AFC Arms Race: Denver Broncos v New England Patriots

The NFL has become corporate in their thinking but have we had two off-seasons where the lead teams in a conference have gone after each other like this?? First, we had Seattle and San Francisco try to one up each other as they fortified their teams throughout the preseason last year. Now this year in the AFC, the Patriots and Broncos have completely raised the bar through the early free agent signing period.

Talib joined the Broncos after signing for $57 million.

Talib joined the Broncos after signing for $57 million.

The Broncos struck first when they snatched Pro Bowl corner Aquib Talib who starred last year for the Patriots. Ironically it was Bill Belichick who complained Denver intentionally tried to take him out of last year’s AFC Championship Game. Now they sign him for $57 million?? Go with that where you will but then they signed DE/LB DeMarcus Ware to fortify the pass rush.

If Ware can show half the skill from his 2008-2010 years, the Broncos could have the league's best pass rush.

If Ware can show half the skill from his 2008-2010 years, the Broncos could have the league’s best pass rush.

No question the Broncos jumped to the early lead in the AFC arms race. Couple these signings with the return and motivation of All Pro Von Miller and this isn’t the defense they sent to Super Bowl XLVIII in New York. The most important factor is Miller is a left side rusher where Ware comes in from the blindside. Neither has to learn to rush from a different stance than they’re used to. With a potent rush, Talib will be able to take away the opponents best receiver.

On the east coast the Patriots recovered from the loss of Talib with the signing of Darelle Revis. Why didn’t they just keep Talib?? Well they also struck gold with the signing of former Seahawk CB Brandon Browner. Knowing they eventually will have to stop the Broncos potent offense, these two signings go a long way in achieving that. Now that WR Eric Decker has signed with the Jets this will be easier to accomplish.

The key for Denver could be signing pro bowl safety TJ Ward.

The key for Denver could be signing pro bowl safety TJ Ward.

Up until these signings it seemed the Broncos had the leg up on their AFC counterparts. The Patriots are on the verge of signing wideout Brandon Lafell formerly of Carolina. The glaring weakness that the Patriots were forced to face in the AFC Championship Game is they need bigger receivers. If it weren’t for cap penalties the right thing to do is cut Amendola and sign another big receiver. Former Titan Kenny Britt is scheduled to visit New England today.

Now that RB Knowshon Moreno isn’t really getting the free agency attention he sought, he may come back into the fold. The one signing that has gone under the radar is Denver signing former Cleveland Brown SS TJ Ward. He can bring the thunder in the secondary and create a more aggressive culture within the defense.

The 6'4 Browner matches  well with Denver's big receivers.

The 6’4 Browner matches well with Denver’s big receivers.

We are being flashed back to the San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys in the 1990s. These two know they are competing with each other while being head and shoulders above everyone else in the conference. The Bengals haven’t proved they can win the big game. Indy is coming on but might be a year away. Pittsburgh and Baltimore have fallen a few steps beneath these two and every move is to one up the other.

Now we look toward the draft to see where these two will go. Each lost a young linebacker as former Patriot Brandon Spikes signed with Buffalo. Wesley Woodyard signed with Tennessee. Time to watch who the Patriots get for Tom Brady the rest of this offseason. They need some size at receiver. As for Denver, they filled all of their defensive weaknesses. Barring injury this should be a better Bronco team than last year’s Super Bowl unit. However with one or two more moves there will be a Patriot team waiting for them in the AFC Championship Game.

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Salary Cap: When Do You Say When??

Let’s see if we have this right…. All Pro Tight End Jimmy Graham is up for free agency and if he’s franchised, he wants the money of a wideout, not that of the position he plays. Where does that logic come from?? Welcome to the lunacy that can be NFL free agency. For a team that has just $5.1 million of cap space, are the New Orleans Saints about to overpay for Jimmy Graham??

Graham looks to hold the Saints hostage with free agency looming.

Graham looks to hold the Saints hostage with free agency looming.

Now that the Saints are coming off their first season with Rob Ryan as Defensive Coordinator, they made it to 4th in total defense and 14th against the run. Yet the Saints let go of longtime defensive leader Jonathan Vilma and dangle starters Will Smith, CB Jabari Greer, and both Safeties Roman Harper, and Malcolm Jenkins for other teams to sign.

All this for a Tight End that disappeared in 2 games against Seattle last year?? He had a combined 5 catches for 49 yards. The Panthers and 49ers had success against Graham also. The Saints will have to rebuild their defense instead of gaining strength from the continuity they established last year.

That’s too much money for a player that can be taken out of the game by a stout defense.

Sure he caught 86 passes for 1,215 yards and 16TDs but now they won’t have money to field a legitimate defense. At the top of the conference sit the best defenses since the early 2000’s. So how is a Tight End worth $40 million, who is taken out of the game by tough defenses going to improve the Saints??

Stay tuned…

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Ravens Rebuilding Defense With Dumervil and Huff Signings

Michael Huff signs 3 year deal to replace Ed Reed at safety.

Michael Huff signs 3 year deal to replace Ed Reed at safety.

The start of NFL free agency wasn’t kind to the Baltimore Ravens. They lost LB Dannell Ellerbe,  LB Paul Kruger, then both Safeties in Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard. All of this with the retirement of Ray Lewis meant the defense would see a dramatic makeover. Yesterday they signed former Raider S Michael Huff just days after landing DE/OLB Elvis Dumervil. You can hear the “ahhhs” coming from the Raven fan base that there is life after Reed and Lewis. The question is did they get better??

Well upon further review… In Huff you have to measure his projected production vs what Ed Reed would have brought to the table. First things first they signed him  for $6 million over 3 years where Ed commanded $15 million from the Texans. They did get younger by 5 years going with Huff but they’ll need him to be more productive than he’s been. In 7 years he has averaged 58 tackles and only has 11 career interceptions. Reed had 15 in the last three years and 4 last year alone.

In some circles he has been considered a bust after being drafted so high out of Texas. He averages 8 passes defensed per season and needs to make more tackles. In that department Reed had 15 passes defensed in 2012 and averaged 12.5 per season. He has to show improvement and that is hard to do when learning a new system. He will probably be teamed with a rookie unless an experienced SS comes available later before the season starts. They signed a veteran safety but our CEO doesn’t think they improved the position.

Elvis Dumervil provides primetime pass rush that even Terrell Suggs didn't offer in 2012.

Elvis Dumervil provides primetime pass rush that even Terrell Suggs didn’t offer in 2012.

With the signing of Elvis Dumervil, GM Ozzie Newsome has pulled a coup. Not only did they rip the Broncos for one of the league’s best pass rushers, they took a defensive captain from a conference rival. What do you think that “C” means on his jersey. Don’t forget he’s only going into his 8th year, has been to the last three Pro Bowls and is just two seasons removed from a 17 sack season.

They saved $5 million in signing him v. Paul Kruger, whom has to live up to his contract and hasn’t been a full time starter yet. Dumervil is just in time to aid a Terrell Suggs who should be back to full strength and needs a bounce back year. Coming back from an Achille’s injury he was a shell of his former self. It might be ironic that his best game of the season was the 2 sacks he had against Denver in the playoffs with Dumervil watching.

Now its reported that Suggs helped recruit Dumervil and has a proven running mate to crash the pass pocket. Elvis is going into his 8th year and has averaged 10.5 sacks in his first 6. Which is good until you realize how good he was last year. He was a force across from Von Miller and had 11 sacks but more important 6 forced fumbles. He’s not only going to be able to duplicate the pass rush with two guys on the corners, there will be Haloti Ngata providing a push up the middle. He’s also reuniting with linebacker coach Don Martindale, who coached in Denver when Dumervil came into the league. He’s already played in a 3-4, is familiar with the coaching staff and has an effective pass rusher on the other side, this was a dramatic upgrade that should affect the overall defense.

You can hear GM Ozzie Newsome saying quietly "I got this" can't you?

You can hear GM Ozzie Newsome saying quietly “I got this” can’t you?

What Ozzie is hoping for is the improved pass rush to affect Huff in being a better center fielder as a safety. However there is a wait and see aspect to this because it hasn’t translated into better performance yet. In 2010, the Oakland Raiders were 2nd in the NFL with 47 sacks and he only had 3 interceptions. Last year they were 31st in sacks with 25 and he had 2 picks. However he can benefit from the standpoint of more crowd noise and Baltimore having more leads which forces opponents to pass.

Let it be known that Dumervil will draw the initial double teams and if Suggs returns to form, this could be a sack machine in 2013.  Haloti in the middle and these two from the outside and don’t forget they picked up Chris Canty and Marcus Spears to possibly emerge as a DE who can provide support.  This can be a 40 -45 sack team in 2013. The question remains who they have at the inside linebacker position. However now you get a sense that Ozzie might have something up his sleeve. Which leads to a question… Having built two different Super Bowl winners, is Ozzie Newsome the best General Manager in the NFL??

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Free Agency Days 3 – 5: Moves That Complete Teams

It was the hard hitting SS Leonard Smith that pushed the late 80s Bills into the NFL elite.

It was the hard hitting SS Leonard Smith that pushed the late 80s Bills into the NFL elite.

Just because some of  the sexier names have taken up the headlines the last two days doesn’t mean there aren’t valued players left to be signed. Those spots that can complete a team and put a team over the top. When you look back at moves of yesteryear, the Buffalo Bills were building through the draft with Bruce Smith, Cornelius Bennett, Jim Kelly, Andre Reed, and Thurman Thomas. It was a move to bring a leader and proven old pro in SS Leonard Smith to push the Bills into the league’s elite. He was the last move that sent the Bills to several Super Bowls as the next decade dawned.

Not Charles Haley...it was Thomas Everett that pushed the Cowboys over the top back in the early 1990s.

Not Charles Haley…it was Thomas Everett that pushed the Cowboys over the top back in the early 1990s.

Same thing for the early 90’s Dallas Cowboys when they traded for Pittsburgh Steelers’ Safety Thomas Everett in 1992. Where they had been 1-3 against Run & Shoot teams in 1991, they went 5-0 against those teams including the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXVII that finished as the top passing teams that year. It was this interception in Super Bowl XXVII that started the 1990’s reign of the Dallas Cowboys. Otherwise the Bills take a 17-14 lead and the Bills take control of the game.

Wilson moves to New England.

Wilson moves to New England.

In these cases as it has in many instances, it’s the non headline signings that have made the difference in teams turning around their fortunes. One such signing could be SS Adrian Wilson joining the Patriots. Going into his 13th season he is a quick fix that can pay short-term dividends on the field. However he can pay long term dividends  for Belichick by mentoring a young secondary.

You’ll notice the Patriots re-signed CB Kyle Arrington to a four-year deal worth $16.5 million and a one year deal with Aquib Talib, who is only entering his 6th season. They are looking to upgrade the 29th ranked pass defense and will benefit from a full offseason to improve players who know the Bill Belichick and the Patriot way. What happens if the Patriots can improve to a ranking in the teens against the pass?? After all their last two seasons ended in the AFC Championship and Super Bowl XLVI respectively.

Another way to improve your pass defense is to improve on the pass rush. Don’t overlook the fiasco that left Bronco LB/DE Elvis Dumervil a free agent. Now the New England Patriots are among those that are pursuing him. Sure he was going to re-sign for a lesser amount to stay with the Broncos. That was all well and good until other teams start to entice him with offers. Just ask the 49ers who didn’t franchise S Dashon Goldson and are now looking at lesser talents in an aging Charles Woodson and the signing of SS Craig Dahl. Who?? Exactly!! Keep your eye on Dumervil with the Steelers, and Ravens also vying for his services. To strengthen yourself and weaken your enemy is the root of free agency.

Greg Jennings is going to look different in a Viking uniform.

Greg Jennings is going to look different in a Viking uniform.

In the words of Robin “Holy Brett Favre batman.” After watching the animosity and angst thrust at his former teammate, Greg Jennings decides to play for the hated Minnesota Vikings. Going into just his 8th season he’s as complete a receiver there is in the NFL. Unlike a Wes Welker, he can play the X receiver, Z receiver, or the slot.  This more than makes up for the loss of Percy Harvin who wasn’t a polished receiver. Taking his career 425 receptions 6,537 yards and 53TDs to a division rival, he will get booed lustily when he returns to Lambeau Field. His play will help the maturation of QB Christian Ponder and take heat off of Adrian Peterson. Don’t forget the Vikings will be going outdoors after next season. Having a cold weather receiver will pay dividends down the road.

Steven Jackson's physicality might be what the Falcons needed. They aren't perceived as a tough team.

Steven Jackson’s physicality might be what the Falcons needed. They aren’t perceived as a tough team.

The Atlanta Falcons have made many moves this off-season and one of the best moves was coaxing Tony Gonzalez from retiring and playing one more year. This up’s the ante for the organization to get it done in 2013 even though he’s signed a two-year $13 million deal. To fill the role of the departed Michael Turner, the St Louis Rams all time leading rusher Steven Jackson signs and brings a big play running back to the defending NFC South Champions. His hunger and desire to be a champion along with Tony’s could propel this team to the top or at least another NFC Championship appearance.  They now have every piece in place with wideouts Roddy White, Julio Jones, Matt Ryan having his first playoff win under his belt, along with Coach Smith are these the two signings that will put the Falcons over the top??

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Free Agency Day 2 – Late Signings

A move to bolster the Seahawks pass rush weakens conference rival Detroit.

A move to bolster the Seahawks pass rush weakens conference rival Detroit.

The Seattle Seahawks are really after a trip to Super Bowl XLVIII and continued to strengthen themselves with the signing of DE Cliff Avril formerly of Detroit. In 5 seasons with the Lions he amassed 168 tackles and 39 1/2 sacks. They almost lost  him last year when they gave him the franchise tag after an 11 1/2 sack season. They had made a 10-6 season and looked to be headed to sunny days when the roof fell in during 2012. Now the front running Seahawks have added a pass rusher in his prime to join Bruce Irvin (8 sacks) and a recovering DE Chris Clemons from injury.

At 27 years of age Avril signs a 2 year contract worth $15 million, to help this team get to the Super Bowl. He has another chance at a free agent contract if he performs during these next two seasons. Even then he’d be 29 years of age and should be able to get after the passer with a three man rush in passing situations. The Seahawks have insulated themselves that two of the three best pass rushers should be healthy by the time we get to the 2013 playoffs.

The Indianapolis Colts come to terms with former New York Jet S LaRon Landry to bolster the NFL’s 21st against the pass defense. Not bad for a team that finished 11-5 in 2012, although they gave up 387 points. Head Coach Chuck Pagano knows his team can’t depend on Andrew Luck bringing the team from behind multiple times again. Now they sign a Pro Bowl S to a 4 year $24 million deal.

Amendola will have to fill some big shoes in New England.

Amendola will have to fill some big shoes in New England.

After losing Wes Welker to conference rival Denver, the Patriots signed former St Louis Ram slot receiver Danny Amendola a 5 year deal worth $31 million. Really?? Over a receiver that set a league record having 5, 100 catch seasons?? Sure Amendola is only turning 28 years old, he’s caught just 196 career passes in 4 years. Compare that to the last two years where Welker caught 240 combined. Go figure. The callousness that Chad Ochocinco was shown to a fan favorite coming off 5 straight Pro Bowl seasons. Amendola will have some pressure on him this year as fans and pundits compare the two all next year.

The Denver Broncos signed former Eagle CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to a one year deal after struggling in the City of Brotherly Love. His story is intriguing since he was almost an after-thought thrown into the trade between the Arizona Cardinals and Eagles for quarterback Kevin Kolb. If he can give a better performance than Tracy Porter, he can possibly turn it into a serious payday next year. He’s also going to a contender and can resurrect his career as a definitive starting corner, or be relegated to that of a nickel back and special teams player only from here on out. He better bring his “A” game since he’ll be playing across Champ Bailey.

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Miami Dolphins Making Moves on Free Agency Day One

Danell Ellerbe has flown the Ravens coup.

Danell Ellerbe has flown the Ravens coup.

If  you thought it was going to be difficult for the Ravens to stay among the league’s elite, things just got worse. One day after trading away Anquan Boldin, they lose the free agent they most wanted to keep in linebacker Danell Ellerbe.  He just signed with the Miami Dolphins. Today he received a 5 year $35 million deal that takes him down to sunny Florida. They should have franchised him…now his 89 tackles and 4 1/2 sacks will be in the AFC East.

Wallace is on his way to South Beach.

Wallace is on his way to South Beach.

Now add to that the Dolphins also signed WR Mike Wallace to a 5 year $60 million deal to leave the Steelers. Right now his agent is with the Dolphins brass to solidify the deal. They gave Ryan Tannenhill a deep threat that should open a few things up for Davone Bess and other underneath receivers. However they signed him for a guaranteed $30 million. Will these moves pan out?? Will the Dolphins make a move in the AFC East?? Don’t forget they are probably going to lose Reggie Bush.

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