Archive for March, 2013

#83 Brandon Myers - some shrewd business for the New York Giants

#83 Brandon Myers – some shrewd business for the New York Giants

With NFL Free Agency 2013 calming down somewhat (unless you are the Baltimore Ravens) it’s time to reflect on some of the key moves.

Now most pundits will focus on the impact of Wes Welker moving from the New England Patriots to the Denver Broncos or the ‘Fax-Gate’ scandal that saw the Baltimore Ravens snag Elvis Dumervil.

Myself, having played a season in England for the Crawley Raiders II as a tight-end, I want to spend some time looking at some of the Free Agency movement involving this position, and look at some very early projections for those who have moved and those who have inked deals in the past month to remain with their current team.

Before looking at some of the deck shuffling it’s worth reflecting on the rise of the importance of the tight-end.

We have witnessed the evolution of a two tight-end set from the old-school two tight-end set of five or so years ago when the Kansas City Chiefs would deploy Tony Gonzales as a real weapon and Jason Dunn as essentially a sixth offensive lineman to the almost unstoppable combination of New England Patriots duo Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez (when both are fit).

I’m unable to do more than guess here but it sure feels that proportionally the number of catches made by the tight-end position on all 32 NFL teams has risen over the past five years. The majority of NFL teams have factored in the tight-end as a core offensive weapon and not a secondary or dump-off target for a quarterback looking for a cheap completion on a busted play.

So here are my top five tight-end free agency moves (in no particular order):

#1 – Brandon Myers – Oakland Raiders to New York Giants

I had the privilege of seeing Myers play live against the Dolphins just six months ago and despite not being anywhere near a household name he was the most reliable target for Carson Palmer. Myers deserves a bigger, brighter stage and there is no better place than the Big Apple to show what you are made of. After 32 catches in his first three seasons Myers pretty much exploded onto the scene in 2012 with 79 catches for 806 yards. Big Blue fans love a hard working reliable tight-end – names like Mark Bavaro and Jeremy Shockey are pretty hard to live up to, but Myers has the skills to settle in immediately. Eli Manning will be happy that he has a safe pair of hands to throw to as he looks to get the Giants back into the postseason.

2013 prediction – 75 catches for 750 yards and 7 tds

#2 – James Casey – Houston Texans to Philadelphia Eagles

Casey was woefully misused by the Houston Texans as a hybrid fullback and despite only 66 career catches, and similar to Myers, he enters his fifth NFL season with a huge opportunity to make a big impact with his new team. That team, the Philadelphia Eagles has a new coach, a new philosophy and a quarterback who is returning for his fifth season in the home of Rocky Balboa. this equates to the ‘land of opportunity’ for Casey, much like the ‘line’ given to Rocky by that greasy haired promoter.

2013 prediction – 57 catches 520 yards and 5 tds

#3 – Delanie Walker – San Francisco 49ers to Tennessee Titans

Without doubt an unsung hero on his old team, Walker had a habit of coming up with big catches in big situations. Having spent seven seasons on the West Coast, Walker never had a real chance to shine, providing a support role to Vernon Davies over every one of the past seven seasons. With Jared Cook’s locker not even emptied Walker will be hoping to slot in as a starter. It’s quite a rare situation to be a backup tight-end for seven seasons before moving into a starting role. Walker is the kind of player you root for, but Jake Locker is a significant downgrade on Colin Kaepernick. Walker will not be going back to a Super Bowl anytime soon with the Titans, but he should have his best career statistical output in 2013.

2013 prediction – 48 catches for 580 yards and 3 tds

#4 – Dustin Keller – New York Jets to Miami Dolphins

When you are being targeted by Mark Sanchez, and have a backup who is better known for kneeling down than throwing a forward pass then being able to escape that situation must be like a breath of sweet Florida sunshine air. Talking of Florida sunshine that is exactly where Keller is now plying his trade as a Miami Dolphins starter. Keller will replace, and upgrade the play of Anthony Fasano. Now Keller was injured for half of 2012, but he is not known as injury prone. He has averaged 48 catches a season over five years, but he has been held back by average to poor quarterback play. In Miami Ryan Tannehill was the forgotten man as other 2012 rookie quarterbacks such as Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck commanded the headlines. Keller and Tannehill need to set up a strong bond in camp, and if they do it could mean very good news for Fish fans.

2013 prediction – 66 catches for 670 yards and 5 tds

#5 – Jared Cook – Tennessee Titans to St Louis Rams 

Potential is a funny old word. To me its a way of saying expectations being unfulfilled. A bit like the career so far of Jared Cook, all 6 ft 5 inches of him. Cook has again been let down by some average quarterback play and some bad play-calling. In St Louis he will need to work alongside Lance Kendricks. Both had almost identical stats in 2012, so something will have to give. I think Cook will get around 65% to 70% of the tight end targets from Sam Bradford. The Rams are going to be intriguing to watch in 2013 with a new look backfield and the marauding Cook exploiting any safety coverage mismatches.

2013 prediction – 65 catches for 740 yards and 4 touchdowns

Other notable moves include Tony Gonzales remaining at the Atlanta Falcons for one more shot at a Super Bowl, and Martellus Bennett (Giants to Chicago Bears) which could work if Jay Cutler realises that there is actually another offensive target aside Brandon Marshall.

There is also the rather low-key saga of where current Washington Redskins tight-end Fred Davis will end up in 2013 – Buffalo, New York or back in D.C being the three main contenders.

How do you rate your teams tight-end depth and would you have liked to have seen one of my top five free-agent tight-ends joining your team?

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Please - no more doubt(hy) in the Redskins secondary

Please – no more doubt(hy) in the Redskins secondary

Drafting the saviour of your team, winning your division and having three players in the same defensive position play in the Pro Bowl, all in the same season, should be cause for celebration for Washington Redskins fans.

But scratch under the surface and you have yourself a team that has its anointed deity currently recovering from major surgery, last actually won a playoff game in 2006, and has already lost one of its Pro Bowl linebackers to Free Agency (special teams ace Lorenzo Alexander, picked up by the Arizona Cardinals).

The Redskins 10-6 record was a lot to do with leading the entire NFL in team rushing, and a lot to do with an extremely underrated offensive line, especially center Will Montgomery and Guard Kory Lichtensteiger – hardly household names, but without their consistency there is no way Alfred Morris gains a remarkable 1,613 yards as a rookie.

Robert Griffin III (RG3) – the other rookie Redskins sensation – well to put it bluntly, the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year, was a complete sensation, some of his performances transcending that of any mortal NFL rookie. Problem was, after a nasty but not malicious hit by eventual Super Bowl winning Baltimore Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, it turned out that Griffin’s  mythological status was not going to perpetuate into the playoffs.

Talking of playoffs if the Redskins have a post-season bogey team, well more like a mutated Fungus the Bogeyman the size of a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade balloon, it is the Seattle Seahawks. With only six playoff performances in the past twenty seasons, and two wins in that span, three of four Redskins post-season dismissals en-route to the big dance have been courtesy of the Seahawks.

The most recent playoff loss to the Seahawks will forever be remembered for the ‘questionable’ decision made by Redskins two-time Super Bowl winning (with the Denver Broncos) head coach Mike Shanahan to start an unhealthy RG3. The fact of the matter was that even if RG3 lasted a full 60 minutes the Washington defense would have remained porous. Conceding 380 yards of offense against a team led by another rookie quarterback (Russell Wilson) will never get you to a conference championship game.

This is where the Redskins need to draft wisely and draft defense. This is how I would like the Redskins to draft with their seven picks, minus of course a first round pick which they gave to the St Louis Rams for the honour of grabbing RG3 as the second overall pick last year.

Redskins 2013 NFL Draft slots (as it stands March 26 2013) and positions of need

Round 2 – No. 21 – 51 overall – Cornerback or safety – a day 1 rookie starter
Round 3 – No. 32 – 85 overall – Cornerback or safety – a day 1 rookie backup
Round 4 – No. 22 – Wide receiver – a slot WR to take over from Santana Moss in 2014
Round 5 – No. 21 – Outside linebacker – special teams ace and hard hitter not necessarily a pass rusher
Round 5 – No. 29 (from New England) – tight end/h-back who could get playing time as a rookie
Round 6 – No. 23 – Cornerback prospect with return skills
Round 7 – No. 22 – Defensive lineman prospect with tentacle arms

The Skins may well bring back veteran cornerback DeAngelo Hall at a reduced salary cost, but this is only papering over the cracks. When you enter a season with safety Reed Doughty as your longest tenured defensive back (8 seasons with the team) then you know you are in big trouble.

Doughty may be a D.C fan favourite for his pluckiness, call it the Charlie Brown factor (not to be confused with former Redskins Super Bowl winning wide receiver who also went by the name Charlie Brown) but this is a player who has two career interceptions in 92 NFL games played, one every 46 games.

With Josh Wilson regularly burnt in the second half of the season the Redskins have not had anything near a defensive backfield wow factor since Sean Taylor was laying wood harder than a lumberjack on crack. Taylor (R.I.P) has been gone from the Washington secondary over five years now, but there has not been anyone to even come close to shining his shoes in terms of quality.

Yes former Redskins safety Laron Landry was a very high pick and did a decent job, but the fact of the matter was he did not make the Pro Bowl in five seasons in Washington, and he is now on his third team in three seasons, having just signed with the Indianapolis Colts. It grinds my gears to think that he somehow became a Pro Bowl player in 2012 with the New York Jets, but the validity of those selected to the Pro Bowl is a giant joke as we all know (how else is Jeff Saturday chosen).

The Redskins have had their hands tied behind their backs in 2013 Free agency because of supposedly abusing the way they managed contract signings during the ‘non-cap’ 2010 season. This is a team that has learnt that big names does not equate to big amounts of wins, but their signings so far have been primarily looking after their own (with the regretful exception of losing Lorenzo Alexander and likely Fred Davis the team’s top tight-end) and some relatively low-key pickups – Jeremy Trueblood the monster sized offensive tackle, fellow tackle Tony Pashos (a 32-year-old former Clevaland Brown – yuk) and E.J Biggers the cornerback.

At the time of writing Biggers is penciled in as a starting cornerback,  a guy who has never started more than 75% of games in his four seasons in Tampa Bay and has 0, yes 0 career interception return yards in his NFL career.

The Redskins need a corner and a safety that can start as rookies, but with no first round pick this will be a pretty steep hill to climb to make happen in 2013.

This situation with an inexperienced backfield does sound scary, but I am reminded of the 1981 San Francisco 49ers, a team that started three of four defensive backs as rookies (cornerbacks Ronnie Lott, Carlton Williamson and safety Eric Wright).

Now I am not saying the Redskins will find the next Ronnie Lott in the second or third round of the 2013 NFL draft, but any situation that removes Reed Doughty from the Washington secondary has to be a positive one.

Who do you think the Redskins should target early in the draft?

Greg is heading to Wembley in six months

Greg is heading to Wembley in six months

Last season the Minnesota Vikings relied so heavily on Adrian Peterson their second year quarterback Christian Ponder looked like he had forgotten the art of the forward pass.

So when the Seattle Seahawks signed the Vikes best receiving weapon at the start of Free Agency, WR Mr Percy Harvin, the situation got even uglier.

I was with a sense if relief that Minnesota did find a rapid replacement in the shape of Super Bowl winning wideout Greg Jennings.

The Vikings also signed former Patriots and Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel. Hardly the headline news, but putting him and Ponder in a head to head battle will mean whoever gets the starting gig will be playing extra hard as they will want to keep that starting role.

Jennings will be familiar with the purple uniform having faced off against the Vikings twice a year for the past seven seasons during divisional game-play.

Greg, a former Western Michigan Bronco, is one of only ten football players from that college to be drafted into the NFL in the past 20 years. Other Broncos to gain some degree of fame in the NFL include tight-end Tony Scheffler (also drafted in 2006) and Jason Babin the defensive end (selected in the first round in 2004).

Jennings had 17 100+ games in college, second all time on his college team to NFL 2012 draft pick Jordan White (21 games).

Jennings becomes the biggest named wideout in Minnesota since Randy Moss. He will be hoping to get back on track with a 1000+ yard season, following an injury filled 2012 in Green Bay, where he has his worst output both by catches and yardage.

The two time Pr0-Bowler has already registered three 1100+seasons and two 900+ seasons, along with three 100+ yard playoff games and a two-touchdown performance in helping the Packers to win Super Bowl XLV against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

It will be the Steelers that Jennings will face again when the Vikings travel to London in September as part of the NFL’s first ever double dose of regular season football outside of America.

Of the two London games (Steelers @ Vikings and San Francisco 49ers @ Jacksonville Jaguars) on paper the Vikings game looks to be the most competitive, and was quicker to sell out.

Fans like myself (thanks to a Christmas gift from my beautiful wife) will be chomping at the bit to see the likes of Peterson and now Greg Jennings as they take on the Pittsburgh Steelers, the only team to win six Super bowls.

Both the Vikings and the Steelers will be hoping for string drafts, with some rookies that can make an immediate impact. Both teams need to improve their secondary, especially at cornerback. The Steelers lost the under-rated Keenan Lewis and the Vikings let veteran Antoine Winfield go.

With Greg Jennings looking to become not only a leader on the field, but also in the locker room, it will be fascinating to see what other pieces of the jigsaw the Vikings pick up en-route to the start of the 2013 season.

What other needs do YOU think are the most pressing for the Vikings?

S-Jax - will he be be the man to finally get the Falcons back to the Super Bowl?

S-Jax – will he be be the man to finally get the Falcons back to the Super Bowl?

It’s been a crazily busy week as 2013 Free Agency in the NFL has been in full effect.

Starting with some big wide-receiver moves, including Wes Welker (going from catching bass from one Hall of Fame quarterback to another) and Mike Wallace moving to the Florida sunshine, its been tough keeping up with all the moves.

One team that I think has been a big winner is the Atlanta Falcons.

The NFC Championship losers just two months ago, they grabbed the best free-agent running back on the market in the form of veteran punisher Steven Jackson.

Jackson has been a loyal servant to the St Louis Rams, whilst the talent around him has been pretty atrocious over the past decade.

Jackson came into a Rams team that was fresh from two Super Bowl appearances, but has been about as competitive as Mother Teresa in the time he has been there.

Like Barry Sanders, Jackson was the brightest shining star on a team of grubby meteors (always descending), so to be picked up by a team that was less than a touchdown from the Super Bowl will be one almighty relief for him. S-Jax will be a significant upgrade on the chunky thighed plodder Michael Turner, and he will provide a formidable backfield partner to third-year back  Jacquizz Rodgers.

Rodgers has not had the chance to prove himself as a three-down back, and wont get the chance now Jackson is signed, but he is a great receiver in the backfield with 74 catches in his first two seasons in the NFL.

In addition the Falcons persuaded future Hall of Fame enshrinee Tony Gonzales to come back for one more season.

There are some excellent tight-ends available in the 2013 NFL Draft, and the Falcons may pick one up as the heir-apparent in Round Two or beyond, but to have Gonzo back, with his 70-90 catches is going to have Matt Ryan smiling.

Atlanta have also re-signed safety William Moore and offensive linemen Garrett Reynolds and Sam Baker. No superstar names here, but keeping your own garden tidy is always important if you want to grow sweet smelling roses.

With the free-agency market showing  few signs of slowing down we can expect more movement this weekend, and I will be spending time reviewing every move.

A few of the quieter free-agency moves, beyond those taking place in Georgia, that have caught my eye  include:

  • Lorenzo Alexander (LB) Washington to Arizona – Alexander is not a household name, nor a starter even, but he went to the 2013 Pro Bowl as a demon special teams tackler. The Redskins could not afford him because of salary cap penalties, but they will miss him for sure. In Arizona he will get the chance to start at outside linebacker, but I doubt he will become a Pro Bowler again in the desert.
  • James Casey (TE/FB/HB) Houston to Philadelphia – Casey moves from a Texans team where he should have featured as a 50-60 catch tight-end, but instead was used as a fullback. In Philly he should be moved all over the field and could have a huge 2013 being the safety blanket for Michael Vick in new head coach Chip Kelly’s explosive offensive scheme.

More free-agency commentary to come, after I get a decent coffee.