Four Downs
Offseason analysis of the NFL, division by division

Four Downs: AFC North

Four Downs: AFC North
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Scott Kacsmar

Each NFL team's offseason is filled with small moves and marginal personnel decisions. Sometimes, that series of small moves will build a winner. But a big, bold move always helps, by dramatically improving talent at an important position or changing the overall direction of the franchise. In the first series of Four Downs posts for the 2015 offseason, Football Outsiders goes division by division to suggest a bold move that each team could make to get better, either in the short or long term.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Rebuild the secondary

Super Bowl XLIX displayed the importance of cornerback depth in today's NFL. This is why the process of applying a Band-Aid to the gaping wound that is the secondary no longer works, Pittsburgh. The 2014 pass defense ranked 30th in DVOA, the worst ranking for any Pittsburgh defense since at least 1989.

Troy Polamalu and Ike Taylor provided the Steelers 12 years of commendable service, but it is time to move on instead of risking another injury-plagued season from players on their last legs. Cornerback Brice McCain and safety Mike Mitchell did not live up to expectations in their first seasons with the Steelers. The extension given Cortez Allen last season was questionable at best, and looks much worse after he was benched for McCain. The secondary basically has one reasonable starter in William Gay, a project in safety Shamarko Thomas, and an economical depth player in restricted free agent Antwon Blake. Otherwise, this defensive backfield needs a fresh cast.

The Steelers and Colts are the only teams not to draft a defensive back in the first or second round since 2007. At least the Colts traded a second-round pick in 2012 to acquire Vontae Davis from Miami. Pittsburgh has ignored the position for years, and its struggles against the pass come as no surprise. This is the perfect time to rebuild with defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau gone, particularly since Mike Tomlin's area of expertise as an assistant coach was defensive backs. For years LeBeau's scheme worked without stressing strong cornerback play, but through the decline of the defense, that is where the Steelers have so often been exposed, including January's loss to Joe Flacco and the Ravens.

The offense has a lot of pieces in place and the defensive front seven, while still flawed, has been given too many resources in the draft. This is the year the Steelers need to start the draft with multiple defensive backs and likely add another key contributor in free agency.

Cincinnati Bengals: Sign Greg Hardy

The Bengals ranked seventh in pass defense DVOA last season, but only 31st in Adjusted Sack Rate. You know the pass rush is lacking when you play Ben Roethlisberger twice and come away with zero sacks.

What the Bengals really need is an edge rusher. Carlos Dunlap chipped in 8.0 sacks this past season, but Wallace Gilberry only had 1.5 sacks, just as many as safety Reggie Nelson. Gilberry was a valuable player as a specialist who played on passing downs, but he was overstretched this year starting all 16 games.

For years the Bengals had a bad reputation of signing players who got into trouble with the law. That has cleaned up in recent years, but there is a controversial player out there with some baggage who can help this team next season.

Greg Hardy's 15 sacks in 2013 helped power the Carolina Panthers to the playoffs. After playing in only one game this season, Hardy saw his defense struggle without him. Of course he missed most of the season due to charges for domestic violence, but those charges have been dismissed. Hardy remains on the commissioner's exempt list, but the Panthers are not expected to pursue him when he becomes an unrestricted free agent on March 10.

After a terrible year off the field for the league, it's going to take a brave team to sign a player like Hardy. However, this is still a country where you are innocent until proven guilty, and Hardy's charges have been dismissed. He is only 27 years old and can slide right into the Bengals' 4-3 defense. This is the same team that brought in Adam Jones, and he has been relatively quiet in Cincinnati. Marvin Lewis has kept things together in the locker room, and Hardy does not have a long history of being a distraction.

Sometimes the right move does not feel right; this is one of those cases.

Baltimore Ravens: Release Haloti Ngata

It is never easy to release a longtime cornerstone of your franchise's success, but this may be the end for Haloti Ngata in Baltimore. The 31-year-old defensive tackle is scheduled to count $16 million against the salary cap in 2015 with a base salary of $8.5 million. With Brandon Williams having proven he is starter quality and additional strong play from rookie Timmy Jernigan while Ngata was suspended last year, the Ravens have youth and talent in place to immediately replace the veteran. That kind of planning is one reason why Ozzie Newsome is among the best general managers in the league.

Ngata has value in run defense, where Baltimore ranked fifth in DVOA in 2014. However, the passing game still dictates most NFL results. New England beat Ngata's Ravens in the playoffs with 14 rushing yards, the fewest by a winning team in postseason history. With some cornerback issues and players like Torrey Smith and Justin Forsett set to become unrestricted free agents, the Ravens have more pressing needs in maintaining a good team around Joe Flacco.

Chances are the Ravens will reach a restructured deal with Ngata, but if not, then he is not a lock to return in 2015.

Cleveland Browns: Cut Josh Gordon now

One day after Cleveland drafted Johnny Manziel, news broke that Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon had failed yet another drug test. Later that same summer, Gordon was arrested and charged with driving while impaired. A new policy on substance abuse suspensions allowed him to return to play five games this season, but with Manziel at quarterback he caught just four passes on eight targets for 66 yards.

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Those should be the last catches Gordon ever hauls in from Manziel in Cleveland. After failing yet another alcohol test, Gordon has been suspended for the entire 2015 season. Manziel has done the smart thing and checked himself into rehab. If the Browns want to make an example of how to be a professional, they should just cut Gordon now. He has blown enough opportunities already, and keeping him on the team sends the wrong message that the organization is willing to tolerate this behavior if you are really talented.

Gordon was suspended by the Browns for their Week 17 finale for missing a team walkthrough. Some feel this was done to delay the time until Gordon hits unrestricted free agency, but I would just cut him right now and move on. For as talented as Gordon is, the Cleveland offense has been equally unproductive with or without him.

  • 2012 Browns (Gordon played 16 games): 1.51 points per drive (ranked 25th)
  • 2013 Browns (Gordon led NFL in receiving in 14 games): 1.43 points per drive (ranked 28th)
  • 2014 Browns (Gordon played in five games): 1.47 points per drive (ranked 28th)

For a team that has desperately tried to build a winner, eliminating distractions is a wise decision.

(This article originally appeared at Insider.)


67 comments, Last at 04 Mar 2015, 11:59pm

1 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

I only question whether the Pittsburgh Steelers rebuilding the secondary is a bold move. It seems more like a necessity.

2 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

>the defensive front seven, while still flawed, has been given too many resources in the draft

Sunk cost fallacy is a hell of a drug.

3 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

"Cornerback Brice McCain and safety Mike Mitchell did not live up to expectations in their first seasons with the Steelers." Mitchell was definitely a disappointment, but that's a really silly thing to say about McCain. He was brought in to be the fourth corner (after Taylor, Allen, and Gay) on a 1 yr/800K contract; it is almost impossible to set expectations lower than that for a free agent acquisition. I thought he played OK (one of the better players in a really terrible secondary) even when pressed into a starting role on the outside. The expectations were that he would play the dime, but by the end of the season he was a not-totally-terrible starter. I'm not saying he was a good corner this past season, but to suggest that anybody expected better is foolish.

Agreed with the above commenter that the Steelers replacing their obviously awful secondary is hardly a bold move. And limiting analysis of the Browns roster to a few paragraphs on "distractions" is the kind of lazy analysis that I expect from a loudmouth on First Take, not an analytics site. Four Downs has not been up to FO standards this year.

7 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

I keep reading the comments complaining about this year's Four Downs and while I can see where it's coming from has nobody realised that the change was almost certainly foisted on them by ESPN?

I highly doubt Aaron decided to dumb it down and sensationalise it without a push from his friends in Bristol (that's where ESPN is right?).

14 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

I agree and I preferred that, I just think this was a change instigated by ESPN, who are probably the main source of funding for series.

What I looked about the old format is that it gave us a good run down of the state of each team, maybe Aaron will get his boys to do that at some stage. I do miss it, it helps me to stay informed across the league.

17 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

I think we did Four Downs before and after the draft last year and I don't recall them being much longer than this. Everything I've written for Insider has had a suggested word count limit. Is it strongly enforced? Not at all, but brevity is a goal. If you see what I write on here or for other sites in the past, you know I usually write a lot more.

65 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

Re: #3

I was just about to post that the portion on McCain was complete nonsense. It's not like they signed him expecting him to be Darelle Revis. Also, while it's true that Mitchell was a disappointment overall, it was revealed shortly after the conclusion of the season that he'd been playing with a torn groin. I didn't see that noted anywhere.

C'mon, Scott, you're better than this.

5 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

I don't see how cutting Josh Gordon would be a productive move, considering that his most recent suspension was for having a few beers on a plane flight. Gordon may be an idiot, but are you really going to jettison a talented receiver on a cheap salary just for the sake of convincing players... that they shouldn't have a few beers on a plane flight?

If Gordon had been suspended for illegal drugs or for violent behavior or something, I'd be on board. But this doesn't seem like something worth getting on a soapbox over.

6 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

Well no, you're right, you don't cut a talented receiver for having a few beers on a plane flight. A talented receiver who was suspended for 2 games in the 2013 season for substance abuse, suspended twice in 2014 for a total of 11 games for substance abuse , and is now facing a year long suspension for, you guessed it, substance abuse, yea that you might cut a guy for.

Or to put it another way, why is he not allowed to have beer on airplane flights? I think it stems from the DUI he got in September, but really, the guy has had so many problems with booze it may be some other incident.

9 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

"A talented receiver who was suspended for 2 games in the 2013 season for substance abuse, suspended twice in 2014 for a total of 11 games for substance abuse , and is now facing a year long suspension for, you guessed it, substance abuse, yea that you might cut a guy for."

By and large it seems like Browns fans want to keep him simply because they don't want him dominating somewhere else.

I'm on the fence simply because I'm getting more into the "questioning the value of a top receiver" camp (e.g. look at how the Giants, for whatever it's worth, had a worse record and PPG with ODB on the field at 4-8 than 2-2 without, not to mention they did a game worse than last year; Tampa Bay's record with Mike Evans; and of course how inserting Gordon into the lineup this past year disrupted the offense.)

10 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

Points per game is a pretty terrible measure though. A great receiver could be extending drives and thus shortening games which leads to lower per game scoring but higher per drive.

11 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

Actually, the Giants had 113 points in 47 drives in their first four games without ODB, while on the season their total was just under 2 per our drivestats.

And this was with facing the #3, #6, #7 DVOA defenses, with the only breather in those first 4 weeks being Wash at 27th.

13 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

And I'm not saying he makes the offense definitively worse, just that I'm not sure he was worth a 12th overall pick for whatever amount of impact he ends up producing, based on the data we have so far.

(I will admit this has something to do with how everyone says it was so, so much better to take Sammy Watkins and/or him/Bridgewater/etc. instead of Justin Gilbert and Johnny. I still think Johnny can turn it around and Gilbert showed flashes of great potential, even if passing over Bridgewater and, probably, Carr looks terrible so far.)

23 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

I do wonder how causality works, though; if the offense overall got worse with Beckham in the lineup, but was better when the play went to him, then how and why does it happen?

Does he not run good decoy routes? Is he a poor blocker? Was Eli waiting too long to look for Beckham, and not hitting the other guys when the opportunities presented themselves? Did they change the game plans to take advantage of his presence, but couldn't figure out how to utilize the other four receivers?

I hardly get to see the Giants play, so I have no idea what was going on - but different answers imply different solutions.

29 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

Well, there was a weird thing with Beckham where they still had him running shallow, timing routes even when he started drawing double teams, so the underneath guy was able to peel off into other coverages and help in run support. I mean, it's impossible to understate what a bad job their OC did this year - he had a total aversion to the deep ball, despite it being Eli's strength and Beckham being, you know, really good at it as well. They stuck to these ineffectual timing routes all year and once Beckham got shut down in double teams (which is not a crazy thing to happen to a rookie) they didn't have any other moves - he was their only guy getting open, so shutting him down totally shut down the Giants' offense.

So, what I'm saying is, Beckham playing more might have hurt the offense in a funny way because he was a beast and virtually unstoppable in single coverage, but once defenses started focusing on him, their horrible OC refused to adapt or otherwise exploit the double team. I think Eli was waiting too long for him because Randall wasn't getting open consistently (he's not very good) and their were no other options and no running games. And a horrible o-line. And then Beckham is still playing within 12 yards of the line of scrimmage. (Maybe you're saying, the o-line is why they didn't throw the deep ball, but their timing route were really slow-developing, certainly no faster than a simply fly route.) But yeah, I think their offensive success next year is entirely dependent on their OC...

I do think Beckham hasn't shown himself to be a Megatron/Dez Bryant/Fitzgerald type player who can fight through double teams. I don't think he'll ever be the kind of player to outmuscle defenders or otherwise use his physicality to get separation. He's also extremely quick, but not DeSean Jackson/Mike Wallace-style fast, so he's not going to have defenders worrying about him blowing by him if they creep up. I mean, his numbers are insane, so I wouldn't rule out anything with him, even being a HOFer... but I also don't see a lot of top wr's to which he has a comparable style. He's like the 5-star diamond version of Jeremy Maclin or Eric Decker, guys with great ball skills and body control who rely on route-running and quickness to do their damage. Decker and Maclin are not doing shit against double-teams either.

15 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

I'm sensing a trend here...

Bills: get rid of Marcell Dareus
Ravens: must release Haloti Ngata
Patriots: must release Vince Wilfork

Apparently the hive mind has decided that defensive tackles are easy to replace.

Saying the Ravens don't need Ngata because the Pats beat the Ravens in spite of rushing for only 14 yards is...weird. Shouldn't the Ravens try to improve their pass defense instead of worsening the rush defense?

Look, I get it. The Ravens should try to restructure Ngata, just as the Pats should try to restructure Wilfork. But that's not the "Bold Move" being suggested.

16 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

"Apparently the hive mind has decided that defensive tackles are easy to replace."

I can tell you each writer came up with their own idea for each team, but if you're just asking me, then 100% yes I will say DTs are one of the easiest positions to replace. Comes down to range of motion for me. If you're big and physical, you already meet most of the job requirement.

18 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

It seems the NFL has entered a period where good 3-4 Defensive Ends or 4-3 Defensive Tackles are easy to find. Aside from the best player in the league, Sheldon Richardson and Muhammad Wilkerson can barely get an invite to a Pro Bowl, and yet they are first round success stories. In the 2015 draft, Leonard Williams is the best prospect, and the best defensive players in the last three drafts have been big physical DTs or DEs. It used to be that Offensive Tackles were the safe picks, but now it's the DTs. But according to you, teams are supposed to let those guys go when their rookie contracts are up.

20 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

>But according to you, teams are supposed to let those guys go when their rookie contracts are up

That's a leap. Wilfork and Ngata are both well past their rookie contracts, and, more importantly, their teams aren't enough better when they're on the field to justify a very high price (in the Raven's case, at least, b/c they've drafted cheap young replacements in rounds 2 and 3).

Healy suggested that the Bill's trade Dareus b/c he's incredibly valuable and they have too many other needs.


1) Aging expensive DT on team with solid defense -> expendable

2) Young, elite DT still on cheap rookie contract -> valuable resource

That makes sense to me

21 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

I think the idea is that if they're still a productive DT, it makes more sense to restructure the contract (with the option to cut later) than to cut immediately and take a chance on an unproven talent. Obviously, it depends on (1) how much the player is willing to negotiate, (2) his value on the open market, and (3) the availability & costs of replacements. None of these is easy to quantify, but it does mean that values fall more on a curve than the discrete values a contract's cap hit might imply.

That said, I agree with cutting Ngata because the rosters are deep enough to carry the hit.

PS: I'm so glad I can finally access FO at work again... just in time for the NFL offseason and my job's busy season. Crud.

PPS: If I get fired, it's all your fault, you slackers.

24 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

You are correct that Wilfork and Ngata are well past their rookie contracts, and I should not have exaggerated like that. The suggestion to trade Dareus was combined with the idea that they get high draft picks to solve their quarterback problem. The Bills don't have that many other needs; they could use help on the offensive line, and Fred Jackson is getting older, but the defense and receivers are fine.

28 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

Doesn't it seem like the real solution to a QB problem is actually "hire Jim Harbuagh or Bill Belichick or Andy Reid or Mike McCarthy" - you know, guys whose QB's always perform at an NFL level? (And then those guys like Flynn, Hoyer, Feely, Kolb, etc. go on to look utterly incompetent on other teams.) I mean, Alex Smith under Singletary is was a giant bust. Alex Smith after Harbaugh got done with him would be worth a Top 10 pick for Buffalo. I have feeling if Winston or Mariota ended up in Green Bay or New England, they'd turn out just fine...

30 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

The problem with that is that finding a HC that can extract decent production out of their QB's is as much of a crapshoot as drafting a franchise QB. Especially when you consider how many excellent coordinators & position coaches turn into awful HC's.

31 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

Oh it's all crapshoot, but there's less opportunity cost, in that your OC/HC's pay doesn't count against the cap, you likely won't have to use a pick to get them and you can fire them after a single season if they stink. If you draft a Mariota/Bortles/Gabbert/Sanchez, you're married to that player for years, they cost a high pick (or worse if trade up) and they eat a bunch of your cap. Concentrating on HC/OC also insures you against injury (again, look how little the constant injuries to Reid's QB's affected his teams - the back-ups were competent and they made the playoffs with Feely, Reid and Detmer seeing significant snaps. Even Vick and Foles were both back-ups acquired on the ultra-cheap.)

I mean, look at Arizona when their single half-decent QB went down or imagine the Colts without Luck under center. Whereas Harbuagh and McCarthy always seems to have two or more starters on hand and are able to flip back-ups for real resources. I just think that Gus Brady/Love Smith type coaches are just always going to shrug and say "well, he thought he was NFL caliber but he just didn't work out as a prospect." And then they somehow never find any QB who is NFL-caliber, even the Kyle Ortons and Mark Sanchezes they bring in look as bad as they ever did.

I mean, don't you think Rex Ryan being their coach is Buffalo's QB problem, everything else is secondary?

33 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

Considering that E.J. Manuel was benched early last year and didn't even have a good stretch at season's end like Geno, and that Orton retired the day after the season, no, Rex Ryan is not Buffalo's QB problem. He just inherited a situation that he cannot fix, going by his past history.

36 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

Ha - we're agreeing! Their QB problem IS that Rex can't fix it. If they had Andrew Luck, they wouldn't have a QB problem! But yeah, I love Rex probably more than any non-Jets fan (or even Jets fan at this point?) and it's not his fault they took Manuel with the 16th pick in the draft in one of the worst reaches of all time. I'm rooting for him in Buffalo, even if he was clearly insane on some level to stay in the AFC East. Atlanta and SF were the spots he should have given an arm and leg to go to...

34 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

That's a fair point - and I definitely agree about Rex being the absolute worst choice possible for Buffalo (which is already solid on the things he's good at, and terrible at the things he's bad at).

But when you've got team that's awful across the board like Tampa or Jacksonville, I think there's value in first trying to attain general competence across the roster, and then replacing your HC and praying for a QB as a 7-9 team instead of a 2-14 team. Which, I agree, is why Rex in Buffalo is such an awful fit, but bringing in Lovie Smith to institute some basic degree of competence and professionalism in Tampa made a lot of sense to me. You can always fire your HC later and entice a coaching prospect with the promise of a decent nucleus that just needs his touch as a QB guru.

Of course, the counterexample for that is Lovie's old team, which fired him after a 10-6 season and brought in a promising offensive coach to teach their tremendously talented but wildly erratic QB, and, well... The Bears!

37 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

Aw, I like Trestman - I think what he accomplished with McCown and Clausen is really impressive and also quite a testament to Cutler's total uncoachability. I think Trestman is just one of those guys that on personality level can't handle being an HC. If I had a struggling team, I'd rather have him as an OC than Lovie as an HC if only because Lovie's limitations are very clear at this point and there's a chance Trestman could work McCown-style wonders on a regular basis... (I think that's actually the only reason Chip Kelly gets respect - the idea that maybe Foles' 2013 wasn't a fluke but something he can produce on a regular basis.) The most usual kind if good Lovie Smith team is 10-6 and irrelevant. Which sure, if you're Tampa, that might feel nice...

38 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

That's just it, though - given where they started from, I think Tampa and Chicago made exactly the right hires for their situations. Post-Schiano, putting together a competently professional 8-8 team on a 3-year rebuilding plan is a massive improvement. For the Bears, taking a flyer on a promising coaching talent to take your competently professional 10-6 team over the top is the right call to make, even if it doesn't work out.

I actually liked Trestman, too, if for no other reason than I live in Chicago and listening to all the yobbos calling for his head make me think he's on to something. I just think that a HC who can get you a competently professional 8-8 team with some consistency actually puts him in the 75th percentile.

41 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

The Trestman hire was right in concept (let's focus on fixing the offense) but horrible in execution. I admit to drinking the Kool-Aid when he was hired and at the beginning of the 2013 season because I wanted to see a change from the Lovie era, but there were plenty of red flags in Trestman's history that would have been seen if anyone cared to look for them (never lasting more than a couple years in each NFL stop, his offenses experiencing great results in year 1 and then regressing big-time in year 2 when opponents figured them out).

Literally every one of Trestman's responses to the disasters of the 2014 season (both on and off the field) showed that he is utterly unqualified to be a head coach in the NFL, and seeing how startlingly uncreative and unadaptable his playcalling was, I can't believe he's already an OC again.

44 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

Yeah, consider chip kelly lost little of his "genius" luster, faced similar adversity in terms of injuries to trestman and produced an offense that was decisively worse than the bears by dvoa.

48 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

Oh no whoops - my mistake. I glanced at it and thought they were at 19th, i wonder what i was looking at. Their almost identical taking to the bears doesn't undermine my point about the difference in kelly and trestman's reputations.

49 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

Where did I say that the offense was bad per se? I said that it regressed quite a bit from Trestman's first year (in 2013, the Bears were 6th in offensive DVOA) which is what almost all of Trestman's offenses have done.

I would argue that pretty much anything that was good about the Bears in 2014 happened in spite of Trestman, not because of him. Forte was still a good RB (when he ever got to carry the ball), Marshall and Jeffery were still talented receivers when they weren't hurt, and the O-line was solid as a whole (although they didn't have the injury luck that they'd had in 2013). But Trestman couldn't coach effectively in games and he allowed the team to become a circus.

52 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

To be fair, I'll admit to having a strong personal dislike for Trestman after what happened in Chicago. And at least in Baltimore, there's a strong head coach in place so the locker room shouldn't fall apart like it did in Chicago. Flacco's also a better QB than Cutler or McCown.

While I do have issues with a lot of the way the offense was run, I don't really think that Trestman is a terrible offensive playcaller (but I wouldn't say he's particularly good, either). I would say that he was the worst head coach in the league last season.

53 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

Come on - you must not have watched any Redskins games. I know that team has terrible problems, but that's what a horrible head-coaching situation looks like. Gruden was actually trying to make his team look bad at times and attempting to coach so badly he would get fired or get certain players cut. Trestman was no where near worst in the league. I'd rate 10 to 12 coaches worse than him...

58 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

No, I didn't follow Washington closely (besides hearing about a lot of the Gruden/Griffin gossip, since it was national news), but what would you call benching a healthy Jay Cutler for Jimmy freaking Clausen besides trying to make your team look bad? The most charitable way to view that decision was to say that Trestman was frustrated with Cutler and was signaling that he didn't know what else to do; the more likely explanation to me is that he knew he was going to be fired and was trying to point the finger at Cutler for the cumulative failures of the offense. Not surprisingly, Clausen did not have a 2013 McCown-esque performance, but Trestman was vindicated enough anyway to land an OC job right away.

Look, the Bears' offense has been bad on the field a lot. Even most of the people who think Cutler is strongly below-average have to admit that he's at worst the 2nd or 3rd best QB in franchise history. Chicagoans can rattle off a long list of QBs who probably should not have been in the league even as backups, and yet the Bears relied on them to start. All that said, pretty much every Bears fan I know considers 2014 to be the most embarrassing season in recent memory; with the exception of the back-to-back blowout losses to the Patriots and Packers, it was the off-the-field stuff that made this more than just a disappointing season.

I hold Trestman responsible for pretty much all of the off-the-field embarrassment (excusing Briggs at the beginning of the season so he could go open his restaurant, allowing career headcase Brandon Marshall to fly to NY every week to appear on TV, the bizarre decision not to fire Cromer after he disparaged Cutler anonymously to the media).

60 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

You and I clearly have a different take on Trestman/Cutler which I imagine comes from me not being a Bears fan - it's clearly heated! But the Clausen/Cutler switch to me represented an attempt if not to win per se, to begin implementing a winning strategy, if that makes sense (whereas Gruden's activities were done almost entirely to antagonize a boss he hated and continue fighting with media/fanbase over perceptions of the QB situation.) To me, Cutler is totally uncoachable and Carmelo Anthony-esque born loser who despite his strengths as a player will ultimately always get in the way of being competitive. If you see Cutler that way, the switch to Clausen says "guys who will work and listen are more valuable and are going to see the field, everything else be damned."

The fact that Clausen, like McCown before him, went from looking absolutely just shit-stain awful to competent under Trestman made me personally feel like Trestman was correct to make the switch - he knows what he's doing with QB's. It was an attempt to start building a winning culture, instead of one that fosters guys like Cutler. That, to me, is a huge part of building a winning team. I mean, if you can turn Clausen into a competent back-up, you're doing the NFL equivalent of turning water into (box) wine. I mean, it just can't be coincidence that McCown spent an entire career being awful, suddenly played great under Trestman and then immediately went back to being awful with Trestman coaching him - the fluke of the change in his performance is just too huge to be incidental.

The off the field stuff I don't know too much about, but it sounds nightmarish. I'm not going to argue Trestman should have been kept on as HC, only to have a little perspective. I don't see in way in which he was worse than Chip Kelly in 2014, to keep to the same example. There were myriad off-the-field front office embarrassments for the Eagles as well. I can understand wanting Trestman to be gone, but be careful what you wish for - many coaches have no area of expertise or competency and Trestman appears to have a few...

61 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

I understand your perspective but I disagree. At the NFL level every QB (or for that matter player) is really good at SOMETHING. If they weren't they wouldn't be in the NFL. In my mind it is the job of the coach to find a way to make the best use of those strengths to produce a winning team. Their are lots of coaches though he seem determined to make they players fit their system rather than using the skills of the player they have. Benching Cutler to play Clausen reeks of that mindset to me.I think you are concerned you have one of those kinds of coaches in Philly.

63 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

That view point could be understandable if everyone didn't think Trestman was on his way out already.

I'm pretty sure starting Clausen was an attempt to do exactly what your opinion was, make Trestman look like he is a QB coaching savant who can turn chicken shit into chicken salad.

Since Clausen did end up being average, he might be, and I don't really begrudge him showing casing himself for his next job since everything was in tatters anyways, but I don't think he was doing anything for the long term health of the Chicago Bears in the last two games.

54 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

I wouldn't be if I were you. Trestman runs a very QB friendly offense that pushes the ball down the field instead of dinking and dunking like most coaches do to make reads easy on the QB.

When not saddled with one of the worst defenses in the league, he won't be compelled to abandon the run and with better field position you'll get more points from the yards gained.

39 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

I just want to point out McCarthy also coached Alex Smith and he had one of his worst years as a pro that year.

He also though Seneca Wallace "only QB backup" was a good idea one year, and definitely did not get NFL level production from him.

22 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

I just want to say I agree on Defensive Tackles being fairly fungible, and definitely probably the most overpriced commodity in the league right now.

JJ Watt is kind of an exception as a 3-4 end whose way too dominant, but even your run of the mill dominant DT is demanding Gerald McCoy money. There's talk of Suh getting a 100m+ contract, but good DT play isn't translating to wins or often times even to very good defense. It's certainly not a position worth sinking much money into.

27 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

You think so? Look at how many good defenses are anchored by a dominant interior lineman (or two), not just Ngata, but Suh, Cox, the Jets guys, McCoy, the Buffalo guys, and even Watt isn't usually an edge player. With the exception of Nagata, these guys are all the best player on their defenses and if you removed them, the defense would collapse. Philly, Bufflao, Detriot and Houston are all Top 10 defenses, to boot. Throw in Justin Smith in SF and there's an argument that DT is the most impactful defensive position (and their contracts are not one of the 3 highest for defensive players - CB, OLB and DE still draw larger paychecks.)

I think if you're looking for over-valued positions, I think 4-3 DE is the most over-valued at this point. There's only a single Top 10 team (by DVOA) driven by top flight/dollar 4-3 DE's (and that's St. Louis.) But they're also like Buffalo in that they have an excellent DT whose performance can't be separated from the DE's. But there are plenty of teams like Seattle and Jacksonville (check their sack rate) getting excellent production from a bunch of rotation guys at DE. Cost effectiveness-wise, a bunch of players of cheap(-ish) players makes more sense than hanging your hopes on a single player who may or may not underperform his contract.

I also think 3-4 OLB's are also a bad value with teams like Miami, KC and Pittsburgh having a lot of resources tied up in pass-rushing 3-4 OLB's and only producing mediocre-to-bad defenses. I mean, with KC, their fortunes had almost nothing to do with Justin Houston (who was excellent all year) and everything to do with whether Poe was having a good or bad game (and he was very up and down this season.) Plus, guys like Manning and Brady being so effected by pressure up the middle (as opposed to edge pressure) makes DT very valuable versus top QB's.

I mean, when I think about the Eagles, as much as I think Barwin was a legit DPOY candidate, if I had to chose between keeping him and Cox, there's just no question.

35 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

I'm with you in a sense about DT. Check out this article ( from a few years ago from Chris Brown about how dependent New England's defensive scheme is on Wilfork. Highly unlikely that they would be able to replace what he's been doing with a guy off the street or a rotation—there's a reason he's getting paid what he has been. (Age obviously is the main factor in the current discussion about cutting him.)

That said, you can do things a number of different ways on defense, and the best ones will find a way to build their scheme around their best players. Look at Seattle. Safety is the lowest-paid defensive position group across the league, but Thomas is arguably their most important defender. They also lost their only good true defensive tackle (Mebane) for the season but had little trouble playing a rotation, moving ends inside, and relying on their linebackers to step up in his absence.

40 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

I do think so.

The Lions defenses have been awful during most of Suh's run, the Jets D has been pretty poor, the Bucs have been abysmal and even the Texans have been inconsistent. During JJ Watt's ridiculous year two years ago, they wound up picking first overall and he may have had the greatest single season a D-linemen has ever had.

Detroit and Houston this past year were good defenses, but I haven't really seen it proven that a highly paid DT is a good use of resources. I'm not saying a good DT isn't worth having, just that I think it's an inefficient use of cap resources.

A strong NT may be a different case which I'll concede, but I just think some team is going to lock up Suh at 15m per and just hamstring their team for years, even if he performs as a top 3 DT his entire contract.

43 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

Who else were good in houston and detroit's defenses? They were shockingly close to being a one-man show. (That's exaggerating, but the watt and suh off those defenses and they're bottom 10 squads.)

51 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

You're out of touch regarding the Lions. DeAndre Levy played at Pro Bowl level all year at LB. Glover Quin is a very good safety. Darius Slay was also good against # 1 WRs. The Lions were 8th in DVOA against the pass, about 15 spots higher than 2013, and it wasn't all because of Suh.

55 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

Levy was a real presence for sure, Slay & Quin are good (I think - I mean, neither has done it consistently for years on end yet), there are definitely players on the d-line in addition to Suh. But what I mean is: if they lose Suh, do you think they're a top 3 defense again? Levy, Quin, Tulloch and Ansah - they've got some other good players, but none of those guys are Pro Bowlers, let alone All-Pro's. I'm curious how good Levy looks without Suh in front of him and how well the secondary holds up without Suh (in a contract year even.) I mean... without Suh that's not a defense that's scary. It might be ok, but not league-leading. I just don't see it. And that's not even to impugn them - look, I'd love for Quin and Slay to be on the Eagles!

Maybe what I meant by "one-man show" was their excellence (not their competency) was the direct result of Suh. That doesn't mean they'll be bad without him, I just can't see how they'll be excellent. There are some defenses that are execellent where it doesn't rest as much on single player - Arizona and Buffalo come to mind. There's no one guy you take off of those defenses and they suddenly look don't look the same, where there's a question if they'll even be good. Even Seattle and SF don't have the same kind of lynchpin that Suh is for the Lions. (Although, Patrick Willis certainly made his value felt this year...)

67 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

No, I don't think they'd be a top-3 D without Suh, at least in current form, and I'd rather see Suh stay. But I don't think they'd fall to average or lower either. How would AZ fare without Calais Campbell? GB without Clay Matthews? It's been documented here how badly the Seahawk D fared without Wagner. A lot of teams are in similar situations. It's mostly only bad defenses that don't suffer much from losing a good player.

46 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

The Jets defense has actually been pretty solid until this past year. Really, what the Jets situation tells you is that it isn't a good idea to get rid of two pro bowl corners if you have them.

59 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

I'd add another condition to the planet theory, though: the ability to stay healthy for 16+ games. I think that's definitely something that affects DT's more than other positions, and declines precipitously with age.

62 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

And, in an age where DTs often come off the field against passing formations, it's harder to justify paying them top dollar. The ones who can rush the passer obviously have an advantage in that regard.

25 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

RE: Hardy

Yes, this is a land of presumed innocence until proof of guilt. So what?

I don't think teams would shy away from Hardy because he might end up in jail. Teams (maybe not all) will steer clear of Hardy because of troubling behavior, possible suspension, and domestic violence blowback. None of which requires the accused to be found guilty in a court of law.

It kills me when I hear people talk of the NFL like their discipline policy needs resemble the US criminal code. Al Michaels last year was pointing out that Ray Rice should be reinstated because of federal double jeopardy protection. What??

Per the constitution, I'm allowed to wear a shirt to work that says "Mr. Smith doesn't know his ass from a hole in the ground" every day. The US Constitution does not protect me when Mr. Smith suspends and/or terminates me.

If I'm the owner or GM of a team, the fact that Hardy's charges were dropped (far, far different than being found not guilty) wouldn't enter the sign/don't sign matrix. Especially since it's at minimum possible, and at maximum highly likely, that the witness was intimidated or incentive-cized into not appearing in court.

32 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

There was discussion in the article I read that there was a civil settlement being pursued that persuaded the accuser to avoid being found and subpoenaed to testify in the criminal trial so charges were dropped.

47 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

That makes a lot of sense. Ultimately, the bulk of the evidence of the case was going to be the accuser's testimony, so if Hardy can pay her enough to go away, the charges disappear. I would be really worried about signing Hardy because the nature of the accusations--throwing a woman into a pile of guns, pointing firearms at her head, trying to drown her in a toilet--were absolutely disgusting and seem to indicate that he's a homicidal maniac. Ray Rice has generally come off as a pretty good guy in his career (putting much more than a token effort into his anti-bullying campaigns/charities) and I think that was just one really bad drunken mistake on his part. Greg Hardy sounds like he's actually going to shoot somebody someday.

But then again, who knows what the Giants knew about Lawrence Taylor off the field during his playing days. If the guy can play, somebody's going to give him a helmet.

56 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

could be a down year for all...Cleveland in turmoil....Pitt (will miss DC LeBeau)....balti might really miss Kubiak's influences.....and cincy will be cincy....good all year until playoffs.

66 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

Sad to see LeBeau go (though I don't think the parting of ways between him and the Steelers was ever going to be easy, given that he has no apparent plans of retiring anytime soon), but remains to be seen how much he'll be missed.