by NFL Gimpy (follow him on Twitter @NFLGimpy)
Offseason shorties are here!
Since I’m not going to be able to do in depth analysis for all 32 teams before the start of free agency here shortly, I figured I’d do a huge lot of “quickies” to go over a few problems I see for each team and how they could address them. This also gives me the best chance at getting something correct in my predictions. I’ll throw as much crap against the wall and I’ll be sure to point out the one piece that sticks like any good wannabe journalist. Ignore all mistakes and we’ll be fine.
I’ll start off with a team whose name is going to be in the news a lot until the draft, the St. Louis Rams. The Rams pick 2nd right now, but all signs point to a trade down. There is going to be a team desperate to get Robert Griffin III (or Andrew Luck if the Colts take RG3) and the Rams have too many holes to turn down at least an extra 2nd this year and high picks next year as well. Let’s discuss those holes.
The biggest hole you’re going to see is an offensive playmaker. The defense has some pieces like Chris Long (13 sacks last year) and James Laurinaitis (142 tackles, 3 sacks, 2 interceptions) to build around. Sure there are holes (CB is a huge one) but the offense was far worse than the defense last year and a lack of an offensive playmaker is glaring. In addition to that, the #2 overall pick from 2 years ago, Jason Smith, looks to be a huge bust. Rodger Saffold, a 2nd round pick from last year does appear to be starting OT material. Starting RB Steven Jackson is ancient for a starting RB and the Rams need at least a young guy to share the load with him consistently.
Here’s what I think happens. The Rams are really hoping the Browns go after RG3 because that would only drop them 2 spots to the 4th pick. If they can somehow pick up a king’s random and only lose an opportunity to draft one player on their board, that’s great. The problem is that Matt Kalil, an elite LT prospect, is probably their #1 guy and the Vikings could take him at #3. If that happens, look for either CB Morris Claiborne, an OT like Riley Reiff or Jonathan Martin, or possibly another trade down. I’d lean heavily towards Reiff or Martin because a new starter at OT is necessary and starting OTs aren’t easy to find. That’s not to discount Claiborne, he’d be a great pick there, but I think OT is much more glaring need.
Let’s assume the Rams get an extra 2nd round pick for their initial trade down out of the #2 spot. In the 2nd round, go after one of the leftover WR prospects that didn’t go in the first. If Stephen Hill is there, he could be the deep threat the Rams sorely need. The Rams have a lot of average in their WR corps and hopefully someone is still there early in the 2nd. With the other 2nd, take the best defensive player on the board. This is a very deep DT class and this could be a great spot to find an upgrade there. You’ve already invested a ton in Chris Long, see if you can get him some help inside that will also help Laurinaitis continue to be the tackling machine he is.
I’m not sure what to do at RB. Cadillac Williams isn’t a long term answer at backup and Steven Jackson is going to hit the wall any second. They need a mid round draft pick or a trade for someone who can take 30-60% of the carries. Jeff Fisher isn’t afraid to run the ball a lot (just look at Eddie George’s career numbers) and I think a 2 back system would serve him well.
I’ve read that the Rams do not have a ton of cap space (only a few million). This limits their options in free agency without some cuts and/or restructuring some contracts. They aren’t dead in the water like the Steelers, but they can’t overpay for anybody. Experienced but not starter level players could be very useful at DT, CB, and TE. Fisher is a well respected coach and I wouldn’t be surprised to see some players in the twilight of their career finish it up under a coach they respect.
The 2012 Rams aren’t going to be pretty. Sam Bradford is a good QB, but a severe lack of weapons around him hurts. I won’t touch how bad their new QB coach is with a 10 foot pole. Tweet me if you want some info. Jeff Fisher is a good coach, but I don’t see this team winning more than 6 games. Hopefully in 2013 they can be playoff contenders but they aren’t the type of team to turn it all around in a year.
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One of my favorite teams to root for this past season was the Houston Texans. Despite losing their top 2 QBs (Matt Schaub and Matt Leinart) they somehow won their division and a playoff game with TJ Yates at the helm. The Texans are in a great position to not only repeat 2011’s success, but improve on it. The 3 biggest offseason needs I see should be very easily accomplished. First off, find a WR opposite of Andre Johnson. Andre is one of the best WRs in the game and if you put a good WR who can consistently beat single coverage across from him, Matt Schaub is going to be in heaven. Second, they need to figure out what they’re doing at Center. Chris Myers is a free agent and he’s already linked to the Packers. Third, pay Arian Foster some $$. It’s kind of incredible that when listing the 3 thing the Texans need most I didn’t include anything about Mario Williams and his impending free agency. I’ll get there.
Here’s how I take a 10 win, division champ and turn them into Super Bowl contenders. With WR, find out who you love across from Andre Johnson and go after him. If they think Michael Floyd is the man and he won’t be available when you pick, trade up for him. Don’t hesitate to make the move. If your man is going to fall to your pick, that’s great news. Everyone and their mother is linking a WR to the Texans in the first round because it’s what they need and the value is great.
Chris Myers is really their tough decision of the offseason. The Texans allegedly want to keep him, but he may be enticed by the big $$ the free agent market could bring. Myers was a Pro Bowler in 2011 and this is his last chance to cash in. The Texans (before any cuts or restructures) have between $3-4M in cap room which isn’t much. If they don’t move anything around, they could easily be outbid for Myers. If the Texans intend to keep him, the franchise tag may be necessary. If they lose Myers, Center becomes their #1 offseason target.
Finally, they have Arian Foster: the most underpaid RB in the NFL, moreso than Ray Rice or Matt Forte. Neither one of them have a rushing title and back to back Pro Bowls. Foster may be turning 26 before the season, but due to a mediocre college career, he hasn’t taken the beating most RBs at his age have taken. Foster only had one collegiate season with more than 183 carries and he barely had more than 10 carries per game his senior year. Foster is a restricted free agent and I wouldn’t expect him to go anywhere. The Texans need to pay him to tier RB $$ and continue to run their offense around him. I would however consider trading backup Ben Tate if the right offer comes along. Tate looked like a starting RB (942 rushing yards, 5.4 yards per carry) behind him and a RB desperate team could cough up a good pick for him. That’s more fantasy than reality though.
Last and kind of least, Mario Williams. Mario is not a key part of their offseason plans. Why? First off, he’s due to receive Julius Peppers level $$ and he’s not worth that much to the Texans. In every single yardage and scoring category, the Texans had one of the best defenses in the NFL without him for a majority of the season. Williams is an incredible talent and looked good as a 3-4 OLB, but he’s not worth $10M+ per season to them. They’d be much better suited using that money on extending Arian Foster, keeping Chris Myers, and adding depth to what is currently a great defense. It’s hard to believe the Texans will probably let him walk, but it’s what I see happening.
The 2012 Texans should look a lot like the 2011 Texans but with a better passing game. Their defense kept them alive vs. the Ravens in the 2nd round of the playoffs and anyone who watched that game knows that it would have been a lot different with a healthy Matt Schaub at QB. If their defense and running game maintain the status quo and you throw in another target at WR the Texans could be a Super Bowl contender this year.
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The Atlanta Falcons made one of the most shocking draft day trades ever when they traded up for Julio Jones. He had a good rookie season but the Falcons need him to be an elite WR in year 2. Matt Ryan has been a very good QB but he needs to take another step to elite QB levels or else the Falcons are going to continue to be an ugly bridesmaid on the end and not the bride. On defense, they’re possibly losing some very good players that will be difficult to replace.
All in all, the Falcons have well over a dozen potential free agents. The good news is that they have over $30 million in cap space for 2012, so there’s room to make moves in free agency. The bad news is that it won’t be easy to fill those holes through the draft because they only have 5 picks: a 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 6th, and 7th. This forces the Falcons to spend $$ if they want to improve on 2011’s disappointing campaign.
On defense, they could lose starting MLB Curtis Lofton, starting DE John Abraham, starting CB Brent Grimes, and starting FS Thomas DeCoud. There are also several important backups that could leave, but since I’m keeping this short, I’ll focus on the possibility of 4 lost starters. I think the Falcons need to decide who is the most important player out of Lofton, Grimes, and DeCoud then bite the bullet and put the franchise tag on him. You have $30 million in cap space and you have the room to eat the excess cap if necessary.
4 starters is way too many to lose, at least keep 2. I would tag Brent Grimes because it sounds like Falcons are very high on 2nd year player Akeem Dent at MLB. Lofton is a very good, but not great, MLB that can be replaced, so let him walk. I think DeCoud is probably worth more to Atlanta than anyone else, so I bet even if he tests the waters in free agency, he’ll stay. He picked off 4 passes last year and his best football may still be ahead of him. Abraham? Gone. He’ll be 34 when the season starts and the Falcons didn’t even play him full time last year. They limited his snaps so he would be more effective. They aren’t going to pay Abraham the absurd $$ he’s looking for, so he’s as good as gone unless he eats a big piece of humble pie. (ed. note – what’s wrong with humble pudding?) I don’t think even Larry Allen in his prime could eat a piece of pie big enough to accomplish this though.
If Abraham does walk, they need help at DE badly. Kroy Biermann is also a free agent and last year’s big pickup Ray Edwards had a disappointing season. If I were the Falcons, I’d consider Mario Williams. You have $30 million in cap space and even with a franchise tag on Grimes and a DeCoud extension, you’ll still have $15+ million to spend. Cliff Avril wouldn’t’ be a bad investment either if he hits the market. If they don’t want to cough up the big bucks, Robert Mathis would be a great candidate to replace Abraham’s sack total. He’s old as well, but not delusional about his value.
The 3 biggest problem you’re going to see on offense is that longtime starting Center Todd McClure and slot WR Harry Douglas are free agents. Also, the Falcons have stated, like Abraham last year, Michael Turner will be on a “pitch count” to limit his snaps and increase his effectiveness. This makes a backup RB an important acquisition if they want to hold true to that plan.
The good news is that McClure has been the starting C for the Falcons for over a decade and seems to want to stay. The bad news is that he’s 35 years old and you never know what to expect from guys his age in the NFL. If the Falcons want McClure, he should be easy enough to keep, but with some very good Centers possibly hitting the free agent market (like Myers above), this could be a scenario where the Falcons use their cap space for an upgrade.
They need to sign Douglas to a reasonable extension. Douglas is a good slot WR, could be kept for a low cost, and give the Falcons the same WR corps for the next several seasons. That kind of consistency would be great for Matt Ryan because the talent is there for them to be a great corps. Douglas is probably never going to be a good starting WR, so staying in a spot where he fits is a great idea.
For RB, it’s so tough to recommend what to do because so many teams need RBs this year and the options aren’t good. Tommy and Matt can correct me here, but from what I’ve noticed there’s a huuuuge dropoff after Trent Richardson (sure fire 1st round talent at RB) in the draft. The free agents aren’t much better. A lot of has been and never was is available there. I would actually put RB as their top draft priority. I think Doug Martin could be there with their 2nd round pick and he’s a 3 down back with good size (5’9 223 pounds) and could also serve as their kick returner if Eric Weems leaves via free agency.
They also really need to look for a long term solution at TE. Tony Gonzalez is a Hall of Fame TE for sure, but you can’t rely on him beyond 2012. A mid round pick should be spent on a TE or else they’re going to be scrambling for one next year or even this year if Gonzo goes down.
I think the main thing the Falcons offense needs to improve from 2011 to 2012 is for Matt Ryan to take the next step, Julio Jones to turn into an elite WR, and for a solid 1-2 punch at RB to extend the career of Michael Turner. The key for Atlanta’s offense is internal improvement (and a little help at RB). On defense, try to keep as many non-Abraham starters as possible and add a pass rusher at DE. I think the Falcons are going to stay as that good but not great team in 2012 with a similar result as 2011. They still have yet to even win a playoff game with Matt Ryan at the helm. That should be goal #1.
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The Super Bowl champion New York Je…wait? They didn’t win the Super Bowl? But Rex Ryan said they…nevermind, someone probably told him the Super Bowl was full of ice cream and Rex never loses to a bowl of ice cream. Anyways, the Jets, despite boisterous predictions from Rexy, had a very disappointing season. After the season was over, there were rumblings about a disconnect between Mark Sanchez and WRs Santonio Holmes and Plaxico Burress. In addition to that, Mark Sanchez has not improved since his rookie season and subpar QB play combined with a lackluster running game equaled a very boring offense. The defense remained Top 5 in yards allowed, but slipped to 20th in points. This group should be alright, but could use some help.
The biggest offseason concern for the Jets is a better offense. The Jets were 25th overall in total offense. Shonn Greene is an OK starter at RB and LaDanian Tomlinson is a free agent that could be forced into retirement due to rapidly declining skill. An upgrade here would be a good idea. They’re also pretty desperate for a WR opposite of Holmes. The Jets would love to cut Santonio but his contract forces them to mend fences between him and Sanchez. The Jets are also just barely under the salary cap, which will force a few cap saving moves in order to put them in better position to make a few moves.
The best way to solve their offensive woes is through the draft. With their first round pick, the best WR on the board is probably the pick. I wouldn’t be surprised if the always bold Jets make a move for Trent Richardson though. If they can find a good starting WR in free agency, Richardson would provide an explosive element to their running game that Greene simply doesn’t possess.
On defense, they really only have one major concern: NT Sione Pouha is a free agent. There were rumors the Jets would put the franchise tag on him, then there were rumors they wouldn’t. I don’t care what they do, they need to keep him. Pouha is a very good NT and despite his age (33) he’s a very valuable asset. Do whatever it takes to keep him because I don’t think they want to rely on Kendrick Ellis, a 2nd year player from Hampton, to anchor the crucial 3-4 NT spot. Ellis is a talented player, but I don’t think he’s ready for the full time job.
They could use another pass rusher at OLB. Despite finishing 5th in overall defense, the Jets were 17th in sacks with 35 total. Their leading sacker? Aaron Maybin with 6 total sacks. A team with a secondary that good would be even better with a great pass rusher at the OLB spot. This would be a good target for a 2nd or 3rd round draft pick.
Overall, the Jets are going to have to continue to rely on their defense until they get a different QB. I just don’t see it in Mark Sanchez. I don’t see leadership, I don’t see an undying passion to win, and I don’t see an elite talent who can make things happen out of nothing. The Jets are rumored (like 25 other teams) to be interested in Peyton. I doubt Peyton would want to play for Rex but crazier things have happened. The only thing crazier than Peyton in New York is Mark Sanchez winning a Super Bowl as a starter.