NFL Nation: The Big Question NFC 30910

NFC Big Question: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

A new Tuesday feature on the ESPN.com NFL blog network.

Is LaDainian Tomlinson the right fit to back up Adrian Peterson in Minnesota?

[+] EnlargeLaDainian Tomlinson
Christopher Hanewinckel/US PresswireWould future Hall of Famer LaDainian Tomlinson accept a supporting role in Minnesota?
There has been a natural connecting of the dots between Minnesota coach Brad Childress and free agent Brian Westbrook, his former player in Philadelphia. But initial reports suggest the Vikings are focusing at least their initial investigation on Tomlinson to replace departed backup tailback Chester Taylor.

Although Tomlinson has had some nagging injuries in recent years, he has missed only three games in his career and in general has been more durable than Westbrook.

You wouldn't want Tomlinson as your feature back for an extended period, an issue the Vikings wouldn't have to deal with if Peterson makes it through the season healthy. If he's willing, Tomlinson would be a natural to fill the third-down role Taylor excelled in. Here's a portion of Scouts Inc.'s evaluation of Tomlinson prior to free agency:
Tomlinson is a nine-year veteran who has been playing with diminishing skills over the past few seasons. He still has enough physical tools to contribute in the league but not an impact ball carrier as he was early in his career. ... As a receiver, Tomlinson has always had good hands and is one of the more natural receiving backs in the league. Health and durability are concerns at this point because he has a lot of mileage on him.
NFC Big Question: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

A new Tuesday feature on the ESPN.com NFL blog network.

Can the Falcons play some real defense?

In Mike Smith’s two years as coach, the Falcons have put together back-to-back winning seasons for the first time in franchise history. But the amazing thing is that Smith, a coach with a defensive background, has done it without a very good defense, which is something any team needs to compete with New Orleans in the NFC South.

[+] EnlargeBrian Williams
Dale Zanine/US PresswireRe-signing cornerback Brian Williams was an important move for the Falcons.
The Falcons are well aware of this and they’re doing something about it. They went out and made their big splash in free agency by signing cornerback Dunta Robinson and re-signing cornerback Brian Williams. They also dumped Chris Houston, whom they never felt was very aggressive, in a trade with Detroit.

On paper, Robinson and Williams should be the starters. But the Falcons are also high on young corners Chris Owens, Brent Grimes and Chevis Jackson, and they’ll all be in the mix. Pretty amazing how proactive the Falcons have been at cornerback, especially when you consider Atlanta officials got a little sensitive when media members criticized the team's cornerback play last season.

Those officials repeatedly said the main reason the cornerbacks were struggling was because the pass rush wasn’t producing like they had hoped. Take that as a very strong sign the Falcons aren’t done touching up their defense.

They’ll tell you that defensive tackle Peria Jerry, who is coming back from an injury that kept him out most of his rookie season, will be back. Jerry can create a push in the middle and that’s going to help John Abraham and Kroy Biermann be more productive on the outside. But, if the Falcons were this aggressive at addressing cornerback, you have to think they’re not done at defensive end.

They’ve got the draft and what’s left of free agency, and their focus is going to be on building up the pass rush. It’s all they’re really lacking right now. They’re solid at cornerback, linebacker and in the middle of the defensive line.

Give them a pass-rusher and Smith might finally be able to really play the kind of defense he wants; the kind of defense that could make the Falcons a legitimate challenger to the Saints.

The Big Question: Safety for the Cowboys?

March, 9, 2010
3/09/10
4:00
PM ET
NFC Big Question: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

A new Tuesday feature on the ESPN.com NFL blog network.

Should the Cowboys replace Ken Hamlin at safety?

[+] EnlargeKen Hamlin
Scott Boehm/Getty ImagesKen Hamlin has recorded just one interception in the past two seasons.
It's hard to believe it has already come to this point with Hamlin, but it has. He played himself into a lucrative contract extension with a Pro Bowl season in '07. Now, he appears to be the only weak link on the Cowboys' defense. Quite simply, he doesn't make enough plays to warrant the money (six years, $38 million). And the Cowboys also have to make up their minds about Gerald Sensabaugh, a restricted free agent with a second-round tender. There are a lot of teams needing a safety (see the Eagles), but I think Jerry Jones will likely match an offer unless it's for ridiculous money. He's not going to let Sensabaugh join an NFC East rival.

I'm hearing that the Cowboys believe that safeties Nate Allen (South Florida) and Taylor Mays (USC) aren't that far apart in terms of talent. It seems like Allen has a lot more range from what I've seen, but starting a rookie at safety is a risky proposition. I think a better option might be Oshiomogho Atogwe of the St. Louis Rams. He's a restricted free agent who received the lowest-possible tender. The 29-year-old Atogwe is coming off a right shoulder injury, but he's been much more productive than Hamlin since '06 with 18 interceptions and 14 forced fumbles. Over that same period of time, Hamlin has nine interceptions and two forced fumbles.

When I talk to secondary coaches, they tell me that safety is the toughest position for a rookie to learn in the NFL. The Cowboys know what it's like to play without a reliable starting safety and it's not something they want to revisit. If you can't get a significant upgrade over Hamlin, you might be better off giving him one more season.
NFC Big Question: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

A new Tuesday feature on the ESPN.com NFL blog network.

Should the Seahawks push hard to land Broncos receiver Brandon Marshall?

Yes. Price is the key because it determines risk, but more on that in a bit.

Brandon Marshall
Geoff Burke/US PresswireBrandon Marshall would be the most dangerous receiver Seattle has had since Joey Galloway.
Football-wise, the Seahawks' offense would change dramatically overnight with such a dominant physical presence at receiver. Marshall's presence on the outside would allow T.J. Houshmandzadeh to play more from the slot, lowering the cost for the offense if John Carlson or any other tight end spent time helping in pass protection.

The Seahawks haven't had a truly dynamic receiving threat on the outside since parting with Joey Galloway (Koren Robinson had the potential, but never developed). Marshall offers much more than Galloway ever did.

Back to the risk part.

I'm somewhat sympathetic to the thinking that Marshall's off-field incidents -- including charges relating to domestic violence -- should disqualify him from consideration by any self-respecting franchise. But it's also important to differentiate football character from personal character. The Seahawks arguably haven't done that well enough in recent years. They've gotten a little soft and lost their edge.

Landing Marshall for a price low enough to justify the risk wouldn't automatically turn the Seahawks into a rogue organization. The team could always discipline Marshall or even release him if his antics became too much of a problem.

An organization with strong, unified leadership should be able to handle a mercurial personality or two -- particularly when there's so much to be gained on the field.

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