2011 NFL Predictions: Finding the Potential in the Offseason's Riskiest Trades
During the quickest-moving free-agency and trading period in NFL history, it's tough to keep up with all the moves being made—even on your own team. While the big television networks focus their complete attention on Nnamdi Asomugha, Cam Newton and Tim Tebow, they have failed to assess how the big-time trades will turn out.
Some trades were well-balanced, with both teams improving their rosters, but other trades were lopsided—ahem, New England Patriots.
In the mess of deals that were made, a few have potential to be game-changers with playoff implications. The following are deals that could cost their teams dearly, but have an equal chance of lifting a team to the top of its division.
Minnesota Vikings Acquire Donovan McNabb
In the short term, this may be very beneficial to the Minnesota Vikings. All they gave up was a late-round draft pick, and they acquired an all-time great in Donovan McNabb. This move also complies with the generalization that rookie quarterbacks need to sit the bench for a season or two in order to be groomed to play in the NFL.
While I don't completely agree with that principle, I do feel that McNabb gives the Vikings the best shot to win in 2011. His struggles with the Washington Redskins were well-documented, but look at history and you will see that that's not such a bad sign.
Brett Favre struggled with the New York Jets for a season after leaving the Green Bay Packers, and then enjoyed the best season of his career in Minnesota. It's all about finding the right situation, so don't scrutinize McNabb's 2010 season so harshly.
If McNabb does not do well, it's not the end of the world, either. Insert Christian Ponder in his sophomore season and see where he can take you. If he develops as I expect, the Vikings will be in contention by the time Adrian Peterson turns 30.
By trading for McNabb, the Vikings have pretty much ensured that rookie Christian Ponder will not be starting in the season opener, and likely not by midseason either. Ponder is a prospect whom I considered to be the most NFL-ready quarterback in this rookie class, in contrast to most experts, who leaned towards crowning Andy Dalton with that honor.
By pushing Ponder into competition, it may bring out a good side of him, but there is always a possibility that he is not a competitive guy.
He faced little competition in college, after being handed the starting job in his sophomore season. Ponder has shown that he is determined to win the starting job, though, so the true risk in the trade does not lie here.
I could see some problems developing if McNabb becomes the leader of this football team, and Ponder may be left behind. McNabb is 34 years old, and might just have a few good seasons left in the tank.
If he plays well for the Vikings, they could be left with a tough decision at the end of the season—whether to keep McNabb and try to win immediately, or trust Ponder with the franchise moving forward.
The longer that McNabb stays, the harder it will be for Ponder to step into the starting job. He is a leader, and taking the backup role may not be something he will be comfortable with. And if he is discontent with the team's decision to start McNabb, he may be looking for an escape route out of Minnesota before his rookie contract expires.
Remember, with the new rookie salary limitations, young players will want to show that they deserve a big contract, and he may realize he has to go elsewhere to earn that.
Arizona Cardinals Acquire Kevin Kolb
Superstar receiver Larry Fitzgerald was obviously not content with the quarterback situation in Arizona. Before trading for Kolb, the Cardinals were stuck with the worst stable of quarterbacks in the league, which would have resulted in another dreadful season, to put it lightly.
Kolb is a talented player who has no glaring weakness. Given the right opportunity, he should progress into a good, not great, NFL quarterback. He has improved his accuracy on a weekly basis, and has not fallen short of my expectations for him to this point.
With Kolb, the Cards will keep their best player happy for the short term and fill seats. Without a quarterback, you simply can't make the playoffs. At least with Kolb, Arizona fans can be positive and hopeful about the future and the upcoming season, because anyone can win in the NFC West.
Arizona gave up a lot for a player that is very unproven. While Kolb has displayed some reassuring skills, he is not as valuable as Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, the star cornerback that they gave up for Kolb, who was a backup in Philadelphia.
In addition to Rodgers-Cromartie, the Cardinals gave up a second-round pick, a delicacy for smart front offices around the league. All in all, it is fair to say that they got swindled in this trade.
In the NFL, it all comes down to whether or not a quarterback fits well with the team he is placed on. Some fare better than others completely based off of the situation they are in.
The Cardinals can't be sure that Kolb will be worth what they gave up for him, and that is risky enough. But when you pay the guy over $12 million per year, you should know what you're getting. The Cardinals do not, and that may bite them in the end.
If they had not traded for Kolb, they may have been the laughingstock of the NFL for a season, but it would have been well worth it if they had landed the number one pick and drafted quarterback Andrew Luck, the best NFL prospect in years.
We'll have to wait and see if this trade does work in the Cardinals' favor, but I have a feeling that Kolb is not an incredibly determined guy, and that he'll be content with the guaranteed $21 million that he will receive.
New England Patriots Acquire Albert Haynesworth
New England acquired the Pro Bowl defensive tackle for a fifth-round pick, and his presence on the defensive line can have immediate implications. When focused and kept happy, Haynesworth is one of the most disruptive defensive linemen in the NFL. He is explosive, and can use quickness or brute strength to dominate an offensive line.
The loss of Ty Warren leaves the Patriots with a gap on the defensive line, and Haynesworth can immediately fill that gap. Bill Belichick is known for his ability to deal with a diverse range of personalities, and if he works his magic on Haynesworth, this deal could work out very well for the Patriots.
The risk in this trade is not immediately noticeable, but there are some problems that could arise.
The first is the potential for distraction. Belichick likes to keep his team focused on the task at hand, and reserved with the media. Haynesworth is outspoken when discontent with his situation, and it is well known that he does not want to play in a 3-4 scheme—the scheme that the Patriots run.
Some will suggest that the Patriots can easily release him if he causes conflict, but it's not that simple. Albert can create negativity in the locker room and in the huddle, so it may not be visible to the media or fans at all times.
If he disrupts the dynamic of this team, it could have a serious effect. Some in the locker room may side with Albert, but if others begin to take a different side, there could be some internal conflict that will be a detriment to a team that is contending for a Super Bowl.
Miami Dolphins Acquire Reggie Bush
Reggie Bush has been a disappointment since entering the league as the second overall pick in 2002, but his talent is undeniable. He's extremely quick and explosive, and is a consistent target as a receiver who can line up in the backfield or in the slot.
Bush can inject some life into an offense that has sputtered since NFL defenses figured out their version of the Wildcat offense. Had they not traded for Bush, they might have relied heavily on rookie running back Daniel Thomas.
Bush will also offer a great security blanket for whoever lines up at quarterback for the 'Phins on day one. They don't have much talent at tight end, so having Bush there could compensate for that.
Bush has yet to stay healthy since his rookie season. He hasn't shown the ability to run between the tackles, either, and he can be a liability in pass protection, which is a huge hit for a player who makes his money on third downs.
Another downside is that this trade was a direct result of the Dolphins letting running backs Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams go. The two formed a great combo of speed and power when they were healthy.
Replacing their production will be a tough task for Bush and Thomas, and if head coach Tony Sparano tries to force them to resemble the running game that the Dolphins had in the past few seasons, the situation will only worsen.
The final blow against this deal is that Miami truly didn't have to give up what they did for Bush. The Saints were likely going to release him to prevent themselves from paying his huge contract.
While the Dolphins will not have to pay Bush what he was set to earn in New Orleans—because he restructured his deal—they still had to give up a very good special teams player, Jonathon Amaya.