Everyone has been caught up in the Buddy Ryan magic and has assigned the Cardinals an automatic wild-card spot. That goes for me, too.
You're Phil Simms, now the former quarterback of the New York Giants. Last year you took the Giants to within one overtime period of gaining the home field edge for the entire playoffs, one OT loss to Dallas. You want another shot. You're coming off shoulder surgery, but by June you're starting to get the ball out there, lazy 40-yarders, and you know you'll be O.K. by the exhibition season. You know the rules of the salary cap, and you're willing to take a big hit in your paycheck. But suddenly you're out. You bite the bullet and don't criticize the Giants, but you don't hesitate to fire back at Paul Tagliabue when the commissioner says that the salary cap has nothing to do with your sudden unemployment.
You're George Young. You're 63, and life as an NFL general manager certainly isn't getting any easier. You've seen dynasties erode because older players were retained too long—the Tom Landry Cowboys, the Chuck Noll Steelers, the post-Lombardi Packers. You've got a young quarterback named Dave Brown. Do you push his development back another year? Is this good for the organization in the long run? Releasing Simms is painful, but....
You're a Giant fan. The inelegance with which the Simms thing is handled shocks you. And how about Lawrence Taylor? Just slipped off into oblivion. Is that the way the great ones have to be treated? No day to honor them, no retirement of numbers? You see an ad on TV: "Watch Dave Brown lead the Giants to...."It makes you a bit sick. And what's left adds up to a rebuilding year. There's not much here to excite you.
Brown has thrown a total of 17 passes, regular season and playoffs, in two years. He's big and smart and makes the right reads. He does not throw the ball with great velocity. How will he cope with those terrible late-season winds in the Meadowlands? Number two man Kent Graham, who's got a cannon arm, might be a consideration then. Or Rodney Hampton and the running game, which led the NFL in '93.
Sturdy defense has always been a trademark of the Giants, but now three quarters of the secondary is gone, including the fine left corner, Mark Collins. A 4-3 alignment will replace the old 3-4, and Michael Brooks certainly is one of the league's best middle backers. It would be nice if a serious pass rusher emerged, and right end Michael Strahan might be it.
Here's the way this free-agency deal works: If you lose guys who are better than the guys you get, then the team usually isn't as good. "We got all these new guys last year," says middle linebacker Byron Evans of the Philadelphia Eagles. "I'd still rather have the old guys. We brought in Tim Harris, Erik McMillan, Michael Carter, Keith Millard, and we let Reggie White go. Now none of those guys are here anymore."
And none of the new guys they brought in this year can match the quality of Seth Joyner and Clyde Simmons, who followed Buddy Ryan to Arizona. And the defensive line, which once was the most feared in football, now reads, from left to right: William Fuller, Andy Harmon, William Perry and Mike Flores. Fuller, the ex-Houston Oiler, has been on cruise control in the preseason, though he's got credentials, and Harmon is a relentless inside man. So much for the defensive line—in fact, for the defense in general.
The offense is more flash than smash. The Eagles were 4-0 last season until quarterback Randall Cunningham went down with a broken ankle; then they lost their next six. It was the second major injury in three years for the 31-year-old Cunningham. Two darting runners, Vaughn Hebron and rookie Charlie Garner, should help ease the pressure on Cunningham to take off and leg it.
The biggest plus is new owner Jeff Lurie, who stepped in and made sure that everyone was signed on time. It's the first time since 1984 that that has happened in Philadelphia, where it's being said that Lurie has brought a new, aggressive attitude to the team. Now if he could only step in at defensive end.