Friday, February 27, 2009

NFL Free Agency Updates

NFL Free Agency began this morning at 12:01 AM and as expected we have already seen a number of big moves. Three of the top defensive players have already agreed to new contracts led by the top free agent available defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth who signed with the Washington Redskins. On the offensive side of the ball we haven't seen any major free agent signings but we did see one surprising trade as the Cleveland Browns traded tight end Kellen Winslow to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for a couple of draft picks. Here is a small rundown of each of these two moves and what they mean to their new clubs.

1. Albert Haynesworth signs for 7 years-$100 million dollars: At first glance it may seem as though the Redskins are back to their free spending ways where they sign every free agent and try to 'buy' their way into the playoffs. But the reality of it is Haynesworth was the best free agent available and has been a defensive force for his entire career. Now many will question whether the Skins were wise to spend so much on a defensive player to add to a defense that ranked 4th in the league in yards allowed. While the Skins were very efficient to holding opposing offenses under 20 points, Washington was among the worst teams in terms of getting to the quarterback and forcing turnovers. The Redskins finished 28th in the league in both those categories. Haynesworth should immediately help generate a pass rush as his 8.5 sacks were more than twice what the Redskins leader had. Haynesworth is also the type of player that can help the entire defense around him. Haynesworth is simply a force in the middle that will clog running lanes and occupy multiple pass blockers. Having him on the roster frees up the rest of the defense which could mean big things for ends Jason Taylor and Andre Carter. There is a negative side to signing Haynesworth as well, he has never made it through a full 16 game season, and he's had issues keeping his weight in check. Also by tying up so much money into Haynesworth the Redskins might not be able to sign any offensive linemen which is one of their biggest weaknesses. This is one time though where the reward is worth the risk as Haynesworth was far and away the best player on the free agent market and should make the Redskins a better team. Grade: A-, Haynesworth's talent is too good to pass up.

2. Tampa Bay trading for Kellen Winslow from the Browns: Since we don't know yet exactly what draft picks the Bucs gave up for Winslow its hard to grade the trade effectively. If I had to guess I'd say that its probably a 2nd rounder this year and a late rounder in 2010 or a 3rd round pick in each year. If its anything more than that Tampa overpaid since they will have to now sign Winslow to a big time extension as well or risk losing him after 2010. Winslow has the ability to be one of the elite weapon in the league. He will be just 26 years old next season and possesses the speed and hands of a receiver and the size and strength of a tight end. If you look at just 2006 and 2007 Winslow was just that, when he combined for almost 2,000 yards in over 170 catches. The problem is Winslow has been in the league since 2004 and in those other three years he has only 48 catches for 478 yards. He has had 36 games wiped out due to injury or suspension throughout his career and has been considered somewhat of a problem in the locker room. It's a bit of a surprise that the Buccaneers would add a player that has been divisive in the past, especially to an offense that lacks a true leader to keep him under control. This could be an ominous move for Tampa and has the potential to blow up in their face. If the Buccaneers can keep Winslow's focus on the football field, then they will have a great option in their passing game. Grade: C+, Winslow is a high risk, high reward player.

I will continue posting more thoughts on free agent signings and offseason trades as they happen.

Monday, February 23, 2009

5 Questions NFC West: Seattle Seahawks

Today we will take a look at what questions are facing the Seattle Seahawks this off season. 2008 was supposed to be a golden year for the Seahawks. They were the favorite to win the West in head coach Mike Holmgren's final season with the team. Instead Seattle finished 4-12, their worst record since 1992 and missed the playoffs for the first time in five years. Now Holmgren is retired and Jim Mora Jr. is in as the new head coach.

1. Who will be lining up at receiver next season?

It seemed as though Seattle receivers were cursed last season, as their top 4 guys all missed multiple games do to injury, and two of their top back-ups had to be put on injured reserve. When healthy, it can be a fairly impressive receiving group. Branch, Robinson and Burleson can all stretch the field and Bobby Engram is a great possession receiver. The problem is that these 4 receivers haven't exactly been the picture of health. Branch has dealt with injury issues for a couple of years now and Burleson is coming off an ACL injury which takes a long time to recover. Robinson and Engram are both free agents after this season and Seattle can only afford one of them. Both have had their share of injuries throughout their careers. Robinson has more big play ability than Engram but has also had his share of off the field issues. Given the uncertainty of the position the Seahawks need to bring in a number one wide out. With the price of free agents so high, the only way the Seattle can address this need is through the draft. Top wide receiver Micheal Crabtree should still be available when the Seahawks pick at number 4. He is the type of receiver that should contribute immediately. My Take: I would resign Engram over Robinson in free agency. Robinson may be the home run hitter but Engram is more consistent. Crabtree should step in and be the number one wide receiver this team has lacked.

2. How do you address the concerns of the running game?

The problem with the Seahawks running game is two-fold. One they lack a true feature back, and two, their offensive line isn't the power line it once was. Unfortunately neither problem has an internal solution. At running back Seattle had three number 2 running backs last year, in Julius Jones, Maurice Morris, and TJ Duckett. Morris is a free agent and will be too expensive to keep. Further complicating matters is the fact that fullback Leonard Weaver is a free agent. Weaver was an effective weapon out of the backfield leaving big shoes to fill for 2nd year fullback Owen Schmidt. As for the problems on the offensive line, some of them will be fixed by players returning from injury as all five starters missed time last year. Other questions remain, as starting right tackle Sean Locklear had a poor season even before he was injured. His back-up Ray Willis is a free agent and needs to be a priority for Seattle. Left guard Mike Wahle was unimpressive last season and needs to have a good year to prove he was worth all the money the Seahawks threw at him last off season. Adding a guard and center need to be on Seattle's to do list. My Take: A quick back like J.J. Arrington would make sense in free agency. Though running back by committee scenarios seldom work, a mix of Jones, Duckett, a scat back and Schmidt should be able to move the chains for Seattle. The Seahawks should look to grab a guard or center at the top of the 2nd or 3rd round and find a veteran back-up for the other position.

3. Can Matt Hasselbeck still be a playoff quarterback?

For the first time since 2001, Matt Hasselbeck didn't lead the Seahawks in passing. That distinction fell to Seneca Wallace, the 4th year quarterback from Iowa State. Wallace played well considering the problems the team had throughout the rest of the offense. Though Wallace right now isn't really a candidate to take over the starting role from Hasselbeck. Hasselbeck is coming off a back injury that kept him sidelined for over half the season. When Hasselbeck did play he struggled throwing for 1216 yards with only 5 touchdowns to 10 interceptions. Hasselbeck will be 34 next season and the back injury could be a lingering problem. My Take: 2009 is a big year for Matt Hasselbeck. He needs to prove that he's healthy and 2008 was a fluke. While the age and injury are concerns, we saw this year what older quarterbacks like Kerry Collins and Kurt Warner could do. I would expect Hasselbeck to have a solid rebound year, though he may not return to his Pro Bowl status.

4. How do you fix the 25th ranked defense (in terms of points)?

One year after their defense finished 6th in the league in points and helped lead Seattle to a 10-6 record, the defense collapsed and fell to 25th in the league. What was thought to be one of the premier defenses in the league ended up being one of the worse, finishing 30th overall in yards allowed. This was even more troubling considering the number of draft picks and money that has been put towards this unit. The good news is that there is talent there, it just wasn't used properly last season. Luckily a number of things can be done internally to help the team improve. Defensive end Patrick Kerney missed most of the season and the teams pass rush went with him. Rookie end Lawrence Jackson underperformed but still possesses the talent to be an every down lineman. End Darryl Tapp is miscast as an every down lineman and needs to be given the freedom to rush the passer more. The defensive backfield is another area where the Seahawks can find internal solutions to their problems. Corner back Kelly Jennings and free safety Brian Russell are given too many opportunities. Neither one should be a starter on a playoff team. Jennings a former first round pick has been a bust and needs to be taken out of the starting lineup. Third year man Josh Wilson should be able to handle the starting role full time now for the Seahawks. Russell, a free agent signing two years ago, is a solid but unspectacular free safety. He gets beat too often over the top and isn't a big hitter. Its not the best situation moving strong safety Deon Grant back to FS and promoting back-up Jordan Babineaux to a starting role. While Grant isn't a great coverage safety, he has better ball skills than Russell and having him and Babineaux in the lineup together give them two big hitters. Defensive tackle is one area of weakness that the Seahawks need to address. Starter Rocky Bernard is a free agent and won't be back. My Take: I am a big Josh Wilson fan and think that he can develop in to a very good starting cornerback. I'd still add another corner in the draft or free agency but not a major addition. The top defensive priority for Seattle is defensive tackle in my opinion. They need someone to pair with Brandon Mebane to disrupt the middle.

5. What moves will the Seahawks make in free agency and the NFL Draft?

Seattle is in a tough position this off season with little money to spend and a couple key players becoming free agents. The Seahawks kept their top free agent by placing the Franchise tag on linebacker Leroy Hill. But by doing so they ate up most of the salary cap room they had available. They will likely sign at least one of their free agent receivers and offensive lineman, but won't be able to do much more than that. What additional money they can afford to use in free agency should probably go to bringing in another offensive lineman and a defensive back. In the draft the Seattle should have no trouble getting Crabtree. After that offensive line, defensive tackle and corner are their biggest needs. Given the depth at corner, the lines should be addressed in the 2nd and 3rd rounds. My Take: Crabtree will likely be the biggest player the team brings in this year but he will need help if Seattle want to return to the playoffs. Solid contributors from the 2nd and 3rd rounds on both lines will be key. A late round developmental quarterback would be a nice addition as well.