NFL Nation: The Big Question 32310

The Big Question: Adams' days numbered?

March, 23, 2010
3/23/10
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NFC Big Question: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Is it time for the Cowboys to replace Flozell Adams at left tackle?

ORLANDO, Fla. -- On some afternoons, Cowboys left tackle Flozell Adams is still among the best in the league. But those afternoons aren't as frequent as they used to be. Adams, 34, is certainly a declining player at this point in his career, and he attempts to make up for it by tripping players and jumping out of his stance early. I think the Cowboys can get one more season out of Adams, but it's time to start thinking about his long-term replacement.

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Jeff Hanisch/US PresswireVeteran tackle Flozell Adams' play has declined in recent seasons.
High-ranking members of the organization have indicated to me recently that re-stocking the offensive line is the highest priority in next month's draft. But there are some within the organization who believe that Doug Free is capable of taking over for Adams soon. If Adams struggles early in the 2010 season, don't be surprised if Free becomes his permanent replacement. The Cowboys loved how Free played at right tackle when Marc Colombo was injured for half of the '09 season. They know that Free lacks Adams' brute strength, but he's already a better foot athlete, which means he operates well in space.

I think quarterback Tony Romo gained a lot of trust in Free last season, which is an important step in the process. The Cowboys are also excited to find out whether former third-round draft pick Robert Brewster can bounce back from a torn pectoral muscle. Coach Wade Phillips told me Monday that Brewster is one of the players from the '09 draft who everyone's curious about. He's being projected as a right tackle, so the Cowboys potentially have replacements at left and right tackle in the fold. But that won't keep them from trying to upgrade. It wouldn't surprise me if the Cowboys stay at No. 27 and take the best offensive tackle or guard available.

And if Adams falters this season, Free will be ready to go. This transition could take place a lot sooner than most folks think.
NFC Big Question: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Does the loss of offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan mean the Texans' offense will struggle through an adjustment period?

[+] EnlargeRick Dennison
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PresswireRick Dennison takes over the Texans' offense from Kyle Shanahan, who joined his father's staff in Washington.
Shanahan went to Washington to join his dad’s new staff with the Redskins. The Texans’ offensive system isn’t going to change a lot as Rick Dennison takes over the post. Like Kubiak and Kyle Shanahan, Dennison comes from Denver roots with Mike Shanahan.

The Texans will do everything possible to make for a smooth transition. Still, even with a top-flight quarterback (Matt Schaub) and one of the game’s best receivers (Andre Johnson), Dennison is a different guy and his own man and there is likely to be an adjustment period.

Change at coordinator can often be underrated with regard to that settling-in time. Look no further than Houston’s change -- by choice, not necessity -- last season when Frank Bush was elevated to defensive coordinator. The defense was shaky early and it dented their season. The Texans recovered and played much better later, but their 9-7 record left them just short of the playoffs. (Yes, Bush took over a unit that needed big changes, and Dennison has a group that has proved productive.)

Houston is looking to revamp its interior offensive line and will add a running back it hopes can work in tandem with Steve Slaton. Dennison will be charged with helping weave a more effective running game into an already-explosive passing offense.

There is a lot of reason for optimism there. But how the change affects relationships, tempo, play-calling and more is something we must monitor early on in Dennison’s term.
NFC Big Question: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Will the Cleveland Browns find a long-term solution at quarterback?

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Rick Scuteri/US PresswireThe Browns signed Jake Delhomme to be their short-term starter.
Jake Delhomme is expected to be the Browns' starting quarterback in 2010.

But after that, it's anyone's guess.

Therefore, Cleveland is feverishly searching for its quarterback of the future this offseason. It's not known how much the 35-year-old Delhomme has left in the tank. So he is merely a stopgap solution for this upcoming season -- albeit a very expensive one at $7 million.

Browns president Mike Holmgren has always had stability at the quarterback position, and it's making him antsy not to have that same luxury in Cleveland. With the San Francisco 49ers, he was Joe Montana's position coach. As head coach of the Green Bay Packers, Holmgren won a Super Bowl with Brett Favre. Holmgren also helped lead the Seattle Seahawks to the Super Bowl with veteran quarterback Matt Hasselbeck.

The Browns burned up the phone lines in free agency trying to find the best deal possible. Some rumored names included quarterbacks Kevin Kolb and Donovan McNabb of the Philadelphia Eagles, although nothing came to fruition.

But in a pair of anticlimactic moves, Cleveland ended up with Delhomme and career backup Seneca Wallace as its two quarterbacks. The team also traded Brady Quinn to the Denver Broncos and released former Pro Bowler Derek Anderson.

Now the Browns' primary goal in next month's NFL draft is to find a rookie quarterback to groom. But don't expect it to happen with the No. 7 overall pick, according to Holmgren.

The AFC North blog reported Monday that Cleveland is showing interest in University of Texas quarterback Colt McCoy, who is a projected second-round pick. The Browns will host McCoy for two days on April 12-13. He has an accurate arm that could fit in Cleveland's West Coast-based system.

Other possible targets include Dan LeFevour, Tony Pike, Jevan Snead and maybe even Tim Tebow, as Cleveland tries to solidify its future at the league's most important position.
NFC Big Question: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

How much will Scot McCloughan's departure as general manager affect the 49ers during the draft?

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Kyle Terada/US PresswireScot McCloughan is out as the Niners' general manager in a "mutual parting."
The 49ers were less shocked by this development than those of us outside the organization. That's my feel for the situation after reading between the lines. I wouldn't expect a significant philosophical shift with player personnel director Trent Baalke taking over as the primary decision maker during the draft.

Team president Jed York was adamant about not getting into specific reasons for McCloughan's untimely demise. But there's no indication the 49ers made this move after a single incident. All signs point to "personal matters" with implications that probably built up over time.

"We've been prepared for this," York said Monday.

For how long?

"I couldn't give you a specific, but we've been prepared," York said. "I wanted to make sure that Trent was as up to speed as possible. He's taken on more responsibility in the past, and again, I'm confident that he can lead us through this draft and move us forward."

That last sentence was telling because it suggested Baalke had covered for McCloughan for stretches in the past. Their philosophies should be similar -- McCloughan hired Baalke, after all -- and the 49ers have learned the importance of continuity after shuttling through offensive coordinators, mostly against their will.

Significant changes could be coming after the draft. In the meantime, though, the team can be expected to stay the course.

Earlier: Baalke's draft history.
NFC Big Question: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Can JaMarcus Russell make enough strides in the offseason to compete for Oakland’s starting quarterback job in training camp?

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Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesJaMarcus Russell will have to prove he can take the reigns in Oakland.
Russell has so much work to do that he will need the entire offseason to fix issues and come into training camp, which could be his last in Oakland, ready to be a starting quarterback.

Russell began his reclamation project in January when he went to Arizona to work with a trainer. Russell’s main goals were to shed weight and work on his fundamentals. He showed up last week during the second day of Oakland’s offseason workout program and reportedly weighed in at 271 pounds.

His listed weight at the start of 2009 was 261 pounds, but we don't know how much he weighed at the end of the season. He did seem to put on weight after he lost his starting job in November, so it's good news for Russell that he weighs 271 pounds now.

Russell’s issues run deeper than his weight. Even if Russell were to show up at 235 pounds, he still must address his fundamentals. He has terrible footwork. He has an atrocious completion percentage -- 48.8 percent in 2009. He stares down his intended receiver. He can’t read defenses. He has a poor work ethic and is not a leader.

Those are major problems, folks. He has to address each shortcoming before camp and I don't think he has enough time. The fact that he is actually trying is commendable, but this is the former No. 1 overall pick. There are no excuses. He already should be much further along than he is.

I don’t think Russell will be ready by training camp and I see him losing the starting job to Bruce Gradkowski -- who ignited the Oakland offense when he took over last fall.

The Big Question: New OT?

March, 23, 2010
3/23/10
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NFC Big Question: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Should the NFL change its overtime format?

ORLANDO, Fla. -- One of the biggest topics of discussion here at the NFL owners meetings is whether to tweak overtime rules.

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Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesUnder the proposed overtime rules changes, this Adam Vinatieri field goal would not have immediately ended the game.
The competition committee has recommended the league adopt a system for the playoffs allowing the team that loses the coin flip a possession if the team that wins the coin toss kicks a field goal on the opening drive.

Sudden death would occur only if a touchdown is scored.

There has been spirited debate about whether it will pass.

Traditionalists such as Miami Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano and New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan prefer the current system. First team to score wins, no matter what. They view the proposal as too radical.

Buffalo Bills general manager Buddy Nix and New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick prefer change.

"I think probably it's a good idea," Nix said. "Fans want it and what it does is if you're a team that gets beat without ever touching the ball by a field goal, obviously, you feel that you've been cheated if you don't get a shot at it.

"I probably shouldn't say this -- I usually do anyway -- but I think any time you take a kick out of it, a field goal out of the equation, then it helps. And it will limit some because a guy on fourth-and-1 from the 15, he might go for the first down to try to get the game over with, which I think is a good thing."

My take is that the proposal would be an effective and fair way to determine a winner, but it should be instituted for regular-season games too. If the NFL deems the current system inadequate for money games, then how can it justify maintaining the overtime system for a crucial game in Week 16 or 17 with a playoff berth on the line?
NFC Big Question: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

With Julius Peppers gone from the Carolina Panthers, there’s room at the top of the NFC South. Who’s the best athlete in the division?

It’s Reggie Bush.

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AP Photo/Jeffrey M. BoanSaints running back Reggie Bush is a threat to score every time he touches the ball.
We’re not talking best player. That would be Drew Brees, and there are other guys out there who are better players than Bush or Peppers. We’re talking pure athleticism -- speed, agility, etc.

Say what you want about Bush being a bust or nothing but a role player. He’s easily the best pure athlete in the division now that the freakish Peppers is gone. That statement’s not based on production, but if you want to see the importance of pure athleticism, go back to the Saints’ playoff victory against Arizona.

That’s the game where Bush was a huge factor as a runner, receiver and return man. He wasn’t the best player on the field, but he was the best athlete. When you throw a bunch of good athletes on the field, sometimes the very best is going to rise up, and that’s what Bush did in that game.

He’ll do that from time to time and that’s his upside. He’ll have moments when being the best athlete on the field will temporarily make him the best player on the field. That’s what he does.

He’s not the only player in the NFC South to get by on pure athleticism. I’ll give you one guy from each of the other three teams who does the same kind of thing. Again, they’re not the best players, but they’re the best pure athletes.

Atlanta cornerback Brent Grimes. If he were 6-foot-1, Grimes might be the best cornerback in the league. But he’s 5-8 or 5-9 and he makes up for it with tremendous athleticism. Grimes can out-jump anybody on the Falcons and can run just as well.

Carolina linebacker Thomas Davis. It took Davis a couple of years to really get the mental part of the game, but he got by on athleticism before that. Now that he’s got the two aspects going for him, Davis has a chance to be a truly special player. He might even help make up for the loss of Peppers.

Tampa Bay cornerback Aqib Talib. He’s a bit like Davis in his early years. Talib is getting by purely on his athleticism so far, but that’s half the battle at cornerback. If he can grasp the mental part of the game, he can become a truly elite player.
NFC Big Question: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

NFC North teams finished 2009 in this order: Minnesota, Green Bay, Chicago and Detroit. Has anything happened this offseason to suggest a different preseason ranking for 2010?

[+] EnlargeBrett Favre
AP Photo/Paul SancyaNext year's final standings may look a lot like 2009 if Favre returns to Minnesota.
ORLANDO, Fla. -- The Bears and Lions have made significant financial commitments to improve their personnel. The Packers have worked hard to keep intact the team that won seven of its final eight regular-season games last season. The Vikings, meanwhile, have lost tailback Chester Taylor and might not have two defensive starters -- middle linebacker E.J. Henderson and cornerback Cedric Griffin -- when the season opens because of lingering injuries.

Most important for this discussion, Vikings quarterback Brett Favre hasn't announced whether he will play another season. The odds remains heavily in favor of that eventuality, but an unexpected retirement would considerably weaken the Vikings and probably make the Packers the preseason division favorites.

On the other hand, if Favre returns, it's probably fair to use last year's finish as our first preseason projection for 2010. Not enough has happened to make a preseason projection that suggests a new balance of power. Packers general manager Ted Thompson noted at the owners meetings this week that "we don't keep score in the offseason," while coach Mike McCarthy said everyone has started over with a clean slate.

"The only thing you really carry over from the year prior is experience, whether positive or negative," he said. "But to sit there and say you're going to be a good team today because of what you look like on paper, that's a huge mistake that we don't want to fall into. I do think our depth has increased, and with another draft class, we'll have an opportunity to have competition throughout our whole football team. And that's what you want."

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