Every Sunday morning our NFL columnist Anthony Stalter will provide his “quick-hits” from around the league.
+ Let’s hold judgment on Adrian Peterson before all of the details have been released following his arrest. This is a player with no history of off-field issues and it’s extremely bizarre that he was only charged with resisting arrest. The current details of the situation are that Peterson and some family members were out at a Houston nightclub when police entered the building at closing time. When they instructed people to leave, Peterson apparently wanted some water but an officer told him no and AP headed for the exit. At some point an officer was pushed, causing him to stumble and then three policemen had to “detain” Peterson. What’s unclear is how a push led to three officers attempting to detain the running back and then escalating to an actual arrest. Again, we should hold judgment until the full details have been released because something doesn’t sound right here. It wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility that the Houston police overreacted and didn’t handle the situation properly.
+ Many have argued that the Saints players involved in the New Orleans bounty scandal were simply following the orders of Gregg Williams and thus, they had little to no choice but to follow their coach’s orders. I get that. If you’re a fringe player looking to stick with a team because your career and livelihood is on the line, then you may be more apt to get along and go along then to cause waves. But what everyone seems to overlook is that Roger Goodell was lied to, and that’s why he came down hard on these participants. When Goodell went to Williams, Sean Payton and Anthony Hargrove asking if a bounty program was in place, they all told him no. Then, instead of stopping the program right then and there, they continued their pay-for-performance system. And while players like Hargrove, Jonathan Vilma and Scott Fuijta insist that Goodell has no prove that a bounty program was in place, has everyone forgotten that Williams has already apologized and thrown himself at the mercy of the court? He already admitted that he was putting bounties on opposing players. So yes, maybe the players were simply following orders. But at one point Goodell asked the participants to tell the truth and nobody spoke up, so they remain in a hell of their own making.
+ Dick LeBeau remains one of the best defensive minds in the NFL, so don’t think for a moment that the Steelers’ defense is going to fall apart. That said, there’s no question that Pittsburgh is old on that side of the ball. Troy Polamalu, James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley will continue to be the focal point of the defense but younger players like Cam Heyward, Steve McLendon and Alameda Ta’amu to make an impact (especially with Casey Hampton recovering from ACL surgery).
+ It’ll be interesting to see how the Chargers’ offense develops throughout the 2012 season. The run blocking wasn’t very good last season and the pass protection was below average as well, which led to Philip Rivers make a fair amount of mistakes. Ryan Mathews is an emerging star and if the blocking improves, then obviously the running game on a whole will be better than it was a year ago. But the question is how effective will Norv Turner’s coveted vertical offense be. Can Robert Meachem finally have that breakout year that many have expected since he entered the league as a first-rounder? What will the absence of Vincent Jackson have on the passing game? Can an aging Antonio Gates stay healthy? Will Malcolm Floyd be as effective this season without Jackson on the other side? Rivers made the passing game flourish without V-Jax two years ago but he needs help, mostly from his offensive line. Again, it’ll be interesting to see if Turner, who is undoubtedly on the hot seat once again, can blend the new elements together to make the passing game thrive.
+ It’s easy to make the argument that the Texans’ window to win a championship in the next three years is wide open. Even with the loss of Mario Williams their defense has a ton of talent and is coached by one of the best in the game in Wade Phillips. But Matt Schaub has still yet to play in a postseason game and Andre Johnson, now 31, will have to remain healthy or Houston will fail to take the next step after making the playoffs last year. Losing Joel Dreessen to the Broncos in free agency hurt. Not only was Dreessen a solid blocker last year for Houston, but he also averaged 12.6 yards per play in the Texans’ big-play offense. That said, if Schaub and Johnson can stay healthy then Houston will make the postseason again this year. Thanks to the offensive line and the explosiveness of Arian Foster and Ben Tate, the running game will be enough to win games on its own. It’s just a matter of whether or not the Texans can stay healthy long enough to make a deep run.
+ The reports out of San Francisco this offseason have not be positive for first-rounder A.J. Jenkins. He reportedly has made some difficult plays but he’s also had a hard time staying on his feet during workouts and is viewed as a major project. But let’s keep in mind that if Jenkins struggles this year it won’t be the end of the world. It used to be that players could take their time developing but nowadays teams need their first round picks to make an immediate impact. That said, considering the 49ers have veterans Mario Manningham and Randy Moss manning the outsides, they don’t necessarily need Jenkins to be on the fast track to NFL stardom. Is it good that the kid can’t stay on his feet and is viewed as a major project? No, but it wouldn’t be life or death if he needed a year. Besides, the 49ers will make sure that Jenkins contributes one way or another, including getting him involved in sub packages. Just don’t expect him to be a No. 1 as a rookie.
+ Good for Joe Philbin and the Dolphins coaching staff for taking it slow with rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Reports out of Miami are that the starting job is between David Garrard and Matt Moore because Tannehill is currently struggling with the speed of the game. Last year in Jacksonville, the thought was that Blaine Gabbert would be allowed to take his time while observe ring Garrard in his first year. But Garrard was released before the season and Gabbert was rushed into action way too soon. The results were disastrous and now observers are already questioning whether or not Gabbert can develop. Tannehill shouldn’t have been a top 10 selection but the Dolphins needed a quarterback and they went with offensive coordinator Mike Sherman’s guy. Fine. Now let the kid learn the game for a year before the weight of the franchise is thrust onto his shoulders. It’s not like the Dolphins are expected to compete this year so there should be no qualms about Garrard or Moore starting while Tannehill observes in his first year.
+ It looks like it’s going to be all or nothing this year for Montario Hardesty. Says ESPN Cleveland’s Tony Grossi: “If Hardesty gets injured again, it’s easy – he will be gone, in my opinion. But if Hardesty stays healthy and is the productive player [Browns GM Tom] Heckert saw at Tennessee, I think he checks in at No. 2.” So essentially Hardesty will either be the first running back off the bench when Trent Richardson needs a blow or else he’ll be in another city at some point this year. Hopefully Hardesty isn’t another talented prospect that never developed because he was held back by injuries. He has all the talent to be a productive player in a two-back system but because of various injuries he hasn’t shown the same explosion he had coming out of college. Maybe this is the year he’ll finally stick.
Every Sunday morning our NFL columnist Anthony Stalter will provide his “quick-hits” from around the league. You can follow him on Twitter @AnthonyStalter.
+ Mike Smith and Thomas Dimitroff had it right in 2008 when they built the Falcons’ offense around Michael Turner. The “Ground and Pound” approach took pressure off rookie Matt Ryan and the Falcons surprised by winning 11 games and making the postseason. Four years later they were still leaning on the same approach and the result was an 0-3 record in the playoffs and plenty of question surrounding Ryan’s ability to be more than just a game manager. But finally it appears that Smith and the Falcons are ready to embrace a new offense. “When we first came in, coach (Mike) Smith said we were going to run the ball,” offensive assistant Andrew Weidinger told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Now, we are going to throw it, too. We’ve got all sorts of weapons. We’ve got running backs. We’ve got tight ends. We’ve got receivers. We are going to be able to do a little bit of everything out there.” Until Smith allows his offensive coordinator (now Dirk Koetter, who replaces Mike Mularkey) to build the offense around Ryan then the Falcons will continue to underachieve. The Falcons are long overdue to attack opponents, run more of the no-huddle (an offense that Ryan thrives in), and puts less emphasis on Turner and the ground game. They’re long overdue to take the chains of Ryan, who was clearly at his ceiling in Mularkey’s system.
+ “As a Buffalo Bills fan, I hope there’s so much turmoil during training camp. I hope (Tim) Tebow plays great, he pushes (Mark) Sanchez, and all of a sudden the locker room is coming apart,” former Bills great Jim Kelly told Andrew Siciliano on NFL Network’s Total Access on Friday. I’m with Kelly, although for different reasons. I hope Tebow plays great and pushes Sanchez because Sanchez hasn’t had to worry about losing his job since he got into the league. Yes, at one point last season Rex Ryan gave Mark Brunell first-team snaps in practice. But Brunell has never been a legitimate threat to Sanchez, who has yet to be pushed since arriving to New York in 2009 and conversely, is seemingly behind in his development. Tebow is a brutal passer but he’s a competitor and he won’t be content with his role as a backup. Jet fans should want Tebow to play well in preseason because he’ll either force Sanchez to elevate his game or he’ll get him out of the starting lineup. Either way it’s a positive for the Jets.
+ There was nothing premature about the Lions signing head coach Jim Schwartz to a multi-year contract extension on Friday. Along with GM Martin Mayhew, Schwartz has overseen one of the more impressive makeovers in NFL history. It wasn’t that long ago that Detroit posted a 0-16 season and was regarded as one of the worst franchises of the last decade. Since the Wayne Fontes era ended in 1996, the Lions have had seven different head coaches, none of which lasted more than three seasons. And while Schwartz’s win-loss record currently sits at 18-30, he clearly has this Detroit team on the rise. Now, if he can only tone down the sideline and post-game antics and get his players to stop making weekly trips to the clink, then the Lions would really be on to something.
+ ESPN’s Ron Jaworski believes that Michael Vick is capable of turning in “the best year of” his ten-year career in 2012. “This offseason is the most important of his career,” Jaws said. “It’s the first time since 2006 with the Falcons that he will go through the OTAs and training camp as the starting quarterback.” That’s all well and good but Vick doesn’t prove his worth in June or even September for that matter. It’s December and January when we find out how much Vick can carry a team. There have been too many times throughout his career where he’s looked like an unstoppable force only to sputter out down the stretch because he’s too banged up and/or gets careless in pivotal games. Go back to 2004 when he posted a 46.5 quarterback rating against the Eagles in the NFC Championship Game. Or the 2010 postseason when he posted a 79.9 QB rating and forced a pass to the end zone that was picked off by Tramon Williams to seal the loss for Philadelphia versus Green Bay. I have no doubts that Vick will play like a Pro Bowler during the regular season. It’s the postseason where he has everything to prove.
+ The Boston Globe had an interesting report on outgoing Eagles president Joe Banner “having a good laugh” about DeSean Jackson’s five-year, $47 million contract. Per Globe reporter Greg Bedard, Banner “never would have done that deal.” But regardless of Banner’s opinion about Jackson’s contract, look for the receiver to have a major bounce back season. Jackson was so consumed by his future and contract situation last season that he completely took himself out of games. And for that, he deserved the criticism he received for not handling the situation more like a professional. It’s human nature to be concerned about your financial future but it’s never okay to stop doing your job, especially when you’re currently under contract. That said, with his contract situation behind him look for Jackson to keep his focus on football and become the weapon he was before the 2011 season.
+ If you enjoy mediocre quarterback competition, then keep tabs on the situation in Miami. ESPN’s Adam Schefter stated on Friday’s SportsCenter that David Garrard looked like the leader in the Dolphins’ quarterback competition during spring practices. “The more you hear, the more it sounds like David Garrard has really taken this opportunity to emerge as the favorite to be the starting quarterback down in Miami. Very impressive, adept, good footwork. Matt Moore’s been good, Ryan Tannehill’s been good, but David Garrard has looked the most comfortable of any of the quarterbacks.” Dolphin fans may disagree but they should want Garrard to start this season. Blaine Gabbert would have benefited from watching Garrard last year in Jacksonville. Instead, the Jags displayed impatience by cutting Garrard and thrusting Gabbert into the starting lineup when he wasn’t ready. You may believe that Tannehill is a better prospect than Gabbert but there’s little doubt the former Texas A&M QB would benefit from holding a clipboard. The Dolphins are without weapons at the wideout position and their pass blocking wasn’t very good last season either (outside of Jake Long). Thus, while Miami fans may groan about having to watch Garrard for a season, at least it would save Tannehill from possibly having a Gabbert-type rookie year (and the sea of doubt that followed it).
+ It’ll be interesting to see how Demaryius Thomas performs this season now that Tim Tebow is out and Peyton Manning is in at quarterback for Denver. The biggest difference between the two quarterbacks is now Thomas actually has to run routes. “You’re gonna have to run the whole route tree now,” said Thomas on Thursday. “The comebacks, the slants, the posts, the ins. And I didn’t have to do that much in my first couple of years in the league.” I’m not sure why Thomas didn’t have to run a full route tree under Josh McDaniels but last year he played backyard football because of Tebow, so we’ll see whether or not his development speeds up or slows down now that Manning is his quarterback.
+ Cedric Benson averaged just 3.67 yards per carry last season with the Bengals and 3.76 YPC during his four seasons with Cincinnati. So it’s not surprising that multiple teams didn’t bust down his door when free agency began back in March. That said, he’s 29 and is coming off a 1,000-yard season. One would think that somebody would sign him as a backup, especially when you consider how many teams implement a two-back system. According to Adam Schefter, Benson remains on the Raiders’ radar but they don’t seem to be in a hurry to sign him despite losing Michael Bush (Bears) in free agency and employing an injury-plagued Darren McFadden as a feature back.
New Orleans Saints receiver Robert Meachem (17) prepares to throw the ball into the stands after pulling his secound touchdown pass against the Seattle Seahawks during action at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans on November 21, 2010. UPI/A.J. Sisco
There are a handful of players in this year’s free agent pool that I would break the bank for because I know what kind of production I’ll be getting for my dollar. Mario Williams is one, while Carl Nicks is another. Even though he turns 29 in July and suffered a knee injury down the stretch last season, the highly underrated Brent Grimes is another player that I wouldn’t hesitate to pony up for, especially with cornerbacks in such high demand these days.
But if I were given the opportunity to be a general manager for an offseason, I’d focus my attention on finding value in free agency. Granted, the word “value” is a relative term to teams. A free agent like Vincent Jackson will have more value to the Bears than he would the Packers. But that doesn’t mean that the Bears should spend max value on V-Jax just because they have a glaring need at receiver.
In my opinion, this is how teams often get into trouble. It’s almost like they take a grocery list into free agency and say, ‘Ok, this is my budget and here are my biggest needs – let’s go shopping!’ Then they wind up overspending, the player under-performs his contract, and sooner or later the team is looking to dump said player well before his contract is set to expire.
Again, there are certain players that are worth max value. In terms of pure talent, Vincent Jackson may be one of those players. Seeing as how Chicago has a ton of cap space, maybe the Bears should go all out for V-Jax next month. But generally speaking, general managers are better off shooting for value so that they don’t get into cap hell down the road. At worst they’ll spend less to receive less and at best they’ll spend less to receive equal or better production than if they went for the high profile signing. Plus, if teams constantly search for value in free agency, then they’re more likely to have cap space to spend on re-signing their own players when the time comes.
With that in mind, here are my free agent value picks on offense for the 2012 NFL offseason. On Thursday I’ll take a look at the defensive side of the ball.
QUARTERBACK: David Garrard (Jaguars)
Garrard took last year off to allow his back to heal and is already 34. At this point in his career he clearly isn’t a quarterback that should be counted on as a long-term answer. But if he’s healthy, he makes a lot of sense for a contender that has a need for a backup or for teams like the Bills and Jets, whose situations under center are shaky at best. Garrard has never dazzled anyone with is passing numbers but he’s always been more productive than people give him credit for. He would be a nice, cheap signing that would add solid value to the right team.
RUNNING BACK: Mike Tolbert (Chargers)
Some may view Cedric Benson as a value play but keep in mind that he has 922 carries in the past three years and is entering his age 30 season. Tolbert, on the other hand, is only 26 and has carved out a nice niche for himself as an excellent utility back. He’s a bowling ball at 5-foot-9 and 247 pounds, and is a powerful downhill runner. He isn’t a true No. 1 but just like the Chargers did by pairing him with Ryan Mathews, he could be a solid complementary piece in the right backfield. Plus, with big names like Matt Forte, Ray Rice, Marshawn Lynch and Peyton Hillis set to hit the open market, Tolbert could be had at a reasonable price.
RECEIVER: Robert Meachem (Saints)
There are probably plenty of Saints fans that view Meachem as a bust. But the former first-round pick has never had the opportunity to flourish as a No. 1 receiver either. Sean Payton and Drew Brees do an excellent job of spreading the wealth in New Orleans, which is great for the Saints but not for individuals like Meachem. The former Tennessee star is extremely talented and won’t break the bank unlike V-Jax, Dwayne Bowe, DeSean Jackson, Mike Wallace, Steve Johnson, Marques Colston and/or Reggie Wayne.
TIGHT END: Joel Dreessen (Texans)
The tight end pool is shallow this year but that doesn’t mean there isn’t value to be had. Look at Dreessen for example. He’s already 30 and hasn’t put up gaudy receiving numbers in Houston so people will overlook him. But he also doesn’t have a lot of tread on his tires for a 30-year-old tight end and is a solid blocker in both the running game and in pass protection. He had touchdowns of 43 and 56 yards the past two seasons, which also suggests he has big-play capabilities. His age and limited production will keep the cost way down and teams could do much worse than a guy like Dreessen at tight end.
TACKLE: Anthony Collins
Jared Gaither will receive plenty of attention because of his name and the fact that he played very well for San Diego down the stretch last year. If the Chargers release former Pro Bowler Marcus McNeill, he’ll garner some attention as well (assuming he’s healthy after two straight seasons of injury issues). But at 26, Collins might be the best value on the market. His body of work isn’t very impressive because he’s only compiled five starts the last two seasons. But back in 2008 when he started 13 straight games, he proved to be an adequate blocker and could be a value to a team that loses out on Gaither. A team could essentially plug Collins into the starting lineup for a year or two while looking for a more long-term solution in the process.
GUARD: The Draft
I realize that this article is about finding value in free agency but I’m not going to shoehorn a player into a position that I don’t believe is a true value. Teams in need of a guard have one of two options in my eyes: Either pony up big for Carl Nicks or Evan Mathis, or look to fill the position in the draft. Nicks and Mathis will likely be worth the money but for teams with cap problems, the draft is their best bet. Brandon Washington (second round), Amini Silatolu (second or third), Brandon Brooks (third), Jeff Allen (fourth), Lucas Nix (fourth or fifth), Derek Dennis (sixth or seventh) and Joe Looney (seventh) would all be value picks if they were drafted in their projected round. Washington, Silatolu and Brooks might even be able to start right away depending on how they perform in training camp and preseason. Outside of that, guys like Chad Rinehart (Bills) and Geoff Schwartz (Panthers) offer some value in free agency, but both players are restricted free agents so who knows if they’ll even hit the open market.
CENTER: Nick Hardwick (Chargers)
Hardwick flirted with retirement following the season but he has since said the he will return for another year. He’s one of the better centers in the league when it comes to pass protection and he’s likely to be available if the Chargers want to get younger at the position. Hardwick would be a nice one or two-year signing for a pass-heavy team looking for a leader to fill the center position.
Green Bay Packers quarterback Matt Flynn takes a moment in between plays during the second half of their NFL football game against the Detroit Lions in Green Bay, Wisconsin January 1, 2012. REUTERS/Darren Hauck (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)
Free agency in the NFL begins on March 13 and leading up to that date I’ll go position by position while highlighting the best players, best bargains, as well as the riskiest investments. Let’s start with the quarterbacks.
Best in Class: Drew Brees, Saints
While his agent Tom Condon is “baffled” by how slowly long-term contract negations have been going with the Saints, Brees is highly unlikely to land outside of New Orleans this offseason. In addition to breaking Dan Marino’s single-season passing record with 5,476 yards, Brees also set league records for completions (468) and completion percentage (71.2 percent) in 2011. If he were to hit the free agent market, there would be a mad scramble of teams willing to break the bank for his services. But again, all indications are that he’ll wind up back in New Orleans, ready to terrorize NFL defenses again in 2012.
The Biggest Risk: Matt Flynn, Packers
Flynn completed 31 of his 41 pass attempts for 480 yards with six touchdowns in just one start last season versus the Lions, which understandably turned some heads. But was his performance a product of the offense that he was running or is Flynn a bona fide starter that deserves a chance to shine? Everyone looks good driving a Cadillac but 480 yards and six touchdowns is 480 yards and six touchdowns. Quarterbacks don’t put up those kinds of numbers by accident, I don’t care what defense they were playing against. The Dolphins seemingly make the most sense to sign Flynn because they hired former Green Bay offensive coordinator Joe Philbin as head coach. But with Mike Sherman now the OC in Miami, the Dolphins could lean towards prospect Ryan Tannehill instead. (Tannehill was Sherman’s quarterback at Texas A&M the past few years.) Either way, there are plenty of quarterback-starved teams that could be interested in Flynn’s skill set. Which team will take the risk is the question.
The Best Value: Jason Campbell, Raiders
Given the ransom that former head coach Hue Jackson parted with in order to acquire Carson Palmer from Cincinnati last year, it’s highly likely that Campbell will be searching for his third home in the last three years. But at 30 he still has plenty left in the tank. A broken collarbone limited him to just six games last season but he had resumed throwing again back in December and will be completely healthy by the time OTAs start. While he’s never been a quarterback that can win on his own, surround Campbell with enough talent and he’s more than capable of getting the job done. At 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds, he’s got great size and has always thrown a nice deep ball. He was also on his way to having one of his best seasons in the pros before he was injured last season. The biggest question is whether or not he can stay healthy moving forward because if he can, he’s proven that he can be productive in the right environment.
David Garrard would be worth a look as a backup and Kyle Orton fits the same mold as Campbell in that if a team surrounds him with enough talent, he can be productive. I wouldn’t touch Chad Henne with a 10-foot pole but he’s available, as is Detroit backup Shaun Hill, who like Henne does have starting experience. Vince Young is perhaps the biggest wildcard on the market but if no team wanted him as a starter last year, he’ll find it tough sledding again this offseason. While he’s likely to wind up back in San Francisco with a new deal, Alex Smith is a free agent as well.
Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert (11) throws a pass while playing against the New England Patriots in the first quarter of a preseason game at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts on August 11, 2011. UPI/Matthew Healey
Jack Del Rio has already seen enough of Luke McCown.
Following a nasty performance in New York over the weekend, Del Rio has decided to bench McCown and will start rookie signal caller Blaine Gabbert against the Panthers this Sunday. Gabbert, the 10th overall pick in April’s draft, will oppose fellow rookie quarterback Cam Newton, who has already thrown over 800 yards in his first two NFL games.
It was easy to see this move coming when the Jags dumped David Garrard shortly before the season. Del Rio and the front office had seemingly wanted to get rid of Garrard for years but they never had a suitable backup to make the move. When Gabbert was drafted back in April, he was viewed as a raw prospect but that was okay because he could learn behind Garrard for a year…or so everyone thought. But a year was apparently too much for Del Rio and Co., as Garrard was released rather abruptly on September 6.
McCown played fairly well in the team’s season opener against Tennessee, but understandably struggled miserably against Rex Ryan’s stout defense last week while throwing four nasty interceptions. Gabbert will face a Carolina defense that has struggled against the run in its first two games, so expect the Jaguars to largely keep the ball on the ground this Sunday and let the rookie be a “game manager” in his professional debut as a starter.