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Around the NFL: 2015 Offseason

April 9, 2015

baseball vs football.0

With Joe Casey coming in town tomorrow I thought I’d give him a little reading for the flight. I know opening day was this week but I don’t get the baseball itch until at least May so I’m still obsessing about the draft, the Cowboys offseason and everything else NFL related. Below are a few topics that have caught my eye, including my annual ranking of quarterbacks.

Top 32 QBs

5 straight belts bitches!

          5 straight belts bitches!

  1. Aaron Rodgers
  2. Andrew Luck
  3. Tom Brady
  4. Drew Brees
  5. Phillip Rivers
  6. Tony Romo
  7. Peyton Manning
  8. Ben Roethlisberger
  9. Russell Wilson
  10. Matthew Stafford
  11. Matt Ryan
  12. Cam Newton
  13. Ryan Tannehill
  14. Teddy Bridgewater
  15. Joe Flacco
  16. Eli Manning
  17. Carson Palmer
  18. Jay Cutler
  19. Alex Smith
  20. Derek Carr
  21. Nick Foles
  22. Ryan Fitzpatrick
  23. Colin Kaepernick
  24. Andy Dalton
  25. Sam Bradford
  26. Jake Locker
  27. Josh McCown
  28. RGIII
  29. Geno Smith
  30. Blake Bortles
  31. Brian Hoyer
  32. EJ Manuel

Commentary:

Top 3-I think most people would have this top 3 of Rodgers, Luck and Brady though many would have Brady #1 since he’s coming off a Super Bowl win that recently cemented his status as this generation’s Joe Montana. Rodgers and Luck though have so much more talent than Brady who is far less mobile and has a much weaker arm than either of them. I also would say that Rodgers beats Brady at his own game, accuracy and ability to read a defense. This is the 5th straight year I’ve rated Rodgers as the best QB in the NFL and only Luck’s ascendence will likely prevent me from crowning him a 6th time next year as right now I think the gap between Rodgers and every other QB is rather large.

35 and older-Starting with Brady at #3 and continuing down to Roethlisberger at #8 there is a group of 6 straight QBs that can be argued as elite but who are aging rapidly. Brady just won a Super Bowl, Romo led the NFL in passer rating and Roethlisberger led the NFL in passing yards so everyone wasn’t declining but I saw noticeable drops in play from Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Phillip Rivers, especially in the 2nd half of the season from Manning and Rivers. It will be interesting to see who falls out of this group first and lets in the next wave of stars in Russell Wilson, Matthew Stafford, Matt Ryan and Cam Newton.

Too early?-I think one of the more surprising parts of this list will be how high I rank three young quarterbacks: Ryan Tannehill (#13), Teddy Bridgewater (#14) and Derek Carr (#20). Going into this season I didn’t think much of Tannehill as he’s been the same guy I’ve watched for the past half decade (NFL and college). He has all the talent in the world but just isn’t that accurate or smart and ends up leading a talented team to a mediocre record. Yet he really came into his own this year and I think he will be a starting QB in the NFL for the next decade. That might not sound like a big deal but considering he was almost benched last year I think it is a bigger prediction than it initially sounds. I also really like how they dumped Mike Wallace as it couldn’t have been a worse fit. Tannehill’s biggest weakness, other than his lack of success in the clutch, is his deep ball. He has a strong arm but almost never can get it in the same area code as his receiver so it was obviously a dumb decision to sign Mike Wallace to a huge contract since he only does one thing well, run the 9 route. Bridgewater and Carr are two rookies who impressed me last year as Bridgewater had very solid numbers and was one of the 12 best quarterbacks in the second half of the season based on certain statistics. Carr impressed me as well but more via the eyeball test than any statistics. The Raiders have a mediocre offensive line, the worst wide receiver corp in the NFL and a mediocre run game so I gave him a pass on some of his atrocious games. When scouting him though I saw the quick release, good accuracy and underrated mobility I liked at Fresno State and he appeared to be a better leader than I gave him credit for. I think the Raiders will pair him with Kevin White this May in the draft and he will surprise people with how effective he can be this season.

Overrated-A few of the other surprises on this list might be how low Joe Flacco, Alex Smith, Jay Cutler, Andy Dalton and RGIII are but I consider them overrated. My cut off point is at #17 as to where I would draw the line on what quarterbacks I’d be comfortable with under center.

After #17 the QBs start looking pretty lame compared to the top guys.

After #17 the QBs start looking pretty lame compared to the top guys.

Starting at #18 with Cutler, Smith, Carr, Foles, etc. I see quarterbacks that you just really can’t win with on a consistent basis unless you have a great supporting cast around them. Smith made it to the playoffs as did Dalton but the Bengals and Chiefs were stacked this year and neither made it out of the first round which sort of proves my point. Replace Smith or Dalton with any of the Top 8 quarterbacks on my list and you can make a case that the Chiefs or Bengals would be Vegas’ favorite for the Super Bowl next year.

Jake Locker-Yes I know he retired but I made this list based on who was the starting QB last year. On a few I had to make a tough call as both Vick and Smith started for the Jets, McCown and Glennon for the Bucs and Orton and Manual for the Bills so I went with who was most relevant and who I consider more talented. I guess I could have switched Locker with Mettenberger but I thought Locker was the superior player so I stuck with the retired guy. In fact I considered him better than 6 teams’ potential starting QB so it did surprise me a bit that he called it quits at only 26 years of age. He probably never would have made my top half of the list but, when healthy, he wasn’t all that bad.
Tim Tebow

Word got out a month ago about the Philadelphia Eagles bringing in Tim Tebow for a workout. I think it’s an interesting move and one that I would have done myself if I were a GM for an NFL team as his disappearance from the NFL landscape the past two seasons has been rather surprising. Tebow is definitely a lightning rod as some of my friends have called me a Tebow fan while others, including my wife, have called me a Tebow hater. He is a person that few seemingly can judge unbiasedly. My view of him is that he is not and will never be a top 20 quarterback but he is undoubtedly one of the 40 best quarterbacks in the game and with +90 roster spots available to quarterbacks each year (3 quarterbacks on most teams x 32 teams) I see no reason why he should be out of the NFL. I think it is a combination of politics, herd mentality, and cowardice by coaches and general managers. Yes the local fan base might call for Tebow to relieve an unproductive starter but you cannot tell me that Tebow would have been any worse than Ryan Lindley, Blaine Gabbert, Blake Bortles, Brandon Weeden, Logan Thomas, EJ Manuel or even Matt Schaub the past two years. Each of those guys played at some point in the regular season and all of them struggled mightily. I hope he is brought back into the fold for the NFL and I hope that when he does ESPN calms down on their Tebow coverage. He deserves to have another shot at an NFL career.

Cowboys Offseason

I could have, should have, blogged about the Cowboys offseason multiple times to this point as I have been shocked at how logical, efficient and conservative they have been this year. Whether it was the 3yr $15 mil deal they gave Doug Free, the Bruce Carter deal (4 yr $20.5 mil) they passed up which will result in them getting a compensatory pick next year or the franchising of Dez Bryant I have been pleasantly surprised at the Cowboys decisions. Everyone talks about Jerry Jones and his poor drafting but I’ve pointed out in previous posts that fans have it wrong as he actually has been one of the best drafting GMs in the league the past half decade. From Dez Bryant to Tyron Smith to Travis Frederick to Zack Martin he’s been drafting almost nothing but Pro Bowlers in the 1st round and has gotten quite a few 2nd and 3rd round selections right lately as well (Sean Lee, Bruce Carter, Terrance Williams, DeMarco Murray, JJ Wilcox, Anthony Hitchens). The real issue with Jerry has been how he falls in love with players and overcompensates them in free agency or prior to free agency. Guys like Gerald Sensabaugh, Ken Hamlin, Marion Barber, Sean Lee, Brandon Carr, Anthony Spencer (franchise tag), etc. all received elite level money despite never playing up to that level. This year he avoided that trend and gave reasonable contracts to solid players like Free and Rolando McClain while filling holes admirably with cheap players like Jasper Brinkley and Corey White. A few years ago I raved about the cheap signing of Justin Durant as I thought they netted a quality starter at a bargain rate and am going to again pound the table, this time for Brinkley. He isn’t a great player but the Cowboys needed depth not a guaranteed starter and they got it for a reasonable price. Now they can go into the draft knowing their top 4 linebackers are set with Sean Lee, Rolando McClain and Anthony Hitchens as starters and Brinkley as competition and depth. This is abnormally important with this linebacking corp since Lee is injury prone, McClain still can’t be trusted off the field and Hitchens is only going into his 2nd year. Also this gives versatility to the group since Lee, McClain and Hitchens all project more as WLB or MLB and all excel in pass coverage while Brinkley is a MLB or SLB who excels against the run. Considering the team got him for what is really the equivalent of a 1 year $2.5 million deal with a team option for a second year at $4 million, I’d say the Cowboys made a good move.

DeMarco Murray

While small and medium signings like Brinkley, White, Free and McClain all are helpful an offseason is usually won or lost in the eyes of fans by whether or not the team is able to bring in or at least keep their star players. This year I was worried that Jerry Jones’ obsession with his own players would result in him overpaying for Murray as this was probably the best and most coveted Cowboy to hit free agency since Deion Sanders left for the Redskins in 2000. That is both an indictment on earlier Jerry Jones drafting, there were definitely a few lean years in the early 2000s, and Jones’ penchant for throwing gobs of money at every Cowboy with a pulse. Yet for an actual Pro Bowl player and the reigning NFL Offensive Player of the Year in DeMarco Murray he again showed restraint and allowed the Eagles to overpay for him. Word is that the Cowboys offered a 4 year $24 million deal which is comparable to what I thought he was worth (5yr $30 mil). In the end the Eagles overpaid at 5 years and $42.5 million ($8.5 mil a year) and they will likely pay for it as I don’t see Murray being the kind of elite back that can be the centerpiece of an offense but is more of a complementary player that can excel in the right situation. In my eyes there are 7 elite backs in the NFL, in order:

  1. Adrian Peterson
  2. Marshawn Lynch
  3. Le’Veon Bell
  4. Jamaal Charles
  5. LeSean McCoy
  6. Arian Foster
  7. Matt Forte

I wouldn’t consider Murray to be close in talent to any of those backs and would probably rank him behind Eddie Lacy and Jeremy Hill as well so needless to say I was not interested in signing him to franchise back type money. Also it is important to view the “climate” before making any long term plans for a franchise. At the time that contract negotiations were taking place with Murray, Adrian Peterson, Marshawn Lynch and LeSean McCoy all appeared to be available via trade. All also would have been a substantial upgrade over Murray so if the Cowboys chose to pay top dollar for a running back they could have added a legit franchise back to their team instead of overpaying for a very good but not elite one.

We got our Willie Roaf (Tyron Smith). We just need our Priest Holmes. Come to Texas Adrian!

We got our Willie Roaf (Tyron Smith) and Will Shields (Zack Martin). We now just need our Priest Holmes. Come to Texas Adrian!

I didn’t see Murray as a talent worth breaking the bank for yet have different thoughts on Adrian Peterson. Peterson running behind the Cowboys offensive line would be like the Kansas City Chiefs in the early 2000s with Priest Holmes. A 2,000 yard season by Peterson wouldn’t just be within reach, it would be expected as Peterson would come in rested, healthy and pissed off at the world for getting robbed of one of the prime years in his career. Re-signing Murray would have ended any chance of that scenario but the Cowboys also could comfortably not overpay for Murray because they would have a perfect fall back plan in case they can’t snag Peterson. I like to tab each draft as a certain position as it illustrates the strengths of a certain draft class. The 2011 Draft was the year of the pass rusher as that class had Von Miller, Aldon Smith, JJ Watt, Robert Quinn, Ryan Kerrigan and Justin Houston in it. Needless to say that if you were looking for a pass rusher that year you would have been quite comfortable on draft day as you were literally choosing between Pro Bowlers. The 2010 Draft was the year of the tight end with Gronkowski, Graham, Gresham, Pitta and Aaron Hernandez all coming out that year. The 2014 Draft was the year of the wide receiver with Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans, Odell Beckham, Brandin Cooks, Marqise Lee, Kelvin Benjamin, Allen Robinson, John Brown and Davante Adams all available. Why does this matter? Because these trends are obvious months in advance of the draft since some positions just naturally become too deep and players with 1st round grades drop to the 2nd, 2nd round grades drop to the 4th, etc. Smart teams look in advance for these surpluses and leave themselves undermanned at these spots so come draft day their needs match the draft’s strengths. Every scout for months now has known that the 2015 NFL Draft will be remembered in future years as the year of the running back as it is probably the deepest running back class I’ve scouted since 2008 when Pro Bowlers weren’t just going in the first round (Jonathan Stewart, Rashad Mendenhall, Chris Johnson) or the second round (Matt Forte, Ray Rice) but in the 3rd round (Jamaal Charles) and the 7th round (Peyton Hillis, Justin Forsett). In all I count 12 running backs drafted that year who were a team’s bell cow runner for at least one season and 8 future Pro Bowl running backs from that draft class alone! The Cowboys were smart to leave the RB position open as they can continue to play hard ball in negotiations with the Vikings for the best running back in the league and if it fails their back up plan will be to take a RB sometime in Rounds 1-3 in a year in which there is bound to be a point when they are on the clock where need matches value. I don’t know if it is Round 1 with Todd Gurley or Melvin Gordon, Round 2 with Duke Johnson or Tevin Coleman or Round 3 with TJ Yeldon or Ameer Abdullah but the Cowboys have set themselves up perfectly this offseason and now only have to follow through on their perfectly executed strategy.

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One Comment
  1. peter permalink

    2011 – Pass Rusher
    2012 – Quarterback
    2013 – Defensive Tackle
    2014 – Wide Receiver
    2015 – Running Back

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