The league's northern divisions pose a number of meaty questions, such as: "Is the Bears' offense due for a repeat performance?" "Why do the Lions have such pronounced splits?" and "Has Johnny Manziel made the Cleveland brass even crazier?"
31 Aug 2005
by Russell Levine
In a move that had been brewing all offseason, the Falcons released wide receiver Peerless Price in the first roster cut-down on Tuesday. Price, acquired from Buffalo at the cost of a first-round pick and a $10 million signing bonus before the 2003 season, never developed into the No. 1 receiver the Falcons thought they were acquiring.
Now I've made no secret of my feelings about Michael Vick's passing ability, so it's fair to ask the question, is it Price's fault that he didn't perform to the expected level? The answer: mostly.
Price earned his trade and pay raise after starring opposite Eric Moulds in Buffalo in 2002. But with the Bills, Price was never the No. 1 wideout and rarely faced the other team's top corner. In Atlanta, Price was paired with a cast of has-beens and never-weres (Dez White, Brian Finneran, et al), none of whom offered him any relief from the best defensive backs on the other side of the line of scrimmage. Facing better coverage, Price simply failed to get open regularly enough, and appeared to lose interest during the frequent times Vick was unable to get him the ball.
When the Falcons drafted receivers in the first round the last two years, the handwriting was on the wall. Even with this year's top pick, Roddy White, battling a high-ankle sprain, GM Rich McKay chose to cut ties with Price now when it was obvious he was going to eventually be pushed down the depth chart by White and 2004 rookie Michael Jenkins.
It was probably easier for McKay to make the move, given that he was running the Buccaneers at the time the Falcons acquired Price.
Let the Sports Illustrated cover jinx talk commence -- Dr. Z has issued his NFL predictions and he likes Carolina to win it all.
If the Panthers start to suffer a rash of injuries anything like last year's plague, we'll know there's something to it.
I like Z's line of thinking. Most of the injured players have healed, giving the defensive line its bite back and returning to quarterback Jake Delhomme his top weapon in wideout Steve Smith.
Then there's last year's finish. Carolina went 6-2 in the second half to just miss the playoffs. We looked into how teams that finished strong, yet missed the playoffs, fared the following season, and the results suggested that there's little connection to the next year's results. However, the Panthers are a team that knows success, having gone to the Super Bowl after the 2003 season before injuries torpedoed last year, so I think it's fair to suggest that last year's finish is more emblematic of the team's ability than the 1-7 start.
The Panthers are also well-equipped to attack their division rivals. They have the D-line quickness to contain Michael Vick, the punishing ground game to hit the Buccaneers in their weakest spot, and the â€¦ well, how do you attack the Saints, the NFL's most schizophrenic team? Creating chaos around Aaron Brooks is a good start.
(Ed. Note: I've talked about this before, but with apologies to Russell, the Saints are not schizophrenic. They are actually the NFL's most consistent team. Over the past couple years, with a couple exceptions, they've always lost to better teams and beaten worse teams.)
The NFL rarely drops the ball when it comes to public relations, so it was a shock when Adam Schefter reported Monday on the NFL Network that the league didn't foresee problems with the Saints playing their home opener at the Louisiana Superdome on September 18 despite the effects of Hurricane Katrina.
At the time of the report, New Orleans was under rising flood waters that continue to climb at this moment. The Superdome is currently home to anywhere from 15,000-30,000 refugees with no other place to go. The city's mayor said on TV Tuesday night that despite a situation in the dome that is devolving towards chaos, those encamped their may have to remain for another week. There are two large holes in the roof, and the entire outer covering was ripped off by the storm. The city may not have fully restored electricity for 8-12 weeks. But no problem -- the NFL thinks it can play a game their in under three.
Keep in mind, Schefter is not an NFL spokesperson, but he is employed by the NFL Network, and therefore can be seen as speaking for the league. I'm shocked the NFL allowed his report to air. The league should have said nothing, and instead offered a massive donation to the American Red Cross. To suggest that a game could be played in New Orleans in that time frame is at best premature and at worst completely insensitive. Compare the NFL's actions to those of LSU, which came through the storm relatively unscathed in Baton Rouge. Because the LSU campus is being used as a staging area for rescue and recovery operations, the school quickly postponed its home opener, scheduled for September 3, saying it would be inappropriate to play a football game in the midst of what's going on.
As for the Saints, they packed up ahead of the storm and are currently practicing at San Jose State in California. By Wednesday, the team announced plans to practice at the Alamodome in San Antonio. A site for the home opener has yet to be determined, but it's looking more and more likely that the Saints may be homeless for a significant portion of the season, if not all of it. They could end up playing games at LSU, the Alamodome, Reliant Stadium in Houston, or some combination thereof.
You have to wonder how this will affect the team. Yes, football players are well paid and the storm will not impact them the way it has much of the local population, But they still have worries about their homes, loved ones, and personal property -- all questions they won't be able to answer until they can return to New Orleans. If the Superdome and the team's practice facility in Mettarie become untenable, they will become NFL nomads for the foreseeable future. It's a situation that could bring the team closer together, or it could destroy the season before it even starts. There aren't too many similar examples to draw upon. Teams have been uprooted for a game or two -- the Dolphins faced multiple schedule changes during last year's hurricane season -- or even for a year, such as the season the Tennessee Oilers commuted from Nashville to Memphis for every game. But no team in the modern era has faced such uncertainty as the Saints face right now.
There are also interesting connotations for the team's future. Owner Tom Benson is currently involved in contentious negotiations with the city for upgrades or replacement of the Superdome. He's said to be a likely candidate to pull up stakes and relocate to Los Angeles. But with his team's home city facing such a catastrophe, public pressure may make it too difficult for him to leave now, even though the city is unlikely to find the money to make him happy when it is facing so many other problems.
Having watched most of Tampa Bay's three preseason games, I can say with confidence that when it comes to the Buccaneers, the status quo remains largely unchanged. The offensive line has struggled with ineffectiveness and injury. The defensive line has struggled to stop the run. The team seems to have a penchant for bad penalties that borders on the pathological.
I'm not sure how much longer offensive line coach Bill Muir can hang on to his reputation as one of the league's finest if his units continue to struggle. Of course, it would help if the team could get him some top-shelf talent. That the Buccaneers re-signed Todd Steussie during training camp and soon had him playing with the first units, albeit due to injury, does not bode well.
Perhaps wary of the line's ineffectiveness, coach Jon Gruden has limited the touches this preseason of his prized rookie, running back Cadillac Williams. I'm all for not exposing players needlessly to injury in the preseason, and my guess is that in the early part of the season, Williams will cede the playing field to Michael Pittman on passing downs until he proves to Gruden that he has mastered the blitz pickup.
At quarterback, Brian Griese has been workmanlike but somewhat unproductive in the offseason, although he has had some long passes called back by penalty. Unlike last season when he came out of camp third-string, Griese is the clear-cut starter. It's behind him that the battle is taking place. Gruden has publicly challenged Chris Simms to produce more or risk losing his spot on the depth chart to Luke McCown, who has looked good playing against third-string defenders.
If there's one bright spot for Tampa Bay, it's that the team looks to have solved its kicking woes. Both Matt Bryant and Todd France have been steady with field goals and deep with their kickoffs. The competition won't be decided until after the final preseason game. Other battles still in play are the fourth, fifth and sixth receivers, and the starting free safety spot, where former Super Bowl MVP Dexter Jackson is battling to hold off second-year man Will Allen.
There were no real surprises in the first round of cuts, and the only noteworthy player to be let go was running back Charlie Garner, officially closing the door on another ill-fated signing of 2004.
This is the last edition of Four Downs: NFC South for 2005.
This weekend: The final Four Downs for the AFC East.
38 comments, Last at 06 Sep 2005, 11:45pm by Danny