Arizona feels the shake, rattle and Rolle of a weird offseason.
Kurt Warner and Anquan Boldin are gone, and defensive cornerstones Karlos Dansby and Antrel Rolle are too. Kerry Rhodes is in, but the Cards have some recovering to do. Strange days in the desert, and Ken Whisenhunt has been channeling his inner Steeler to makes sure he doesn't start believing the sky is falling.
"When I was in the AFC Central with Pittsburgh and Baltimore -- now it's the AFC North, of course -- I saw the Steelers lose Carnell Lake, Levon Kirkland, Rod Woodson, Jason Gildon, I'm sure there were others, and what did they do? They developed their own players. There's a lesson in that. The good teams are the ones that have a plan, and our organization has shown it's good at developing young players.''
Part of that development plan, this year, was making a trade for a 28-year-old safety instead of developing one in-house. The first thing the Cards did when they knew they might lose the unrestricted Rolle is talk to the Jets last weekend at the Scouting Combine; might Rhodes be available? And he was, despite the Jets' protestations to the contrary. The Cards were surprised at the amount of money Rolle, who wasn't even the best safety on his own team (Adrian Wilson was), earned from the Giants, who signed Rolle for five years and $42 million.
As it turned out, Rolle and Dansby broke the bank, the same way those Steelers guys did when foes wanted to buy pieces of the Steelers by buying a starter. Now Arizona has to hope Steve Breaston covers for Boldin, Matt Leinart for Warner and Rhodes for Rolle. At linebacker, the developmental pool is weak, so the Cards will bring in former Steelers (surprise!) Larry Foote and Joey Porter this week. Porter's more of a freelance rusher, while Foote is a run player almost exclusively. The problem is neither does the sideline-to-sideline stuff Dansby did.
On the bright side -- there is one? -- Wilson and Rhodes should combine for an excellent 1-2 punch at safety. I talked to Rhodes on Sunday night, and he said he'd already gotten an enthusiastic text-message from Wilson. "We've got the two best safeties playing together in the NFL,'' Rhodes said. "I can cover, he can cover. I can blitz, he can blitz. I can play free safety, he can play free safety. I can play strong, he can play strong. It's going to be a great combination.''
It'll need to be.
I think Jim Schwartz has something up his sleeve.
Last year, the Lions' regular starters on the defensive line were Sammie Lee Hill and Grady Jackson inside, Jason Hunter and Cliff Avril or Dewayne White outside. Imagine if the 2010 Lion defense line was Kyle Vanden Bosch and Avril at end, with Corey Williams, acquired from Cleveland Friday, playing the nose and ...
Ndamukong Suh playing the other defensive tackle. Or Gerald McCoy, if Suh isn't on the board when the Lions pick second overall in the April 22 draft.
Schwartz has visions of a dynamic defensive front backed by one of the best young safeties in the game, Louis Delmas, a 2009 second-rounder who's instinctive and tough. But the one thing he needs is for Avril or Vanden Bosch, who slumped to a three-sack season in Tennessee last year, to become a big-time pass-rusher. And if Detroit goes the DT route in the draft, Schwartz needs either Suh or McCoy to become the slippery 3-technique tackle the Lions would project one of them to be. One thing's for sure: The Lions are going be tougher to block up front if they field a line like that in 2010.
By the way, Schwartz, Vanden Bosch's former defensive coordinator in Tennessee, flew to Nashville last Thursday to recruit him. Schwartz said as soon as his watch showed 11 p.m. local time (free-agency began at midnight Eastern), he was close to Vanden Bosch's home and sent him this text message:
I could be anywhere in the country tonite, but I am here in Nashville to see you. Can I get a half hour tonight or tomorrow morning?
Vanden Bosch invited him into the house, and he stayed until the player agreed to come to Detroit, essentially.
Opinions of the Week
The three best decisions teams made in free agency over the weekend:
1. The Bears being bold. What choice did they have? I'm not in favor of free-agent spending sprees because they rarely bear fruit. But even though Julius Peppers is an overrated player, he clearly was the best player on the open market, and the Bears have no picks in the first two rounds of the April draft, and they had to do something to improve a sinking team. We've been saying for years the Bears will be a premier defense if Tommie Harris can return to being the player he was earlier in his career, and if Brian Urlacher can stay healthy. That's still the case. Now the poor man's Reggie White is another piece to the puzzle. We'll see if Lovie Smith and Rod Marinelli can make this fit. On offense, Mike Martz has a physical back, Chester Taylor, and tight end, Brandon Manumaleuna, to play around with.
2. Cleveland got a good right tackle, Tony Pashos, for smart money -- $3.4-million a year. The first weekend of free agency is not usually for spending wisely. But this decision was smart because Pashos is a strong, passable pass-blocker who should be a C-plus booked for left tackle Joe Thomas.
3. Green Bay held onto Chad Clifton. It would have been lunacy for a strong offensive team with a good young quarterback to lose both tackles in one offseason, so GM Ted Thompson did the right thing, even though it's not a great habit to be paying $20 million over three years to a well-worn, 34-year-old tackle you're in the market to replace. The good thing for the Pack: only one year, essentially, is guaranteed, at $7.5 million.
The three worst decisions teams made:
1. Ryan Clark being unemployed. I understand teams don't want to pay real money for a big-hitting safety who might have a short shelf life in the NFL. But there are few players in the NFL in the back end who hit as ferociously as Clark and who lead as responsibly and conscientiously as he does. I think he'd fit well with the Dolphins, the site of his visit today. And I also think the Steelers will miss him badly if he leaves.
2. New England not moving aggressively to get a receiver. There's still time, of course. And I'd be shocked if New England didn't come out of this market with a veteran receiver, with Randy Moss a health risk, Wes Welker unlikely to start the season after major knee surgery, and no player in reserve to take the pressure off Moss.
Jimmy Johnson is close to Bill Belichick, and I'm sure the Patriot coach has heard Johnson talk about draft picks as currency. Well, it's time to use that currency. The Patriots own a one and three second-round picks -- 22nd, 44th, 47th and 53rd overall. I can see Julian Edelman doing a fine impersonation of Welker, and I don't doubt last year's sizeable third-round pick, 6-foot-1, 212 pound Brandon Tate of North Carolina, will play some role in the passing game. But with Moss 33 and Welker's return date unknown, this team is crying out for a veteran receiver. It's time to use the picks built up over years of smart draft-day dealing to get a receiver. As iffy as Anquan Boldin is, if Derrick Burgess was worth a three and a five last year, Boldin certainly would have been worth the same. Sure, the Pats don't own a third-round pick, but easily could have used the lowest of their three second-rounders to entice the Cards.
3. The Giants paying Antrel Rolle like the best safety in football when he hasn't performed that way. Rolle was the second-best safety on his own team. How many times have you watched Arizona play and said, "Rolle controlled that game?'' Never. He's never had a 100-tackle season in five years (not that that's the measuring stick for a great DB). He has intercepted 12 passes in five season and forced three fumbles in 68 career games. I think he's a nice player, not a dominant one.
This is the second straight year the Giants have paid a free-agent defended franchise-player money. Last year it was Chris Canty's six-year, $42-million deal; now it's $37 million for Rolle over five. Canty was hurt much of last season, but GM Jerry Reese needs Canty and Rolle to be the players he paid for or he's going to feel heat for the first time in his short but illustrious GM career.
The three decisions that I think should happen soon
1. Someone should go after Tennessee RFA defensive tackle Tony Brown. He's good, 29 and has only a first-round tender. If I'm at the bottom of the first round with a DT need (Indianapolis, San Diego), I'd think seriously about stealing Brown.
2. Someone should sign unrestricted pass-rusher Adewale Ogunleye. He's 33, healthy and a professional pass-rusher, with 35 sacks over the past seven years in Chicago. This is the kind of signing a smart team makes in the next couple of weeks for low guaranteed money.
3. I'm doing a thorough physical on free agent cornerback Marlin Jackson, dumped by the Colts. And unless I think his knee won't allow him to start the season, I'm moving aggressively to sign him. He's now missed much of the past two years with injuries, but he's a smart 26-year-old corner the Colts thought so highly of that they picked him in the first round five years ago. Worth the risk. He'll visit the Eagles and Ravens this week, and I'd be surprised if he were unemployed Friday.
Five For Fighting Update
Lots of news this week about the effort with the USO to provide Army First Sgt. Mike McGuire and other active-duty soldiers with the kind of off-time recreation activities so many of them lack.
You guys rock. In the first six days of the Five For Fighting fund-raising campaign ($5 to help raise the morale of our men and women in the most out-of-the-way outposts), you've contributed $124,500. Thanks, thank, thanks!
We have now covered all the expenses for McGuire's company to receive the recreation equipment, X-box, video games, big-screen TV and weight-training equipment he and his troops wanted. If you'd like to contribute and missed last week, understand your assignment: All I want is $5 for our troops, and all you have to do is click on this link to help:
John Ondrasik, the one-man Five For Fighting Band, the man who gave us permission to use the name, is feeling it too. Ondrasik started a tour last week in the northeast -- it continues this week in Philadelphia, Washington, Charlotte, Atlanta and Orlando -- and reports on the people who've come to see him: "Incredible! I have fans walking up and putting five bucks on the stage for your effort. The USO must be blown away. Congrats!''
Mike McGuire is euphoric about your contributions. "I don't even know what to say,'' he wrote from Germany, where his 135-troop Havoc Company, 40th Engineers, is training for deployment in Afghanistan later this year. "I am speechless, really. We are just soldiers. Never expected anything like this. Please tell everyone, 'Thank you.' I wish I could describe the emotions better. This just proves that the American people have not forgotten about the soldier. WOW!!!''
For those who missed the column last week announcing the effort, here are the details: I asked Mike last year if there was anything he thought I could do for him and his troops when they deploy. He said it would be nice if the base that will likely be invented for his company -- as are many in remote areas of Afghanistan -- could have some or the comforts that the big bases have: a TV with video games, and weight equipment for the soldiers in the company to use in their downtime. The USO graciously offered to be the accountant for the project, and to collect the money -- and Mike and I agreed that any money raised beyond the $20,000 or so for his company's equipment will be used for other platoons in other remote areas of the war zones.
You have raised enough money to outfit recreation areas for five more platoons. The USO has a goal of sending its "USO2GO'' entertainment/recreation centers to 200 platoons and/or companies in Iraq and Afghanistan. You've outfitted McGuire's company and five more. So: only 194 left. Let's not stop now just because McGuire's men have their stuff.
There's another way the USO has figured out for you to show you care. Of all the items the USO sends to remote outposts around the world, its officials hear constantly that the most uplifting are the words of encouragement from back home. As an additional way to support the Five For Fighting campaign , the USO has created a virtual wall that we will share directly with Sgt. McGuire. If you'd like, please take a moment and offer a few words to let those men know that they're in our thoughts back here. Click here to send your best.
Our goal? Not to get 200 USO2GO recreation outfits for the men and women who need a diversion from days and weeks and months a world away from home. But to get as many as our hearts allow us to give.
Next week in this space, I'm going to use some of the best Tweets I get from you on Twitter (@SI_peterking) about why you contributed. So please, whether you gave five cents or $5 or $50, I'd like to hear in 140 characters why.
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