1 Offseason Addition That Could Re-Energize Every 2012 NFL Team
NFL mock drafts are great: guessing where the top free agents will land is as well.
But together....that's a whole lot more intriguing.
A handful of superstars are going to be on the move this spring and another bunch of promising college talents will land with new clubs as well.
Presumably—it doesn't always play out that way, just ask the Vikings and Donovan McNabb, or the Jaguars and Blaine Gabbert—these types of moves instantly improve a team's chances at the playoffs and/or Super Bowl.
Here's one addition that every team should make with the hopes of getting better.
New England Patriots: Mohamed Sanu, WR, Rutgers
If I were to follow the (absurd) prevailing winds going through the NFL, I suppose I would say that the Pats should put there name in the running for Peyton Manning.
But I'm as far from the Brady bashing bandwagon as possible: he didn't "tarnish his legacy" or show "deteriorating skills."
Give him a healthy Rob Gronkowski and receivers who don't drop key passes in the fourth quarter and Super Bowl XLVI might have come out differently.
Now I expect the Pats to re-sign Wes Welker, but they still will need to add to the receiving corps, no matter how great the Gronkowski/Aaron Hernandez duo is.
If they bring back Welker, they won't have the cap room to sign a Dwayne Bowe, Mike Wallace, Vincent Jackson or even Marques Colston. That only leaves the draft. And Rutgers has certainly proven capable of producing NFL (coaching and playing) talent.
New York Jets: Michael Bush, RB, Oakland Raiders
Like the case over in New England, I'm not quite as quick to cast the New York Jets quarterback to the side: That team had problems all over the place.
So trying to bring in Peyton Manning, Matt Flynn or some rookie passer is a mistake.
Instead, let's see how quickly Mark Sanchez and that offense will improve with another running back to complement Shonn Greene.
LaDainian Tomlinson won't be back and Joe McKnight won't be charged with picking up the slack.
Michael Bush has proven to be an outstanding second option and will help the Jets return to the "ground and pound" philosophy.
Miami Dolphins: Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor
Two reasons for this selection, admittedly a stretch.
The Dolphins have plenty of reason to be pleased with what Matt Moore did in 2011. And he's a more than capable starter for the 2012 season.
But I don't think the new regime in Miami will see him as the future. And as ideal as it seems that Matt Flynn will land with his former coordinator Joe Philbin, I think that's a stretch as well.
That's only part of the equation. Sure Robert Griffin III is a hot commodity now, but it's not a foregone conclusion that he winds up in Cleveland at No. 3, and if the Redskins land Peyton Manning, then that might not workout either.
And just because Griffin won the Heisman and has similar skills doesn't mean he is an automatic easy transition to the NFL like Cam Newton was.
In short, look for Griffin's draft-day stock to fall a tad and that will lend itself to Miami. It might not improve the Dolphins instantly, but long term it will.
Buffalo Bills: Mario Williams, OLB/DE, Houston Texans
A lot went right for the Bills (at least during the first two months of the regular season) in 2011, but they still finished 28th against the run. Worse yet, rookie Marcell Dareus (from the defensive tackle position) led the team with only 5.5 sacks.
That's one of the reasons why Dave Wannstedt was promoted.
His job will be a lot easier with the addition of a freakish athlete like Williams.
It's a problematic move because Williams would have to switch back to a 4-3 defensive end position in the new scheme and because of his injured peck and because he'll probably ask for more than he's worth since he's a former No. 1 overall choice.
But it gives the Bills a versatile player they really need up front.
Baltimore Ravens: Mike Nugent, K, Cincinnati Bengals
Is this a knee-jerk reaction? Probably.
And it's going to be tough for the Bengals to pay for the top free agent kicker if they take a cap hit on Billy Cundiff, who is due roughly $10 million over the next four years.
But it's almost a move that has to be made given the miss in the AFC title game and possible ramifications.
Even without that infamous miss, however, Cundiff wasn't a top-tier kicker: He only made 75 percent of his field goals in 2011.
Not only did Nugent lead the AFC in makes with 33, his percentage was actually higher (86.8) than David Akers, Neil Rackers and Dan Bailey.
Despite the improvements in Baltimore's offense, they are still a team that needs near-perfection from the kicker inside 50 yards: Nugent is an upgrade.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Cortland Finnegan, CB, Tennessee Titans
For a team that's routinely in the playoffs, the Steelers have several holes to fill this offseason.
And while the offensive line and an upgrade to the running game (with or without a healthy Rashard Mendenhall) is important, the corner position is still more pressing.
Willie Gay and Bryant McFadden did not perform in 2011 and neither did Ike Taylor, who is being paid to be a top-tier cover guy.
Finnegan won't become the next Mel Blount in Pittsburgh, but he'll be a considerable upgrade opposite Taylor and bring the type of toughness and physicality that secondary lacks on the edges.
Cincinnati Bengals: Marshawn Lynch, RB, Seattle Seahawks
This one all depends on whether or not the Seahawks franchise Lynch or try to re-sign him. Let's say they don't: that might make Lynch the safest free agent running back on the market.
Matt Forte is coming off a knee injury and Ray Rice probably won't leave Baltimore and if he does it's going to be for far more money than the Bengals want to spend.
It's time for an upgrade to the running game in Cincy and although Bernard Scott is decent, Lynch has enjoyed a tremendous career resurrection during the last 13 months.
He is the perfect complement to the dynamic duo of Andy Dalton and A.J. Green.
Cleveland Browns: Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama
Again, I'm just not sold on the idea of the Browns (or anyone else) nabbing RGIII inside the top five. There is a ton of scrutinizing ahead and in the end, I bet the comparisons to Cam Newton actually hurts, not helps, his cause: He doesn't have the same frame and size.
So the Colt McCoy experiment will survive another year, but both McCoy and the entire organization will be much better off with a playmaker like Richardson.
Peyton Hillis is probably not going to be re-signed and if Richardson is there at the fourth pick, he's a versatile back that can contribute in both phases of the game.
Houston Texans: Dwayne Bowe, WR, Kansas City Chiefs
Can you imagine how much better that offense—and in particular Andre Johnson—would be if they actually had a second threat at the wide receiver position?
It might not matter if Matt Schaub, T.J. Yates, Matt Leinart or 62-year-old Dan Pastorini was under center, they'd be one of the best in the game.
Kevin Walter, Derrick Mason, Jacoby Jones and the rest of that group have not been able to relieve Johnson of double coverage and take advantage of extra men in the box to slow down Arian Foster.
Bowe would....if they can afford him.
Tennessee Titans: Robert Mathis, DE, Indianapolis Colts
Look for Chris Johnson to rebound in 2012 from the near-disastrous season he had last year. But whether or not Johnson returns to top form in 2012 will have little bearing on improving that Titans pass rush, which recorded an AFC-worst 28 sacks.
Robert Mathis is probably the most complete defensive end on the open market this offseason and he'll only be 31 years old.
Furthermore, the Titans would love to steal away one of the Colts' best defenders and show him off twice a season.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Alshon Jeffery, WR, South Carolina
I'm not nearly as quick to toss Blaine Gabbert to the curb as some people: Not only are Cam Newton and Andy Dalton the exception—not the norm—they both had much better collections of wide receivers to work with.
The Jags have perhaps the worse group in the NFL, but the good news is they'll have an opportunity to fix that via the draft. There are two studs available most inside the top seven. And because the other, Justin Blackmon, will be long gone by here, Jeffery remains.
Pair Jeffery with Gabbert and the NFL's leading rusher in Maurice Jones-Drew and the Jags offense will start to resemble one that belongs in the NFL.
Indianapolis Colts: Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
Probably the only no-brainer on this list.
Peyton Manning or no Peyton Manning, the Colts are drafting Andrew Luck in April.
But because it's looking more and more like Manning is out the door—and one of Luck's biggest selling points is that he's pro-ready today—he'll be on the field ASAP.
He might not put up 4,500 yards and 30 touchdowns like Peyton did basically every year between 1999 and 2010, but on day one he'll be a tremendous upgrade over Kerry Collins, Curtis Painter and Dan Orlovsky.
Denver Broncos: Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M
Now hold on a second: I'm not necessarily saying Tim Tebow is not going to be the starter in Week 1 or in Week 17 or in 2013.
But just from a pure numbers standpoint, the Broncos need another quarterback: Brady Quinn is a free agent this winter. And since they'll either pay a high price for Matt Flynn, Alex Smith and Drew Brees aren't going anywhere, and Jason Campbell or another veteran isn't worth the money, they might find their Plan B on draft day.
Tannehill is big, talented, and athletic so he could fit into the scheme they continue with Tebow.
Oakland Raiders: Sione Pouha, DT, New York Jets
New Raiders head coach Dennis Allen benefited tremendously in Denver from a solid front four. And he definitely has some talent backing them up at the linebacker position.
But Richard Seymour will be 33 next season and could use someone to distract away attention: Remember, the Raiders play in a division with the top rushing attack (Denver) and one that expects to be a lot better in Kansas City when Jamaal Charles returns.
With Pouha and Tommy Kelly in the middle, Seymour can play on the outside more often, utilizing his versatility.
San Diego Chargers: Jarett Johnson, OLB, Baltimore Ravens
There are some who think that Jarett Johnson is one of the most underrated players in the NFL.
We will probably see how true that is when he hits the open market this offseason: Will they pay him what he's worth, considering that they now have three NFL Defensive Players of the Year on the roster as well as Haloti Ngata, who is making a ton of money over the next few seasons?
If they can't afford him and a very good 3-4 outside linebacker becomes available, the Chargers might seek him out: Both Antwan Barnes and Shaun Phillips are free agents after 2012.
Kansas City Chiefs: Brady Quinn, QB, Denver Broncos
Admittedly this move wouldn't have the same juice as Andrew Luck or a Marshawn Lynch, but the Chiefs are fairly well stacked at several spots.
There front seven is as deep as any in the NFL and they have a good Eric Berry coming back to team with Brandon Flowers.
And Matt Cassel is certainly a capable quarterback when he has a healthy complement of receivers and backs. But you saw what happened to that team when he went down. They had no backup plan: Tyler Palko, Kyle Orton and Ricky Stanzi aren't the answer.
Quinn may not have been able to unseat Tim Tebow, but he is still young, has had success and will be reasonably cheap.
New York Giants: Carl Nicks, G, New Orleans Saints
There's nothing wrong with the Giants, right? They're Super Bowl champs!
Certainly this is a great and deep team, regardless of what happened Sunday night in Indianapolis.
But there are some holes.
Several will be cured as that litany of injured players heal up. Tight end is a need, especially Travis Beckham's injury in the Super Bowl. And the secondary needs work.
But the greatest flaw might be guard. Kevin Boothe did not play well in the Super Bowl and if they can sign the top free agent lineman they will. He certainly has experience in the passing game.
Dallas Cowboys: Carlos Rogers, CB, San Francisco 49ers
If he was more of a penny pincher (and learned from his mistakes) Jerry Jones probably wouldn't throw a ton of money at a free agent like Rogers, who had one great season in the perfect system.
But he is Jerry Jones.
Rogers career was rejuvenated in San Francisco largely because that was a great defensive unit. Plugging him in to the Dallas scheme is a risk, especially since he wants a long-term, lucrative deal.
Nevertheless, this could be the missing piece of the puzzle for that shaky Dallas D.
Rogers is still big and relatively physical. Besides, in that division the Cowboys need all the help they can get.
Philadelphia Eagles: Stephen Tulloch, MLB, Detroit Lions
That Eagles defense isn't likely to make any schematic changes now that Juan Castillo is being retained. And with Jason Babin, Nnamdi Asomugha, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Trent Cole there is certainly talent.
The clear need is at middle linebacker, where Casey Matthews struggled as a rookie and Jamar Chaney is still raw.
Tulloch is the best middle linebacker available and has done a great job in Detroit last season. He's also familiar with the Eagles scheme, having played for Jim Washburn in Tennessee.
Washington Redskins: Peyton Manning, QB, Indianapolis Colts
So here's how I see the Peyton Manning sweepstakes finishing up.
Miami will have a shot, but the Colts might do their best to ship him out of conference.
More to the point, if Manning has any say in where he winds up, he has to be intrigued by Mike Shanahan, who has coached legends such as John Elway and Steve Young to Super Bowl victories.
Besides, you have to imagine that the NFL will really be pushing for this move. Not only would putting Manning in Washington D.C. help one of the bigger markets, but it would set up two Manning vs. Manning showdowns per season, instead of one every four years.
Green Bay Packers: Calais Campbell, DE, Arizona Cardinals
One of the more overlooked free agents on the market, Campbell is a 3-4 defensive end who can rush the passer.
That's something that the Packers sorely missed in 2011 (no Cullen Jenkins or Johnny Jolly) and was a main reason why their pass defense was the worst in the NFC.
Don't forget that Clay Matthews recorded just six sacks last year, more than half the number he had during their Super Bowl season. The lack of depth and skill at the defensive end position was a key reason why.
Detroit Lions: Mike Tolbert, RB, San Diego Chargers
Clearly that Lions team is built to throw on first, second, third and fourth down, and the running game does have some talent in Jahvid Best and Mikel LeShoure.
But both those backs have issues with durability, especially LeShoure: Who knows how quickly he'll recover in his defacto rookie season.
So Tolbert—a big, physical runner—can become both an insurance policy and a way to add another dimension to that offense.
Chicago Bears: Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame
Stop me if you've heard this before: The Bears need a wide receiver.
They have talent in several veterans and Dane Sanzenbacher has the potential to become an excellent possession receiver. But they need a game-breaker to stretch the field for Jay Cutler if they have any chance of putting up enough points in the division with Green Bay and Detroit.
After Justin Blackmon and Alshon Jeffery, Floyd is the most talented and seasoned pass catcher in the draft and should be available at 19 when the Bears select.
Minnesota Vikings: Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU
Patrick Peterson set a high standard for Tigers corners to follow but Claiborne is capable of following the trend.
And if there's a team that is absolutely desperate for that type of talent at corner, it's the Vikings, who will have a 35-year-old Antoine Winfield, an inconsistent Asher Allen and Cedric Griffin who seems to still be recovering from his knee injuries.
Taking a corner third overall—although the Vikings would probably love to deal the pick—isn't unheard of, especially if it's a talent like Claiborn, who can also contribute on special teams.
They'll need all the help they can get if Adrian Peterson misses significant time due to his knee injury.
New Orleans Saints: Brent Grimes, CB, Atlanta Falcons
Even if they lose Carl Nicks and Marques Colston—they won't lose Drew Brees to free agency....Mardi Gras will leave New Orleans before Brees does—the Saints offense will be top notch in 2012.
The defense, however, with the changes at the top (i.e. Steve Spagnuolo in, Gregg Williams out) will have some growing pains.
They're not going to gamble as much as they did under Williams and in that case, the corners will need to hold coverage longer than they did in previous seasons.
Former Super Bowl hero Tracy Porter is a free agent and Grimes might actually be an upgrade. Taking away a key defender for their division rival would also be a huge benefit.
Atlanta Falcons: Ben Grubbs, G, Baltimore Ravens
As good as the Falcons passing game is—Roddy White, Tony Gonzalez, Julio Jones, Matt Ryan—Atlanta really wants to improve the running game this offseason.
Only once in his last seven games did Michael Turner average more than 3.6 yards per carry, and that was the game he rushed for an 81-yard touchdown against Tampa Bay. Worse yet, that line was manhandled by the Giants and Saints late in the season: There was a reason they failed so miserably in short-yardage situations against the Saints and Giants.
Grubbs might not be as highly-touted as Carl Nicks, but he's a better pure run blocker (i.e. Ray Rice) and will probably come cheaper.
Carolina Panthers: Vincent Jackson, WR, San Diego Chargers
After Steve Smith, who will be 33 next year, the Panthers wide receiving corps is lacking.
That makes you wonder, how much better Cam Newton will become after another year in the offense and if the Panthers can provide him another weapon.
Jackson is a huge target—the perfect complement to Smith—and Ron Rivera knows him from his tenure as the Chargers defensive coordinator.
Maybe that's not enough to lure him away from San Diego or any other interested party, but playing in an offense with Newton should be.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Reggie Wayne, WR, Indianapolis Colts
The Bucs need wide receiver help as much as any team in the NFL. Josh Freeman regressed a ton in 2011, but a huge reason was that group's deficiencies.
But as important as it is to make an upgrade at the position—something they can do via the draft or by signing DeSean Jackson, Steve Johnson, Marques Colston or one of the other names out there—finding a seasoned veteran who can mentor that group as well would be ideal.
That's Wayne, who's won a Super Bowl, learned from Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison for years and is still reasonably young at 33.
It's unlikely that the Colts will let both Wayne and Robert Mathis go as free agents, but with the uncertainty going forward in Indy, it's a possibility.
San Francisco 49ers: Marques Colston, WR, New Orleans Saints
Vernon Davis might be the top pass-catching options on that 49ers offense, but they still need a wide receiver draw away attention from the middle of the field.
Michael Crabtree has largely been a disappointment, Braylon Edwards was a disaster and drafting someone out of college won't give them the instant upgrade they need.
Colston won't have the same instantaneous impact that Wes Welker, DeSean Jackson, Reggie Wayne or Vincent Jackson would—Colston's numbers are somewhat inflated because he played in that Saints offense—but he'll be a great asset to Alex Smith.
Arizona Cardinals: Jermichael Finley, TE, Green Bay Packers
It's seeming less and less likely that the Packers will be able to pay Finley the type of money he thinks he's worth: Given his play on the big stage and the rise in tight end prowess, he should command a ton.
And one team that could really benefit from a big target like Finley is Arizona.
Todd Heap is at the end of his career and Jeff King is not the consistent threat in the passing game that Kevin Kolb will need to be successful long-term. Pairing Finley with Larry Fitzgerald does make for a scary combination.
Seattle Seahawks: D'Qwell Jackson, MLB, Cleveland Browns
Re-signing free agent middle linebacker David Hawthorne doesn't seem to be a huge priority for the Seahawks.
"David Hawthorne is going to be interesting," Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times recently said "I don't know how much market ability he'll have on the free-agent market,...He led the team in tackles for three straight seasons, he played with a sprained knee for most of the season last year and he was kind of one of those leaders on the defense.
"But they want to get faster at linebacker and they could easily slide K.J. Wright inside...He'd probably be a cheaper alternative than bringing David back. So there's a possibility that Hawthorne could move on."
Moving Wright over may be a possibility, but that leaves a hole at outside backer. Instead, if they are willing to spend a little more on Jackson—who is only 28 and one of the NFL's best tacklers—avoids that problem and actually upgrades the unit as a whole.
St. Louis Rams: Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State
Hands down the best wide receiver in a crop that is fairly loaded this year, Justin Blackmon will be another rookie who can have the impact that A.J. Green and Julio Jones had last season.
He's not quite as big, and doesn't seem to have the same type of blazing speed, but he runs great routes, is extremely physical at the line of scrimmage and has great hands.
Pair him with Sam Bradford—and shore up that line a bit—and Jeff Fisher will have that offense back to respectability.