Tuesday, February 14, 2012

NFL Offseason Needs: Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions

by John Huffstetler

Green Bay Packers

Key Free Agents: QB Matt Flynn, RB Ryan Grant, TE Jermichael Finley, LB Erik Walden, CB Jarrett Bush


Defensive End

Their defensive line doesn't necessarily need to generate a pass rush, but sack totals for the Packers d-line last season were anemic. Beyond only producing 6 sacks as a unit, the defense as a whole earned only 29 sacks as a team (27th in the league), meaning the d-line didn't absorb enough attention from opposing offensive lines to free up their talented linebackers. The entire 3-4 defense hinges on the ability of the defensive line to draw attention, and, other than Raji, their line failed to do so. This is the one true weakness on this entire squad and they need to address this position through the draft and free agency.

Running Back

Ryan Grant (pictured to the right) could leave via free agency, and even if he returns, Green Bay could use a better option at running back. Grant and Starks are both serviceable receivers and average rushers, but there are several players in the draft in the first 4 rounds with the potential to immediately upgrade the position. Mid-round talents like LaMichael James, Isiah Pead, Ronnie Hillman, and Cyrus Gray would all be strong fits for the Packers pass-first system. They would also add a big play element to the running back position that doesn't exist in Green Bay at this time.

Continue to Stock-Pile Talent

At most positions, the Packers are both deep and talented. As a 15-1 squad, other teams will look to poach their talent over the next few years at exorbitant salaries. BJ Raji, Clay Matthews, Greg Jennings, Nick Collins, and Sam Shields will all become free agents during the 2013 and 2014 off-seasons, and all of these players should demand large contracts in free agency. In order to stay dominant, the Packers need to continue to develop talent at every position. The defensive backfield in particular would become vulnerable in a few seasons with Charles Woodson's inevitable retirement and the potential loss of Collins and Shields. Good teams fill their needs; great teams fill their needs a few years in advance.

Detroit Lions

Key Free Agents: WR/KR/PR Stefan Logan, K Jason Hanson, OT Jeff Backus, OT Corey Hilliard (Restricted), DE Cliff Avril, LB Bobby Carpenter, LB DeAndre Levy (Restricted), LB Stephen Tulloch, CB Eric Wright, S Chris Harris


Upgrade the speed at the LB position

3 key contributors at LB are free agents this off-season and the Lions could stand to lose two of them. While the defensive line play was outstanding last year at pressuring the QB, the LB corps repeatedly failed in coverage, contributing to the Lions 22nd ranked pass defense. Since the Lions have an impressive d-line, they should look to acquire more speed at the LB position and obtain players that can play side-to-side and cover slot receivers at times. Tulloch (shown to the right) and Carpenter are good players, but they are more run-stopping LB's, which Detroit doesn't exactly need. The Lions should resign DeAndre Levy and look to add a few faster options to compliment him and Justin Durant.

Solid Cover Corner to Start Opposite Chris Houston

Chris Houston is a solid NFL CB, but he's a gambler. During the course of the season, he will make terrific plays and he will get burned badly when he incorrectly attempts to read a pattern. Because of his gambling philosophy, he would be better suited as a #2 corner. Drafting a corner who is more solid in his cover skills to eventually fill the role of top corner would dramatically help the Lions inconsistent pass defense. Starting CB Eric Wright did not have a great season, and he is also a free agent this off-season. Whether he leaves or returns, the position needs to be stronger.

Offensive Tackle

The O-line performed well this past season. The Lions passing game racked up significant yardage, and despite losing their top two RB's to injury, the team still managed to average a respectable 4.3 yards/carry. The interior line is clearly set with Raiola, Peterman, and Sims returning as starters; however, the tackle positions both remain a question mark. Jeff Backus (Pictured right) is 34 years old and currently an unrestricted free agent, and primary backup Corey Hilliard is a restricted free agent as well. Although immensely talented, Gosder Cherilus has failed to reach his expected potential since his selection in the 2008 draft. Even if Backus returns, the Lions could use a tackle to groom to replace him in a year or two. With the addition of a strong tackle and the return of Best and Leshoure from injury at RB, the Lions offense would improve dramatically.

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Monday, February 13, 2012

DeSean Jackson: Where Will He Land?

I'm admittedly an Eagles fan, and as an Eagles fan I have an obvious bias towards DeSean Jackson. I mean, what's not to like about the guy from a fan's perspective? Second round draft pick, was doubted by everyone because of his size, was supposed to just be a return man and deep threat, and instead burst on to the scene as a superstar.

Yes, he's done some boneheaded things, like dropping the ball before he reached the end zone as a rookie, but he was our bonehead. He was the heart and soul of the Eagles in his first three years, and his comments to the media and relationship with Andy Reid suggested that though he was undoubtedly a diva, he was also a good teammate and even a respected leader in the locker room.

Then came this season. Then came the lack and occasionally complete absence of effort. Then came the refusal to go hard over the middle. Then the half-assed punt returns. Then came the missed meeting, and then came the inexcusable dive against the Bears.

So now DeSean Jackson is a looming free agent, and reports today indicate that the Eagles are going to place the franchise tag on the 25 year old receiver. This is the obvious move, and from here the Eagles will either resign Jackson to a long term deal, or trade him to another team who will do the same. Jackson will be owed 9.5 million next year under the tag, but the Eagles most likely won't be paying him that money. The tag is just about the Eagles retaining his rights before he hits the market, because if he's not on their roster next year they obviously need to get something for him.

The question from here is what Jackson is worth to NFL teams, and to answer this we have to consider him both on and off the field. In terms of his off the field actions, I'm going to take a stance that will be supported by very few people, especially amongst Eagles fans, and that is that DeSean Jackson is NOT a problem off the field. Just hear me out.

As football fans, we generally can't stand it when athletes complain about their contract situations. These guys are millionaires, and they make their millions playing a game, while many people struggle with the bills doing something really annoying. I understand this, and while many contract situations drive me crazy (exhibit A, Terrell Owens), I have no problem with what DeSean Jackson did last year. Remember, DeSean wasn't a first round pick, so he's tremendously outperformed his 4 year, $3 Million rookie contract. He made roughly $550,000 last year, hardly chump change, but also hardly a tenth of what he should have been making based on his performance in his first three seasons. So he wasn't just underpaid, he was tremendously underpaid.

Not only was he extremely underpaid, but he also had to watch Michael Vick, who had only proven himself for one year, be rewarded with a $100 million contract extension, along with watching the Eagles sign Nnamdi Asomugha, Cullen Jenkins, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Jason Babin, and Steve Smith and then telling him that they couldn't give him the money he was looking for. Then when you consider the fact that Jackson's one of the smallest receivers in the NFL, and that any hit across the middle could end his season or career, you really expect him to go all out making not even a tenth of his worth on a team that apparently doesn't want him despite the fact that he'd been their spark plug for the previous three seasons? I think DeSean's a diva, a hot dog, and anything else along the lines, but I also think that once some team pays him, he'll be anything but a Randy-Moss-or-T.O.-like locker room headache.

Now I'm not just bashing the Eagles front office here, because I understand their side in the dispute as well. I'm just pointing out that the dispute doesn't have anything to do with Jackson's character, but rather it's a disagreement over his on-field value. Jackson is a unique receiver in that he'll never give you 80 receptions but he'll also never give you less than 1,000 yards (except this year - he had 961 while taking half of his plays off). He's like Randy Moss in that he stretches the defense and must be accounted for on every play, which opens up the rest of the field (your welcome, Jeremy Maclin) and does wonders for the running game (you too, LeSean McCoy). He also obviously brings more than just receiving to the table with his incredible return ability, and though he's done less and less of that each year, he still returns all the punts in critical moments of games.

The dispute that has emerged between Jackson and the front office is that Jackson and agent Drew Rosenhaus (Damnit - I really wanted to go the entire article without mentioning him) believe that DeSean deserves top ten receiver money - around $8 million a year - while the Eagles would rather pay him most likely around $6 million a season. In this regard I agree with the Eagles stance. DeSean is dynamic and does a lot for a football team, but he isn't consistent enough to be making the kind of money that every week, every down elite receivers make. However, it is likely that some team would be willing to pay DeSean what he wants, so either the Eagles bite and give him his extension or he'll be playing in another uniform next season. Here's my breakdown of the possible scenarios :

Staying in Philly - There are three different ways that this could happen. First, DeSean could decide that he only wants to play for the Eagles with Michael Vick and Andy Reid, and he could lower his asking price at the last minute. This is very unlikely. Second, the opposite could happen. The Eagles could decide that they need to keep Jackson and could pay him the top ten money he's asking for. This is unlikely but a little more likely than the first scenario, because Jackson holds all the cards in this situation. The Eagles, and specifically decision maker Andy Reid, are in a Super Bowl or bust season. Even with Jeremy Maclin emerging as a top 20 NFL receiver, can they really afford to either have a rookie or Riley Cooper starting opposite Maclin with Jason Avant in the slot? Also, the Eagles kick returning has been terrible for years. With Jackson gone, both phases of the return game would be subpar. The Eagles need Jackson much more than he needs them. The third option is that the Eagles bite the bullet and pay him the 9.5 million franchise tag money. If this were any other team I'd say this was an impossibility, but with the Eagles as desperate as they are, I could see it happening. - 30%

Traded to New England - Of all the teams in the NFL, including the Eagles, the Patriots make the most sense for Jackson. For the Patriots, Jackson is worth $8 million a year because he could be the last piece to the puzzle. It would literally be impossible to defend the Patriots with DeSean burning people deep, Welker killing you underneath, and Gronk and Hernandez controlling the middle. Brady is so smart with his reads and he would have someone open on every play. It's a perfect match. - 30%

Traded to St. Louis - Sam Bradford is more known for the short and intermediate passes, but he does have a big arm when he wants to use it and DeSean was just as successful with Kevin "Captain Checkdown" Kolb as he was with Vick and McNabb. He would also bring some excitement to a team that desperately needs it. - 5%

Traded to Chicago - Jackson would finally give the Bears a true go-to receiver, and Jay Cutler would have no issues getting it to DeSean with his monster arm. Jackson stretching the field would also make Matt Forte even more difficult to cover. The only questionable aspect of this is whether or not the Bears would pay DeSean what he wants considering that they wouldn't use him as a returner with Devin Hester on the team. His returning is a significant portion of his value, so while it would make sense on the field it might not make sense to Chicago's front office. - 5 %

Traded to San Fransisco - I think that the 49ers should do everything possible to land Peyton Manning this offseason, but they are reportedly not interested and committed to Alex Smith. If that's the case, then they have very little needs this offseason and should have the cash to throw at DeSean Jackson. It would also allow Jackson to play in his home state. - 5%

Traded to Cleveland - No team could use excitement more than the Cleveland Browns, and the Browns front office (Mike Holmgren and Tom Heckert) have a great relationship with the Eagles front office. There is also speculation that the Browns will be moving up to draft Robert Griffin III, who loves to throw bombs all over the field - 10%

Traded to Indianapolis - With Reggie Wayne most likely leaving town, the Colts might take a serious look at Jackson, who would give Andrew Luck a number one receiver and who would help Colts fans begin to forget about that Manning guy - 5%

Traded to Kansas City - Dwayne Bowe might be leaving town and Peyton Manning might be entering town. Add Jackson, and you have Breaston and McCluster in the slot, Moeaki working the middle, and Baldwin and DJax on the outside, with Peyton Manning and a healthy Jamaal Charles and a scary defense. Super Bowl 2013? - 5 %

Traded to San Diego - Vincent Jackson's as good as gone, and I really like this fit from a football perspective, as Phillip Rivers is arguably the most accurate deep ball passer in the league. Jackson also gets to come home to Cali - 5 %

So basically, I see the two most likely scenarios are that he stays in Philly or is dealt to the Patriots, and after that I see a bunch of teams in play, with the most likely destination being Cleveland because of the relationship between the two clubs and my belief that the Browns are going after Robert Griffin III.