One Big Transition Each NFL Team Needs to Make This Offseason
The ability of an NFL franchise to successfully transition from a change in personnel, in coaches or in schemes is what makes or breaks a season.
The perfect example of this is the Green Bay Packers and Brett Favre. It was one of the ugliest divorces in NFL history, but the Packers transitioned beautifully from Favre to Aaron Rodgers, and they now sit as one of the premier franchises in the league.
Of course, not all transitions are as drastic as the one in Green Bay that took place five years ago, but they will still impact the season nonetheless. Here is a look at one big transition that each NFL team needs to make this offseason.
Big Transition: Sticking With One Starting Quarterback
After a 1-6 start last year, the Arizona Cardinals ended the season on a 7-2 run to finish the year 8-8. This late-season run was due mostly to the play of John Skelton, who replaced Kevin Kolb after he suffered a foot injury against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 8.
Despite Skelton playing at a high level, the Cardinals decided to bring Kolb back as the starter after he was healthy. Kolb got injured again; Skelton came in and led Arizona to a 3-1 record over the final four games.
The Cardinals need to transition from switching back and forth between quarterbacks to sticking with one starting quarterback throughout the entire 2012 season. Whether that quarterback is Kolb or Skelton doesn't matter; the only thing that matters is that Arizona stays with them through the good and the bad this year.
San Francisco 49ers
Big Transition: Becoming a Passing Team
Ever since the San Francisco 49ers drafted Frank Gore in the 2005 NFL draft, the focus of their offense has been built around Gore.
This has been somewhat due to the stellar play of Gore, but the lack of a top quarterback has also forced the hand of the 49ers to keep giving the ball to Gore. However, with the progression of Alex Smith last year and the amount of receiving talent brought in during free agency, the 49ers need to transition to becoming a pass-first offense.
With Vernon Davis, Michael Crabtree, Randy Moss and Mario Manningham, San Francisco has the potential to become one of the better passing teams in the league. Considering that Gore is already 29 years old with over 1,600 carries on his legs, the 49ers simply can't continue to depend on Gore to be the focal point of their offense.
While Smith has yet to prove to be fully capable of leading an offense, the 49ers have to be relying on Smith more during the upcoming season.
Big Transition: Distancing Themselves From Marshawn Lynch
Ever since Lynch came to the Seattle Seahawks, he has been quite the player. It all started with his 67-yard touchdown run in an upset over the New Orleans Saints and continued last year with over 1,200 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns.
However, off-field issues have always been an issue for Lynch, and they continued this offseason with a DUI arrest. While Lynch may be the best offensive weapon that Seattle has, his consistent knack for getting in trouble needs to force the Seahawks to begin distancing themselves away from Lynch.
Seattle already has talented running backs Leon Washington and Robert Turbin waiting in the wings. Neither player may be quite the threat that Lynch is, but combined, they could prove to be quite the one-two punch.
St. Louis Rams
Big Transition: Using Steven Jackson Less
Jackson has put together seven-straight 1,000-yard rushing seasons for the St. Louis Rams. However, the Rams need to start transitioning away from using Jackson as their primary offensive weapon.
The Rams clearly felt this way, since they used a second-round draft pick on running back Isaiah Pead. While Pead wasn't considered an elite prospect coming out of Cincinnati, St. Louis thought highly enough of him to draft him extremely early in the draft.
With Jackson's age and health becoming more of an issue, the Rams need to begin transitioning more towards using him less in their offense. Look for St. Louis to use Pead quite a bit this year, as they give Jackson more time on the bench than they ever have.
Big Transition: Life With Peyton Manning
The Denver Broncos had to learn how to live with a celebrity giant like Tim Tebow last year, and this year, they'll have to transition to life with Manning.
While Manning may not be as loved in Denver as Tebow was, there is absolutely no doubt that Manning is the better quarterback. Denver is going to need to learn to play the way Manning wants to play.
Throughout his career, Manning has been more of a coach than a player on the field, and that shouldn't change in Denver. He'll play more of an "offensive coordinator" role on the field, and the rest of the Broncos roster is going to need to learn to adapt.
It may take some time for both sides to fully gel, but I can guarantee that life with Manning will be much better than life with Tebow.
Kansas City Chiefs
Big Transition: Romeo Crennel As Head Coach
The Kansas City Chiefs are going from having an offensive-minded coach like Todd Haley to a defensive-minded coach in Crennel.
This type of change in coaching philosophy can often be a difficult transition for teams to make. However, with the amount of talent that the Chiefs possess on the defensive side of the ball, this should be a successful move for the franchise.
Even though Crennel struggled mightily the only other time he was a head coach with the Cleveland Browns, he has much more talent to work with in Kansas City; and the transition the team is making should be a good one.
Big Transition: How To Deal Without Nnamdi Asomugha and Stanford Routt
While the Oakland Raiders were learning how to deal without Asomugha last year, this year, they'll be without two of their best players from just two years ago.
The current starting cornerbacks for Oakland are Shawntae Spencer and Ron Bartell, neither of which are even close to as talented as Asomugha or Routt. This means that the Raiders are going to have to transition from their cornerbacks being the strength of their defense to a different unit.
At first glance, that unit appears to be the safeties, which means that Michael Huff and Tyvon Branch are going to need to play better football than they ever have in their careers. Thankfully for the Raiders, both Huff and Branch are two of the better players in the league at their respective positions.
Look for the defense in Oakland to struggle a few weeks without its stud cornerbacks, but for Branch and Griffin to pick up the slack and get the team back to playing solid football.
San Diego Chargers
Big Transition: Finding Another Receiving Weapon
The San Diego Chargers lost Vincent Jackson this offseason to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Despite Jackson being a major headache for the franchise, he was without a doubt the most explosive pass-catcher on the team.
Along with the loss of Jackson, the Chargers were forced to endure another injury-riddled season from Antonio Gates last year. Gates has missed nine games over the last two years, and even when he is on the field, it is clear he isn't the player he used to be.
If San Diego wants to compete in what is a becoming an extremely competitive AFC West, it's going to need to find a new receiving weapon other than Jackson and Gates. The most likely replacement will either be Malcom Floyd or Robert Meachem.
However, with neither Floyd nor Meachem carrying the responsibilities of a No. 1 receiver, the Chargers could be off to a rocky start offensively in 2012.
Big Transition: More Julio Jones, Less Roddy White
This might sound crazy considering White has been one of the top receivers in the league for the past few years, but the reality is that Jones is already a more talented player than White.
Jones has better hands, is more physical and athletic and has the ability to score every time he touches the ball. In three less games played last year, Jones had just as many touchdowns with a yards-per-reception average of 17.8, nearly five yards more than White.
The Falcons clearly thought Jones was a special player with how much they gave up to draft him. Now they need to transition to getting him more involved with the offense.
Big Transition: Less Designed Run Plays for Cam Newton
Last year Newton had 126 rushing attempts, 706 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns. There is no doubt that those are impressive numbers for a quarterback, but if the Carolina Panthers want to be more successful in the upcoming season, they'll need to reduce the number of designed run plays for Newton.
The NFL has become a quarterback-driven league. While Newton certainly showed the ability to be a successful passing quarterback as a rookie, he'll need to continue to improve in that area in his sophomore season. The best way for this to happen is to take away Newton's options of running and force him to be more of a pocket-passer.
The Panthers already have two talented running backs in DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, and the addition of Mike Tolbert should help in goal-line situations. If Carolina wants to have a shot this year in the pass-happy NFC South, it'll need to keep Newton in the pocket more.
New Orleans Saints
Big Transition: A New Defensive Leader
Since 2008, the New Orleans Saints' defensive leader has been Jonathan Vilma, and he has been a pretty good one for the team. He was voted to back-to-back Pro Bowls in 2009 and 2010 and was a key member of the 2009 Super Bowl run.
However, as every sports fan in the world knows, Vilma has been suspended for the year. Now, the Saints will be forced to transition to a new defensive leader.
The big question is, who on the current roster is going to be able to step up and be that leader? Will it be the newbie Curtis Lofton, or will a veteran like Roman Harper assume that role?
This transitioning to a new defensive leader could make or break the Saints season.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Big Transition: Ronde Barber to Safety
For the past 15 seasons, Barber has been a consistent performer for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at cornerback. He's been voted to five Pro Bowls and was also a member of five All-Pro teams.
However, due to him being 37 years old and because of his declining speed and athleticism, the Buccaneers will be moving Barber to safety this season. With Aqib Talib and Eric Wright expected to start at cornerback, Tampa Bay should be fine at that position.
The big question will be how well Barber can transition to safety. If he can use his intelligence and make a big impact next to rookie Mark Barron, the Buccaneers defense could be a underrated unit.
Big Transition: Life Without Mario Williams
Since being drafted with the first overall pick in the 2006 NFL draft, Williams has been the face of the Texans defense. He quickly became one of the best defensive ends in the league and a premier pass-rusher.
With Williams signing a massive contract with the Buffalo Bills this offseason, the Texans will now need to transition to life without their best defensive player. How well they make this transition will go a far way to deciding just how successful they'll be this season.
If Connor Barwin, Whitney Mercilus and Brooks Reed can come close to producing at the level that Houston is used to with Williams, they should cruise to another AFC South divisional title.
Big Transition: No. 12 Replacing No. 18
Transitioning from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 defense is a big transition, but it pales in comparison to transitioning from Peyton Manning to Andrew Luck.
No rookie enters a more difficult situation than Luck, who will be asked to replace one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game. How Luck handles the pressure of replacing Manning his first year will go a long way to telling how successful the Indianapolis Colts will be for the next decade.
Big Transition: Running Less, Passing More
There is no doubt that Maurice Jones-Drew is one of the best running backs in the league, but Jones-Drew is unhappy with the Jacksonville Jaguars and has yet to report to training camp.
If MJD misses a chunk of training camp and preseason, which is quite likely right now, the Jaguars will need to be prepared to transition to more of a passing offense. This is a rather scary transition due to Blaine Gabbert being the quarterback, but it is a necessary one.
The signing of Laurent Robinson and drafting of Justin Blackmon should certainly help this transition, but expect there to be some major rocky roads in Jacksonville for the majority of the season.
Big Transition: Moving On From Kenny Britt
With his most recent DUI arrest, Britt has now been arrested an amazing eight times since entering the NFL. There is no doubting the amount of talent and potential that Britt has, but the constant legal trouble makes it time for the Tennessee Titans to transition away from Britt.
While the offense may take a hit for a while without Britt, they still have plenty of options. Kendall Wright has the potential to become a legitimate No. 1 receiver in the league. Both Damian Williams and Nate Washington are talented playmakers, too.
With the league becoming more and more strict concerning legal issues and suspensions, it won't be long until Britt receives a major suspension from Roger Goodell. Instead of waiting for that to happen, it would be wise for the Titans to simply begin moving on now.
Big Transition: Become a Pass-First Team
Ever since Jay Cutler came to Chicago, he hasn't had a legitimate No. 1 receiver to work with. This has forced the Chicago Bears to be more of a run-first team with Matt Forte also leading the team in receptions.
With an offseason trade for Cutler's old top target, Brandon Marshall, the Bears finally have an elite weapon for Cutler to work with. Chicago now needs to transition from being a run-first team to a pass-first team.
This doesn't mean that Forte needs to be worked out of the offense, but in order for the Bears to stick with teams like the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers, they are going to have to utilize Cutler and Marshall as much as possible.
Big Transition: Becoming a More Balanced Offense
The Detroit Lions attempted 666 passes last season, more than any other team in the NFL. Their top running back, however, only had 84 attempts and 390 yards.
While the Lions possess two of the best young players at their positions in quarterback Matthew Stafford and wide receiver Calvin Johnson, they'll need to transition to more of a balanced offense this year. This isn't due to a lack of talent in the passing game, but rather, the need to include the talent at running back in their offense.
Both Jahvid Best and Mikel Leshoure are extremely talented running backs who can make positive things happen once the ball is in their hands. If the Lions want to become a more complete team and build on their success from last season, they'll need to become more balanced offensively.
Green Bay Packers
Big Transition: Move Charles Woodson to Safety
This is a transition that has been talked about quite a bit over the past few seasons, but the Green Bay Packers never really needed to move Woodson to safety. However, this year, they finally have the need for Woodson to play safety, and it appears this is what the team will do.
This transition from safety to cornerback for Woodson will make him even more valuable to the Packers defense. They'll be able to use him in a number of roles where his playmaking ability can really shine.
The Packers have done a lot to improve their defense that struggled last year in the offseason, but potentially moving Woodson to safety would be the best move.
Big Transition: Percy Harvin More, Adrian Peterson Less
Ever since being drafted by the Minnesota Vikings, Peterson has been the focal point of the offense. However, Peterson may no longer be the most dangerous weapon that the Vikings have.
That honor goes to Harvin, who is coming off a career season in 2011. Harvin was easily the top target for Christian Ponder last year, and that shouldn't change in the upcoming season. He is so dynamic with the ball in his hands that the Vikings need to figure out how to give him the ball as much as possible.
Another big reason why this transition needs to take place is because of Peterson's constant struggles with injuries. He is such a violent runner that it is almost guaranteed that he'll miss some time during the regular season.
In order to maximize their offense and keep Peterson as healthy as possible, there needs to be less of him and more of Harvin in the Vikings offense.
Big Transition: Moving On From Chuck Pagano
Even though Pagano only spent one season as defensive coordinator for the Baltimore Ravens, he certainly made his mark in that one season. Not only did the Ravens boast the Defensive Player of the Year in Terrell Suggs, but their entire unit was one of the best in the league.
Now, the Ravens need to transition from Pagano to Dean Pees, who was the linebackers coach last year. While Pees is certainly a talented coach, he isn't quite the defensive mastermind that Pagano is.
This transition won't necessarily make the Ravens a terrible defensive team, but it could certainly make their defense take a back seat to their offense.
Big Transition: No Cedric Benson
Even though Benson isn't as dynamic of a running back as Arian Foster or LeSean McCoy, he has been an extremely valuable asset to the Cincinnati Bengals for the past three seasons. In each of those seasons, he has rushed for over 1,000 yards and allowed the Bengals to have a rather complete offense.
However, Benson didn't get a contract with the team this offseason, and he isn't expected to sign with them before the season starts. That leaves the Bengals with BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Bernard Scott as the primary running backs on the roster.
Neither Green-Ellis nor Scott are used to being the primary ball-carrier for a team, so the transition could be a little difficult for this Bengals offense. However, the Bengals should adjust to this transition well and once again compete for a playoff spot out of the AFC North.
Big Transition: Having an Offensively Elite Player
Seriously, when was the last time that you remember an elite player playing for the Cleveland Browns on offense? Jim Brown?
Having an elite player can have a major impact on the direction of a franchise, and Trent Richardson absolutely looks the part of an elite player for Cleveland. With Richardson on the roster, defenses will now have to focus on shutting him down.
This will allow the Browns to do more offensively, which should make them a better overall team. This doesn't necessarily mean that Cleveland will become an overnight offensive juggernaut, but this is a positive transition that should make the Browns a better overall team.
Big Transition: From Mike Wallace to Antonio Brown
Wallace has been one of the best, if not the best, deep receiving threats in the NFL over the past two seasons. And when the Pittsburgh Steelers signed a wide receiver to a five-year, $42.5 million dollar contract, everyone in Pittsburgh prayed for it to be Wallace.
However, that contract went to Brown instead of Wallace, and now the Steelers need to transition from Wallace being their No. 1 receiver to Brown taking that place. The only question that remains is what the team will do with Wallace.
It's unlikely that they'll trade him unless they get a first- or second-round draft pick, and only a handful of teams could potentially be willing to do that. The most likely scenario is that Wallace will finally come to his senses, sign his restricted free-agent tender and come back to the team for at least another year.
Even if that happens, the Steelers would still be wise to transition towards making Brown their No. 1 receiver.
Big Transition: Having Quality Cornerbacks
This is a good transition for the Dallas Cowboys because over the past few years, they've had terrible cornerbacks. However, now with Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne on the roster, the Cowboys will have one of the better cornerback duos in the league.
This will allow them to do so much more defensively that there is no reason that this unit won't become one of the better defenses in the league. They'll be able to bring more pressure because they can trust Carr and Claiborne to succeed without much help.
The Cowboys will once again be in the race to make the playoffs, but with their greatly improved defense, they should be able to actually get into the playoffs this year.
New York Giants
Big Transition: Being the Team on Top
After winning the Super Bowl following the 2007 season, no one thought that the New York Giants were the best team in the league entering the following year.
However, that won't be the same for the upcoming season. The Giants have one of the best overall rosters and should enter the 2012 season as one of the best teams in the league.
They'll have a constant bullseye on their back throughout the season, and successfully transitioning from an underdog to a favorite is necessary for the Giants to continue their success this year.
Big Transition: No More Asante Samuel
Ever since the Philadelphia Eagles signed Samuel as a free agent before the 2008 season, he has been one of the best cornerbacks in the league. He made three Pro Bowls and two All-Pro teams during his time with the Eagles.
However, with Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, the Eagles no longer needed Samuel. They traded him to the Atlanta Falcons for a seventh-round draft pick, and now they'll need to transition to a roster without Samuel.
Even if Samuel's play was beginning to decline, the Eagles could still have used him as an elite nickel cornerback. Now they're stuck with Joselio Hanson and Curtis Marsh as their No. 3 cornerback.
The Eagles will still have one of the best cornerback duos in the league without Samuel, but this transition could definitely cause some difficulties for the Eagles defense.
Big Transition: Santana Moss as No. 2 Receiver
Moss has been one of the most underrated receivers in the league since becoming a member of the Washington Redskins in 2005. He's been their No. 1 receiver since then and has been rather productive at that position.
However, it is time for the Redskins to transition Moss to becoming the No. 2 receiver for the team. Moss missed four games last season and saw a steep decline in his production. While some of this was due to the quarterback play last year of Rex Grossman and John Beck, it was also due to Moss' 33 years of age.
This, combined with the signing of Pierre Garcon in the offseason, should make this transition absolutely necessary for Washington.
Big Transition: Becoming a Two-Back Team
Both C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson are extremely talented running backs who have taken some time to finally hit their groove.
Jackson has been the primary running back for the Buffalo Bills, but after missing six games last year, there are major questions concerning his health moving forward. Those questions need to force the Bills to become a two-back team and give Spiller more carries this year.
With a huge offseason including signing Mario Williams, the Bills are poised to be a threat in the AFC East. This will only happen if they become a two-back team.
Big Transition: Going With a Young Quarterback
The Miami Dolphins have avoided drafting a quarterback with a high draft pick for years, but finally pulled the trigger in the 2012 NFL draft with Ryan Tannehill. They drafted him eighth overall with the thought that he can sit on the bench for a few years and be the quarterback of the future.
However, that is the wrong move for Miami. Instead of going with a more experienced but less talented quarterback, the Dolphins need to transition to going with a young quarterback like Tannehill.
While he may struggle for a year or two, those growing pains will go a long way to making Tannehill a much better quarterback. The truth is that Tannehill doesn't have much to learn from either David Garrard or Matt Moore, so why not start with Tannehill and let him learn with real game experience?
New England Patriots
Big Transition: A Younger Defense
Few teams have been as good as the New England Patriots at plugging in veteran outcasts and getting quality play out of them. It seems that every year, the Patriots have a few defensive players that play stellar despite everyone forgetting about them.
However, without those older players on the roster this year, the Patriots will need to transition to a younger defense. This possible transition started to take form when New England traded up twice in the first round to draft defensive end Chandler Jones and linebacker Dont'a Hightower.
In fact, the entire defense is younger this year, which should be a good transition for New England.
New York Jets
Big Transition: Talking Less
Ever since Rex Ryan became the head coach for the New York Jets, they've been known as one of the biggest trash-talking teams in the league.
Unfortunately, that technique has yet to win them a Super Bowl berth, and last year, it resulted in the team missing the playoffs. Of course, injuries and poor quarterback play was a big factor, but trash talking shifted their focus away from the game.
The Jets need to transition from doing their talking off the field to having their play do their talking for them. If they can forget about trash talking and focus on actually playing the game, the Jets certainly have the talent to be a legitimate contender this year.