The Toughest Offseason Decision Every NFL Team Must Make in 2013
As we enter the 2013 NFL offseason, every team has needs and decisions to make, some harder than others.
These are the big ones; the elephants in the room. The NFL is a business, and its inner workings are something that fans can either follow or ignore.
Some fans see the NFL simply as the fantastic on-camera product that it is. Others don't care what goes into the product they buy tickets to see or tune in to watch on Sundays.
The NFL is the greatest product in the world. Some choose to enjoy the games for what they are, while others choose to look deeper.
Within these slides, many questions are presented, but few answers are given.
Welcome to the 2013 NFL offseason.
Toughest Offseason Decision: What to do at quarterback?
The quarterback play in Arizona has been a joke since Kurt Warner left town, and it hasn't helped that the offensive line hasn't exactly been a group of world-beaters.
It's been the same story for years. Bad quarterbacks getting wrecked, making the few fans at the stadium wonder why on earth they spend their Sunday afternoons abusing themselves like this.
It's time to pull the plug on the Kevin Kolb experiment the same way the organization pulled the plug on former general manager Rod Graves for conducting it.
Kolb can't come back. He's only played 15 games out of a possible 32 as a Cardinal and is due far too much money. He will cost the Cardinals $9 million in 2013 plus almost $5 million in bonuses. Kolb isn't even worth half of that bonus figure.
Kolb is basically scheduled to make a Tom Brady base salary.
The Cardinals could bring in a quarterback with their first-round pick in the 2013 NFL draft, but that is no foolproof plan. West Virginia QB Geno Smith will likely be off the board, and the two most likely suspects the Cardinals would be choosing between would be Tyler Wilson of Arkansas and Mike Glennon of NC State.
Wilson stays in the pocket too long, forces plays and makes bad decisions. Glennon struggles to manipulate the pocket and shows suspect mobility when his blocking breaks down. Not exactly a recipe for success given current conditions in the desert.
USC QB Matt Barkley? New Cardinals GM Steve Keim is likely to say "No, thanks." Barkley seemed to regress during the 2012 season, and Keim knows the Arizona fanbase has already gotten its fill of over-hyped, underperforming USC QB play via Matt Leinart.
Toughest Offseason Decision: What to do with Michael Turner?
Michael Turner has been a great Falcon, but it's time to start thinking about cutting bait in Atlanta.
Turner was an 800-yard rusher during the 2012 regular season, averaging a pathetic, slow-looking 50 yards per game.
Turner's $15 million signing bonus has been amortized in $2.5 million increments annually, ending after 2013 when he is scheduled to hit unrestricted free agency. This makes an already-inflated sum of $6.9 million for 2013 even less workable. Turner is entering the final year of his contract and is scheduled to bring (along with his plodding running style) a cap hit of $9.4 million.
The Falcons have many other needs to focus on. They need a pass rush and an upgrade on their offensive line. They also have cornerback Brent Grimes scheduled to hit free agency, and it would be nice to have a little bit in the bank to throw at him should the organization be comfortable with his physicals coming off of Achilles surgery.
Without Turner, though, the Falcons rushing attack rests squarely on the tiny frame of Jacquizz Rodgers, who has improved, but is still no Darren Sproles.
Toughest Offseason Decision: What to do about Joe Flacco?
The Ravens will have plenty of issues to address during the 2013 offseason. Ray Lewis is gone, and they will be losing a stud edge-rusher in Paul Kruger.
Both of those issues seem a bit easier to deal with following Super Bowl XLVII than they did coming into it. Lewis performed as a teammate and inspiration much better than he did as a linebacker. Kruger only played 22 snaps, as it appears the team was more comfortable using rookie Courtney Upshaw against the read-option threat posed by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
One decision got tougher, though. QB Joe Flacco went out and proved himself, giving his agent all the ammo in the world to walk into general manager Ozzie Newsome's office and throw the book at him in the renegotiation of Flacco's contract.
When faced with a critical third down late in the game as momentum was turning San Francisco's way, Flacco gave every detractor who's ever questioned his acumen as a quarterback a Super Bowl-sized middle finger.
He saw the safety come down on 3rd-and-short and recognized wide receiver Anquan Boldin, who was a beast through the playoffs, on an island. He checked out of the "safe" run play and put his legacy on the line, delivering a strike to Boldin on a short, well-defended out pattern to basically ice the Super Bowl.
Of every bomb, every Jacoby Jones Mile High Miracle of the 2012 postseason, that play said the most.
Flacco might be red hot, but no one can be comfortable making someone the highest-paid player in the NFL, much less a player who ranked 14th in 2012 for passing yards and 15th in touchdowns behind the likes of Josh Freeman and Ryan Fitzpatrick.
It costs $14.6 million to franchise Flacco and make him prove it one more time before he gets his big payday in 2014. It costs $20 million to bite the bullet and restructure.
Toughest Offseason Decision: Which quarterback is next?
It's obviously not Ryan Fitzpatrick. After the Bills sent a Brinks truck full of cash to Fitzpatrick's house in October of 2011, now they are looking for a way out.
General manager Buddy Nix gave his rag-armed leader a six-year, $62 million contract, and he looked like he took up football at Harvard as a hobby between beard-stroking and discussions about philosophy.
Mark Gaughan of The Buffalo News reports that the team can send Fitzpatrick packing at this point without suffering any cap hit. In fact, it can save itself $500,000 by doing so.
Cutting Fitzpatrick should be the easiest decision facing an all-new coaching staff in Buffalo. The toughest is not repeating history. The Bills pick eighth in the 2013 NFL draft, and if Geno Smith doesn't fall to them, they are in yet another pickle.
Ryan Nassib of Syracuse is the obvious "hot name" in this discussion. Nassib was developed under new Bills head coach Doug Marrone and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett while at Syracuse. This new staff runs a conceptual version of the West Coast offense which, coincidentally, resembles the old Jim Kelly "K-Gun" of the AFC-dominating 1990s Bills clubs.
The rule of thumb in the West Coast offense is that it takes a smart quarterback two years to master and an average quarterback up to three years. Nassib was unimpressive at the 2013 Senior Bowl, but so was every other QB in attendance.
Nassib has a cannon arm, but no touch or accuracy on the deep ball. Like every QB in the 2013 draft class, he has flaws.
With no clear-cut leader in the saddle, the Bills have to decide whether they will be taking a QB at their valuable eighth pick overall or wait until the later rounds to do so.
Basically, they need to decide whether taking a QB early in 2013 is a Brandon Weeden, Christian Ponder, Jake Locker or Blaine Gabbert type of proposition*.
*See the final slide for how they could avoid this.
Toughest Offseason Decision: How important is it to roster both Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams?
The Panthers have needs all over the place and have been left in a salary-cap mess coming into 2013 at almost $12 million over 2013's $120 million allotment.
Quarterback Cam Newton is the face of the franchise, and he needs to be protected, but the offensive line is aging and needs to be addressed. Newton needs weapons outside of Steve Smith to throw the football to, and while Greg Olsen provides a steady outlet, Brandon LaFell has been on the "verge of a breakout" for his entire career.
The defensive backfield is a liability. In fact, the only true strength of Carolina's defense is the linebackers, thanks largely in part to stud rookie Luke Kuechly.
It just makes no sense to have so much money tied up in these elite runners. One can point to the fact that both have had trouble staying healthy, but this is the NFL. Everyone has trouble staying healthy.
Mike Tolbert has served admirably in backup duty for a man made of glass in Ryan Mathews during his time in San Diego, and Newton is like a running back himself.
How bad do the Panthers need both of these guys? It's like having a huge wine cellar while living in a cardboard box.
Toughest Offseason Decision: How to make sure Henry Melton stays in Chicago?
We've seen it before.
Disruption through the interior of the offensive line kills opposing quarterbacks and is detrimental to offensive game plans. Bears defensive tackle Henry Melton was a running back during his time at Texas before Will Muschamp came to town as defensive coordinator.
Melton was in Mack Brown's doghouse, and Muschamp decided to use him on the defensive side of the ball if he would be wasting away on the bench as an oversized dancing bear used only in goal-line situations.
The rest is history. Melton was a blue-ribbon student of the old Chicago regime. Lovie Smith told me at Robert Griffin III's Baylor pro day that he didn't just "like" Melton, he "loved" him, and to "quote me on that."
Smith is no longer in Chicago, however, and Melton is scheduled to hit free agency. New Bears head coach Marc Trestman quickly hired Mel Tucker following the departure of former defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli, and this makes the need even greater.
Tucker will run a cover-2 base 4-3 defense and is known as a defensive mind who is focused more on DBs than the defensive line. He is perfectly happy to bring a four-man rush and employ his chess game through the zone shells.
If you're only bringing four, you need them all to have their ears pinned back. You need Melton.
This would mean parting ways with Brian Urlacher, Jason Campbell and others.
Toughest Offseason Decision: How to spend all this money?
The notoriously cheapest club in the NFL will have a problem that general managers and owners like Dan Snyder, Jerry Jones and John Idzik could only dream about.
They need to spend $32 million to get up to the "salary floor" of $107.1 million (or 88.8 percent of the new $120 million dollar salary cap) that will be required under the NFL's new collective bargaining agreement.
The defense in Cincinnati is growing into a monster. Most of the members of this group are young and still on relatively cheap contracts, just how Bengals owner/GM Mike Brown likes it.
Rey Maualuga is a glaring problem, but he is still a decent two-down player who is only a terrible liability in clear passing situations.
The decision will be how to give third-year quarterback Andy Dalton more weapons on the offensive side of the ball. Outside of A.J. Green, are they happy with a receiving corps of Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu?
The Bengals have a very average running back in BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Are they really satisfied with a complement like Dan Herron? Cedric Peerman, Brian Leonard and and Bernard Scott are all free agents, and honestly, why bring these guys back if you have cash to burn?
Whether the Bengals like it or not, they have some money to spend. More than anyone else in the entire league. How they use it? Tough decision. This is foreign territory for the organization.
Toughest Offseason Decision: How to develop a winning identity?
Easier said than done, right?
If the Browns fanbase was underwhelmed by a sneaky-good head coaching hire in former Panthers offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski, all was made up for by the coordinator appointments.
Norv Tuner has finally returned to the role in which he belongs at offensive coordinator, and he will aid hugely in the development of whatever quarterback Cleveland rides into the future.
Ray Horton was arguably the best defensive coordinator in football during his time in Arizona. He only became available due to new Cardinals general manager Steve Keim mishandling Arizona's coaching succession following the departure of Ken Whisenhunt.
The new Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens reside in the AFC North, as does a young, improving Bengals team. The Steelers are obviously on a bit of a down-tick, but even so, the Browns have a 4-22 record against Pittsburgh since 2000.
In order to win NFL championships, teams have to win divisions, or at least contend for them. This will simply not be happening in Cleveland unless the Browns continue with the trend that began in 2012 with the transition in ownership and general attitude.
Whether this includes making a change at QB, going back to Colt McCoy, sticking it out with Brandon Weeden or finding a new one via the draft or free agency, something has to change.
The quarterback needs weapons outside of Josh Gordon, and Josh Cribbs does not count as a weapon. Cribbs is scheduled to hit free agency, and the club would be wise not to pay him—stacking on the the near $50 million they will have in cap space to do something worthwhile with.
Out with the old, in with the new. Whether it is a premiere pass-rusher, a cornerback like Brent Grimes to replace Sheldon Brown opposite Joe Haden, a wide receiver like Greg Jennings to complement Josh Gordon or all of the above.
A commitment to winning must be made. The sets of decisions that lead to successfully changing a culture might the toughest of any.
Toughest Offseason Decision: Is it time to make a Tony Romo escape plan?
Three things cannot be denied in Dallas:
1. Tony Romo is, statistically, likely the best quaterback the team has ever rostered. He was the NFL's third-leading passer in 2012 and finished sixth in TDs. As a Cowboy, Romo has tallied 39 regular-season 300-yard passing games, a Cowboys record.
As reference, the previous record holder was Troy Aikman, who had all of 13. Romo is the Cowboys' all-time leader in touchdown passes while also holding the club's lowest career interception percentage.
2. Romo played behind a terrible offensive line in 2012 with a disjointed running game, and it is unfair to put all of the team's failures on his shoulders.
3. He repeatedly chokes in big games. He's 1-3 in the playoffs during his career and has blown numerous other games late in the season which left the Cowboys out of playoff contention.
It's obviously a sore spot for Cowboys fans and the organization alike. And it's a tough decision to make.
The toughest breakups are with the partners who you really care about. What makes them tougher is when one person in a relationship has so much to offer in so many ways. Sometimes it's hard to tell if the thing is real or just one big tease.
The Cowboys will surely not pull the plug on one of the league's top QBs in 2013. If they did, they would not only be hitting the restart button on the QB position, but the wide receiver position as well. Dez Bryant would likely take another two-and-a-half years to finally have the light bulb click on like it did in 2012 with another QB under center.
But when is it time to truly plan for life post-Romo in Dallas? Not with Kyle Orton, Stephen McGee or other guys to be used only in case of emergency.
It's the toughest decision the Cowboys face, especially given their horrible cap situation at $18.2 million over and numerous other positions to address.
Toughest Offseason Decision: Is Ryan Clady really worth Joe Thomas money?
This is a tackle-needy league, and when you sink the farm into a quarterback like Peyton Manning, the most important thing is keeping him upright. Manning is now the franchise in Denver, and after four neck surgeries that have left his arm at about 60 percent of what it used to be to the naked eye, he can't take a pounding.
Ryan Clady is a very good NFL left tackle and has been a Pro Bowl selection three times. He is scheduled to hit free agency after turning down a five-year, $50 million extension with $28 million guaranteed in the summer of 2012. He will also be coming into 2013 after having shoulder surgery.
According to USA Today, Clady will want around $11.5 million a season over the course of a long-term new deal—basically, Joe Thomas money.
The Broncos can slap a franchise tag on Clady and pay him around $10 million in 2013 with hopes to restructure later. But as long as the Broncos are paying top-five money for next season—and likely top-three money following that—it may be prudent to kick the tires on Jake Long, who will be leaving Miami and may be had at a cheaper price.
Long is reportedly asking for pay in the $10 million range, according to Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald (via Pro Football Talk). But after a "down" 2012 season ending in injury, he might be willing to take a cut from there.
Toughest Offseason Decision: Who to keep and who to let go in free agency?
The Lions have 32 players scheduled to hit free agency and come into 2013 $1.1 million over the salary cap. They need to cut some fat, but deciding where will prove to be the toughest decision the organization faces in the 2013 offseason.
Defensive end Cliff Avril headlines the list and would be extremely hard to retain. Right tackle Gosder Cherilus has been awful, and the Lions offensive line has been horrible for the better part of the last decade.
Letting Cherilus go and continuing to rebuild along the offensive line through the draft should be an easy decision. Cherilus brought a $4.6 million cap hit along with his crummy services in 2012, and anything close to that moving forward would be ridiculous.
Cornerback Chris Houston and safety Louis Delmas have both had tough 2012 seasons injury wise, and the Lions secondary has been notably bad in their absence. Both are now free agents, and while Bill Bentley showed many things during 2012, was not injury-proof.
The Lions have a ton of needs to address, and which needs become most glaring will depend on how they work things through free agency. Titus Young is gone, Nate Burleson has likely taken his last snap in the NFL and Ryan Broyles is just now running in a pool after failing to remain healthy for an entire season in two calendar years.
A threat needs to exist outside of Calvin Johnson in the receiving game to give Matt Stafford any hope.
Behind an unproven Mikel LeShoure at running back, the cupboard is absolutely bare. As mentioned, it is time for the offensive line to basically start over around Riley Reiff.
Green Bay Packers
Toughest Offseason Decision: Who's going to play running back?
Some may think the toughest decision the Packers face is whether or not to retain tight end Jermichael Finley, who will be due $8 million for 2013. With Greg Jennings as good as gone, and Donald Driver retired, this may finally be the breakout season everyone has hoped for from the uber-athletic Finley.
There will be no breakouts, and paying Finley $8 million to sulk around like a baby is a joke. Ship him off to Atlanta.
The Packers need a running game, and Cedric Benson is too busy DJing private parties at Austin strip clubs to worry about it. Ryan Grant was signed straight out of the nursing home onto the active roster to end the 2012 season, and both James Starks and Alex Green would be All-Star Canadian Football League-level talents.
Through the first half of the 2012 season, when Cedric Benson was still healthy, the Packers were 5-0 when one running back touched the ball at least 18 times. The Packers play better with a balanced attack, and they are much harder to game-plan for when they have the mindset of establishing a running game.
Toughest Offseason Decision: Re-sign Connor Barwin or free up money to address other issues?
Texans GM Rick Smith will be faced with a tough decision when deciding what to do with outside linebacker Connor Barwin, who has been a great player and leader during his time with the Texans. He is a fan favorite, and a player that an organization like the Texans would love to keep around.
The problem is, they have gotten the services of Barwin on the extremely cheap over the last four years on a $4 million contract, and coming into 2013, he may command up to $7 million per year on the free-agent market.
Barwin's "down year" statistically in 2012 was largely due to how ridiculous J.J. Watt was playing. Additionally, defensive coordinate Wade Phillips used Barwin a bit differently down the stretch, dropping him into coverage and taking away many opportunities for him to pin his ears back and make downhill plays.
It would cost right at $8.8 million to franchise Barwin, and the Texans are likely at least somewhat comfortable with the idea of Brooks Reed and Whitney Mercilus manning the outside defensive perimeter should Barwin's price tag be too steep.
The Texans need receivers and a right guard badly to get any return on their $62 million investment in QB Matt Schaub. If letting Barwin walk frees up money to pile on to the near $13 million they will have in 2013 cap space, it could mean a run at a player like Andy Levitre of the Bills, who would be huge for the organization.
Toughest Offseason Decision: Is it finally time to part ways with Dwight Freeney?
The best pass-rusher in the history of the Colts organization may be gone the year after the franchise's most prolific passer left town.
Dwight Freeney was a product of the old Colts system, but according to B/R's AFC South Lead Writer Nate Dunlevy, Freeney was not a complete misfit in the new 3-4 that head coach Chuck Pagano brought in from Baltimore:
His play improved as the year and his ankle progressed, he was nearly as effective in the new scheme. According to Pro Football Focus, he picked up nine hits and 34 hurries in 765 snaps in 2012. In 2011, he had eight sacks, eight hits and 33 hurries in 697 snaps.
That's a modest decline that could easily be attributed to his ankle sprain.
Still, Freeney was paid $14 million in 2012, and any portion of that amount will be a tough pill to swallow for an organization that knows it will be having to continue to fit a round peg in a square hole.
Toughest Offseason Decision: Address the quarterback position now or later?
The Jags are a whole new franchise, or at least owner Shad Khan would have you believe that. The relatively new owner now has a new GM, a new head coach and even a new Jaguars logo.
Now they need a new quarterback because Blaine Gabbert was a mistake. After looking like a player who would improve coming into 2012, Gabbert proved his worth in 2012.
The Jaguars pick second in the 2013 NFL draft, and like many, they are being held hostage by Kansas City's negotiations with offensive tackle Branden Albert regarding an extension.
If Geno Smith is there at No. 2, do the Jaguars take him? Do they hold out until the second or third round in hopes that former Seattle defensive coordinator and new Jags coach Gus Bradley hits midround gold like his bosses did in Seattle by stealing Russell Wilson last season?
Or does the organization build through its offensive line and defense while employing some sort of "placeholder" quarterback in 2013 while hoping to draft a Teddy Bridgewater-type prospect in 2014 once the team is (hopefully) on the right track?
This 2013 NFL draft has a lot of "Blaine Gabbert potential" in the QB class, and it may be wise to hold out in order to avoid repeating history.
Kansas City Chiefs
Toughest Offseason Decision: What to do with the first overall pick?
As mentioned in the previous slide, this decision will be made easier once the team decides what it will be doing with offensive tackle Branden Albert.
If they decide to let Albert walk, it is clearly in the Chiefs' best interest to select Texas A&M OT Luke Joeckel and acquire a player likely to achieve elite status on a cheap four-year contract as the offense rebuilds.
Otherwise, the correct pick seems to be Geno Smith. Andy Reid needs a QB, and the only quarterbacks he currently has at his disposal belong in the garbage disposal.
Utah DT Star Lotulelei may be the best player in the draft, but Kansas City has drafted defensive linemen with its first-round pick in three of the last five years, and Andy Reid is surely aware of this in his first year at the Arrowhead facility.
Toughest Offseason Decision: Is it time to part ways with Reggie Bush?
While 2012 may have been a disappointment relative to those ridiculously lofty goals, Reggie Bush is a veteran leader on a team that is young, developing and, most importantly, improving.
It will be time in 2013 to start getting Lamar Miller more involved and start phasing out a known fumbler and all-around mediocre presence in Daniel Thomas. Bush signed a two-year deal for $10 million prior to the 2011 season, and at nearly 28 years old, he is not going to get that kind of money in free agency.
With over $38 million in cap space, the Dolphins find themselves in one of the most comfortable financial situations of any team coming into the 2013 offseason.
But with the need to re-sign Brian Hartline and many signs pointing toward possible interest in free agent Greg Jennings, decisions will have to be made by both the organization and Bush.
Toughest Offseason Decision: What to do about Percy Harvin?
Some may have questions about Percy Harvin, but no one has questions about Vikings running back Adrian Peterson. As I broke down here on B/R, we are likely witnessing the greatest running back to ever play football every Sunday.
When Peterson delivers quotes like this to the Star-Tribune, anyone with a mind for football should take notice: "I know talent. I can watch Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen and see the difference."
So, who's the "Jordan," and who's the "Pippen" in Minnesota?
"There are two Jordans on this team"—(himself and Percy Harvin)—"I'm not trying to be cocky. I'm just very confident in my abilities. Percy is the best player I've ever played with."
On one hand, Peterson is right. Many NFL assistants have told me personally that Harvin is the league's most dynamic weapon. Whether this is known by the casual fan or not, it is the way Harvin's abilities are thought about in league circles, and he will command a huge contract once he hits free agency in 2014.
The question is, what to do with Harvin now. He was hurt to end the 2012 season and while on IR did not spend any time with the team. He has some character question marks, and while a player like Titus Young makes Harvin look like a choir boy, Harvin is generally seen as a malcontent.
There is something to be said for getting the most you can out of a player like this when you can still trade him at an extremely high value as opposed to just letting him walk away in free agency.
New England Patriots
Toughest Offseason Decision: What to do about Wes Welker?
Yes, Welker has been dropping critical balls in huge games lately. And yes, it looked as if the Patriots' original plan to start the 2012 season was to "phase Welker out" in favor of two athletic tight ends in Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski.
With those two pieces acting as extensions of the run with the ability to exploit the vertical seam, adding in a couple of joker utility pieces like Julian Edelman and Danny Woodhead would be enough to keep with Bill Belichick's plan to move toward a power-run game from which these threats would stem.
We saw in 2012 that Welker is not a player who can be easily phased out.
Coming into 2013, the team will have to decide whether to let Welker walk, sign him to an extension or slap a franchise tag on him to see how things pan out in the 2013 season.
New Orleans Saints
Toughest Offseason Decision: Which defensive players to draft?
The Saints have no business drafting anything but defense, not through the first four rounds at least. They have been awful, and to say it was all former defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo's fault is to dig your head in the sand.
Players seemed to not be trying, and that is personal business, not systemic. The defense in New Orleans can't get any worse, so getting younger is the only answer.
Break out the street sweepers like they do on Bourbon Street, and take out the trash.
Roman Harper, Sedrick Ellis and most certainly Will Smith should hit the road, and thankfully for the Saints, this is a great year to be in need of defensive talent.
At pick No. 15, there will be a plethora of high-potential pass-rush options available. Holes can be plugged through the middle rounds as the depth provided in the 2013 NFL draft along the defensive line and safety positions should make for more than a few midround steals.
New York Giants
Toughest Offseason Decision: What to do about Victor Cruz?
Hakeem Nicks is a walking injury waiting to happen, and the Giants are in serious danger of becoming extinct as an NFC East contender.
Eli Manning needs weapons, and with Domenik Hixon and Ramses Barden both set to hit free agency (goodness, that sounds bad just to write), Victor Cruz needs to stay in NYC. While rookie Rueben Randle has shown he has real promise moving forward, he is not a replacement for Cruz.
Cruz accounted for 1,092 of Eli Manning's 3,948 yards in 2012, and for 10 of his 26 touchdowns. The Giants have holes to fill all over, but they need to salsa dance with who brought them.
The tougher decisions are going to come in finding ways to create the cash that it's going to take, but Cruz is arguably the most underpaid player in the league. The Giants should view the new contract as paying the man back some for what he has already done for the franchise.
New York Jets
Toughest Offseason Decision: How to fix the mess Mike Tannenbaum left behind?
Former Jets GM Mike Tannenbaum was known as a genius "capologist." A strategic mind who understood just how to manipulate the salary cap, find loopholes and defer accounts payable in order to craft a master plan for Gang Green's dominance.
What he left was a big, smelly mess.
The Jets and new GM John Idzik enter the 2013 offseason $19.4 million over the salary cap with hardly a shred of talent to show for it. Idzik took the job knowing that he would have to keep head coach Rex Ryan and his Mark Sanchez tattoo on his staff, so he won't be able to clean out all the trash.
It's tough to say where to start, but one way to clear up a bunch of room is to trade Darrelle Revis. The Jets have a horrible QB problem, and their running backs are nothing to write home about, either.
Maybe Idzik could work a trade for Revis with Carolina, sending RB Jonathan Stewart, or with San Francisco, sending Alex Smith and a few draft picks.
Toughest Offseason Decision: Is it time to pull the plug on Hue Jackson's Carson Palmer plan?
Carson Palmer was traded for by Hue Jackson, who was an extreme fan of his. The Raiders have paid through the nose for Palmer, and they didn't get to pick until the third round of GM Reggie McKenzie's inaugural draft with the club in 2012 because of what they had given up in trade to acquire his services.
That pick was only there as a compensatory pick for losing Nnamdi Asomugha to free agency.
The Raiders have finally ditched offensive coordinator Greg Knapp and his horrible zone-blocking scheme that got Darren McFadden injured and turned him into a mediocre utility back with no home run ability.
The team, for once, has a clean slate.
There has been talk that there will be an open QB competition between backup QB Terrelle Pryor and Palmer coming into the 2013 season, because apparently someone thinks that it may be smart to play against Peyton Manning in the AFC West with Terrelle Pryor under center.
With new offensive coordinator Greg Olson, Oakland needs focus on offense. The Raiders need to draft defense, as Matt Shaughnessy and Richard Seymour should be tossed out with yesterday's garbage, and Tommy Kelley should join them with his on/off switch disease. They also have a huge need at cornerback.
The offense has weapons still, though. The receiving corps is one of the more underrated groups in the league, and Palmer can sling it when things are clicking. The Raiders need to commit to one quarterback early, install a system and let that quarterback lead.
Anything else is wasting time. It's a huge decision, and it needs to be made sooner rather than later.
Toughest Offseason Decision: Is Nick Foles right for building the new offense around?
Nick Foles was horrible during last year's Senior Bowl practices and took a significant fall during the draft process because of it. Former Eagles head coach Andy Reid saw something, though.
Being an alumni of the same high school as Foles, I have observed him for quite some time, and what coaches have always said is that he is a "sponge."
Everyone is always amazed by how quickly Foles can pick things up. When he got into the NFL, he got to soak up knowledge from Andy Reid—one of the best—while backing up Mike Vick. He eventually got his chance to round out the 2012 season as the starter.
New Eagles coach Chip Kelly's offense is a spread-option attack that many believe calls for mobility from the QB, something that Nick Foles cannot just "learn" the way he did the real-time knowledge and understanding of an NFL route tree.
Although Reuben Frank of CSNPhilly reports that Chip Kelly was "in awe" of Foles as an opposing coach at Oregon of Foles' Arizona teams, Mike Vick is still under contract, and the team is showing interest in former Oregon Duck Dennis Dixon.
Both are mobile QBs.
As mentioned in the last slide, an offense is so much more effective when the team commits to one QB and sticks with him. It's a huge decision to a start a new chapter in Philly sports history.
Toughest Offseason Decision: What to do at running back?
According to the Steelers' official website, Steelers owner Art Rooney is not pleased with the state of the running back position in Pittsburgh:
The season Rashard had was not what we would have hoped for. Obviously, we knew he was coming back from an injury so there were some unknowns there. So, without getting into the real specifics with Rashard, it’s fair to say that we are going to need a better performance out of the running back position if we’re going to be successful, Whether it’s Rashard or Jonathan or Isaac or somebody else, we have to be better at that position, as well as others, but certainly at that position. In this offseason that’s something we’ve got to look at and decide how we get better and who we get better with.
Pretty tough decisions ahead it seems.
Rashard Mendenhall has been in the doghouse and is set to hit free agency. Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman are simply complementary pieces not suited to be feature backs. Baron Batch is a third-down back whose value comes from his performance and leadership on special teams.
This is the AFC North, and you have to run the ball. The Steelers, as mentioned in a previous slide, are 22-4 against the Browns since 2000, but they are 1-1 against the Browns since 2012. It's no coincidence that 2012 was the year that an elite RB in Trent Richardson came to Cleveland.
It's a tough issue, but it most certainly needs addressing.
San Diego Chargers
Toughest Offseason Decision: Where to start?
A.J. Smith, "The Lord of No Rings," has left the building, and it is a new day in San Diego. New GM Tom Telesco and new head coach Mike McCoy have a mess on their hands, though.
Where do you begin to address the problems?
Offensive tackle Jared Gaither will likely never stay healthy for another season, and picking at No. 11, the team will surely select a left tackle.
The team needs depth in general through the offensive line if it wants to keep Philip Rivers even somewhat serviceable through his golden years with the club.
Running back Ryan Mathews will likely never stay healthy, and he is beginning to look like a major bust.
The defense still needs an elite pass-rusher and depth through the middle of a young, developing defensive line.
Antonio Gates is getting old, and we have seen nothing out of Ladarius Green to make anyone think he will emerge as the Gates version 2.0 he was drafted as.
Robert Meachem has been a disaster who was thankfully made up for by an awesome 2012 performance out of Danario Alexander.
It's time to start plugging holes in the ship, and the toughest decision will be knowing where to start outside of offensive tackle.
San Francisco 49ers
Toughest Offseason Decision: How to get Colin Kaepernick a true downfield threat?
For all the good Jim Harbaugh has done for the San Francisco 49ers (and it really is impossible to illustrate in words or quantify by numbers), drafting A.J. Jenkins in a first round surprise was horrible.
Justin Smith is aging along the defensive line, and he now faces triceps surgery. Randy Moss is not the answer at the X in San Francisco, and Colin Kaepernick has a rocket arm.
The 49ers need a true downfield, over-the-top burner to take shots to. While Michael Crabtree has developed into an amazing player, the fact is that he has become exactly what 49ers fans had hoped—the ultimate possession receiver, and the closest thing to Spider-Man that exists in the National Football League.
A field-stretching WR threat not only provides the opportunity to take these shots, but it stretches the field and makes for bigger gaps in zone shells for players like Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker to occupy. It would hurt to go WR at the end of the first round once again in the 2013 NFL draft, but something must be done.
No one said these decisions would be easy.
Toughest Offseason Decision: Not applicable.
Some may say the toughest decision is whether or not to retain former Titan Jason Jones, but I have a feeling that GM John Schneider and Pete Carroll have a good idea what they are going to do regarding his re-signing.
The Seahawks are a team that is impossible to judge due to the way they conduct their business until further notice.
I was a fan of their 2012 draft when many others hated it, mainly because I thought Bruce Irvin was going to be a second-round steal and admired their "reaching" for their guy. Russell Wilson was my No. 4-ranked QB of the 2012 NFL draft behind Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Kirk Cousins.
The Seahawks will make the right decisions because they do their homework like no one else. Pete Carroll was the only head coach I saw at every single 2012 pro day I attended.
They make it seem easy, and things are just getting started in the Pacific Northwest.
St. Louis Rams
Toughest Offseason Decision: What to do with the 16th pick now that Titus Young is on board?
I had been of the opinion that the Rams should draft Cal WR Keenan Allen with the 16th overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft, but now that they have employed the services of Titus Young, receiver does not seem like such a great need.
After all, Titus Young believes he is a better receiver than Calvin Johnson, according to the Detroit Free Press.
Rams head coach Jeff Fisher has been known as a coach who can handle players with off-field issues. He has drafted and built a St. Louis Rams team full of players who have had various public transgressions.
Young is a whole new breed of cat, though—such as running the wrong routes on purpose or headbutting players who are, coincidentally, now his teammates.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Toughest Offseason Decision: Is it time to bring in competition for Josh Freeman?
Prior to the 2012 season, the Bucs gave then-free-agent WR Vincent Jackson a $55.5 million contract that was supposed to be representative of Josh Freeman's jersey No. 5.
The thought was that all Freeman needed was a physical deep threat such as Jackson to finally turn the corner as an NFL passer into the ranks of the elite.
That has not happened, and Bucs head coach Greg Schiano has his own thoughts about the quarterback he has inherited upon his ascension to the pro ranks from Rutgers, according to the Tampa Bay Times:
What I can say is, a 4,000-yard passer, a touchdown record – there’s a lot of things you say, "Wow." Are there things that frustrate you? Yeah. There’s things that frustrate him, too. And I’m not ducking the question, because quite frankly, I really like Josh Freeman. But I want to make sure I don’t get ahead of my skis at all here and really evaluate every single thing to what’s best for this organization. Do I think Josh Freeman is going to win Super Bowls in this league? I do. So, I hope that happens here. But again, at the end of the day, I have to evaluate everything before I can say that’s what we’re doing.
The one thing I do believe in is competition at every spot, including the quarterback so I want to have as many good players on our football team as we can at every single position. It’s a little different in the NFL.'
Will the competition be "real" or just a motivational ploy to help Freeman turn the corner? One thing is for sure: Teams don't generally bring in competition for quarterbacks they truly believe are "going to win Super Bowls in this league."
Toughest Offseason Decision: Will Matt Hasselbeck take a pay cut?
Sometimes the toughest decisions are the ones you have to make fast, and getting Matt Hasselbeck to take a pay cut is the first order of business.
As Jon Glennon of Gannett/Tennessee wrote, "It’s unlikely the Titans will cut him, considering he’s one of the best backups in the game and an ideal mentor for Jake Locker."
That's the best way to put it. The Jake Locker thing may or may not work out, but Hasselbeck is a veteran's veteran and about the best insurance money can buy on a very shaky investment.
I think that the team should recognize this and pay him as such. The $5.5 million he is scheduled to make is too much to pay a backup. Hasselbeck will not play football for the rest of his career as a Titan unless Locker gets hurt or completely tanks.
Dock his pay and hand him a clipboard.
Toughest Offseason Decision: Think about trading Kirk Cousins?
Kirk Cousins has the ability to be a great NFL quarterback and become one of the league's winners if given the proper surrounding cast. Everybody at the 2012 Senior Bowl should have seen this in Cousins, and even his opposing coach, Mike Shanahan (coaching the South team), surely did.
Cousins will come in and be a better quarterback than anyone in the 2013 NFL draft besides possibly Geno Smith.
Mike Shanahan knows he needs insurance for Robert Griffin III, but he would likely also want draft picks in order to replace players like Tanard Jackson. They gave all of those up of to get Griffin, then sneakily took Cousins in a brilliant move during the same draft.
The QB market is hot right now, and no QB has truly emerged as a surefire first-round talent. Shanahan made the investment as more of a long play, and this move would be tough, but he could want to sell high. Cousins came in, in relief of Griffin, and won big games in critical, season-dependent circumstances.
He would be perfect in Buffalo, but Buddy Nix would never do it. I'm not even sure Shanny would.
Welcome to the 2013 NFL offseason.