NFL Offseason Winners & Losers
The Bills indulged their fan base by spending big and signing defensive end Mario Williams to a six-year, $100 million deal. A former No. 1 overall pick, Williams is a physical marvel and possesses both the strength and the speed to simply overwhelm opposing tackles and make plays in the backfield, something the Bills did little of last year while finishing 30th in the league with just 29 sacks. General Manager Buddy Nix didn’t settle on just one impact-maker though, as the Bills quickly signed defensive end Mark Anderson away from their divisional rival, the New England Patriots. Anderson, who is a pass-rush specialist, will combine with Williams, as well as incumbents Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams, to give offensive coordinators nightmares as they try to scheme against a revamped and aggressive Bills pass rush.
Additionally, the team drafted cornerback Stephen Gilmore 10th overall and liked what they saw in rookie mini-camp enough to continue the youth movement in the secondary by releasing veteran Drayton Florence. After the Detroit Lions finally made the playoffs last season, the Bills are now the team that has gone the longest without a postseason appearance, stretching all the way back to 1999. While the Lions used a near-unstoppable passing offense to catalyze their success last year, the Bills look to ride a much-improved and potentially dominant defense out of perennial mediocrity and into the postseason.
After finishing the season with the 23rd-ranked passing defense and having their secondary be a constant target of opposing offenses, the Cowboys decided that new faces were necessary. First, they cut loose cornerback Terence Newman, ridding themselves of a player who had become a liability, while saving $8 million on his 2012-13 salary in the process. To replace Newman, former Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Brandon Carr was then inked to a five-year, $51 deal. Carr should provide excellent coverage at the cornerback position. Finally, the Cowboys made a huge splash at the draft by trading up to the No. 6 pick to take cornerback Morris Claiborne. Considered the top cornerback in this year’s draft class, Claiborne looks to be the aggressive, shutdown cornerback the Cowboys have desperately needed. Being in the NFC East means the Cowboys play against elite quarterbacks in Eli Manning and Michael Vick, as well as the strong-armed Robert Griffin III six times each season, and their improved secondary will help limit the damage against opponents’ passing attacks for years to come.
John Elway & the Denver Broncos
Outside of somehow stealing a circa-1993 John Elway out of Madden and transporting him into the present, this offseason couldn’t have gone much better for the Broncos and their VP of Football Operations, Elway. After being wined and dined from Seattle to Miami, the biggest free agent to hit the market in recent memory, quarterback Peyton Manning, signed a five-year, $96 million deal with the Broncos in no short part due to his lifelong admiration for Hall-of-Famer and Denver icon Elway. As for Tim Tebow, Elway was never the controversial quarterback’s biggest fan and eliminated Tebowmania by jettisoning the Broncos’ 2011 starter to the New York Jets before Manning jerseys even hit the shelves in Denver. Barring injury, Elway and the Broncos finally have their traditional franchise quarterback, and signed previous Manning targets on the Colts in tight end Jacob Tamme and wide receiver Brandon Stokley to give their new leader a solid receiving core to help replicate his success in Indianapolis.
Fifty-two years after the Lakers moved to Los Angeles, it looks like LA won’t be taking another franchise out of Minnesota. When this happens to your stadium, it’s time for a venue change. Thanks to some last-minute scrambling and pleading, the Vikings’ plan to build a $975 million stadium and keep the team in Minnesota was signed by Governor Mark Dayton on Monday. Minnesota taxpayers and private funders found by Vikings ownership will go almost 50-50 in funding the new venue, which will be ready by 2016 to replace the cavernous Metrodome. The team would have been almost certain to relocate if a new stadium deal hadn't been reached, but luckily Minnesota fans will now have a new-age stadium, where they can root on their team for decades to come.
Future Player Health
It can’t be changed that football is an inherently violent and dangerous sport. However, what can be changed is how current and former players are treated once they're off the field and in their new professions. The glimmer of hope in the recent, tragic suicides of former players Junior Seau and Ray Easterling is the attention that their tragic endings has brought to the ongoing problem of concussions and permanent brain damage caused by playing football. Additionally, the increased focus on player health should effectively quash talks of an 18-game season considering the current attrition a 16-game season inflicts upon the NFL’s players.
Multiple class-action lawsuits have been brought by former players against the NFL for hiding the risks of the sport, and a recent lawsuit regarding concussion symptoms emerged in the wake of Seau’s death and will continue to pressure the NFL to find more effective ways to protect its players. While former players are still feeling the brunt, work is now being done to make sure the next generation of football players will be exposed to less risk than their predecessors.
New Orleans Saints
Surprise! The direct impact of the NFL cracking down on the Saints after the details of their bounty system came to light resulted in the loss of two second-round picks, coach Sean Payton being suspended for the entire upcoming season, system architect and current Rams defensive coordinator Gregg Williams being suspended indefinitely and various suspensions for other coaches and players involved. The Saints hope the full-season suspension of defensive captain and middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma will be offset by their signing of Falcons middle linebacker Curtis Lofton, but the loss of Payton and a significant portion of the coaching staff will set the team back in practice and could lead to in-game sloppiness once the season begins.
Adding insult to injury, the Saints also lost All-Pro guard Carl Nicks in free agency to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and while signing Ben Grubbs as a replacement helps alleviate the loss, there will still be a significant downgrade at the position. Lastly, the chaos that unfolded across the organization will pale in comparison to the ramifications if the Saints can’t hammer out a deal with their indispensable quarterback Drew Brees. The two parties are currently at a crossroads, presumably because the Saints aren’t willing to give Brees a long-term deal with an $18-19 million yearly figure similar to deals recently given to Manning and fellow superstar quarterback Tom Brady. If a new contract isn’t reached, Brees will likely sign a one-year tender offer. If Brees instead opts to hold out, or is unhappy due to signing the one-year tender after failed contract negotiations, then the Saints already uncertain upcoming season could take a turn for the worse.
The Dolphins, in their hunt for a quarterback, became the football equivalent of that guy repeatedly being turned down for a date to the prom. Fins owner Stephen Ross was outspoken about his desire to make Peyton Manning a Dolphin, and local fans even put up billboards trying to support the cause. Unfortunately, that idea never got off the ground. What did get off the ground was San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith’s plane to Miami (though his trip was not as secretive as intended), but neither he nor other target Matt Flynn ended up in a Dolphins uniform. As a result, Miami is now placing its future in the hands of No. 8 overall pick Ryan Tannehill out of Texas A&M. Tannehill has the tools, but he looked shaky going against porous Big 12 defenses towards the end of last season, and the Dolphins did him no favors by trading their mercurial, but surefire No. 1 wide receiver Brandon Marshall to the Bears in March.
Everything seemed peachy for New York Jets starting quarterback in early March after he received an extension, a sign of support from his team even after he appeared to regress and struggled mightily at times in the 2011 campaign. But then, the football gods changed their minds and Tebowmania invaded the Big Apple. Immediately, Sanchez was thrown back into the spotlight, but this time about whether he might lose his starting job to Tebow. The Jets staff insists that Tebow will be moved around and play different roles in the offense outside of being under center, but it doesn’t seem unlikely that if Sanchez struggles out of the gate, there could be calls to put in the much-heralded backup. Former Jets backup Drew Stanton demanded and was granted a trade immediately after the Tebow trade. Last season, former Broncos quarterback Kyle Orton was dealt to the Chiefs after never earning back his starting spot back once Tebow took over following an Orton injury. The Jets have more invested in Sanchez than the Broncos did in Orton, but the former USC Trojan will be playing on much thinner ice than originally expected.
NFL Comissioner Roger Goodell
It’s rarely a positive sign when the leader of a billion-dollar corporation that is the NFL has his authority called into question. While Goodell was fair to mete punishment in the Saints bounty scandal, he was rightfully questioned about the fairness of an NFL appeals system in which he doles out suspensions, then becomes the party to hear appeals on those punishments. The system is quite likely to be changed, with Goodell and future commissioners having less control over their league as a result. Additionally, Goodell’s punishments of some supposed participants in the scandal, notably his full-season suspension of Jonathan Vilma, have been deemed too harsh and unfair to the players involved. Just yesterday, Vilma filed a defamation lawsuit against Goodell. While it remains to be seen whether the suit will gain any traction in the U.S District Court, it’s doubtful that being sued was the publicity the commissioner desired when he made his rulings.
Mock Draft Creators
Every year, everyone from draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. to my younger cousin tries to predict how the first round will shape up. Every year, we’re terribly wrong. This draft was especially wild, with eight trades made in the first round on draft day, leaving most mock drafts more shattered than my piggy bank after a trip to American Eagle. We, at Neon Tommy, were no exception, going three for 32 in picking a prospect to the correct team in our forecast. These fun attempts to forecast how the draft pans out won’t end any time soon, but their stunning inaccuracy shows how volatile the draft can be. It also illustrates how little we actually know about what is going on in each team’s war room and what their scouts are actually seeing.