Possibly the closest Super Bowl matchup in history also poses the question: how much does it mean when certain aspects of an NFL team improve dramatically in the second half of the season?
27 May 2005
By Al Bogdan
Also check out the pre-draft edition of Four Downs: NFC East.
How many Marcuses does it take to revamp a defense? Dallas answered "two," by drafting defensive end/linebacker DeMarcus Ware out of Troy State and defensive end Marcus Spears from LSU. With Dallas finally confirming that they will be moving to the 3-4 this year, Ware should see plenty of time at outside linebacker. At 300+ pounds, Spears' job will be to absorb opposing linemen to give Ware a clear path to the opposing quarterback. Second-round pick LB Kevin Burnett is currently on the sidelines with an injury to his right hip, but should be ready for training camp.
Fourth-round pick Marion Barber III is expected to back up Julius Jones at running back and possibly see some time as a return man on special teams. Barber's father, Marion Jr., played seven years in the NFL with the Jets as a backup running back. If Marion III can manage to gain 318 yards on the ground for his career, he'll move ahead of his father into second place all-time in rushing yards by running backs named "Barber."
Fourth-round pick DE Chris Canty could prove to be a huge steal, assuming of course that he ever finds his way onto the field. Canty's athleticism and football skills have never been questioned, but he's been banged up more times than Angelina Jolie. Canty broke both his right leg and left arm in 2002 and missed most of last season after injuring his knee against Syracuse. In January, Canty was hit in the face with a beer bottle and suffered a detached retina. Canty recently had a second procedure to repair the detached retina, but is expected to be ready for the regular season opener, assuming he doesn't blindly walk into a wall covered in sharp metal spikes before then.
The Cowboys signed two notable veteran free agents after the draft, picking up the recently cut cornerback Aaron Glenn from Houston and running back Anthony Thomas from Chicago. Glenn will add some much needed depth to what was an awful Dallas defensive secondary in 2004. Thomas could be used primarily as a short yardage back, spelling Julius Jones around the goal line.
On the undrafted free agent front, the player who Bill Parcells has talked up the most so far this pre-season is former San Jose State running back, and Texas native, Tyson Thompson. Thompson could be in the mix as a return man if he can make the team as the number four running back.
New York did probably as well as anyone could have expected them to do with only four draft picks, the first coming at #43. Corner Corey Webster might have been an early first-round pick had he left school after his junior season, but injuries during his senior year caused him to drop into the second round. If Webster is healthy, he'll be starting for the Giants by midseason. Former Notre Dame defensive end Justin Tuck was another player whose stock dropped because of injury concerns, but the Giants filled a real need with this third-round pick. Michael Strahan is coming off a torn pectoral muscle and isn't getting any younger. Tuck should start the season backing up both Strahan and Osi Umenyiora, but could push his way past Umenyiora on the depth chart before long. The Giants ended their draft by selecting Florida State defensive end Eric Moore in the sixth round. Moore scored a 7 on his pre-draft Wonderlic exam. According to Charlie Wonderlic himself, "a score of 10 is literacy."
The Giants' biggest acquisition in the draft may have come in the fourth round, when they picked Northern Illinois running back Brandon Jacobs. The Giants were one of the worst teams in the league at running the ball in short-yardage situations, coming in 30th in Power Success (Percentage of runs on third or fourth down, two yards or less to go, that achieved a first down or touchdown. Also includes runs on first-and-goal or second-and-goal from the two-yard line or closer). Listed at 6' 4", and a modest 256 pounds, Jacobs will be given every opportunity to succeed as Tiki Barber's stunt double. If Jacobs is at all successful, he'll quickly become one of the most popular players in New York sports. I see many a local television commercial in this young man's future.
The Giants either signed or invited to minicamp nearly 30 undrafted rookie free agents. Some of the more notable names on the list are Southern CB Ahmad Treaudo, who had nine interceptions last season in Division 1-AA, and guard Alex Bell, who if he makes the team will raise the number of former Hobart grads in the NFL to one.
Jim Miller was expected to serve as Eli Manning's backup, but suffered a hip injury and was subsequently released by the Giants. Left with only a former reality television star as Manning's backup, the Giants signed the husband of a former reality television star, Tim Hasselbeck, to compete for a backup role. New York also signed former Kentucky QB Jared Lorenzen, who was briefly with the Giants last pre-season before leaving football altogether to deal with some "family issues." The nearly 300-pound Lorenzen is a long-shot to make the team, but should create some interesting pre-season mismatches if both him and Jacobs ever share a backfield together.
The biggest draft day story in Philadelphia was that they didn't trade for Travis Henry. Nearly every "expert" in the country talked up a Henry to Philadelphia trade at some point leading up to the draft, but the much discussed deal to bring in the Buffalo backup as a potential replacement for the disgruntled Brian Westbrook never materialized. Instead, the Eagles grabbed running back Ryan Moats from Louisiana Tech to play behind Westbrook this season and potentially move into the starting lineup next year if the team and Westbrook are unable to come to a long-term agreement.
Philadelphia spent most of their early draft picks on grabbing insurance policies for their unhappy players under contract. Defensive tackle Mike Patterson was considered a bit of a reach at the end of the first round, but Philadelphia needed someone at the position if the unhappy, franchise-tagged Corey Simon decides to sit out some or all of training camp. A few picks later, the Eagles grabbed Terrell Owens insurance in Georgia wide receiver Reggie Brown.
The Eagles had another eight draft picks and used them to add depth across the board. Safety Sean Considine, selected out of Iowa in the fourth round, is guaranteed to at the very least see plenty of time on special teams after he blocked five kicks in his collegiate career. Philadelphia used their other fourth-round pick on tackle Todd Herremans from Saginaw Valley State, who was looked at in many circles as one of the biggest sleeper prospects in the draft.
Philadelphia has signed twelve undrafted free agents to contracts, nearly half of whom are wide receivers. Grant Adams from Boston College, Jared Jones from Syracuse, Jason Peebler from Massachusetts, Chauncey Stovall from Florida State and Isaac West from Furman are all unlikely to make it out of training camp with the Eagles. However, this is Philadelphia. After cutting FredEx, and with Terrell Owens threatening to sit out the year, these players may be only a Todd Pinkston leg cramp and Greg Lewis injury from starting in the Georgia Dome on September 12.
The Redskins were faced with a tough job this off-season. With over $16 million in dead money on the cap, Washington couldn't make much noise in free agency. What little cap room they had was needed to re-sign their own players like Chris Samuels and Santana Moss to contract extensions. Washington would need to look to the draft to address their biggest weaknesses from 2004.
No weakness was more pronounced for the 2004 Redskins than at starting quarterback. Only Chicago, Miami, Arizona, and Atlanta had worse passing offenses than Washington did with Mark Brunell and Patrick Ramsey behind center. Without a drastic improvement at the quarterback position, the Redskins would have no chance to compete for a playoff spot in the wide-open NFC. Quarterback was therefore an obvious position for Washington to target in the first round.
But with over $5 million in cap space already committed to the quarterback position in 2005, Washington had to be smart about where they drafted their new QB. With only the number nine pick in the first round, the Redskins risked having both of the consensus top two quarterbacks taken before them. Without a second-round pick, Washington would be forced to either risk that the player they really wanted would drop to them in the third round, or reach for that player with the ninth pick and pay more than they really could afford to in order to fill out the position.
Shrewdly, Washington packaged a third round pick this year and two future draft picks to grab the 25th pick in this year's draft from the Denver Broncos. With that pick, the Redskins knew that they would have a great chance at grabbing Auburn quarterback Jason Campbell, the player they really wanted all along. After leading Auburn to an undefeated season in his senior year, Campbell displayed the kind of winning attitude that Washington was severely lacking at the most important position on the football field. Plus, as a later first round selection, Campbell would demand a much more modest signing bonus than he would have if Washington selected him with the ninth overall pick. This gave Washington a little more flexibility with their rookie pool salary cap to address some other areas where they could stand to improve. With Campbell likely to take over from Ramsey and Brunell early on in the season, Washington is poised to make a big run in the NFC this fall.
How was that? Are you convinced? Yeah, me neither. As hard as I might try to create a decent argument, I still have no idea what the hell Washington was doing by trading three draft picks so they could add yet another quarterback to their roster. And it's not like they're grabbing Peyton Manning here, either. A year ago, you'd be hard pressed to find people who thought Campbell would be drafted at all, let alone in the first round. But thanks to great years from his two running backs and his defense, Campbell was put in a great position to succeed in 2004 and didn't waste the opportunity.
This team has holes all over their lineup because of player departures (linebacker, cornerback, wide receiver), injuries (linebacker, offensive line), and potential holdouts (any player with "College: Miami (Fla.)" on their player page). Yet, Washington decides to trade away three picks, including their first-rounder next year, to add someone to the one position where they arguably had the most depth. Washington's draft day war room better be in an undisclosed bunker somewhere next season, because I wouldn't want to be in a crowd of 10,000 Redskin fans when Denver selects Matt Leinart with the number one pick of the 2006 draft.
Washington is reportedly negotiating with recently cut former Chicago Bear defensive back R.W. McQuarters. Only Washington would try to spend their remaining 68 cents of cap space on a cornerback, where they already have Shaun Springs, Walt Harris, and first round pick Carlos Rogers. The Redskins brought in a number of undrafted rookie free agents, including Princeton linebacker Zak Keasey. Somewhat coincidentally, Keasey played on the same Princeton team as Redskin assistant head coach/defense Gregg Williams' son.
What would an NFC East edition of Four Downs be without a mention of future Toronto Argonaut star wide receiver Freddie Mitchell. The People's Champ was finally let go by Philadelphia after the draft. So, what is the FredEx update doing in the Washington section? Well, the Redskins are one of a few teams that have been rumored to have interest in signing the outspoken former first round pick. Just what Washington needs.
Next Week: AFC South by Ned Macey.
8 comments, Last at 29 Jun 2005, 6:40pm by vincent