The NFL's Five Most Underrated Moves of the 2009 Offseason
There's no need to play coy. The NFL offseason is all about the blockbuster transactions that generate the most headlines and pique the casual fan's interest for longer than a day.
But the power moves aren't always the most significant ones an organization can make to improve their team.
To know football is to know that games aren't won by superstars alone.
The new head coach hired in January, the guy who's overpaid at the start of free agency, and the kid drafted early on that April afternoon won't define the season by themselves.
Finding the appropriate complements for the things a team does well is what establishes winning traditions. Acquiring the perfect personnel who can appreciate and apply their team's philosophy on the field makes all the difference.
The Top Five
Oakland Raiders Re-sign KR/CB Justin Miller
At first glance it would appear to be an unimportant move, but the decision to re-sign Justin Miller could be a significant for the Oakland Raiders.
After joining the Raiders halfway through the 2008 season, Miller provided a spark on special teams that was lacking everywhere else on the field. He returned kickoffs for touchdowns and was named Special Teams Player of the Month in December.
Drafted in the second round out of Clemson, Miller never established himself as a true defensive back in his tenure with the New York Jets. But he was never given a real opportunity to develop either.
Miller is aggressive by nature and has elite NFL speed. He's a fearless runner and never shies away from contact. With that skill set, he could emerge as a quality safety if the Raiders choose to use him outside of special teams.
If not, he's always good for a 90-yard kick return to get points on the board if the offense stalls.
Cleveland Browns Hire Rob Ryan as Defensive Coordinator
Rumors of Eric Mangini and Rob Ryan teaming up first surfaced during the 2008 offseason, when Lane Kiffin was still coaching in Oakland.
Ryan was expected to be fired in favor of Lane's father Monte Kiffin. There was supposed to be a deal waiting for Ryan to join the Jets as soon as Oakland made it official.
Then Al Davis interfered, and Mangini's plan never came to fruition.
Now in Cleveland, Mangini has finally managed to team up with the defensive coordinator he needs to succeed.
Ryan brings the infamous defensive reputation established by his father, Buddy Ryan, to the Browns. His experience as a coordinator should help alleviate the pressure for Mangini, who sometimes seems overwhelmed as he overthinks his strategy.
While the defensive personnel Cleveland acquired throughout the offseason has Mangini's stamp all over them, it's going to be Ryan's scheme that complements the discipline Mangini preaches.
It's a welcome change for Ryan after spending so many seasons with an undisciplined Raiders team.
Cincinnati Bengals Sign WR Laveranues Coles
When it became clear that the Bengals would be unable to retain T.J. Houshmandzadeh, finding a suitable replacement became critical.
Last season, the Bengals' passing game shifted from being centered on Chad Ocho Cinco to Houshmandzadeh becoming the primary target. It was important for Cincinnati to find someone who could bring a similar skill set to the offense.
After forcing his way out of New York in pursuit of a long-term commitment, Laveranues Coles found the ideal contract with an offense that could utilize him to perfection.
At 31, Coles' speed is deceitful. He has a good burst off the line of scrimmage and is quick enough to extend a catch for extra yardage. Most importantly, he's a fearless receiver who will cross the middle and can hang on to the ball after contact.
No longer a primary receiver, Coles can be the same complement to Ocho Cinco that Houshmandzadeh was. He was good enough with the Jets to command double teams, and he could pose an offensive mismatch while defenders focus on No. 85.
New York Jets Steal CB Lito Sheppard from the Philadelphia Eagles
The free agent pool was noticeably shallow for cornerbacks this offseason. With DeAngelo Hall and Domonique Foxworth setting the bar for exorbitant contracts, New York wasn't going to overpay for marginal talent like the Redskins and Ravens did.
But the Jets still needed a cornerback to play opposite Darrelle Revis, and Philadelphia happened to be stacked at the position.
Sheppard slid down the depth chart and out of favor with the Eagles after injuries and contract disputes, respectively. The strain on their working relationship made the former All-Pro available to New York for a fifth-round draft choice and a conditional 2010 pick.
But it's the terms of the deal Jets GM Mike Tannenbaum worked out that make this move so underrated.
Knowing that Sheppard's history of injuries would be a concern, Tannenbaum protected the Jets in the scenario that Lito doesn't pan out as expected. He also salvaged the conditional 2010 draft pick with a potential poison pill for the Eagles.
Philadelphia receives a 2010 draft pick if Sheppard is on the field for 85-percent of the snaps. That won't be difficult if he remains healthy and returns to All-Pro form.
But the second half of that negotiation requires Sheppard to receive a four-year, $27.2M contract extension in March 2010 after the Jets pay out a $10M option bonus.
The conditional 2010 pick is contingent upon both things happening—and if anyone has paid attention to Tannenbaum over the last few seasons, they'd know that he's more likely to release someone than pay them.
New York Giants Don't Trade for WR Braylon Edwards
On the rarest of occasions, it's the move that isn't made that has the most significant impact.
Refusing to succumb to their obvious desperation at wide receiver, the Giants opted to use their draft picks to fill holes rather than mortgage them on disgruntled Browns receiver Braylon Edwards.
A deal for Edwards was seemingly imminent in the weeks leading up to the draft.
But Big Blue learned their lesson from Plaxico Burress and decided not to pull the trigger on another diva receiver.
When at the top of his game, Edwards is undoubtedly among the best in the NFL. A receiver who caught 16 touchdowns in one season should always be worth a gamble.
Unfortunately, every time the ball is thrown his way, it's a gamble.
After leading the NFL in drops in 2008, taking a risk on a receiver who's demanding a new contract would be counterproductive to the Super Bowl-winning chemistry the Giants hope to reestablish for Eli Manning.
Ultimately, the Giants were able to use their draft picks on players they could develop internally. Hakeem Nicks and Ramses Barden were selected to be long-term solutions, not immediate band-aids.
By not trading for Edwards, the Giants avoid a severe case of the Drop Flu and won't have to deal with headaches from a player whose mind wouldn't be focused on football.
Who's interested in a player who asks his opponents about modeling opportunities in the middle of a game, anyway?
Dallas Cowboys sign DE Igor Olshansky
Jerry Jones was given a lot of credit this offseason for stepping away from the headline-grabbing players. He severed ties with Pacman and lost $9M to not play with Terrell Owens. Signing Igor Olshansky stood as a testament to his commitment to bring pure football back to Dallas.
New Orleans Saints sign Darren Sharper
The Saints' search for quality defensive backs continues. Signing Sharper isn't the answer to all their prayers, but he brings his reputation and leadership skills to a secondary that's lacked guidance for years.
Carolina Panthers re-sign Jordan Gross
When you have one of the best rush attacks in the NFL, you don't play games with the men who open holes for them. Jordan Gross has done everything the Panthers asked of him since being drafted, and he has done it well. Sure, Julius Peppers' whining made the decision to extend Gross' contract easier. But Gross deserved it on his own merit too.
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