Here we are in the middle of July and a couple of veteran Eagles are still available.
Darren Howard totaled 16 sacks over the last two years. His play dipped from 2008 to 2009, but I'm surprised that no team is giving him a look. He can be an effective role player. The bigger name is Brian Westbrook. The story in the media is that he's studying his options. I wonder how true that is. I'd love to see Westbrook bounce back and play well for at least one final season, but the longer he goes unsigned the more you have to question what kind of offers he's actually getting. As long as he doesn't end up in Dallas, I'll pull for Westbrook wherever he goes.
Speaking of unsigned, Terrell Owens remains on the market. All that bad karma finally caught up to him. Owens will get signed eventually and will make decent money, but I'd be lying if I didn't say it was fun to see him twist in the wind a bit. He acted like a nice guy when it was convenient, but most of the time he did and said what he pleased. Owens didn't care who he hurt or offended. Now, he is reaping the benefits of the seeds he sowed. My guess is that he ends up in Seattle. He and Pete Carroll would be a great match, until Owens flips the switch and goes back to doing/saying what he pleases. Hurricane Terrell isn't fun for anyone.
Chicago Bears: Will Martz Succeed With Cutler?
The most interesting hire of the offseason came when the Bears brought Mike Martz in as offensive coordinator. Coach Lovie Smith is walking on thin ice. General Manager Jerry Angelo is in a similar predicament. They added quarterback Jay Cutler last year, but he didn't solve many problems. I think the Bears overlooked the fact that a young quarterback needs either a real good offensive line or a gifted set of skill players. Cutler had neither and the Bears offense struggled all year long.
Chicago made minimal personnel changes on offense. They did hire Martz to come in and save the offense. He did great things with the Rams and helped them win a Super Bowl. He also spent some time in Detroit and had success with Jon Kitna, even if the team's record didn't reflect that. Martz didn't have good results in San Francisco. Now he's in the Windy City to try and spark the offense. Cutler is the best quarterback he's worked with in a long time. The problem is that the receiving corps isn't nearly what Martz would like. He loves precise route runners. Neither Devin Hester nor Johnny Knox is a polished receiver. They do way too much freelancing. Both guys have huge upside, but they need a lot of work before they'll thrive in the new attack. I do think running back Matt Forte will have a strong season. He is a very good receiver and will work well in Martz's scheme.
If Cutler and Martz can work well together, the Bears can be a surprise team in 2010. Cutler has a ton of talent. If he "gets it" with Martz's system, the Bears offense will look significantly different than it has in a long time, maybe ever. Cutler has the arm and accuracy required for the system. He will throw into tight spots. He does have to work on a couple of things. Cutler must make smart reads and get the ball out quickly whenever possible. He also has to show that he can sit in the pocket and take a beating from time to time. Go back and watch some of our win from last year over Chicago. Cutler threw the ball away at times when pressure wasn't all that close to him. That won't work in the Martz offense. We praise Kurt Warner for a lot of positive attributes, but he doesn't get enough credit for how tough he was.
The flip side of all this is that Martz could have his legacy ruined if the Bears offense struggles. At some point we have to wonder how much of the Rams greatness was Warner and the great players on offense (Warner, Orlando Pace, Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt and Marshall Faulk all have a chance to get elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame). Is that because of Martz and his system or did he ride their talent to a big coaching reputation?
Are The New York Jets Overrated?
I've read and heard about them as a potential Super Bowl team for the upcoming season. I get why some people see them that way. The Jets made it to the AFC championship last year and have some very good players. I think people forget that the Jets actually needed help to even make the playoffs. Coach Rex Ryan announced after a loss that the team had been eliminated, only to find out a bit later that they were in fact still alive. The Jets might not have made the postseason had Peyton Manning played all of the Week 16 game. Instead, he rested for the second half and New York beat the Colts. That win set the wheels in motion for the rematch in the AFC title game.
The Jets have a lot of talent, but I do question the team's chemistry. Last year, guys like Thomas Jones and Alan Faneca acted as leaders. Both were cut in the offseason. The Jets can find talented players to take their places, but can they find guys with the right intangibles? LaDainian Tomlinson is now a backup running back. How will he handle that role? Tomlinson was once one of the best guys in the league, but in recent years he began to sound off to the media when he wasn't happy. That was OK in San Diego where he'd built up a ton of good will over the years. It won't go over so well in New York, especially with a much more aggressive media.
I don't doubt that the Jets have the talent to make a run at the Super Bowl. I do question if the team has the right pieces in place. Football isn't a game where you can slap together the most talented roster and count on making it to the big game. Chemistry is important. The Jets had it last year, but we don't know if that will be true this season as well. My team to beat in the AFC is Baltimore.
A Team On The Rise: Yes, The Detroit Lions
They only won a couple of games last year, but I definitely see an organization that is making smart moves. Matthew Stafford sure looks like a franchise quarterback. Calvin Johnson is an elite receiver. The team added Kyle Vanden Bosch in free agency. He is still a solid pass rusher, but just as important is the leadership he'll bring to the defense. Vanden Bosch is a relentless player that will give everything he has, play in and play out. The other Lions need to see that kind of playing style and work ethic. It can be contagious.
Detroit had a second straight good draft class. They landed elite defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh with the second overall selection. They traded back into the first round to get running back Jahvid Best. Suh gives the Lions a potentially great presence on the inside. That will help against the run and pass. Best gives them an explosive runner. The offense showed last year that it could move the ball in the air. The ground attack was ineffective. Best brings big-play ability and that can help the offense to be better balanced.
The Lions still have a long way to go. Their secondary needs major help. The offensive line is still a work in progress. I do think there's light at the end of the tunnel. Finally, I am encouraged by the moves they're making. Don't look for Detroit to win six or seven games this year, but they could be a .500 team in 2011 if they continue on the right path.
Can The Saints Repeat As Super Bowl Champions?
Tricky question. The Saints have the talent to repeat. Sean Payton is still a terrific coach with a good staff in place. I think the biggest problem they have is the Super Bowl hangover. Let's look at New Orleans' recent history. The Saints had a very good team in 2006. They were up and down the next couple of years. Things really came together in 2009. I'm not sure how likely it is for them to put together another great year. History certainly isn't on their side. The NFC South has only existed since 2002, but has never had a repeat winner. The Saints haven't had consecutive winning years since 1991 and 1992. This is a different team. I certainly realize that. Still, history has a nasty way of holding true for a long time. Think about the misfortunes of the Eagles playing in Oakland. No matter who we send out there and no matter who we face, the result is the same. We lose.
The Saints can shake history, but it won't be easy. Everyone will be gunning for them this year. Playing games against Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Dallas and Minnesota won't be easy, not to mention the normal divisional rivalries. If any player can stay focused and lead his team back, Drew Brees is the guy I'd bet on.
High Expectations For Redskins?
The Redskins are coming off of a 4-12 season. Normally you combine that with a coaching change and some roster upheaval and there isn't much pressure on the new additions. That won't be the case in Washington this year. The Redskins have a big-name coach in Mike Shanahan and a big-name quarterback in Donovan McNabb. The team also has one of the oldest rosters in the league. I think owner Daniel Snyder and Skins fans will expect immediate results. It will be very interesting to see what happens if the team is slow out of the gates.
Is Leinart The Answer In Arizona?
The biggest mystery team to me in all of the NFC is the Cardinals. Kurt Warner did great things for that organization. Both Neil Lomax and Jim Hart had good moments, but Warner was the best Cardinals quarterback of the last 40 years. Now Warner is retired and Matt Leinart is the man running the show. Is that a good thing? No one has a good feel for this situation.
Leinart was a terrific prospect coming out of USC. The Eagles reportedly had him rated very highly back in 2006 and might have in fact taken him if he'd slid a few more spots. Instead, Arizona took him with the 10th overall selection (we were down at pick 14). Leinart showed some promise as a rookie, but never looked like a true franchise quarterback. He rode the bench behind Warner in the next three years. Now Leinart is back as the starter.
The X-factor in all of this is what coach Ken Whisenhunt does with the offense. With Warner under center, the offense was built around the passing game. Now that Warner is retired and receiver Anquan Boldin is in Baltimore, you have to wonder if the running game will be a bigger focus. That could take pressure off Leinart. If Whisenhunt tries to keep the attack wide open, the team will sink or swim with how well Leinart plays. I'm really curious to see what the coaches do and how Leinart plays. I thought he was a franchise quarterback coming out of USC. I know the talent is still there. I'm just not so sure about the focus, work ethic, and leadership needed to lead a football team to the postseason. Cardinals fans have got to be sitting on pins and needles. That team struggled for years before having back-to-back strong seasons in 2008 and 2009. Now the Cardinals could go right back to being a non-playoff team.