969)
  2. Hank Stram introducing the league to Gatorade and having it on the sidelines in the Kansas City Chiefs shocking route of the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl IV (1970)
  3. Lawrence Taylor and Harry Carson of the New York Giants sacking Washington Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann from his blind side on Monday Night Football and ending his career (1985)
  4. Randy Moss’s Week 5  dominating performance at Lambeau Field on Monday Night Football (1998)
  5. The re-introduction of instant replay and the introduction of coach’s challenges into the NFL (1999)

Just to be perfectly clear, I am suggesting that, like many of his acrobatic catches, Randy Moss singlehandedly changed professional football.  In the same way that Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson changed baseball, Wayne Gretzky changed hockey, and Michael Jordan changed basketball – Randy Moss changed the NFL.

First off, I really do believe that the 5th major turning point I mention (re-introduction of instant replay) was due in part to the fact that nobody could believe that a rookie wide receiver was able to leap above three defenders, catch the ball, come down with both feet inbounds, and shake off those same three defenders to run for a touchdown.  I have seen the footage of Moss’s Monday Night Football game against the Packers and his Thanksgiving football game against the Cowboys dozens of times, and 13 years later – I am still amazed.

His greater impact though is that he changed the way the game was played.  Brian Billick and Dennis Green (Vikings Head Coach 1992 – 2001) were two of the best offensive minds in the NFL during the 1990’s and both have mentioned how when it came to Randy Moss they had to forget everything they thought they knew about offense because when it came to Randy Moss, the same rules of offense just did not apply.   After his Week 5 coming out party on national television, teams everywhere were aware of what he could do and they still could not stop him.   Traditional defensive schemes did not seem to work.

Teams would put two, three, even four defenders at times on Moss and he would still find the endzone.  If he had not been playing opposite field from one of the greatest possession receivers of all time, they might have defended the Freak even more.

Following an impressive Week 5 against the Green Bay Packers, Moss would face the Packers again in Week 12 at the Metrodome.  The Packers were able to slow Moss down some but not by much.  The Vikings won 28 – 14 and Randy Moss had 8 receptions for 153 yards and a touchdown.   His statistical line against Green Bay  (who had appeared in the previous two Super Bowls)  in 1998 was better than some wide receivers had for the entire season.

As a result the following season the Green Bay Packers used their first four draft picks on defensive players – a free safety, two cornerbacks, and a defensive tackle.   The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, another divisional opponent, used the majority of their draft picks on the defensive players who would help lead them to a Super Bowl victory a few years later.   Never before had one player so obviously affected the draft choices of another team.

When I look at the NFL today, I see it being commonplace for safeties like Troy Polamalu and Ed Reed to play “over the top” to prevent the big play.  I see the contracts that have been paid to “shut-down” cornerbacks like Nnamdi Asomugha and Darelle Revis.   I assure you that when Asomugha receives the first check of his new contract, he had better send a thank you note to Randy Moss.   Because like Lawrence Taylor made a strong left tackle a necessity, Randy Moss bolstered the importance of safeties and cornerbacks.

The NFL that we watch today is very much a passing league with a lot more deep passing routes than previously seen.  Much like Roger Bannister’s four-minute mile, it took Randy Moss showing the NFL that you could succeed with a pass heavy offense before it really became a trend in the NFL.  Wide receivers like Braylon Edwards, Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Johnson, and Reggie Wayne have had success in offenses that were developed as a result of Randy Moss.

Antics like mooning the fans at Green Bay distract many from his athletic accolades

If Randy Moss has indeed retired, he will surely have a press conference.  Knowing him, he will even interview himself.  And over the next few days phrases like “straight cash homey” and mentions of “squirting referees”, “bashing police cars”, “mooning fans”, and “screaming at caterers” are sure to be mentioned when talking about his legacy.   These antics offended many fans and are sure to affect how Moss is remembered.

We will be reminded of how he famously told us all that, “I play when I want to play.”  And the fact of the matter is, right now, nobody’s offering him enough straight cash so he does not want to play.  But when he did play, it was like nothing we have ever seen before.  Offensive gurus had to create new playbooks,  defenses had to create new schemes, and teams had to change their entire drafting strategy.

And at the end of the day – that, more than anything, is the Freak’s legacy.

Questions? Comments? Snide Remarks?  Let me hear ’em!