NFL Nation: The Big Question NFC 32310

The Big Question: Adams' days numbered?

March, 23, 2010
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.

[+] EnlargeAdams
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

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

[+] EnlargeScot McCloughan
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

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?

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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."