Monday, September 6, 2010
Cutdown day slashes Seattle
By John Clayton
The NFL's final cutdown to 53 players on Saturday was crazier than usual.
The Seahawks' cuts went a little bit deeper than expected when Alex Gibbs, one of the best offensive line coaches of his era, quit, creating more turmoil for a line that has seen plenty of it for years. The Seahawks also decided to pay wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh $7 million to go away, leaving one of the league's top slot receivers available for anyone to sign at a bargain-basement price.
It's hard to find winners on cutdown day, but it sure is easy to find losers. Here we go:
Former Cardinals quarterback Matt Leinart: Leinart believes he's a starter, but for the second time in his career, he lost a starting job that was set up for him to win. Because Ken Whisenhunt figured Leinart couldn't handle being a backup to Derek Anderson, the Cardinals released Leinart, and an even tougher reality hit him: His former USC compatriots couldn't get him work. Pete Carroll, his former coach, claimed Patriots seventh-round pick Zac Robinson instead of holding the third-string job for him in Seattle. Close friend Carson Palmer pushed the Bengals to sign Leinart, according to sources, but they claimed Bears cut Dan LeFevour instead.
Backup quarterbacks in general: This might be a great era for top quarterbacks, but it's horrible for backups. If you need further proof, 11 teams went with only two quarterbacks, and the Bengals cut J.T. O'Sullivan after they claimed LeFevour. There are more quarterbacks in backup roles without an NFL win than at any time I can remember in the past 30 years.
The 2010 class of unrestricted free agents will go down as perhaps the worst in history: With the uncapped year meaning free agency was only available for veterans after six years, just 51 unrestricted free agents signed with teams. Ten didn't make the final cut. The Broncos look bad signing defensive end Jarvis Green to a four-year, $13.2 million contract and cutting him before the opener. The Bengals are still reeling from the release of wide receiver Antonio Bryant after signing him to a four-year, $27 million deal. Their releases also impact next year's draft. The Bucs figured to get a third-round compensatory pick, and the Patriots were hoping for a fifth-rounder for Green. Not any more.
Pete Carroll and the Seahawks again: Seattle's coach must stop the bleeding on the offensive line. While it was a nice move to pick up Stacy Andrews from the Eagles for a seventh-round pick, the trade is going to lead to the departure of right tackle Sean Locklear, who, according to multiple sources, is being shopped in a trade and isn't expected to be around by opening day. Left tackle Russell Okung is out with an ankle injury and is questionable for the opener. The left guard job is open and now the right tackle job is in flux.
Inexperienced Patriots defense: With the release of linebacker Derrick Burgess and season-ending injuries to Ty Warren and Leigh Bodden, Patriots coach Bill Belichick must go younger on defense than expected. Before he traded for backup linebacker Tracy White, Belichick had only four defenders over 26.
From the inbox
Q: A great deal has been made of the cornerback situation in Baltimore. However, watching the preseason games it seems that during blitzes, tight ends and running backs are getting open on our linebackers in coverage. The Ravens traded with the Seahawks for a good cornerback. What can they do to improve coverage in the linebacking corps?
David in Baltimore
A: I'm not as worried about the linebacking corps. Ray Lewis has lost speed in coverage, but the outside guys have a enough speed, so the Ravens should be fine there. Don't forget that most defenses don't scheme in the preseason, which makes good defenses look exposed at times. I still worry about the secondary. I think the Josh Wilson acquisition should help, but the Ravens have Fabian Washington and Lardarius Webb coming off ACL injuries, and I don't know how effective they will be. The Domonique Foxworth injury is one of the most damaging of any of the preseason injuries because it came at the Ravens' most vulnerable position.
Q: As the season approaches, I've been seeing a lot of mixed assessments and expectations regarding the Atlanta Falcons. While I won't claim to be completely unbiased, I try to be objective, and I see a lot of promise in this team. Your thoughts?
Mike in Elmira Heights, N.Y.
A: You're probably talking to the wrong guy because I've already angered the people in New Orleans with my prediction that the Falcons will win the division. The schedule favors the Falcons, who have their tougher games at home. The Saints have their tougher games on the road. I think the Saints will make the playoffs and end up going to Atlanta and winning a playoff game.
Q: I have read a lot about Detroit RB Jahvid Best. The guy is lightning quick, with good hands. Of course, the downside is he is injury prone. If he stays healthy, do you think Detroit has good enough line and passing game for him to have a Pro Bowl year?
Chad in Humble, Texas
A: That won't happen. Best looks great, but do you see him getting more than 170 carries? Even at a 5-yard average, that's not going to get him anywhere close to Pro Bowl numbers, particularly in a conference that has Adrian Peterson, Steven Jackson and DeAngelo Williams. I also question the offensive line's ability to open holes. Best is a great small back who can help the offense. Like Reggie Bush, he can really speed up the effectiveness of any offense. But like Bush, I think it's hard for a back that small to have a 1,000-yard season.
Q: Why did the Seattle Seahawks trade Josh Wilson? He was great for them last year, and was only improving this year too. I don't like this trade. Can you explain it to me please?
Nick in Port Orchard, Wash.
A: As you know, Nick, this trade didn't go over well in Seattle. Wilson was clearly the team's second-best cornerback and he was also a good kick returner. Pete Carroll and the new administration viewed him as a good third corner in most schemes. He was also in the final year of his contract. Wilson and former first-rounder Kelly Jennings probably aren't starters on most teams, but Jennings is a thinner corner who probably doesn't garner the fifth-round trade value Wilson had. The Seahawks could get a fourth-round choice if Wilson starts most of his games in Baltimore. That will help Seattle with the rebuilding process. The other reason is Jennings is better at man coverage than Wilson, who plays more off coverage, something that doesn't work as well in Carroll's defense.
Q: I have a problem with what you consider an elite QB. Elite should mean the best of the best, five guys max. Guys like Tony Romo and Carson Palmer are very good QBs but not elite. Elite should mean something. You don't get into Canton by being very good. Only the best of the best get in.
Josh in California
A: You probably read my starting quarterbacks ranking piece. Here's my rationale: If this were an era of great running backs, and you have 14 running backs who could rush for 1,200 or more yards, they all would be considered elite. If you have 14 quarterbacks who have the potential to throw for close to 4,000 yards and complete more than 60 percent of their passes, they are considered elite. The number of top quarterbacks -- call them what you want -- has exceeded the number of top running backs. Back during the running days of the NFL in the 1970s and 1980s, there were seven or eight Hall of Fame quarterbacks and a lot of guys who were good. Elite doesn't mean Hall of Fame. It means they fit a certain profile that helps determine how difficult it is for the teams without those quarterbacks to be able to function. The term elite gets me in trouble a lot, but remember, there are more top quarterbacks now than ever before. There is also a big gap after that top group.
Q: As a Steeler fan, I want to know why you think a lot of analysts think the Steelers are going to be third in the AFC North when their Super Bowl XLIII defense is almost all back and their offense has adjusted to last year's problems.
Michael in Lawrence, Kan.
A: The problem is the Ben Roethlisberger suspension. Everyone thought before the Byron Leftwich knee injury the Steelers would struggle to get out of the first four games with a 2-2 record. Now, it will be even tougher. I think they will go with Charlie Batch over Dennis Dixon because Dixon, a younger quarterback, will make more mental mistakes than Batch. Batch can manage the game, but he doesn't have the arm strength of Leftwich. Sure, reassembling the Super Bowl XLIII defense is nice, but that defense is also a year older. A 1-3 start in a good division will be tough for the Steelers to overcome.
Q: Alex Smith might be going into his sixth season, but he's only had two seasons of more than 200 attempts. He put up 18 TDs, 2,350 yards and a 60.5 completion percentage in his 10½ games last year behind one of the worst O-lines in football, and had a higher QB rating than a quarterback you listed as elite, Matt Ryan. But you give him a no chance of becoming an elite QB. Why?
Anthony in Bay Area, Calif.
A: Accuracy. I know he has his completion percentage up to 60.5, but he doesn't place the ball as accurately as the quarterbacks I rated above him. Smith tends to throw passes that are a little behind or a little ahead of a receiver. Remember, the receiving corps around him is very good and they catch more bad balls than most other teams. I think Smith is as good as he's going to get.
Q: After a great breakout rookie campaign, the Bears' Matt Forte looked destined for NFL workhorse success. After last year's disaster of a season, a lot of people have been kind of down on him. What kind of year do you see him having under Mike Martz?
Mycah in Los Angeles
A: He'll be better this season, but I doubt he will repeat the 1,238 yards he had in 2008. As great as that season was for him, he still needed 316 carries, a pedestrian 3.9-yard-per-carry average. Only six backs got more than 300 carries last season. In Martz's offense, Forte won't come close to 300 carries this season. He had 258 carries last year, putting him in the workhorse category in this new age of the shared backfield. I do think his average per carry has a chance to improve with Martz spreading the football in passing sets. If things work right, he should get more than 1,000 yards, perhaps even 1,100.
John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.