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06 Feb 2008

Four Downs: NFC South

by Doug Farrar

Atlanta Falcons

Blank Generation

The new All-American Football League has a Web site where you can apply for a full range of jobs -- everything from seasonal paid intern to coach to manager of football operations -- for one or more of the league's six teams. Given the number of times they've been jilted in the last few months, one would not have been surprised if the Falcons had posted their general manager and head coach openings on their own site. Rich McKay's reassignment and Bobby Petrino's "Woo Pig Sooey!" departure were followed by a Bill Parcells-declined invitation to run the show (he found the prospects of the 1-15 Dolphins more intriguing). Then came the embarrassment of Dallas' Jason Garrett and Indy's Jim Caldwell pulling their names from consideration as Petrino's replacement in favor of more-or-less clandestine arrangements to coach their current teams after the eventual departures of Wade Phillips and Tony Dungy.

The man who actually got the job, former Jaguars defensive coordinator Mike Smith, has a three-part headstart if this turns out to be what many think it might be. The 48-year-old-Smith started going gray at age 23, genetics having done what working for Arthur Blank might have taken care of anyway. Smith is Brian Billick's brother-in-law, so he's used to mercurial personalities. He very much enjoys pickled eggs, so a bad taste in his mouth wouldn't be a new sensation. Now, Smith and new general manager Thomas Dimitroff, New England's former Director of College Scouting, will try to surprise a lot of people.

If Smith can survive all the known obstacles, running an almost entirely new coaching staff, and leading the Falcons out of a very creative decline, he'll more than live up to the praises of those comrades who have touted his football acumen and unmatched work ethic. However, the Falcons need far more than a new coach. They require a total reset and a fresh commitment to not only winning, but the "simple things," like a clear chain of command and total collective accountability -- and that starts with the team's owner. The further Arthur Blank is from the actual team operations, the better this will go.

Who Could Leave?

To say that Atlanta's quarterback situation is fluid is like saying that Bobby Petrino has a slight case of wanderlust. Of their three signal-callers in 2007 (Byron Leftwich, Joey Harrington, and Chris Redman), Redman is the unrestricted free agent and he may be the one worth keeping. The big news in Atlanta is the possible departure of running back Warrick Dunn, a franchise cornerstone when the Falcons led the NFL in rushing each season from 2004 to 2006. Now that their offensive line has fallen on hard times, and the 33-year-old Dunn is owed a $4 million base salary in 2008, Dunn's future and the power running game that Smith and offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey want to implement seem to be at cross purposes. Dunn has said that he wouldn't mind going back to Tampa Bay, where he started his career, or to Indianapolis, where he could play at least one more season for Dungy, his first NFL coach.

At age 32, middle linebacker Keith Brooking played out of position (yet again) in 2007, and he's due $5 million in base salary in 2008. That's a restructure/departure waiting to happen. Outside linebacker Michael Boley is a restricted free agent, but the Falcons are nuts if they let him get away under any circumstances. For the second straight season, Boley led Atlanta's linebackers in Stop Rate, Success Rate (vs. the pass), sacks and Defeats. The three-year veteran may be underrated, but he's a legitimate addition to the top end of the amazing 2005 linebacker class that also gave us Shawne Merriman, Lofa Tatupu, and Kirk Morrison.

Whom Should They Sign?

(Current Cap Room: $5.79 million, with some major cuts coming)

The Falcons have as many personnel deficits as you'd expect of a team undergoing a total systemic transformation, but with that new coaching staff, it's difficult to know what they're looking for. Right now, everyone's watching film and deciding who fits and who doesn't. Will new line coach Paul Boudreau prefer the successful blocking scheme of the pre-Petrino era, or will he have to make do as he did with the Rams in 2006 and 2007? And how will that go with Mularkey's system? The Falcons need two types of quarterbacks: one interim placeholder in free agency, and one future franchise cornerstone in the draft. Redman would fit the former description. As for the latter, the Brian-Brohm-by-default argument left with Petrino. Middle linebacker will be a need whether Brooking leaves or not, but there aren't any obvious saviors in free agency. And what sort of defense will the new players run?

Carolina Panthers

Connect Four

On his indispensable Pro Football Reference blog, Doug Drinen recently pointed out that the 2007 Carolina Panthers were one of 16 non-strike teams since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger to start at least four quarterbacks (the 1984 Chicago Bears started five) in the same season. In Carolina's case, the Jake Delhomme/David Carr/Vinny Testaverde/Matt Moore combo put up a ranking of 29th in passing DVOA and helped their team to a 7-9 record in football's worst division. Quarterbacks -- at least the good ones -- are hardly disposable, but putting four different starters on the field in a season needn't lead to a wasted year. Two of four Mike Ditka-coached teams on the list, the '84 and '86 Bears, bookended what may have been the best team of all time, and both multi-QB teams made the playoffs. His '97 and '98 Saints didn't fare as well, but that's what happens when you don't have a historic defense and your competing quarterbacks include Heath Shuler, Danny Wuerffel, and two guys named "Billy Joe."

Longtime Carolina starter Jake "I was Eli Before Eli was Eli" Delhomme suffered an elbow injury in the third game of the 2007 season, which led to this merry-go-round. His rehab is on schedule, and the team will hope that he can pick up where he left off last year. Delhomme completed 55 of 86 passes for 624 yards, eight touchdowns and only one interception in his production of "Sample Size Theater." The Panthers went 2-1 with Delhomme under center. Testaverde retired after the season, and David Carr managed to prove that it was he, and not Houston, who had the problem.

Undrafted rookie Matt Moore made a good showing late in the year, putting up solid starts against the Tampa Bay and Seattle pass defenses. That's the one benefit for the Panthers in having so many starters last year: They know they can compete with their veteran under center, and they now have an intriguing young player to build around. Circumstances don't always end so fortuitously.

The quarterback position wasn't Carolina's only problem. The Panthers were one of several teams that inexplicably gave more carries to the less-effective running back, as DeShaun Foster and his -6.8 DPAR (only Reggie Bush ranked lower) got 247 carries to the 144 enjoyed by DeAngelo Williams, who had 18.9 DPAR. Williams gained 1.5 yards more per carry than Foster. The receiving corps has been "Steve Smith and some other dudes" for the past three seasons.

Carolina's pass rush fell off precipitously -- the defense went from 41 sacks in 2006 (7th in Adjusted Sack Rate) to 23 in 2007 (30th in ASR). Julius Peppers' sack total plummeted from 13 to 2.5. Team owner Jerry Richardson proclaims that he wants his Panthers to be a "physical team" like the Pittsburgh Steelers. However, improvement on any level will first require Richardson to get active with his checkbook. This is a team in transition. One way or another, a personnel reset is imminent.

Who Could Leave?

Receivers Keary Colbert and Drew Carter are unrestricted free agents; the Panthers might re-sign Carter for continuity if they're not tired of waiting for him to develop into the complementary threat to Smith that this offense so desperately needs. Travelle Wharton and Jordan Gross, the team's left and right starting tackles, are also up for grabs when free agency begins. The Panthers can't afford to lose Gross, who had an outstanding season. UFA defensive end Mike Rucker has hinted at retirement, and the level of play exhibited by rookie middle linebacker Jon Beason may have Dan Morgan looking elsewhere. Defensive tackles Damione Lewis and Kindal Moorehead could find other homes as the Panthers take a close look at their defensive line. At this point, only Peppers is safe, and he may take a contract hit.

Whom Should They Sign?

(Current Cap Room: $6.05 million)

A game-breaking receiver is the obvious need. The Panthers owe it to Smith to get him someone to deflect coverage. Seattle's D.J. Hackett is a deep threat with the hands of a slot receiver. If he can stay healthy, he'll be elite, and he'll field some big offers in the offiseason. The need for a defensive end opposite Peppers is just as graphic. If the Panthers can square away their offensive line issues and save enough money for a Jared Allen or Justin Smith, that would be optimal, but it's just as likely that they'll look for an end early in the draft. Both lines could see a major refurbishing, and even with the inevitable cap cuts, there'll only be enough for big-name remodeling on one side if all the team's needs are to be met.

New Orleans Saints

Hole Hearted

Aaron Schatz first uncovered the true genius of the Saints' defensive personnel strategy in this Decembe 2007 article.

Worst Yards per Pass (through week 13)
Jason David, NO: 14.5
Hole in Zone, 11.9

Final Totals (with a few games still uncharted)
Jason David, NO: 13.6
Hole in Zone, 11.8

(Note: Hole in Zone gave up 11.5 yards per pass in 2006, just a smidge over Samari Rolle's 11.0 Nice try, Samari! We didn't use the "Hole in Zone" designation in 2005, the first year of game charting.)

David also "led" the NFL with a 32 percent Success Rate among cornerbacks, but that is not what caught everyone's eye. When a bare area of the field outperforms a player, THAT'S a story. Bill Barnwell followed up a month later, adding both David and Hole in Zone to Scramble for the Ball's "All Keep Choppin' Wood" team, naming David as the nickel back for the KCWs and "HiZ" (as he would prefer to be known, for brevity's sake) as a starting cornerback alongside Baltimore's Corey Ivy.

Since Football Outsiders is the first site to recognize HiZ's value, I arranged the only known interview with this vital part of New Orleans' defense. Surprisingly, he refuted the assumption that David could be replaced by any cornerback worth his roster bonus. "They talk about scheme, right? Well, I've been in the right scheme in New Orleans," HiZ said. "Jason came from Indianapolis, where he was used to the Cover 2, but we play a lot more man coverage here. That isn't fair to him, really. Look at the season opener, when the Colts roasted us, 41-10. Coach (Sean) Payton was asked about the pass defense after the game, and he admitted that the common ground on many of the routes we got burned on was man coverage. This just helps my sample size -- no Hole in Zone without a zone, got it? Meanwhile, Jason's getting turned around left and right. The guy's 5-foot-8, a buck-eighty, with the hip turn of a dump truck, trying to jam guys at the line or turn and run without a zone handoff. What do you think is going to happen?"

While David signed a four-year, $15.6 million contract with New Orleans before the 2007 season, HiZ has come up from (literally) nothing to take his current place. "I went to a very small school -- Huxley U, which hadn't made football headlines since 1932, when Professor Wagstaff and his boys did that 'Horse Feathers' thing," he said. "'Jumping Anaconda!' was our motto, and we meant it!" Ignored at the Senior Bowl, passed over at the Combine, practically invisible during the NFL Draft, HiZ harbors no ill will. These days, he's practically ubiquitous. "I recognize that my talents may not be obvious on the field, and the numbers are surprising, but there's a place for me on a lot of teams."

As for David, HiZ suggests that signing that Saints contract was the worst thing his teammate could have done. "Jason needs to get the hell back to a team that plays more zone, where he has more help. New Orleans is a problem for guys like him. In the last two seasons, who's been more famous for getting burned than Fred Thomas and Jason? It's as if Mike Rumph and Ahmad Carroll never existed!"

Who Could Leave?

HiZ isn't going anywhere, despite a rumored lucrative offer from the Green Bay Packers. Other than that, a great deal of the defensive structure is up in the air. New Orleans finished dead last in pass defense DVOA and allowed 54 pass plays of 20 yards or longer. Fred Thomas is an unrestricted free agent -- say no more. Most of the important free agent names for the Saints are on offense: David Patten (who found a valuable role as the team's No. 2 receiver), running back Aaron Stecker (who picked up the most slack as the bigger back after Deuce McAllister suffered his second major knee injury in three seasons), and tight end Eric Johnson (who was productive when healthy). McAllister has five years left on his current contract, and he's due $3.6 million in base salary for the 2008 season. Undrafted rookie back Pierre Thomas will make that position very interesting if he builds on the flashes of potential he showed last year.

Whom Should They Sign?

(Current Cap Room: $31.69 million)

The best possible cornerback, obviously. Mike McKenzie, 31 years old, tore his right ACL in late December and David has a bright future as an overpaid nickel corner. If Marcus Trufant and Nnamdi Asomugha aren't re-upped by Seattle and Oakland, respectively, either player would be a massive improvement. Asomugha would be a better fit, as Trufant's 2007 excellence was more reliant on pass rush and safety help. Asante Samuel might be in play, too.

Based on our statistics, there may be no single greater need in the NFL than the need for the Saints to improve against elite receivers. In 2007, the Texans ranked 31st against No. 1 receivers with a DVOA of 26.9% (remember, defensive DVOA is better when it's negative). New Orleans put up a ghastly 76.3% DVOA, which is not only the worst number we have in our game charting records for any team against any receiver in any season, but so much worse than the 45.2% DVOA against number-ones the Saints amassed to finish last in the league in 2006, as well. New Orleans' front office has both the cap room and the intent to make a defensive splash at more than one position (the middle of the front seven is a likely target), but every other need is waaaaaaay down the line.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The A-Train, Taken

On January 24, the A-Train made it official. Fullback Mike Alstott, perhaps the most beloved player in franchise history, retired from football after missing the 2007 season with the second major neck injury of his career. Alstott's achievements are impressive enough -- 5,088 rushing yards and 58 touchdowns on 1,359 carries, six Pro Bowl trips and a Super Bowl ring -- but it's the outpouring of warm thoughts and heartfelt memories from teammates and coaches that Alstott will take home as his true legacy.

Dungy, his first NFL coach, remembered "the way he played, as well as the big plays he made, but I think the fire and the determination that he played with, the things that made him such a fan favorite, are the same things that I always appreciated about him."

His last NFL coach, Jon Gruden, said that Alstott's "contributions on the field and in the locker room were invaluable to our Super Bowl championship in 2002. Certainly as a coach, but even more so as a fan of his, it will be tough for me to not be able to watch him on Sundays."

Warrick Dunn: "I was blessed to have played with him for five years."

Trent Dilfer: "He was a three-tier fullback. He could have played solely tailback, and did play tailback for many games. He was a very good fullback from a lead-blocking standpoint. Then, he was one of the best natural receiving backs in all of football."

Business partner Derrick Brooks: "I think Mike has made the most important impact of all as he cemented his legacy in our community ... He helped turn Tampa into a better place for our children."

Brad Johnson: "I remember a really hot day against Cleveland in 2002 when we handed off the ball to him and nobody blocked anybody. He must have run over nine guys, just one of his signature plays. He had a career of always making something happen when nothing was there."

John Lynch: "Mike Alstott embodied the transformation of the organization with the way he played and the style in which he played. In 1996, we drafted this young kid from Purdue and he helped turn this franchise from perennial losers to a championship team."

Last but not least, fellow retiree Warren Sapp: "The time and the memories I have of Mike Alstott are so great that I don't even consider him a teammate. I consider Mike Alstott family."

There is the smaller success of having your on-field feats remembered after the game is done with you. Then, there are those fortunate few like Mike Alstott, who have turned lives well-lived from every perspective into a heritage of near-reverence among those who know him best.

Who Could Leave?

Tight end Jerramy Stevens proved valuable as a backup to Alex Smith; his late-season production might have teams overlooking his past penchant for off-field jackassery. He's an unrestricted free agent. So is cornerback Bran Kelly, who has proclaimed his intent to leave the team by exercising a $480,000 option to eliminate the final year of his current contract. Injuries during the season left Kelly as the team's nickel corner after he lost his starting job to Phillip Buchanon. The decision of a 32-year-old cornerback who has missed 19 games in the last two seasons to turn down $3.2 million for a chance to test the market is ... well, interesting. John Wade, a 10-year veteran center, provided a nice balance of maturity in what was the NFL's youngest offensive line in 2007. The Bucs could use his contributions again.

Whom Should They Sign?

(Current Cap Room: $25.9 million)

Receivers Joey Galloway and Ike Hilliard both had good seasons, but both are over 30 and youngster Michael Clayton hasn't been nearly productive enough. Galloway's shoulder injury proved to be a killer in the playoff loss to the Giants. Another downfield threat like the aforementioned D.J. Hackett, or Chicago's Bernard Berrian, would be a big help. Earnest Graham may get a lucrative contract extension after a fine season, but running back depth is clearly a problem. Fortunately, the Buccaneers won't need to shell out big money in free agency with an overstuffed draft class at the position. Additional help in pass protection would be beneficial. This is the only team in the NFC South that can focus on depth and the future, as opposed to plugging blatantly obvious (and very expensive) holes in their roster.

*All projected cap numbers courtesy of www.askthecommish.com. These numbers are "ballpark" and are subject to change. The intention is to give an approximate idea of each team's available resources before free agency and the draft begin.

Posted by: Doug Farrar on 06 Feb 2008

64 comments, Last at 16 Feb 2008, 4:55pm by Neil

Comments

1
by Jimmy (not verified) :: Wed, 02/06/2008 - 2:32pm

Good article. I have but one small quibble, if you are going to put up each team's cap room you might want to add the number of players they have on the roster for the cap figure. For example having $5m in cap room and 50 of the '07 roster under contract in '08 is a lot different to $5m and 40 players.

2
by Pacifist Viking (not verified) :: Wed, 02/06/2008 - 2:35pm

D.J. Hackett has been a part of too many of my fantasies lately.

3
by Stereochemistry (not verified) :: Wed, 02/06/2008 - 2:40pm

"The three-year veteran may be underrated, but he’s a legitimate addition to the top end of the amazing 2005 linebacker class that also gave us Shawne Merriman, Lofa Tatupu, and Kirk Morrison."

Even more amazing, the Bucs MLB Barrett Ruud was also part of that class. If he continues to build on his first year as a starter, he'll be another name to add to that list.

4
by Cosmos (not verified) :: Wed, 02/06/2008 - 2:49pm

You forgot "Fumbled Ball". He's more illusive and gains more yards than Reggie Bush.

5
by throughthelookingglass (not verified) :: Wed, 02/06/2008 - 3:01pm

The three-year veteran may be underrated, but he’s a legitimate addition to the top end of the amazing 2005 linebacker class that also gave us Shawne Merriman, Lofa Tatupu, and Kirk Morrison.

DeMarcus Ware, too. That was a great class for linebackers

6
by Chuccaneer (not verified) :: Wed, 02/06/2008 - 3:06pm

Ricky Bell...Cedric Cobb...Erict Rhett...even Warrick "total class" Dunn..Alstott is EASILY the favorite in a VERY erratic line of backfield ballers for Tampa.

7
by panthersnbraves (not verified) :: Wed, 02/06/2008 - 3:12pm

Panthers - No mention of the kicking game? Do they keep 3 kickers?

Also, will coaching changes be covered at some time? The Panthers need to find someone who doesn't call draws on 3rd and 12 all the time.

8
by Doug Farrar :: Wed, 02/06/2008 - 3:15pm

#7 - Well, that eliminates Mike Holmgren.

9
by C (not verified) :: Wed, 02/06/2008 - 3:21pm

A Horsefeathers reference! Wonderful!

10
by langsty (not verified) :: Wed, 02/06/2008 - 3:54pm

re: the Falcons

"Middle linebacker will be a need whether Brooking leaves or not, but there aren’t any obvious saviors in free agency."

Stephen Nicholas is a guy they like a lot as the MLB of the future. Or at least they did last year, maybe Smith & Dimitroff will feel differently.

11
by langsty (not verified) :: Wed, 02/06/2008 - 3:57pm

as a Falcons fan I was pretty bummed when Caldwell backed out, and wasn't thrilled about the Mike Smith hire (can't really fault it tho, either) - but the Tom Dimitroff hire was tremendously exciting to me after hearing more about his role in NE.

for those who don't know, he was the director of college scouting for the Patriots, and for a while has been THE key personnel guy in NE. Pioli's not a real talent evaluator and Belichick leans a lot on his top college guy (ie. Tom), he has a rep for being a super bright guy and a tireless worker. Rich McKay's biggest weakness has always been personnel (this front office really misses Tim Ruskell) but is great with a lot of other business-related stuff, so it seems like a perfect fit...

12
by Joe T. (not verified) :: Wed, 02/06/2008 - 4:18pm

So...do the falcons take a QB? It looks like they are in excellent position to take Matt Ryan. I can't see the other teams who would be higher in the draft (Dolphins, Rams, Raiders?) taking a QB, but then again, they are probably all trying to desperately trade their picks.

QB looks kind of thin in the entire conference. Brees is the only staple, Garcia has only got so much time left, the QB situation in Carolina stills looks cloudy despite Delhomme's supposed on-track rehab. At least at looks like the Panthers have a viable replacement behind Delhomme in Moore, I don't see that in TB.

13
by Ok, how about Matt Ryan (not verified) :: Wed, 02/06/2008 - 4:18pm

Blank foresees the Falcons being $23-30 million under the cap. Link on my name.

I know this is preliminary stuff, but I'm surprised to see no mention of either of the lines, given the injury insanity and lack of effectiveness.

14
by Disco Stu (not verified) :: Wed, 02/06/2008 - 5:18pm

I'm pretty sure nobody is going to touch Jerramy Stevens this offseason.

15
by chip (not verified) :: Wed, 02/06/2008 - 5:19pm

#2 I dreamt that Kyle Orton turned into a real quarterback over the weekend….

16
by andrew (not verified) :: Wed, 02/06/2008 - 5:22pm

I think you're overlooking the true value of HiZ. He's the return man for Robopunter's punts.

As you may be aware, Robopunter (who is relevant to the AFC South iirc) has expanded his skill set. No longer satisfied with having every punt downed at the one, he now can manage to make each punt land near a player, carom off off of his helmet and then come to a rest in the end zone, recovered for a TD.

Hole in Zone is the only player who has had any luck at not having Robo-Punter bounce kicks off his helmet.

17
by Quentin (not verified) :: Wed, 02/06/2008 - 5:38pm

However, improvement on any level will first require Richardson to get active with his checkbook.

Hard to do when you live in cap hell. Or is he cheap in some other aspect?

About the Bucs RB's, both Pittman and Bennett are UFA's. I've grown used to Pittman doing whatever it takes to stay with the team, but he recently said that while his first choice is to stick around, he wants to play more more. If not with the Bucs, then with someone else. Michael Bennett barely saw the ball at all and Gruden has shown me that he prefers leaning heavily on one feature back over an RBBC, so you have to wonder how much desire he'll have to come back. He looked great when he did carry it, though, and the fact is he's unlikely to find a starting job even if he leaves. I hope he stays for the chance at being our #2. The third leading rusher in Alabama history (I think)- Kenneth Darby- was on the practice squad all year. With Graham, Bennett, and Darby, they might not even need to use a draft pick.

18
by Quentin (not verified) :: Wed, 02/06/2008 - 5:42pm

Oh, and I completely forgot, Chad Johnson said that he wants to get traded to the Panthers so he can play opposite Steve Smith. Got help the Bucs if that ever happened.

19
by Bobman (not verified) :: Wed, 02/06/2008 - 5:44pm

#16 Impressive.

Does HiZ have a cousin who plays offense when the QB and WR are not on the same page--one runs a square-in but the other throws a pick-six out pass to a surprised but thankful CB?

20
by andrew (not verified) :: Wed, 02/06/2008 - 5:45pm

#6 - no love for James Wilder? Mr. 500 (almost) touches?

21
by Doug Farrar :: Wed, 02/06/2008 - 5:52pm

#18 - Chad Johnson wants to get traded to about 20 different teams right now. Apparently, he was hitting Matt Hasselbeck up to put in a good word with Seattle's brass during Pro Bowl practice (and yes, I had scary McNabb-T.O. flashbacks when I heard that).

22
by andrew (not verified) :: Wed, 02/06/2008 - 5:52pm

You know, we have gotta get us some "Hole in Zone" jerseys.

What number would he wear?

dbs are backs, something between #20 and #49... #42 might be good (David's #)... perhaps #43, to emphasize that HiZ is greater than Jason David...

23
by Tom D (not verified) :: Wed, 02/06/2008 - 6:26pm

Re 21:

He has also said he could turn Kyle Orton or Rex Grossman into a superstar.

24
by Harris (not verified) :: Wed, 02/06/2008 - 6:37pm

"Mike Alstott, perhaps the most beloved player in franchise history . . . "

Mr. Selmon would like a word with you.

25
by Lou (not verified) :: Wed, 02/06/2008 - 6:40pm

Damnit Andrew said exactly what i was going to.

We need HiZ jerseys. #43 cause he's better than david.

26
by Disco Stu (not verified) :: Wed, 02/06/2008 - 6:54pm

wouldn't Hole in Zone be a natural for 00?

27
by Dean (not verified) :: Wed, 02/06/2008 - 6:55pm

HiZ should be #46 in honor of Izel Jenkins. Or whatever number Elvis Patterson wore.

Oh, and in regards to #14, I wish I agreed with you, Stu. But someone will still sign Jerramy Stevens. We as fans have shown that we don't care what a player does (unless it involves children or animals) so long as they have fast-twitch muscle fiber.

28
by vis (not verified) :: Wed, 02/06/2008 - 6:58pm

wouldn't HiZ jerseys be a "0"? that's a very hole-like number...

29
by White Rose Duelist (not verified) :: Wed, 02/06/2008 - 7:02pm

02 for Hole in Zone jerseys. You have the hole like vis suggested, plus the digit that looks like a Z.

30
by Herm? (not verified) :: Wed, 02/06/2008 - 7:07pm

We always praise players for their good behavior, and I defy you to find HiZ in one police report. For all the lack of fast twitch muscle fiber, this guy is a model citiZen...and is very green when well fertilized. Dandelions be damned.

31
by James, London (not verified) :: Wed, 02/06/2008 - 7:17pm

HiZ joins the FO pantheon.

As for Stevens, linked in my name is a story that every owner and GM in the league should be forced to read before they offer him a contract. Jordan Gross aside, it looks like FA slim pickings from this division.

32
by James, London (not verified) :: Wed, 02/06/2008 - 7:18pm

#31,

Now the Stevens link is here.

33
by Tom (not verified) :: Wed, 02/06/2008 - 7:20pm

I just hope Chad Johnson doesnt go to the redskins. Not that we need him anyway... at least if Moss doesnt continue stealing Brendon Lloyd's skill set (Im pretty sure he is the offensive equvilant to David. He basically is fast and shifty so he can get open and make the QB throw the ball to him, and then he tips the ball and drops it and the CB catches it, and on particularly on the ball plays he just doesnt touch the ball at all and avoids an automatic interception).

34
by Tom D (not verified) :: Wed, 02/06/2008 - 8:05pm

Re 31/32:

I think they should be forced to read it out loud to the press before they give him a contract.

35
by shake n bake (not verified) :: Wed, 02/06/2008 - 8:54pm

re 31
After reading that I might be more pissed at the prosecutors than at Stevens, which is really saying something,

36
by starzero (not verified) :: Wed, 02/06/2008 - 8:56pm

having only read the first section on atlanta, all i can think is, doesn't l.a. want a team? wouldn't some sun and ocean air help the falcons start over from scratch?

37
by Chris (not verified) :: Wed, 02/06/2008 - 9:23pm

I am not impressed with Matt Moore. The announcers were sucking him off after putting up OK numbers. The numbers were comprised of screens and other BS passes that any lab rat could throw. The effort was minimal and the guy got way too much credit.

I was much more impressed with how Tampa backup Luke McCown ran the west coast offense in his limited action.

Atlanta is just a messed up team thanks to Michael " Herpes" Vick, the selfish overrated me me ME corner back Deangelo Hall, and that piss poor hire of a head coach they had. That defense honestly plays a like a bunch of thugs with Demo Williams running around with the late hits and cheap shots. I have nothing against the city of Atlanta, but those players really made me dislike that team.

I think the Saints have a chance to be alright next year. Getting back deuce should help ( or maybe they bring in another tough RB, because Reggie Bush obviously isn't.

It reminds me of the draft when Reggie Bush was being compared to Gale Sayers ( laugh).

Would you rather have a Bryan Westbrook for say 5 years, or a Julious Peppers for say 12 years ( or maybe a Michael Strahan? I'd expect many of the FO readers here to make the right ( and easy) choice.

38
by Steve Smith's Jockstrap (not verified) :: Wed, 02/06/2008 - 9:36pm

"If the Panthers can square away their offensive line issues and save enough money for a Jared Allen or Justin Smith, that would be optimal"

Good read, but it has to be said that a Jared Allen would be considerably more satisfactory than a Justin Smith. And that's without trying to be unduly critical of Mr. Smith, who is undoubtedly a decent end.

39
by Yaguar (not verified) :: Wed, 02/06/2008 - 9:43pm

I love that after a rough season, we're all friends again and discussing mediocre free agents from the worst division in the league. It's a shame we didn't talk about these guys more during the season.

I wish these articles had a little bit more about what happened on the field in 2007. Where do these teams really need help? Who has been dropping the ball this season for them? (In the case of most NFC South teams, probably just about everyone.)

On a brief serious note, that piece on Jerramy Stevens was one of the most disturbing things I've read in a long time.

40
by the K (not verified) :: Wed, 02/06/2008 - 10:53pm

Hole in Zone is remarkably level headed. He'll continue to improve with experience.

41
by mm (not verified) :: Wed, 02/06/2008 - 11:05pm

David Patten (who found a valuable role as the team’s No. 2 receiver)

Patten played well against weak or mediocre defenses, but seemed to disappear against better defenses (whereas Colston still made catches against good defenses).

I'd like Patten back, but as a 3 or 4 receiver. Maybe last years #1 pick or Devery Henderson (if he finally stops dropping the easy catches) could move up to #2; otherwise, I wouldn't mind spending a little bit of money to upgrade the #2 slot, to punish teams for focusing on Colston.

42
by NF (not verified) :: Wed, 02/06/2008 - 11:51pm

re 23:

Chad Johnson said at a press conference held at the edge of the caldera of Kiliule that if he had played with Jeff George they would have won multiple Super Bowls.

43
by thestar5 (not verified) :: Thu, 02/07/2008 - 1:28am

Talking about the 2005 LB class without mentioning Demarcus Ware, Blasphemy!!!!! ;)

44
by RickD (not verified) :: Thu, 02/07/2008 - 2:06am

I think you're being too hard on Michael Clayton. After all, it's hard to be an NFL wide receiver while being nominated for an Oscar for Best Picture.

45
by NY expat (not verified) :: Thu, 02/07/2008 - 2:15am

HiZ needs something that is available on every team. I suggest i

46
by Disco Stu (not verified) :: Thu, 02/07/2008 - 3:16am

Wasn't Odell Thurman in that linebacker class also?

47
by Richard (not verified) :: Thu, 02/07/2008 - 3:50am

46: He was. Derrick Johnson, too.

48
by Yaguar (not verified) :: Thu, 02/07/2008 - 5:22am

2005's linebacker class also had David Pollack, who looked awesome for that surprisingly good 2005 Bengals defense. His injury, which through no fault of his has derailed his career, is probably one of the bigger reasons why the Bengals suck right now. Then there are also some decent players like Channing Crowder, Brady Poppinga, and Thomas Davis. It was an absolutely amazing class.

Some other great classes:
2000 linebacker - Arrington, Urlacher, Julian Peterson, Bulluck, Ian Gold, Rob Morris, Adalius Thomas, Marcus Washington
2006 running back - Addai, MJD, Maroney, Norwood, Washington, Bell,
2003 cornerback - Newman, Trufant, Asomugha, Samuel, and Tillman.
1997 tackle - Pace, Jones, and Glenn. Nobody else of note, but when you get three guys that good, it's still an awesome draft class.
1996 WR - Keyshawn Johnson, Glenn, Kennison, Harrison, Moulds, Engram, Owens, Muhammad, Toomer, and Horn

I'd also bet that 2007 WR becomes a monster class eventually.

49
by Yaguar (not verified) :: Thu, 02/07/2008 - 5:27am

Oh, I meant to add that if you include undrafted players from the 2003 CB class, you get FO Favorites Leigh Bodden and Roderick Hood.

50
by thestar5 (not verified) :: Thu, 02/07/2008 - 6:26am

Was Reggie Bush really that bad? Sheesh, I never realized.

And I was completely disgusted by watching that Bobby Petrino video again. That was until I read that Jeramy Stevens article. Now THAT is disgusting. Can the NFL just please step up and not sign that guy?

51
by lobolafcadio (not verified) :: Thu, 02/07/2008 - 6:57am

About good defensive ends hitting the market, I'm amazed nobody mentionned Terrell Suggs. I know he played some OLB in Baltimore, but he is more of a tweener as he played end in College and still often starts the play with a hand in dirt. Hopefully, this lack of recognition will mean he won't be too expensive to sign for a gold and teal team.

52
by FRG (not verified) :: Thu, 02/07/2008 - 11:18am

"John Wade, a 10-year veteran center, provided a nice balance of maturity in what was the NFL’s youngest offensive line in 2007. The Bucs could use his contributions again."

Sorry, but Wade is terrible.

53
by Yaguar (not verified) :: Thu, 02/07/2008 - 11:31am

The Bucs were actually 4th in ALY up the middle.

54
by young curmudgeon (not verified) :: Thu, 02/07/2008 - 1:01pm

My idea of a bad movie is Sleepless in Seattle...whenever I read in a review that a film is "heartwarming," I know not to bother to watch it, because I know it's just manipulative...yet, the remarks about Mike Alstott were some of the most genuinely heartwarming things I've encountered recently. It's good to know that a guy can have a career in the NFL and leave it with people saying things like that about him.

55
by Herm? (not verified) :: Thu, 02/07/2008 - 1:24pm

If New Orleans does decide to pony up rather than sit on David and his salary, they could do a lot worse than Randall Gay, an UFA this year.
The guy's not awesome, but he's proven he can play in the NFL, we already know he's better than Jason David, and he'll be available for some short money. He's also an LSU guy, he might take a hometown discount on his already cheap pricetag.

56
by mawbrew (not verified) :: Thu, 02/07/2008 - 2:02pm

The Bengals would be smart to trade Johnson at this point. Of course, Johnson would have to be willing to repay the Bengals the portion of his signing bonus that hasn't hit the books yet. If he's that desparate to leave, he should be willing to make that deal, with the understanding that he'll negotiate a new contract with whoever trades for him.

I don't think any good will come from holding on to Chad at this point.

57
by Spike (not verified) :: Thu, 02/07/2008 - 3:21pm

Speaking of Warrick Dunn's Tampa Bay years, anyone remember his ESPN Magazine "Cat Fancy" TV commercial from years ago? How about an on-line posting of same? Any post-SB letdown is improved by something that funny.

58
by bartleby (not verified) :: Thu, 02/07/2008 - 5:09pm

Are the comments on Mike Alstott meant to be taken as irony?

... and don't forget Joliet Catholic!

59
by mrparker (not verified) :: Fri, 02/08/2008 - 10:05am

Im pretty ure skip bayless is writing in this comments thread

60
by Chris (not verified) :: Fri, 02/08/2008 - 9:38pm

I think Warrick Dunn is one of the classiest guys in the NFL. I would love to see him go be a strong vet on the Colts and compete for a title instead of being stuck in Atlanta with a lousy bunch of thugs like Deangelo Hall, Demo Williams, the skeleton of Michael Vick etc.

61
by Yaguar (not verified) :: Sun, 02/10/2008 - 2:57pm

60: I love the guy, but we don't want him. Kenton Keith can run circles around him at this point.

62
by Chris (not verified) :: Sun, 02/10/2008 - 4:20pm

For Dunn's size, he is a tough runner. I think he would be smart enough to be able to fit right into the offense, and he could be a good Vet to mentor Addai and rotate with him.

You would honestly rather have Kenton Keith than Warrick Dunn?

63
by Yaguar (not verified) :: Tue, 02/12/2008 - 12:21am

Yup

64
by Neil (not verified) :: Sat, 02/16/2008 - 4:55pm

I love how people post these cap figures for each team thinking they know what they are talking about. For example for Carolina, you have listed about 6 million. Did you know that Steve Smith has a 6 million dollar roster bonus due in March that the Panthers plan to convert to signing bonus and it will save them roughly 5 million from the cap this year. Also in late December ther signed 2 players to exentions that will end up saving them another 6 or 7 million this year. So that is 17 million under right there, and every team does things like this.
Bottom line is wait for free agency to start before you start posting cap figures because until then the numbers don't mean anything.