Eagles, Pats, 'Skins, Bucs among best and worst offseasons of 2009
Philadelphia has the NFL's best O-line creating chances for McNabb and Westbrook
The Pats bolstered their talent across the board, in anticipation of Brady's return
The hapless Bucs are a shell of their former championship selves from 2002
The vast majority of team rosters are set barring an unforeseen injury early in camp. Though there are still some "name" free agents available, like one-time Colts teammates Marvin Harrison and Edgerrin James, most of those players are past their prime and still on the market for a reason. Here's my look at the best and worst offseasons for NFL franchises:
The Good ... The Eagles somehow managed to let go of a large chunk of the core of their team over the past six years and still come out the other side alive. Gone are Tra Thomas, Jon Runyan, Brian Dawkins, L.J. Smith and Lito Sheppard. All of them were replaced by younger players who may actually end up being upgrades in the 2009 season. So much for the window closing on the Eagles.
The free-agent additions of Jason Peters and Stacy Andrews, coupled with the return to health of Stacy's brother, Shawn, give the Eagles the most talented line on paper in the NFL. Sean Jones should be a better option against the pass than the aging Dawkins was on the back end of the defense. Getting a solid starter in Ellis Hobbs for a pair of fifth-round picks gives the Birds great depth in the secondary. Giving Donovan McNabb a new deal cements him as the starting quarterback for the next two seasons and should quiet any talk of a move to Kevin Kolb any time soon.
In the draft, getting talented young skill players such as Jeremy Maclin, LeSean McCoy and tight end Cornelius Ingram later than expected represents tremendous value and Maclin and McCoy have the chops to contribute early. Andy Reid and Tom Heckert's draft was the perfect complement to their moves in free agency.
But ... The leadership took a big hit and it remains to be seen if players are able to fill the void left by Thomas, Runyan and most notably Dawkins. Offensive linemen work in unison in the trenches, not on paper, and their top three talents are coming off either a serious surgery (the Andrews brothers) or a lackluster season (Peters). The Birds still lack a big-back to pound the rock on obvious run downs and don't have a proven No. 1 receiver.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
The Good ... The Patriots are usually ahead of the curve when it comes to personnel decisions and the latest undervalued player may be the aging veteran hungry for a chance at a championship. The Patriots brought in wily vets with some gas still left in the tank like Fred Taylor, Joey Galloway and Shawn Springs. Those guys are motivated to play for all the right reasons at this point in their career and they do not come with significant cap considerations. Fellow veteran pick-ups like Greg Lewis, Chris Baker, Leigh Bodden and Tully Banta-Cain will all know and fulfill their roles in Foxborough.
As usual, the Pats had a boatload of draft picks that they used to set the table for next offseason while providing an influx of competition for the bottom of the roster this season. Defensive backs Patrick Chung and Darius Butler may get playing time right away. Sebastian Vollmer and Rich Ohrnberger represent the next batch of tough, smart offensive lineman in the New England mold.
But ... Matt Cassel is no longer in the fold if Tom Brady has health issues and the back-ups currently behind him are unknowns. The big-name free agents who Bill Belichick signed may end up being washed-up or unhappy fitting in as role players. The secondary has to come together as a unit with all of the new faces and the defensive leadership no longer includes Mike Vrabel and Rodney Harrison.
The Good ... The Falcons stayed the course under the direction of head coach Mike Smith and general manager Thomas Dimitroff. That duo made fewer moves this offseason because less was needed coming off an 11-5 season in which every key acquisition appeared to pay dividends. The moves they did make were solid if not spectacular and the intensity of the offseason practices indicated this is not a franchise interested in resting on last season's achievements.
Tony Gonzalez is still an elite talent at tight end who will make second-year quarterback Matt Ryan even better. Getting Gonzalez's services for this season without having to give up anything until next season makes the move even better. Mike Peterson is a favorite of Smith's and should join Curtis Lofton to give the Falcons an improved linebacking corps. Atlanta supplemented its veteran pick-ups by drafting a rolling bucket of butcher knives in defensive tackle Peria Jerry. Safety William Moore is a physical phenom who may play right away and defensive end Lawrence Sidbury was a dominant pass-rusher for the FCS Richmond Spiders and might help out on the other side of John Abraham immediately.
But ... The Falcons still lack both quality and depth in the secondary and losing cornerback Domonique Foxworth didn't help. The interior defensive line is still young and undersized and there is nobody other than Abraham who has proven they can get to the quarterback. The loss of Keith Brooking and Lawyer Milloy leaves a hole in the locker room Smith hopes Peterson can help fill.
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