First, a word of introduction. This is a guest post by Mark Leonard. Mark is an experienced journalist and educator that we asked to lend some insight into the Cleveland sports scene. An alum of Ohio State, Mark grew up in Lorain and has seen plenty of Cleveland sports turmoil, and even the last championship.
Fans of the NFL don’t need to be reminded this is a very atypical off-season. Typically, each team is well on its way to reconfiguring itself where needed, through presently-prohibited methods such as releases, trades and free-agent signings.
The absence of such activity has not only deprived the league’s fans of early-spring re-energizing and characteristically unbridled enthusiasm, but it has left its teams to depend exclusively on productive draft classes for needed enhancements. That has, understandably, placed an uncommon burden on those within each personnel department.
What is more, those drafted cannot be signed, brought into town for press-conferences, coached-up or introduced to his new professional environments—unless, of course, the dispute between ownership and athletes is resolved by that April 28 selection process.
Undrafted free agents can likewise not be pursued or locked-in. These restrictions will place an undue burden upon organizations and their coaching/support staffs between the anticipated resolution day and the eventual opening of training camps.
But that is all fairly well known and much too dry to entertain, amuse or divert. Where is the pleasure in such contemplations?
What would be fun would be a flurry of stimulating transactions, personnel maneuvers to debate, discuss and dismiss. Alterations that both illuminate and rectify existing team needs. Adjustments of sometimes mutual accommodation.
With those thoughts being the motivation, here are one man’s visions of plausible NFL activities.
1.) NFC East rivals Washington and New York execute a four-player exchange intended to rectify unsuccessful defensive fits. The Skins ship disgruntled DT Albert Haynesworth and OLB Rocky McIntosh to the Giants for a pair of former Virginia Cavaliers, DE Chris Canty and LB Clint Sintim. This deal would more likely occur if NY would also provide the Redskins with needed draft picks, since Wash again is short-supplied.
NY has long needed a bona fide interior front line force, something the former Cowboy free agent Canty was unable to become. The deal is also about placing LBs into systems for which they are better suited. Haynesworth and McIntosh better fit NY’s 4-3 than Wash’s 3-4, a system under which both Canty and Sintim played collegiately. Moreover, NY covets a coverage outside ‘backer like McIntosh, while Wash wants a bookend pass-rusher opposite Brian Orakpo.
This is a classic example of mutual accommodation, making great sense from all perspectives.
Miami gets the headliner it relishes, at least changing a tired face with a marquee attraction even if it fails to address the Dolphins’ need for a consistently reliable leader and field general. Like Henne, Young receives a fresh start while he’s still youthful enough to make productive use of it.
The Dolphins also get the diversifying element it is known to want, someone who helps them attack in a variety of ways. From the Tenn perspective, that team gets a QB most comfortable complementing a run-first approach. Henne cannot carry an attack, as he was mistakenly asked to do in South Florida.
3.) In a sure-to-grab-headlines announcement, the Dolphins also deal choice 15 overall for Minnesota RB Adrian Peterson, arguably one of the elite RBs of his generation. This, too, would be a fan-appeasing move on the part of Miami, but an astute and economical one on the part of the Vikes.
Minn has 17 free agents this off-season and is desperate to reload on the fly, wanting not to re-do too much of their once-outstanding roster. They also want to contend as soon as possible, while much of that core remains viable. Moving Peterson may seem contrary to those ambitions, but Peterson is heading into year five and would require a significantly enhanced contract in order to remain a Viking long-term.
Better to move a guy one year too early than one year too late. Informed NFL fans know contemporary RBs have very brief and indefinite shelf-lives, with the end often coming early and abruptly. Acquiring choice 15 to pair with its own #12 would enable Minn to get a jump on its reconstruction and/or to deal up or down the draft board. It would require some courage for the Vikings, but moving Peterson may be the very wisest thing.
As an addendum to the primary aspects, Minn also sends disappointing deep-threat Bernard Berrian to Miami for former Ohio State target Brian Hartline. It is the Vikes who insist on this portion, eager to subtract Berrian, whom the Dolphins welcome as a complement to possession-receivers Brandon Marshall and DeVone Bess.
4.) This one would require a sign-and-trade, since one of the principles is a free agent, but the makings for a most unusual transaction exists between Cincinnati and Seattle. It would be a two quarterbacks for two quarterbacks exchange, this one involving brothers.
The Seahawks would get both Palmers, Carson and kid brother Jordan; the Bengals would get Matt Hasselback and Charlie Whitehurst, as well as at least an upgraded draft pick. Not only would this liberate the Bengals from Carson’s discontent, but also from any urgency to draft a passer, possibly as early as fourth-overall. Meanwhile, it gives both teams seasoned, veteran signal-callers, each eager for a new start, as well as a marginally-experienced kid backup with an established working relationship with his mentor.
And, of course, Carson re-unites with his USC head coach Pete Carroll. Glad to be back on the West Coast and away from the madness that has been Bengals football, maybe Carson recaptures that magic that once had him on the verge of elite status. As for Hasselback, he escapes what has become a yearly ritual of wondering how soon he’ll be phased.
5.) Looking hard to gain compensation for another transaction that did not go well for his football team, Mike Shanahan ships former Eagles starter Donovan McNabb to Arizona for scatter-armed gunslinger Derek Anderson, the one-time Brown. But this is not because the long-time Denver coach thinks he can approximate John Elway with DA. Instead, he passes Anderson on to Carolina for second-year triggerman Jimmy Clausen. Draft picks will also factor in order to balance a variety of issues, with the Cardinals paying both of the other short-handed organizations.
Needless to say, this is joyously-received by both Cardinal fans and by McNabb, who lives in Phoenix and may enable the Cards to hold onto star wideout Larry Fitzgerald. Carolina moves Clausen both for the kid’s benefit as well as to gratify an unhappy fan base, though personnel guy Marty Hurney remains a believer. Yet he accepts DA because new OC Rob Chudzinski is willing to try again with the erratic Anderson, who once helped produce a 10-win campaign when the two were together in Cleveland. Chud thinks DA is his best bet to excite a discontented fan base and to keep both Steve Smith and Jeremy Shockey involved, happy and productive.
The illusion of movement at the key position empowers the Panthers to steer clear of choosing between Cameron Newton and Blaine Gabbert first overall, permitting them to address a gaping void at DT.
6.) This is a lesser move than the others, but Detroit feels no need to draft at 13, electing to deal-down with Indy, a club desperate to fortify a suddenly shaky front wall in front of a now 35-year-old Peyton Manning. The Colts then have their choice of the top-rated OL. Detroit gets ex-Buckeye slot receiver Anthony Gonzalez to assist Calvin Johnson and Nate Burleson and resists reaching for a CB or OLB before slot 22.
PPete represents the Browns’ best chance to deal-down for additional draft picks, as there must be someone desirable on the board in order for another club to feel sufficiently motivated. Dallas figures to be most eager, not only because they tend to salivate over marquee attractions with all-star reps but also because their secondary is extremely needy. As such, the urgency to decide precisely where Peterson is best suited—Is he a CB? Is he a safety?—is lessened. He’s a quality DB and that is what the ‘Boys need. In duplicate.
By moving down to #9, the Browns should still be able to land one of the top pass-rushing DEs they are rightfully prioritizing, either Clemson’s Da’Quan Bowers or UNC’s Robert Quinn. More to the point, they might also land all three of the other assets coveted for them: elusive Troy slot-receiver Jerrel Jernigan and Tar Heel four-down OLB Bruce Carter in Round Two—the latter using the choice Dallas was required to relinquish to complete the exchange—and three-technique DT Marvin Austin, yet another of Butch Davis’ Chapel Hill products, in Round Three.
The objective is for the Browns to come out of the draft with four starting-caliber prospects at these key spots: DE, WR, OLB and DT.
As for movement involving the soon-to-be-set-free, how about these WR change-of-scenery scenarios?
Chad Ochocinco to KC to draw attention from Dwayne Bowe? Mike Sims-Walker to do the same for AtL’s Rodney White? Plaxico Burress replacing TJ Houshmanzadeh as the third WR aside Balt’s Derrick Mason and Anquan Boldin? Houshmanzadeh to Dallas, replacing Roy Williams who joins the Jets after Braylon Edwards becomes a Bear? Terrell Owens making his last stop Daniel Snyder’s Redskins, as Shanahan tries for a Marshall-resemblant?
What will also be worth observing is the comparable game of musical chairs involving young QBs who’ve disappointed elsewhere: Alex Smith, Matt Leinert, Trent Edwards, Nate Davis, Tarvaris Jackson, Troy Smith, et al.
On another matter, don’t fail to recognize the relationship between the new kickoff rules and ownership’s desire for an 18-game schedule. Suddenly, the need for special-team aces is markedly lessened, opening roster spots for authentic positional depth, legitimate backups at maybe 4-7 positions. The owners have essentially expanded their rosters without adding to personnel costs, clever guys that they are.