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24 Feb 2010

Four Downs: NFC South

by Bill Barnwell

Atlanta Falcons: Will Jamaal Anderson ever come around?

Last year, the Falcons secretly had the league's second-best run defense, according to DVOA. At -16.1% (remember, since defense is about not allowing a team yards or points, a negative DVOA is actually better), they were better at stopping the run than vaunted defenses like the Ravens, Jets, and Steelers.

When the opposition threw? That was another story. Atlanta's 24.0% pass defense DVOA was 27th in the league; no team ranked lower than 22nd (Minnesota) made the playoffs, and the Vikings were the only team in football with a better run defense than Atlanta.

Good pass defense requires an effective pass rush and good coverage, and the Falcons had neither in 2009. The Falcons hoped that a ferocious pass rush would compensate for a mediocre secondary, but Atlanta's sack rate of 5.6 percent was 26th in the league, with star end John Abraham going from 16.5 sacks in 2008 to only 5.5 in 2009. The team leader in sacks was actually defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux, who had six. There's hope in situational pass rusher Kroy Biermann, who had five sacks in his sophomore campaign, but the problem here is the guy starting across from Abraham and ahead of Biermann.

When the Falcons took Jamaal Anderson with the eighth overall pick of the 2007 NFL Draft, they were expecting a two-way end in the vein of Patrick Kerney, who had just left the team. Instead, Anderson has contributed 2.5 sacks through his first three seasons. The track record for guys with three seasons under their belt and fewer than three sacks suddenly developing pass rush skills isn't very good. If Anderson had shown even flashes of brilliance as a pass rusher, there would be some hope, but it's pretty clear that he's never going to be even an average pass rusher on the edge.

The Falcons did temporarily move Anderson to tackle during the season, but he doesn't have the skills or the body type to last there long-term. While he's got competition from JaMarcus Russell and Buster Davis, it appears that Anderson may very well become the first player selected in the opening round of the 2007 NFL Draft to be released.

Who Could Leave?

While a fair amount of our Top 25 Prospects had breakout years, Jerious Norwood was one that didn't; even after Michael Turner went down with an ankle injury, it was Jason Snelling that emerged as the team's starting back. Both Norwood and Snelling are restricted free agents this year, and Snelling's success might actually work in Norwood's favor; coming off of his worst season as a pro, the Falcons might choose to tender him at a level below his true value, and a team like the Eagles could bite. Wideout Brian Finneran's been re-signed, while the team will get to enjoy the services of Tyson Clabo as a RFA for another year, thanks to the CBA woes. Cutting dire cornerback Brent Grimes is one of the most obvious moves an NFL team has to make this offseason.

Who Could Arrive?

Thomas Dimitroff comes from New England, who were happy to shop on High Street in free agency. They also have a gaping chasm across from Abraham. Could they be a landing point for Julius Peppers? If Peppers still wants to play outside linebacker in a 3-4, they're out, but he'd be a great fit here. Working on the secondary is also a must, especially at corner; while the team hopes that Christopher Owens will continue to develop, bringing in a veteran like Leigh Bodden or the out-of-favor Fabian Washington from Baltimore would prevent them from having to play replacement-level fodder like Grimes or Tye Hill at corner.

Carolina Panthers: Is it time to rebuild?

After a 12-win season in 2008, the Panthers had high hopes for 2009. Alas, Jake Delhomme's season-opening spurt of interceptions was a sign of bad things to come; the Panthers finished 8-8, but needed wins over an absent Giants team in Week 16 and the Saints' backups in Week 17 to get there. DVOA has them at 10.2% on the season, 14th in the league, but it underestimates the level of effort they faced against an otherwise-excellent Saints team in Week 17. It's fair to say that Carolina was a below-average team in 2009.

That difficult year yields challenging questions for this offseason. Defensive end Julius Peppers is an unrestricted free agent, and because he was tagged as the team's franchise player a year ago, he'd cost an absurd $21.8 million to keep around for 2010. Chances are that he won't be [Note: Since this was written, the team confirmed that to be true], costing the team their best player without any compensation. To fit Peppers into the cap a year ago, the Panthers signed quarterback Jake Delhomme to a contract extension that guarantees him nearly $12 million in 2010; of course, Delhomme was alternately average and terrifying in 2009, and was essentially benched onto injured reserve. The team is stuck with him for one more year.

With Peppers leaving, Delhomme gnawing at owner Jerry Richardson's pocketbook, and a host of veterans that are unlikely to survive a rebuilding period as Panthers, Carolina should take the uncapped year to shed as many of their onerous contracts as possible and start over. With the most talented draft class of the decade entering the league, they have assets that could result in valuable draft picks, including wide receiver Steve Smith and left tackle Jordan Gross.

Their best trading chit, though, is All-Pro halfback DeAngelo Williams. Williams turns 27 in April, only has 754 NFL carries on his odometer, and is signed for one more year at the price of $725,000. With budding (albeit injury-prone) star Jonathan Stewart waiting in the wings, a Williams deal is their best shot at getting back the first-round pick they traded to San Francisco to move up and draft Everette Brown a year ago. The Chargers, who pick 28th, seem like a logical landing point if the Panthers head in that direction. With a team not good enough to make it to the Super Bowl, it makes sense for them to start over.

Who Could Leave?

If the Panthers decide to stay the course, they could still choose to make moves to spruce up the roster. Peppers has already decided to leave, but they'll likely hope to fill the hole with a combination of Charles Johnson and Everette Brown. Fellow starting end Tyler Brayton is also a free agent, if the Panthers let him go and choose to start Johnson and Brown, they'll need to add depth. A wideout across from Smith would seem to be a priority, but that's been the case for three years now, and Carolina's brought in assorted tall men who aren't particularly good at playing wide receiver at this point of their lives. Following that pattern would seem to yield ... Brandon Lloyd. Sorry, Panthers fans. This actually would be a good place for Terrell Owens to go considering Owens's diminished skill set and what the Panthers need: a possession receiver. Starting right guard Keydrick Vincent is also an unrestricted free agent, as is fill-in defensive tackle Hollis Thomas.

Who Could Arrive?

Owens seems like the logical fit, with Lloyd the (sadly) more likely one. Their search for a guard to replace Vincent could bring them to the Vikings' Artis Hicks or Stephen Neal of the Patriots, both of whom are unrestricted. They've already signed former Colts defensive tackle Ed Johnson as a replacement for Thomas; he'll compete with Damione Lewis for a starting job next to Ma'ake Kemoeatu.

New Orleans: Does Darren Sharper deserve the franchise tag?

It's easy to make the case that the Saints need to lock up Darren Sharper. His arrival last summer coincided with a dramatic upswing in the quality of the Saints' pass defense, which finished ninth in DVOA. Sharper tied for the league lead with nine interceptions, scored three touchdowns, and had nearly twice as many yards on interception returns as anyone else in the league. Oh, and then the Saints won the Super Bowl. Throw in his veteran leadership, his age (35 in 2010), and the looming uncapped year, and it makes sense to give him a one-year, $6.5 million deal to return for another season. All makes sense.

Once you start examining those points, though, cracks begin to emerge in the foundation. For one, correlation is not always causation. While Sharper was undoubtedly an upgrade on the Tebucky Joneses that came before him, another player arrived in New Orleans this offseason: Jabari Greer. Quietly, Greer emerged as an elite cornerback when he was healthy; more notably, when he was absent, the Saints' pass defense declined dramatically. The Saints had the third-best pass defense in the league when Greer was in the lineup, from Weeks 1-9, but they fell all the way to 20th when Greer was out. Sharper was in the lineup for all but two of those games, and could do little to stop the rot; the facts suggest it was Greer, not Sharper, whose arrival turned the defensive tide. (And, of course, defensive coordinator Gregg Williams helped too.)

As for the nine interceptions? Sharper's unquestionably a ballhawk, leading all active players in career interceptions, but that doesn't mean he's good for nine again. He had two other nine-pick seasons, 2000 and 2005; he only averaged five interceptions in the subsequent two seasons. That's not just a Sharper thing, either; from 1990-2008, there were 25 instances of a player picking off nine passes in a given year. In the season after their huge INT run, those defenders averaged fewer than three interceptions. Not a single player managed to get nine picks in back-to-back seasons. Five would be a much more realistic target for Sharper's 2010, and that's not particularly appealing.

Sharper's not great against the run, either. It's unfair to pick one play and use it as an example of a player's ability, but go watch that 26-yard run from Joseph Addai in the Super Bowl again. He makes Sharper look like the worst player in the league with a juke in the open-field. Whoever signs Sharper this offseason will be paying for last year's interception total, Jabari Greer's excellent play, and a reasonable amount of veteran leadership. Of course, if veteran leadership was so important, the Vikings probably wouldn't have let go of Sharper in the first place.

Who Could Leave?

The two most prominent names are Sharper and potential cap casualty Reggie Bush; Bush doesn't deserve he money he's set to make -- more than $8 million -- but the Saints can afford to keep him on the roster. The only other starter that's an unrestricted free agent is linebacker Scott Fujita. Among the 18 restricted free agents on the roster are the other two rotation halfbacks (Pierre Thomas and Mike Bell), the top three candidates at left tackle (Jermon Bushrod, Jammal Brown, and Zach Strief), and starting safety Roman Harper. Bushrod's a sell-high candidate, as the left tackle's play was markedly inconsistent throughout the 2009 season, and if Brown returns from injury, he'll move to the bench. Their best RFA, though, is guard Jahri Evans; arguably the league's best interior lineman, if anyone deserves a poison pill contract this offseason, it's him.

Who Could Arrive?

Super Bowl-winning teams aren't known for making wholesale changes in the offseason, so don't expect any huge arrivals in New Orleans. Veteran depth on defense across the board makes sense; if the Saints are going to upgrade anywhere, it's at defensive tackle, where they could make a move for someone like Cory Redding.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: How can Tampa help Josh Freeman?

While Josh Freeman got Buccaneers' fans hopes up during the team's dramatic victory over the Packers in Week 9, he didn't offer very much to cheer about after that. After the Packers victory, the Bucs passing attack was 20th in the league in DVOA; over the final eight games of the year, they were 29th. Even the rushing attack fell from 19th to 26th; it's hard to argue that Freeman made the offense better.

Particularly concerning was Freeman's interception rate. With 18 picks on 290 attempts, Freeman had a 6.2 percent interception rate. Since 1990, only two quarterbacks have thrown more than 250 attempts in a season with a higher interception rate: Jake Plummer (1999) and Donald Hollas (1998). If we limit the figures to just rookie seasons, Freeman's well ahead of previous "leader" Plummer, who was at 5.1 percent his rookie year. (Just behind him, at 4.9 percent: Peyton Manning. Of course, behind Manning is Heath Shuler, Kerry Collins, and Tony Banks.)

The good news is that the interception rate should regress to the mean next year, but it's clear that Freeman needs some help. While the Bucs added tight end Kellen Winslow a year ago and gave him a contract extension, they also inexplicably signed wide receiver Michael Clayton to an extension, despite Clayton's inability to get above 40 receptions since his rookie season. They didn't lock up the mercurial Antonio Bryant, who is now set to leave as an unrestricted free agent. That leaves Winslow and slot receiver Sammie Stroughter, without much else for Freeman to target.

Adding a wide receiver this offseason is a must for facilitating Freeman's growth. Although mixing him with the always-volatile Winslow could be dangerous for team chemistry, this is a natural landing point for Brandon Marshall, who played his college ball 90 minutes away at Central Florida.

In addition, while the team seems set to lock up competent left tackle Donald Penn, right tackle Jeremy Trueblood consistently ranks among the league leaders in sacks allowed. He's arguably the worst pass-blocking starting tackle in football, and if the team hopes to keep Freeman upright, he needs to go.

Who Could Leave?

Bryant's as good as gone, as is the deposed Byron Leftwich. Backup Josh Johnson is rumored to be part of the booty requested by St. Louis if Tampa wants to move up to the first overall pick; even if that deal falls through, moving Johnson while he still has some trade value makes sense. Safety Jermaine Phillips is also a free agent; getting him away and chaining Sabby Piscitelli to him would be a positive move. Prominent restricted free agents include Cadillac Williams and Barrett Ruud; locking up Ruud to a long-term deal is a must, and truthfully, it should have happened already.

Who Could Arrive?

Tampa had a ton of cap space heading into the 2009 season that they've been carrying over for several years, but in an uncapped year, that doesn't particularly matter. It doesn't make a lot of sense for them to go after a bunch of veterans in free agency, and a lot of the fifth- and sixth-year free agents they'd normally be targeting as a low-risk, high-reward guys are RFAs this year, so they're stuck.

(Portions of this article originally appeared on ESPN.com Insider.)

Posted by: Bill Barnwell on 24 Feb 2010

38 comments, Last at 01 Mar 2010, 5:07pm by commissionerleaf


by Danish Denver-Fan :: Wed, 02/24/2010 - 1:48pm

Nitpickery: Buster Davis was a 3rd rounder. It even says so on his profile here on the site.

by orang3b :: Wed, 02/24/2010 - 1:51pm

He's talking about Craig "Buster" Davis - here:

by Danish Denver-Fan :: Wed, 02/24/2010 - 4:38pm

Ah of course. However the link in the article is still wrong.

by bingo762 :: Wed, 02/24/2010 - 2:34pm

"It's fair to say that Carolina was a below-average team in 2008."
Probably should read 2009.

"the Falcons might choose to tender him at a level below his true value, and a team like the Eagles could bite."
Probably should read "a team like the Chargers could bite."

by Eddo :: Wed, 02/24/2010 - 4:13pm

The Eagles seem like a logical destination for Norwood. He has a similar skillset to Westbrook, though obviously not as impressive.

by DM (not verified) :: Wed, 02/24/2010 - 2:54pm

"Cutting dire cornerback Brent Grimes is one of the most obvious moves an NFL team has to make this offseason. "

You mean Chris Houston. Grimes obviously isn't starter material but I'd rather take my chances with him than Houston or Hill.

by widderslainte :: Wed, 02/24/2010 - 6:06pm

"Grimes obviously isn't starter material but I'd rather take my chances with him than Houston"

Exactly. Cutting Jamaal is the obvious move. He wasn't *too* bad at DT, but I think Babs and Jerry have that covered.

by dk240t :: Wed, 02/24/2010 - 2:57pm

So when Greer was playing, the NO defense was very good, when he was out, the NO defense wasn't good. Therefore Greer is the most likely cause for the turnaround, not Darren Sharper. Of course Gregg Williams also helped. But wait...Gregg Williams AND Darren Sharper were both there all year...so the logic that says that Sharper wasn't the primary key to the turnaround also indicates Williams wasn't.

In other words, Greer was vital, Sharper and Williams helped in quantities of which it is impossible to discern the relative value.

It seems like there are some actual valuable players from this division that are free agents/up for likely trade, relative to the dearth of talent available in free agency in general - two good running backs and one good wide receiver.

by BucNasty :: Wed, 02/24/2010 - 3:29pm

That DE has his moments, too.

by Harris :: Wed, 02/24/2010 - 2:57pm

In this day and age, is anyone not named Al Davis crazy enough to trade a first-round pick for a RB?

Hail Hydra!

by alexbond :: Wed, 02/24/2010 - 3:32pm

It depends on the guy, I think most teams would trade a 1st for Adrian Peterson. I think DeAngelo Williams is worth a low 1st pick, in the high 20s, right around where SD is.

by MilkmanDanimal :: Wed, 02/24/2010 - 3:07pm

So the best-case scenario is TO, and the realistic on is Brandon Lloyd?

Gonna be a long year, Panthers fans.

by loneweasel (not verified) :: Wed, 02/24/2010 - 3:13pm

Soccer owners = ruined NFL franchise

See Clark Hunt, Randy Lerner, Malcolm Glazer

The Glazers' actions in the last year plus only makes sense if you take into account their massive credit crunch due to the whole ManU fiasco. It's a long dark era ahead for that franchise, which should not be unfamiliar to their fanbase however.

by BucNasty :: Wed, 02/24/2010 - 3:34pm

Five would be a much more realistic target for Sharper's 2010, and that's not particularly appealing.

I don't really have an opinion on whether or not the Saints should keep Sharper around, but I don't like this arguement. If 9 picks is too fluky to be repeatable, then clearly 5 or so is a good season for your safety. Whoever else they bring in is equally unlikely to get 9, so realistically the new guy's ceiling should be 5 as well. Seeing as Darren Sharper is, as you said, an established ball hawk, he's probably a bit more likely to actually get those 5 picks than the next guy.

by Yaguar :: Wed, 02/24/2010 - 3:57pm

Yeah, it's a standard "he's not going to be as good as he was last year" argument. True, but it's better to have an awesome player not live up to expectations than it is to have a mediocre player not live up to expectations. Both happen frequently in the NFL.

Sharper has also consistently produced lots of interceptions throughout his career. The mean outcome is around six per season since his breakout season at the beginning of the decade. It's not fair to compare him to other players who had a single lucky season, like, say, Brian Russell.

Sharper is 2nd all time in career interception return yards, sixth all time in interceptions. First among active players in both. And he's coming off of a 9-interception season with the most return yards in history.

Maybe you don't think he's repeating that. You're right. But answer this: is there any single person on earth who would be more capable of producing interceptions for the 2010 Saints than Darren Sharper?

by Bill Barnwell :: Wed, 02/24/2010 - 4:40pm

Sharper is definitely, definitively, quantifiably better than a league-average safety or even a good safety at picking passes off. No doubt. That's why I guesstimated that he'd have five as opposed to a league-average rate of interceptions by a safety per 16 games (probably around 3). That also doesn't consider, though, that the Saints faced 574 passes this year during the regular season after facing an average of 508 over the previous three years, thanks to their gaudy record. That figure will decline some, too, taking away chances for interceptions.

However, there are other things that safeties have to do besides pick passes off. They have to support the run. They have to be functional in man coverage and be able to provide support over the top in double coverage, and occupy a swath of space in zone coverage.

At all those things, Sharper is -- at best -- average. He has good instincts and knows where to go, but he's prone to mistakes that turn small gains into big ones. You're welcome to disagree, of course, but I'm pretty confident in this -- I charted a bunch of Saints games this year, and watched several more very closely before the Super Bowl preview.

Let's say Sharper is an average safety outside of interceptions. How many interceptions does he need to get to justify a $6.5 million price tag, considering his expected level of play and his age? The answer is probably something close to nine, and the odds of that happening -- even considering Sharper's ability to get interceptions -- are remarkably slim.

by Yaguar :: Wed, 02/24/2010 - 4:56pm

Your assessment of Sharper is fine, but I'd put him at six interceptions, and say that's easily worth a 6.5 million dollar price tag. Every year, people say contracts for each individual veteran are "too much." That's because they compare those contracts to ones from previous years, without accounting for salary cap inflation. Nnamdi Asomugha is getting 15 million dollars per year, with nearly 10 million per year of that guaranteed. This is 6.5 million dollars, a year later. Obviously, Sharper doesn't provide nearly as much value as Asomugha. But half as much? Absolutely. I'd franchise tag Sharper in a heartbeat.

by BucNasty :: Wed, 02/24/2010 - 5:20pm

Nnamdi's price tag is also inflated because he plays for the Raiders, and Al Davis knows he has to overpay his good players if he wants them to stick around. I have no doubt he'd settle for less money to play for a more competitive team. The question is how much less.

by Bill Barnwell :: Wed, 02/24/2010 - 5:22pm

I don't really get the six interceptions thing -- or how that's worth $6.5 million with an otherwise-average player -- but I can say that you're not really applying the logic of how teams value players properly. Consider that $6.5 million figure and that a rookie safety off the street would make $300,000. Is Darren Sharper really 21.5 times better than a street free agent? Of course not. That's not how player valuation works.

by commissionerleaf :: Wed, 02/24/2010 - 5:48pm

Well, "21.5 times" isn't proper player valuation either. Each standard deviation away from the mean in terms of value to the team is a huge gap in salary (or should be). There are 32 starters at Free Safety; let's say the worst of them is worth the league minumum. The 16th starter, the median safety starting in the NFL, is worth more - a lot more. He's probably worth at least 1/53rd of the salary cap - $2 Million a year, say. The best safety in the league? Troy Polamalu makes $7 Million a year... and when healthy, he's a steal at the price.

Does that mean Darren Sharper is worth $6.5 million? Of course he isn't. He's probably a lot closer to league-average than he is to Troy Polamalu. Does that mean the Saints can let him go? I don't know. It depends not only on how close he is to being worth $6.5 Million, but on what the alternative is, and on how much the $4 Million means to them. Most NFL teams, and all successful franchises, are quite willing to overpay at a position to get a player they think works for the franchise. Darren Sharper will sell more jerseys next year than a replacement.

So it's not cut and dried, and player evaluation is a lot more than just relative value to an abstract defense. Does anyone think that Jeff Saturday would be as valuable to any other NFL team as he is to the Colts?

by mm (not verified) :: Thu, 02/25/2010 - 1:20pm

When paying Sharper, there's 3 things to keep in mind.

1. How many other teams are really competing for him? Noone was offering him big money last year because he wasn't a great player in the Vikings system. With the Saints, he had solid corners (when healthy) that allowed him to freelance more and a coaching staff that blitzed frequently and asked him to gamble for the big play.

If he's not in a similar situation with his next team, he's not very valuable to them. If there isn't another such team with an oppening at free safety, the Saints actually don't have much competition.

2. Everyone thinks there's a good chance there will be a lockout in 2011. A normal contract with a bonus doesn't make sense for an older veteran who might not be playing at all in 2012.

3. Because of the uncapped year rules, the Saints cannot sign an unrestricted free agent unless they lose one of equivalent value. Presumably that value is determined by the contract the free agent signs. If Sharper is signed away for, say, $5 million, they can suddenly add 1 decent unrestricted free agent. If there's someone they have in mind out there, Sharper being signed away may be the only way they can aquire him.

by resident jenius :: Wed, 02/24/2010 - 4:17pm


Ed Johnson stands little chance of making the regular season Carolina roster, much less competing to start beside a doubtful to return (injury or budget cut) Maake Kemoeatu. The likely Panthers DT starters are Damione Lewis and one of the returning Louis Leonard, Tank Tyler or Corvey Irvin.

Also, the Panthers entire identity at this point is their two running backs. I just can't see a trade for either one of them. I'd say the only way the Panther's get into the 2010 first round is if some team decides one of Matt Moore, Thomas Davis or Richard Marshall is worth a first round pick as a restricted free agent snag.

Granted, the team is stuck with Delhomme for one more year, but will he start?

Finally, lolz on "the most talented draft class of the decade" in the first draft of the decade. I know, I suck.

by The Guy You Don't Want to Hear (not verified) :: Wed, 02/24/2010 - 5:08pm

I've heard a few places that Carolina really likes Mike Goodson, their 4th-round RB from a year ago. If they really like him that much (and of course they may not), then trading DeAngelo Williams would be a possibility.

And I had the same question you did about Delhomme.

by Drunkmonkey :: Wed, 02/24/2010 - 5:55pm

I believe the situation with Delhomme is that the team can cut him after this year and not have such a large portion to pay him, but if they do it this year, they have to pay him a ton.

As far as Goodson, I've heard the same thing, and this is coming from a lot of insiders with the Panthers. However, they aren't ready to play him yet. The organization is hoping that he'll be able to replace Williams and play a supporting role to Stewart by 2011.

I really don't think Williams will be traded this offseason, as he's basically the only drawing card they have right now on offense.

And when it comes to getting into the first round, I hardly think there is another team on the planet that will give up a first round pick for Moore, but Davis is a slight possibility, although the injury will more than likely scare off a bunch of teams. And even if Marshall is given an offer sheet by another team, the Panthers will definitely match it. That's one of the few strengths they had last year- fairly good cornerback play.

by resident jenius :: Wed, 02/24/2010 - 6:38pm

Maybe I just don't read the right papers, but I thought that Goodson was in the doghouse for fumble problems. Wasn't he benched by midseason for Tyrell Sutton?

Also, why wouldn't Matt Moore tempt a quarterback needy team to give up a first? Has he shown any less than what Matt Schaub had when the Texans gave up two seconds?

by BucNasty :: Wed, 02/24/2010 - 6:39pm

I always thought the concern with cutting players too early was about the cap hit. All of their bonuses and whatnot count the year you cut him. I think you're still on the hook for same amount if you cut him now as opposed to later. Maybe more, if some of his money is due to roster bonuses. With no cap, I don't see how anyone is uncuttable unless you just don't see the sense in paying someone a ton of money without even having them around in a backup role. I could be wrong, though.

by GoVikes (not verified) :: Wed, 02/24/2010 - 4:24pm

The Bucs will consistently be under the cap for many years to come. The Glazer family is stuck with too much debt from Man U, and they won't spend more than the league minimum on their NFL franchise until that gets cleared up. What they should do is sell the Bucs, which would provide more than enough liquidity to get their soccer franchise back in order and would provide stability to Tampa Bay, but they seem too stubborn to do that.

After so many decades of mediocrity, the Bucs finally started turning things around in the last decade under Tony Dungy and became a respectable franchise with an actual identity (run first/defense first), only to see it all thrown away by Bruce Allen and Jon Gruden. So sad.

by loneweasel (not verified) :: Wed, 02/24/2010 - 4:43pm

They aren't too stubborn to sell the Bucs. It's just that they won't sell unless they can get ONE...BILLION...DOLLAHS...

Which obviously isn't happening in this economy. The Rams sold for more than 200 million than they would have been worth two years ago. Imagine how much more a work stoppage can destroy franchise values.

by loneweasel (not verified) :: Wed, 02/24/2010 - 4:44pm

-more than 200 million LESS-

by Sander :: Thu, 02/25/2010 - 10:12am

This rumour keeps popping up without any foundation to it. The Bucs offered Haynesworth more money than the Redskins did last year. They went after Jay Cutler too and Brett Favre the year before that. They signed Kellen Winslow to the most expensive TE contract in the league, signed Ward for too much money, franchised Antonio Bryant for more than $10M and drafted a first-round QB (always expensive). They also routinely bought up any unsold tickets for homegames last season, as there were plenty empty seats but no black-outs. These are not signs of a franchise in dire financial straits.

Man U may not be doing well financially (though they're fine from a sports standpoint), but there's no evidence whatsoever that this is impacting the Bucs in any way. All there is is a perception of a lack of huge free agent signings, which people want to connect to Man U. But from all that we know, Man U is handling its debt by itself without being a burden to the Glazers themselves. Man U is isolated from the Bucs, and the Glazers aren't pumping any money into Man U.

The main reasons why there's been a lack of huge signings is both opportunity and cap-related. Rich McKay messed up the cap really badly with huge signings (Keyshawn to an 8-year, $56M contract for instance) to win a Super Bowl. He left soon after that, saddling Bruce Allen with some major cap problems to manage. That coincided with Malcolm Glazer buying Man U, giving people the impression that money wasn't spent because of Man U. All we have to support that is some weak circumstancial evidence.

And no, there won't be any huge free agent signings this year either. The Bucs want to move to a franchise that wins consistently and builds through the draft well: a franchise that is a perpetual contender. And really, the consistent winners never spend a ton of money. The Steelers, Patriots and Colts have small salary totals and are known for getting rid of overly expensive players, never overpaying and drafting well.

by Corner Blitz 44 (not verified) :: Mon, 03/01/2010 - 3:42pm

This is simply excellent. I am as guilty of being frustrated by the underspending as anyone, and while I can't defend the extension they gave to Michael Clayton, I can applaud a few of the moves they've made in the light you shed on the situation. If the Bucs can land either of the stud DTs (Suh or McCoy) and get a good WR in the draft, I'll jump on board and say they're heading in a positive direction. But I'm glad you pointed out that the real troubles started with the cap situation created by McKay. I think it was also exacerbated by the signings of Charlie Garner, Luke Petitgout, and various other burned-out husks to fill key roster spots.

by commissionerleaf :: Mon, 03/01/2010 - 5:07pm

Caveat: The Colts absolutely do overpay players, they just have a very serious policy of only overpaying lights-out-superstars. Bob Sanders, Dwight Freeney, and Dallas Clark all have contracts that are above the standard for their position and represent more money than most teams would pay them. This is justified by their importance to the Indy system (and it is a system - Indy and New England have nothing like the same policies and procedures in the front office - both systems work).

by langsty :: Wed, 02/24/2010 - 6:48pm

"Cutting dire cornerback Brent Grimes is one of the most obvious moves an NFL team has to make this offseason."

Yeah, this is crap. He had some bad games, which are probably the only ones you saw, but Grimes is one of the more interesting young talents on the team.

His achilles heel is his size - he's listed at 5'10 180, but he really has to be more in the 5'8-5'9 170 range, and he has a lot of difficulty with big receivers. He's one of the most athletic players on the team and also is among those who play the hardest, which I think is a good combo - I've definitely seen him struggle in man, or struggle in the end zone, but he's also flashed a lot. That's more than you can say for Jamaal Anderson, who's never flashed once in his pro career - he's been the same mediocre, plodding player game in, game out. Bottom line is, there's no reason to cut a cheap, promising young player when you have much worse DBs like Tye Hill taking up space on the roster.

by Duke :: Wed, 02/24/2010 - 11:31pm

4 paragraphs about not paying extra money for Darren Sharper.

The next paragraph contains:

...Bush doesn't deserve he money he's set to make -- more than $8 million -- but the Saints can afford to keep him on the roster.

So...overpaying for someone who had a good year is a risk the Saints can't take, but overpaying for someone who had a good year but historically has not been better than average--and who plays the position that is easiest to replace, where there are two very good players behind him already on the roster--is no biggie?

If Sharper was holding someone back, I'd understand. I admit I don't know the Saints' roster that well, but is there really someone that deserves to replace Sharper on the roster?

by bubqr :: Thu, 02/25/2010 - 6:18am

CAR was one of the best team by the end of the season, was one of the best team in 2008, but should not be good enough to get to the SB next year ?

Matt Moore looked promising, their very good RBs are in their prime, they still have a good OL, with Kalil and Otah on the rise, Steve Smith might have declined but is probably still a good WR, and while their defense will sure miss Peppers, they also looked really good.

I'm not a Panthers fan, so I'd like them to be "in rebuilding", but I don't see it.

by Mike19531 (not verified) :: Sun, 02/28/2010 - 9:20pm

I'm not a Panthers fan either, but after they finally put Delhomme on the shelf and played Moore, they looked as good as any team in the NFL. Witness the a** kickings that the 'cats delivered to the Favre-led Vikings and the Giants.

If they could have somehow kept Julius Peppers, I really would have liked their chances of playing the Packers in next year's NFC title game. But with Peppers gone, it will be difficult for them to challenge for a wild card.

If John Fox insists on starting Delhomme next year, that'll kill any chance at all of the Panthers making the playoffs, with or without Peppers. It was tough to listen to Fox on his weekly spot on NFL Sirius Radio stating that Delhomme gave the Panthers their best chance to win. His statements were an insult to the intelligence of neutral fans like myself. I can only imagine how Panthers fans must have felt.

by Felton (not verified) :: Thu, 02/25/2010 - 10:27am


Let's look at the Sharper situation another way. What if Darren Sharper had an average season as a Saints safety in 2008 instead of Josh Bullocks? That team was about 4 decent safety plays away from going 12-4. In 2009 with Sharper and Greer, the Saints go 13-3. Are the Saints then a team that can afford to overpay for average to above-average safety play because the rewards could be enormous? Also, do the Saints have anyone ready to provide average to above average safety play instead of Sharper?

by commissionerleaf :: Thu, 02/25/2010 - 1:19pm

Bucs: This is a really awful team. Essentially, it has made no progress since winning a Super Bowl, simply shedding talent every year (keeping Michael Clayton while letting Joey Galloway and Antonio Bryant go? Cutting Jeff Garcia to give Byron Leftwich a chance?).

At this point, there are clear opportunities for improvement everywhere on the roster. I personally would start with Jeremy Trueblood, who has needed to go for a long time. The team is paying too much money to too many replacement level running backs, and has virtually no receiver talent. It might be fun to bring in Terrell Owens for a year or two, but really the team needs to find a receiver or two in the draft that they can develop (and hope to get lucky with a Roddy White or Brandon Marshall type talent).

Carolina: Carolina is some halfway decent quarterback play away from challenging the Saints for the division title. Since Matt Moore played halfway decent at the end of the season, he ought to get another look; Jake Delhomme increasingly appears to have failed to successfull come back from Tommy John surgery two years ago. The defense is short on big names without Peppers, but he was never as big a part of what the Panthers do as his reputation. Jon Beason is, and he could use some help up behind him. If the Raiders are really willing to trade Asomugha...

New Orleans: Is in great shape. If a true DT prospect comes available, they should take it, but apart from a weak run defense they have a great team. I don't understand why they haven't resigned Fujita; he's a better player than they'll be able to replace him with, and they could use the uncapped year to shed Bush and trade an LT to make room.

Atlanta: I'm not sure what this team needs most, but secondary help has to be on the list, as does some work on the offensive line.