Salary Cap Roster Challenge
Method to the madness: Explaining the rationale in picking my roster
Several weeks ago, I wrote a column about how I would build a team if the NFL has an uncapped year in 2010. So now it's time to put my words into action and build my own 53-man roster. Only this time I have to do it under the 2008 salary cap of $116 million.
I want a team that is dominant on the offensive and defensive lines. I want a great quarterback who can make big plays in the passing game. My team will rely on basic principles of winning football: a great defense starts with a dominant pass rush and a great offense starts with a dominant offensive line. And I can't forget special teams, where a unit full of speed and space guys, along with a dynamic return man, can control and dictate field position. As you review my team, please keep those principles in mind.
With Tom Brady ($14,626,720), I get a leader, a playmaker, someone the team will respect and, most of all, a real winner. Brady will allow my offense to always be in the right play; he is capable of running the "check with me" offense at the line. He can make sure we run the ball to the weakness of the defense and ensure we always are in the correct pass protections. His accuracy throwing the ball will allow our wide receivers to do what they do best -- run with the ball after the catch. He will make the offense go with his brain, his arm and his commitment to winning.
Jay Cutler ($2,325,000) is a rising star. He possesses the great arm, the great anticipation and the toughness that all star quarterbacks must have. I don't mind putting high cap dollars into my backup because I want my team to function effectively if the starter were to get injured. Cutler's intelligence helps him in this role. And the fact that he will play so effectively in the preseason allows me the luxury to trade him to another quarterback-needy team for a multitude of draft picks. Investing in a great backup quarterback is a very effective method of gaining assets to trade. Backups at any position do not get many live game repetitions during practice and must rely on their intelligence to perform if called into duty.
Troy Smith ($411,720) is a young player who can learn from the sideline. He shares the same passion and commitment that Brady and Cutler possess. Our quarterback room will have three unique players in style of performance but similar in their competitive fire.
Maurice Jones-Drew ($685,000) is the perfect back for the kind of offense this team will run. He's multi-dimensional: very proficient as a runner, blocker and receiver. He can make plays on his own, breaking tackles whether running or receiving. He can run inside with power and can convert first downs; he had 35 carries last year on third-and-one and gained 211 yards.
My favorite runner of the 2008 draft was Jonathan Stewart ($2,000,000) of Oregon. Stewart will be the power back in the offense and also fit the multi-dimensional theme we are trying to create with our offense. Stewart is 235 pounds. He will become more difficult to tackle as the game goes along. He can pass protect against linebackers and he can catch the ball in the flat, turning short passes into long gains. With Jones-Drew and Stewart, their versatility will allow the offensive staff to use them both in the game at the same time and create mis-matches against the defense. All the backs on the team are very good on special teams and fit our versatile theme.
The No. 1 requirement for players at this position is not speed. I'm more concerned with their ability to have quickness at the line, to defeat press coverage, and how they run with the ball after the catch. Brandon Marshall ($556,480) and Greg Jennings ($760,280) have the quickness to separate from the line are both very good runners with the ball. They are explosive players who require constant attention from the defense. If we get "off coverage" from the defense, we have two players that can catch the short pass and break a tackle for a potential big play. Jennings last year had 394 yards after the catch of his total 920; Marshall had 549 YAC of his total 1,325. Both players are very hard to tackle especially if the opponents have soft or smallish corners.
Having Wes Welker ($3,731,720) in the slot with our tight ends will then allow some single coverage on the outside and the potential for big plays will become very real. Welker is a key for us on third down, as he will draw double coverage allowing Witten to be one-on-one.
Joshua Cribbs ($1,045,000) is a playmaker with the ball in his hands and is very versatile as a player. He will enhance our return game. Sam Hurd ($455,054) is one of the best special teams coverage men in the NFL, which is critical coming from the wide receiver spot.
This is one of the most important positions in football to get the right blend on your team. You must have a blocker, a player that can handle pass protections and secure the edge in the run game. Donald Lee ($2,881,720) fits that description perfectly. And when you have a player that can play on the line, you then need a tight end who can line up anywhere on the field, is willing to block and has deadly good hands, catching the ball in any situation. Jason Witten ($4,111,720) has great hands, is able to make the tough third-down catch in traffic and will create mismatches on many nickel linebackers.
Lee and Witten will work very well together. Both players have lined up all over the field for their teams and most important, since there is not a true fullback on the team, both have backfield experience. Our team will have the ability to stay in base offense on third down and if the defense goes nickel, we then can run the ball, or if the defense stays in their base, we can exploit the weakness in the passing game. Having versatile players at tight ends helps create problems for the defense.