Our offseason Four Downs series ends with a look at the NFC West's biggest remaining holes and their most notable UDFA signings. The Rams and 49ers have to kick-start their passing games, Arizona's offense lacks a big dimension, and the Seahawks continue to rely on Russell Wilson's magic tricks.
23 Mar 2009
by Bill Barnwell
While Devin Hester improved dramatically over the course of the 2008 season, the Bears are still desperate for a wide receiver to emerge across from him. The only two recognizable wideouts left on the roster are Rashied Davis and 2008 third-round pick Earl Bennett, who didn't catch a single pass as a rookie.
Owing to their experience with big-ticket free agent Muhsin Muhammad, the Bears were never in the T.J. Houshmandzadeh sweepstakes. The free agent market is left with various flotsam of all types, giving the Bears the option to buy in bulk and mix and match parts, but that solution wasn't particularly effective in 2008; Chicago's pass offense was 21st in the league by DVOA.
|Wheel Of Receivers!|
|Ex-Seahawk Third Down Machine||D.J. Hackett||Bobby Engram|
|Injury-Prone Big Ten Receivers||Joey Galloway||Joe Jurevicius|
|Busted Ninth Overall Picks||Reggie Williams||Koren Robinson|
|Ex-College Quarterback||Ronald Curry||Drew Bennett|
|Special Teams Demon||Mark Jones||Kelley Washington|
|Old Possession Receivers Listed At 5-11, 210||Darrell Jackson||Ike Hilliard|
What Chicago needs most is a reliable possession receiver across from Hester; that could very well lead them to a player like Hackett or Engram, both of whom have good hands and a knack for picking up third downs. Jurevicius and Hilliard also have the same sort of skillset.
If they go through the draft, Chicago's not likely to spend their first-round pick on one of the receivers on the board, earmarking that pick for help on either side of the line. A logical selection with the 49th overall pick would be Ohio State wide receiver Brian Robiskie, whose balanced set of skills fits well alongside Hester's ability to get downfield.
Chicago has been relatively quiet in free agency, letting John St. Clair go to the Browns and replacing him with former Panthers tackle Frank Omiyale. Omiyale is athletic and 26, so it's pretty clear that the Bears see him as an upside play who they might be able to coach up into a starter. So far, he has just been a depth guy.
Safety Josh Bullocks comes over from New Orleans to replace Mike Brown, who it appears will not be re-signed. Kevin Jones returns, but beyond that, none of the other Bears' free agents have landed anywhere.
No, the biggest need is not quarterback, and that's for two reasons. First, our college projection system projects Drew Stanton to be a reasonably successful NFL quarterback, and Daunte Culpepper can hold the fort if he's not ready. Second, it's pretty obvious that no one's sure about Matthew Stafford, and we expressed our doubts in the last round of Four Downs. Making the right decision about a quarterback has little to do with the 2009 Lions; it has a lot to do with the 2012 Lions, and that's the team this organization needs to be focusing on. If the Lions pick Stafford, they'll be trying to find a new quarterback for that team three years from now.
Instead, the Lions should focus on what new head coach Jim Schwartz does as well as anyone: getting pressure with his front four. Although the Lions already have promising pass rusher Clifford Avril, Schwartz loves to rotate his defensive linemen and will want to add two or three more on draft day.
In free agency, that could mean taking a flyer on Vikings end Kenichi Udeze. On draft day, they could go for Georgia Tech's Michael Johnson with the 20th pick, or in later rounds, opt for either a moldable specimen like Stanford's Pannel Egboh or a college star like Oregon's Nick Reed. Either way, adding quality and depth to the defensive line is key for the Lions.
Roster filler! Roster filler! Very emergency! Welcome the Will Hellers, Bryant Johnsons, Eric Kings, and Cody Spencers of the world, Detroit Lions fans! You remember seeing that speedy Titans front four running circles around woebegotten offensive lines? Now you've got ... Grady Jackson?
Detroit also re-signed Jason Hanson, which just seems like punishment at this point.
The big move was a trade of Cory Redding for Julian Peterson; Redding was a poor fit for the scheme the Lions will likely play under Schwartz, and while Peterson's not likely to be part of the next winning Lions team, he gives Schwartz a pair of linebackers (around with Ernie Sims) to build around.
The Packers' move into a 3-4 alignment did not require a dramatic shift in personnel. Most of the lineup is already set: Aaron Kampman and Brady Poppinga will be the outside linebackers, with A.J. Hawk and Nick Barnett in the middle; it's also apparent that Cullen Jenkins will start at one defensive end slot, with Ryan Pickett as the nose tackle.
That leaves the other defensive end slot free, with some question as to who will fill it. With the departure of Colin Cole, the team will likely use tackle Johnny Jolly as Pickett's primary backup on the interior; that leaves former first-round pick Justin Harrell as an option. Harrell has the size (6-foot-4, 320 pounds) needed for a 3-4 end, but has been injury-prone since college and has spent his entire career as a defensive tackle. He'd likely need to drop 15 pounds or so to play end.
There's only prominent defensive end in the draft with the size to play end in this sort of system: LSU defensive end Tyson Jackson, who is a great fit for the Packers schematically. He might be a slight overdraft as the ninth overall pick, and the Packers might also choose to upgrade over Poppinga and take linebacker Aaron Maybin, but Jackson's ability at the five-technique is exactly what Green Bay needs to complete their switch to the 3-4. Maybin is a luxury; Jackson's a necessity.
Curiously, the Packers didn't put too much of an effort into resigning 330-pound tackle Colin Cole, who left to replace Rocky Bernard in Seattle. That leaves them thin at nose tackle, with only Jolly to help out. They did re-sign the promising Michael Montgomery, but at 273 pounds, he'll either have to bulk up dramatically to play end or lose 15 pounds to play outside linebacker. He's not a good fit in this scheme.
The Packers have had had rumored interests in quite a few players, but the one player they've been able to acquire so far is Anthony Smith, who is strictly safety depth.
If the apocryphal stories about T.J. Houshmandzadeh not signing with the Vikings after meeting Tarvaris Jackson are true, it should just be another sign of how far gone Jackson's status is, and how imperative it is for the Vikings to improve their situation at quarterback. Furthermore, the fact that it was Jackson meeting with Houshmandzadeh and not the recently-acquired Sage Rosenfels implies that the Vikings don't think Rosenfels is their future starter.
The problem is that the only free agent left on the marketplace who represents a possible upgrade on Jackson is Jeff Garcia, and he has attracted absolutely no interest from anyone. Jay Cutler may or may not be available in trade, but the Vikings won't want to sacrifice their first-round pick to acquire Cutler with depth issues around the lineup to be filled. In addition, when the Vikings traded for Jared Allen and then gave him a $74 million deal last year, owner Zygi Wilf had to put out a cash call to ensure that his team would have cash on hand throughout the offseason. Any team acquiring Cutler would likely be expected to finance a new deal, which Wilf might be loathe to do.
With a team designed to win right now, there are two potentially palatable options in trade. Matt Leinart and Vince Young have become linked as busts from the 2006 draft, but neither has really had much of a chance to prove they were a bust. Leinart has been called a bust because he lost his job to Kurt Warner, but he got that tag before Warner emerged as an MVP candidate this year. Merely being worse than Kurt Warner does not make you a bad quarterback -- plenty of teams would still benefit from your presence. The Vikings would be one.
Young became a much more accurate quarterback in 2007, even as his touchdown-to-interception ratio dropped. He has had all of 31 starts as a pro, and considering the lack of receiving options around him, it's pretty harsh to already place him firmly in the "bust" category.
Buying low on either Young or Leinart gives the Vikings the chance to acquire a potentially elite quarterback on the cheap. Either one should be an upgrade on the devil they already know.
The biggest news was the departure of veteran center Matt Birk, who went east to replace Jason Brown in Baltimore. Darren Sharper is gone to New Orleans to replace Josh Bullocks; they're the only two players who have signed elsewhere.
The Vikings' biggest move was trading a fourth-round pick to the Texans for Rosenfels; although they signed him to a two-year, $9 million deal, he's a borderline starter at best and would still be usurped by a player with the talent of Leinart or Young.
Minnesota has added two players: Glenn Holt comes over from Cincinnati to be the Vikings' third fourth receiver, and Karl Paymah will be corner depth. Cedric Griffin was also signed to a contract extension.
49 comments, Last at 30 Mar 2009, 5:45pm by bblackwell