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?
28 Jun 2005
by Russell Levine
Also check out the previous edition of Four Downs: NFC South.
Lord knows we here at Football Outsiders have been less than effusive in our praise for Michael Vick, especially the 2004 passing edition. As the author of the Falcons chapter in Pro Football Prospectus 2005, I'm hoping I won't have to go into hiding, Salman Rushdie-style, if the Vick-backers issue a fatwa calling for my head.
No matter how real the shortcomings in Vick's passing game -- and they are very real -- even I know that he's not the entire problem. He is hamstrung by a receiving corps that plays a #2 (Peerless Price) at #1 receiver, and has a bunch of #3 and #4 guys masquerading as #2 receivers. It seems now that even the Falcons recognize that the only thing #1 receiver-like about Price is his contract. To that end, rumors circulated this summer that Price was in imminent danger of being released, especially after the Falcons spent a first-round pick on a receiver for the second straight season (Roddy White in 2005, Michael Jenkins in 2004).
Those rumors turned out to be unfounded, but Price is not out of the woods yet. If Jenkins and White show in training camp that they are ready to play, Price could still end up on the scrap heap.
Given the typical output of rookie receivers, I wouldn't call out White's name anytime soon in your roto draft. Jenkins, who hardly played on offense as a rookie, is no safe bet either. It looks like 2005 will be another big year for TE Alge Crumpler as Vick's top target.
If I am in hiding this fall, I may have some company in the makers of the Blitz: The League video game from Midway. After being denied a license to use NFL players and trademarks when the league signed an exclusive game license with EA, Midway decided to pack their game with cartoonish violence and an Atlanta team quarterbacked by a guy named Mexico. We all know how powerful Paul Tagliabue and his league are in the sports/entertainment industry. See you in the bunker, fellas.
Fans who bemoan the loss of the player-for-player trade in a modern sports world divided between the economic haves and have-nots, take note. Since Four Downs last visited the NFC South, the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos have pulled off a trade that may be unique in NFL annals. When was the last time two teams swapped punters as the primary figures in a trade?
Todd Sauerbrun and his
steroid robot-powered leg was sent packing to the thin air of Denver, where he should be booming 50-yarders with lunch-hour hangtimes in the thin air. In return, the Panthers received Jason Baker, who will compete with Tom Rouen for the punting job. Sending either one of those guys out to kick at sea level is a significant downgrade from Sauerbrun. Carolina may enjoy not having a trash-talking, overweight, steroid and DUI-accused punter on the roster, but the team probably won't like the on-field results.
In other Carolina news, linebacker Dan Morgan is angling for a hefty new contract and the negotiations could be tricky. Morgan is entering the final year of his deal. When healthy, he's been one of the best linebackers in the NFL (check the Super Bowl XXXVIII film if you don't believe me). The problem is that he's rarely been healthy, and the team may expect a discount for that reason, while Morgan may insist on superstar money.
One player the Panthers did lock up is safety Mike Minter, a key man as the lone veteran presence in the secondary last year. Minter was signed to a four-year extension.
With Mark Fields's unfortunate relapse of Hodgkin's disease, rookie first-round pick Thomas Davis could see some action at one of the linebacker spots in nickel situations. Davis is expected to play primarily as a safety on early downs, and shift to linebacker in passing sets.
Raise your hand if you recognize the movie reference. To indicate that the Saints "stole" Az Hakim seems apt after the free-agent receiver all but signed with the Chiefs -- even practicing with the team -- before bolting for New Orleans and signing a deal with the Saints.
Hakim may not have been worth the money the Lions gave him, but he can still be an effective slot receiver, which will allow Donte' Stallworth to play outside. No matter where Stallworth has palyed in recent seasons, he's been a Joe Theismann "girl with the curls," teasing the Saints and their fans with his ability while ultimately disappointing them when his contributions add up to not much. Does that remind you of another Saint? Those in the DVOA know are aware that Deuce McAllister is not the marquee back that he -- and the Saints -- feel he is. He puts up big numbers, but they don't do much to help the team win. A roster full of these guys is why the Saints are headed for another 7-9, 8-8, 9-7 year, maybe with a late-season surge to save the coaching staff's jobs thrown in.
McAllister is nonetheless looking for a long-term contract extension, as are Fakhir Brown and Mike McKenzie. McAllister's bargaining position has likely been weakened by the fact that Seattle and Indianapolis failed to give long-term deals to Shaun Alexander and Edgerrin James, respectively. Not only that, but neither player was traded to a team that would pay. So both will be free agents next offseason, as will McAllister if he doesn't sign an extension this summer.
Not only do Saints fans have to pay to watch this frustrating bunch, but the city does as well. (Soapbox alert!) Thanks to a deal drawn up the last time the team threatened to bolt town, the city is looking to borrow roughly $9 million to make a guaranteed payment to the team. Last year, the city had to raid $7 million out of an economic development fund to satisfy its obligation to the team, money that has not been replaced. I'm all for honoring contracts, and I'm certainly in favor of NFL football. But for a city like New Orleans, which is not exactly in terrific economic shape, to make such promises to the multi-millionaire owner of an NFL team is ridiculous. Governor Mike Foster signed a 10-year deal with the Saints in 2001 that included $186 million in payments to the team. Worse yet, the payments don't guarantee that the Saints will stick around the next time they have the opportunity to escape their lease. The NFL is angling to fill the Los Angeles market, and the Saints have long been viewed as a prime candidate.
Ed. note: Recently reading Michael MacCambridge's America's Game I learned something interesting about the Saints. The NFL put a team in New Orleans as a quid pro quo deal with House Majority Leader Hale Boggs (D-LA) to push through legal permission for the AFL-NFL merger in 1967. So the entire history of the team is tied up in political maneuvering. (By the way, you'll recognize a familiar name in the footnotes for chapter 25 of MacCambridge's book.)
June 1 came and went, and the cap-strapped Buccaneers have yet to cast off any of their overpaid, underproductive veterans. Expect that to change in the coming weeks, however, as tackle Todd Steussie was excused from a recent minicamp and is likely to be released.
The Buccaneers are loaded with young, unproven linemen, names like Sean Mahan, Jeb Terry, Dan Buenning, Anthony Davis, and Chris Colmer. Depending on what the depth chart looks like towards the end of training camp, veterans Matt Stinchcomb and Derrick Deese could join Steussie on the scrap heap.
It looks like running back Charlie Garner may survive the purge, at least until training camp, after he accepted a pay cut to the veteran minimum in order to attempt to come back from a serious knee injury with the team.
Jon Gruden is never satisfied with his roster, and he'd like to add some more veterans before the season, but the cap won't allow it just yet. Ty Law told Peter King that he'd received an offer from the Buccaneers, but it's unlikely Tampa Bay could commit much more than the veteran minimum to Law. Law won't get the deal he's looking for this offseason, but he won't sign for the minimum either.
One veteran who won't be around for training camp is QB Akili Smith. Tampa Bay signed the former Cincinnati bust and sent him to NFL Europe, but Smith dropped to third on the depth chart of the Frankfurt Galaxy and was released. The Buccaneers are likely to go into the season with Chris Simms and Luke McCown backing up Brian Griese.
Next week: AFC West by Mike Tanier.
51 comments, Last at 17 Aug 2005, 9:11pm by Nev