Free Agency – the story so far…. (part 2)

In the NFC the Eagles and Saints have been making the big headlines. Things are equally dramatic in the AFC, especially in an Eastern division that has been dominated by Tom Brady and the Patriots for a generation:

AFC East

  • The Bills made a bold move by bringing in Rex Ryan as head coach. If the new owners wanted to make a splash, then Rex is the master. On the opening day of Free Agency Rex set Twitter on fire with the McCoy/Alonso trade. FB Jerome Felton and WR Percy Harvin makes the offence more dynamic, although Rex is still showing little interest in Quarterbacks – the Bills have an uninspiring 3-way competition between EJ Manuel, Matt Cassel and Tyrod Taylor, which is unlikely to get the fanbase too excited. Re-signing Jerry Hughes was a big move though, and if they get Charles Clay in from the Dolphins, this will be an interesting season for the Bills.
  • The Dolphins spent some cash!! $114 million to be exact, now lining the pockets of one Ndamukong Suh. The Dolphins defence was excellent last season, and can expect to be even more dominant this year with Suh lining up alongside Cameron Wake. However, they had to ship a lot out the door to afford him, including dumping money drains Brian Hartline and Mike Wallace. They’ve made some nice trades and pick ups to rebuild the offence since though, with Kenny Stills and Jordan Cameron looking like good deals.
  • The Patriots had a lot to think about following their Superbowl victory – especially in the secondary. The result was a big new deal for Safety Devin McCourty, but big name Cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner departed. Belichick also allowed Shane Vereen and Vince Wilfork to leave Foxborough, but then made a raft of low key acquisitions, which is typically Patriot-like. Expect Scott Chandler and Jabaal Sheard to be key pieces this season.
  • The Jets are starting anew (or in some eyes rolling back the years) with their off-season acquisitions. Reuniting the defensive cornerstones of the 2011 season, CBs Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie return, and ILB David Harris was re-signed. The new management team continued to rebuild, with a trade for Brandon Marshall on offence, and the pick up of slot corner Buster Skrine.

AFC North

  • The Ravens have quietly allowed some big names out the door this off-season. Haloti Ngata was traded away, while Pernell McPhee, Torrey Smith, Jacoby Jones and Owen Daniels all moved on. They did decide to re-sign 2014 surprise package Justin Forsett.
  • The Bengals too have been quiet, bringing in experienced ILB AJ Hawk from the Packers, and bringing DE Michael Johnson home after a poor year in Tampa. They have a long list of Free Agents, all of whom look to be out the door.
  • The Browns have been typically chaotic, trading for QB Josh McCown in an effort to provide veteran stability and a mentor for the disappointing Johnny Football. The additions of veterans Randy Starks and Tramon Williams will patch up the holes that were left when Jabaal Sheard and Buster Skrine left, but the loss of Jordan Cameron leaves their offence looking very lightweight – the pick up of Brian Hartline is fooling no-one that the Browns desperately need help out wide.
  • The Steelers tied Big Ben down to a long term deal, and brought in veteran RB DeAngelo Williams to support breakout star LeVeon Bell. They’ve lost a lot of experience on defence though, not least the evergreen DC Dick LeBeau. Question marks remain whether Ike Taylor, Troy Polamalu and Brett Kiesel will return, and Jason Worrilds shocked Steeler-nation by announcing early retirement for a career in religion.

AFC South

  • The Texans are still in rebuilding mode as Bill O’Brien starts his 2nd year. Question marks at Quarterback continue, as Brian Hoyer signed on to battle Ryan Mallett for the main job. The defence is expected to be as solid as ever, adding Bronco Safety Rahim Moore. Meanwhile superstar JJ Watt should enjoy having big Vince Wilfork alongside him in the D line. They finally cut ties with the malcontent Andre Johnson, but found another veteran reciever in Cecil Shorts to replace him.
  • The Colts have an ambitious and aggressive GM in Ryan Grigson, and it looks like they’re going all out to get Andrew Luck to the big show. They cut their losses with Trent Richardson, and brought in the evergreen Frank Gore to show Richardson how the job is supposed to be done. The acquisition of Andre Johnson meant that there was no place for Colts legend Reggie Wayne, nor the Hakeem Nicks experiment.
  • The Jaguars have made some bold moves already, bringing in premier TE Julius Thomas, and spending some big money on Jared Odrick from the Dolphins, Dan Skuta from the 49ers and Jermey Parnell from the Cowboys. They’ll want to spend some more of their cap space in the coming weeks, but will expect to have to pay a premium to persuade players to join such a massive rebuilding project.
  • The Titans are in a similar position to the Jags, in that they’ve struggled so long, its a difficult sell to get big name players to sign up. They threw a ton of money at homegrown OLB Derrick Morgan, and then even more to bring in Perrish Cox, Brian Orakpo and Da-Norris Searcy. The offence remains a problem though, adding only WR Harry Douglas and TE Anthony Fasano.

AFC West

  • The Broncos managed to get Peyton to agree to a paycut, but it wasn’t enough to keep Julius Thomas in the house. With Terrance Knighton and Rahim Moore also out the door, the Broncos will be relieved they franchise tagged Demaryius Thomas when they had the chance. New HC Gary Kubiak brings with him TE pal Owen Daniels, who is expected to line up alongside the re-signed Virgil Green in several 2-Tight End packages this season.
  • The Chiefs didn’t see a WR hit the end zone in 2014, and as a result said goodbye to former star Dwayne Bowe. Their 2015 efforts will now ride on former Eagle Jeremy Maclin. Star pass rusher Justin Houston got the franchise tag, but they lost a good center when Rodney Hudson signed for the Raiders.
  • The Raiders, as expected, have been very active in Free Agency. Reggie McKenzie does not have the best track record of recruiting outside of the draft, and despite picking up decent additions in Rodney Hudson & Roy Helu, they’ve continued to bring in unpopular players from around the league – such as Christian Ponder and Trent Richardson. The new look Raiders were wise though to move on from Darren McFadden, LeMarr Woodley and Matt Schaub.
  • The Chargers are a lock to pick up a new running back in the draft, after letting Ryan Mathews leave San Diego. The Chargers also refreshed their wide men, with veterans Jacoby Jones and Stevie Johnson coming in, to replace the Chicago bound Eddie Royal. Tying down CB Brandon Flowers to a long term deal is likely to be one of their best off-season moves.

Free Agency – the story so far…. (part 1)

So, for anyone in the UK who hasn’t kept up to date with the Free Agency chaos the last few weeks, here is a round up of activity in the NFC:

NFC East

  • The Cowboys have been quiet bringing in new players, with the only recognisable name being RB Darren McFadden coming in to replace the outgoing 2014 rushing leader DeMarco Murray, who has signed for division rivals the Eagles.
  • The Giants should have an interesting ground game this year, adding Superbowl winner Shane Vereen to their backfield.
  • The Eagles have made headlines since Free Agency started – firstly Chip Kelly shipped out star running back Shady McCoy, then he let last years top reciever Jeremy Maclin leave the building. Kelly then traded QB Nick Foles to the Rams in exchange for Sam Bradford. The Eagles have also added blue chip talent on the ground in DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews, and got very legion-of-boomy in their secondary with Byron Maxwell and Walter Thurmond.
  • The Redskins have improved the defensive line with the additions of Terrance “Potroast” Knighton from the Broncos and Stephen Paea from the Bears. CB Chris Culliver also came in from the 49ers, but they lost big name OLB Brian Orakpo who left on a big contract with the Titans.

NFC North

  • The Packers tied Randall Cobb and Bryan Bulaga to a new long term deals, but let experienced defenders AJ Hawk and Tramon Williams go. Traditionally, the Packers are usually quiet in Free Agency and like to pick up new players through the draft.
  • The Lions lost Ndamukong Suh when Miami outbid them to sign the all-pro Defensive Tackle to a $114million deal, and then let partner in crime Nick Fairley leave the building. To replace them, they picked up an able replacement in a trade for Haloti Ngata. Running back Reggie Bush also left to sign for the 49ers.
  • The Bears quietly added proven talent to their porous defence, bringing in Safety Antrelle Rolle and LB Pernell McPhee. They traded away the increasingly troublesome Brandon Marshall to the Jets for a low round pick, and brought in veteran Eddie Royal in replacement. Veterans like Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman remain unsigned, but aren’t expected back to John Fox’s new regime.
  • The Vikings have been quiet in Free Agency, but have picked up contraversial WR Mike Wallace from the Dolphins. Wallace comes in on a big contract, but is a good fit for Norv Turners offence, and an upgrade on the outgoing Greg Jennings. Draft bust Christian Ponder also moved on.

NFC South

  • The Falcons have a new head coach, and look to have a greatly changed roster in 2015. A load of new defensive players have been brought in, and have even more looking to be on the way out. No big names as of yet though.
  • The Panthers have also been quiet – big names Greg Hardy and DeAngelo Williams are out of the door, and only Michael Oher and Ted Ginn have come in, which won’t have the Panthers fanbase that excited yet!
  • The Saints however are in turnaround mode – a massive trade on the opening day of Free Agency saw crowd (and Drew Brees) favourite Jimmy Graham head to NFC rivals the Seahawks, and in came top Center Max Unger and a 1st round pick. The reinvention of this team continued – CJ Spiller was signed to join the re-upped Mark Ingram in the backfield. Brandon Browner is a new arrival from New England, while WR Kenny Stills was traded to the Dolphins for Dannelle Ellerbe, and Pierre Thomas was released.
  • The Buccaneers are yet to make any big Free Agency splashes, but Lovie Smith is recreating his Chicago Bears defence by bringing in Safety Chris Conte and tackle Henry Melton, neither of which should give much confidence to the Buccs fans. They do have the 1st pick in the upcoming draft though to console themselves with!

NFC West

  • The Cardinals have the best guard available in Free Agency, stealing Mike Iupati away from rivals, the 49ers. They’re losing a couple of pieces on defence though, as Darnell Dockett went in the opposite direction, and Antonio Cromartie followed Todd Bowles to New York.
  • The 49ers added Dockett and wideman Torrey Smith from Baltimore, but they’re realing from the shock retirements of Patrick Willis and Chris Borland at linebacker. New HC Jim Tomsula will need to look a the uncertainty around Justin Smiths impending retirement and the volatility that surrounds Aldon Smith in order to stabilise the defence. They moved on from veteran Running Back Frank Gore, but brought in Reggie Bush.
  • The Seahawks look to be even stronger thanks to the Jimmy Graham – Max Unger trade, but they lost Superbowl champs Bryon Maxwell and Malcolm Smith. Jag CB Will Blackmon is the latest addition to the Legion of Boom.
  • The Rams got involved with one of the biggest QB trades of recent years, trading former 1st pick Sam Bradford for the Eagles’ Nick Foles. They re-signed Kenny Britt to a big deal, and also added even more depth to their D-line with Nick Fairley.

Tomorrow, we’ll profile the AFC teams……

If I were GM…..

Today is the last official day of the 2014 season. Tomorrow is the start of free agency, but also the opening day of the 2015 season – this means that most players’ contracts will have a guaranteed roster bonus attached – that’s why everyone is looking at what the Patriots do with the $20m due to Darrelle Revis….

So after seeing a couple of big trades go down for pro-bowl calibre players like Shady McCoy and Brandon Marshall, what if I were GM for a day? Here’s a couple of QB trades that would get Twitter lit up with the clock ticking down towards March 10th:

1. Bears trade their 7th place in the 2015 NFL Draft to the Philadelphia Eagles for Nick Foles + their 20th place pick.

Chip Kelly wants Marcus Mariota, and that means moving up the draft, however he doesn’t have a great hand to play. Nick Foles could go up to the Bears, solving their Jay Cutler problem, and in return they get much closer to Mariota. They may have to package another trade to move up again, but 7th is much better than 20th. This would also see Cutler hit the open market.

2. Redskins trade RG3 and this year’s 1st rounder to the 49ers for Colin Kaepernick.

So the Redskins haven’t had a 1st round pick for 3 years anyway, so why not trade this one away for a more reliable read-option QB? The 49ers could use the 5th pick in this year’s draft to pick up a new pass rusher, or even a QB as RG3 insurance. The Redskins love a bit of offseason headlines, so this would be right up their street!

Do the Bears dare cut Cutler?

It’s not often that established Quarterbacks get benched. Recently RGIII has had to suffer the indignity of holding the clipboard while fully fit, but this weekend we’ll see a veteran – Jay Cutler – on the sidelines, watching on while Jimmy Clausen stands under centre for the Chicago Bears.

It was only a short 4 months ago that the Bears back-office made Cutler the highest paid player in the league for this season….now, with the Bears looking down the barrel of last place in the NFC North, it’s fair to ask – has it all been Cutler’s fault?

Despite a difficult relationship with the Chi-town fanbase, the answer is no – it’s not all his fault. There are a lot of big names on the Bears’ roster that have either not stood up this season, or have fallen to unfortunate injuries. However, Cutler’s negative body language, combined with his bulging wallet, has meant that all eyes fall on him. He will argue that he’s had a banged up receiver corps – not once has he had both Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery at full strength. He can also argue that he’s had a stuttering Defence that can’t give enough time on the field – the Bears D has fallen off a cliff since Brian Urlacher retired, and the wave of high profile free agent pickups this last summer has not halted the slide.

So now that Cutler is backing up Clausen this week, what can we expect the Bears to do this off-season? One thing is for certain – there are going to be some twitchy seats in Chicago this January – Phil Emery is the executive who said Cutler is worth a 7 year contract. Marc Trestman is the “quarterback whisperer” whose job it was to tap the potential in this elusive gunslinger. Cutler himself is now a man who has failed to live up to the hype – there is clearly a scenario where all 3 are no longer in Chicago come next September.

If the Bears clear house, then they’ll be picking high enough in the draft to start anew. If Emery and Trestman get more time, then Cutler’s contract can only really hurt them if he doesn’t get another starting gig for the 2015 season, which would be highly unlikely. However, if Cutler remains with the Bears, then you have to think its highly unlikely that it’s going to be under the current management, who have just sent the clear message – “you’re not as good as we thought you were”.

Week 10

Week 10 kicked off with the Ohio state match, where Andy Dalton laid another egg on primetime TV. The Bengals remain competitive in the AFC North, but they are looking very hit and miss on both sides of the ball, and will have to show heart to bounce back from this humiliating defeat at home to their state rivals. This wasn’t a game for Fantasy players though – winning QB Brian Hoyer only notched a single figure score, and Dalton ended the game with a minus score!

Onto Sunday, there wasn’t too many shocks – Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning churned up their usual 25+pts, and Marshawn Lynch seemed back to his old self, beasting through the Giants at home for 4 touchdowns and 140 yards. The Packers in particular looked strong – they’ve steadily moved on from their opening day defeat at Seattle to prove themselves very much Superbowl contenders – Rodgers, Nelson, Cobb and Lacy all sliced through a non-existent Bears defence, and the Packers D were in help-yourself mode off a wayward Jay Cutler. Elsewhere though, there were a few turn ups – the Steelers proved highly unpredictable, making the Jets defence look somewhat efficient, and the 49ers turning over the Saints in the Superdome – a feat not acheived in over 4 years.

There was some big points for Dez Bryant in London – he was missing in the 1st Quarter, ran wild in the 2nd Quarter, then seemed to be ready to jump on the plane home in the 2nd half, but in just 15 minutes in that 2nd Quarter he smashed the Jags for nearly 160yards and 2 touchdowns. If you’re labelled as an “Impact” player, thats a way to get yourself noticed!!

On rookie watch, this was a big week for the excellent 2014 reciever class – Jordan Matthews, Martavis Bryant, Mike Evans & Odell Beckham all went over 100 yards, while Brandon Cooks added a TD to his 90 yards, and Kelvin Benjamin added 2 TDs to his 70 yards. Previous to this season, only 4 rookie wide recievers had gone over 1,000 yards in their debut season – this year we expect that number to be doubled.

The Lions of London

They might be more than 3000 miles from home, but the Detroit Lions are loving London living. Head coach Jim Caldwell addressed the media this morning and said his players were having a great time on their trip to the UK.

The team are staying in the leafy Surrey surroundings of Pennyhill Park, near Bagshot. This luxurious hotel is where the England rugby union team set up camp during next month’s autumn internationals, and again for the 2015 World Cup. The Raiders used the complex in Week 4 last month, and The Jags were here last year.

Jim Caldwell addressing the UK media
Jim Caldwell addressing the UK media

The Lions touched down in the UK on Tuesday, and Caldwell praised his hosts claiming that the trip has been great for team bonding.

“A lot of the guys will be sad to leave because it’s been a great setting”

Caldwell has led his new side to an impressive 5&2 start this campaign. He was aware though that this isn’t a normal regular season game:

“A few of these guys are married and have families so, ordinarily, they would be at home with their families in the evening”

The Lions will shortly leave their country-living for the London metropolis, and Caldwell hopes that the experience will help the team on Sunday.

“this particular setting provided an opportunity for those guys to get to know each other a little better. It’s fostered a bit more cohesion”

“Normally our guys aren’t away from things like they are here. It’s unique and we’re benefitting from it”

There was a mood of optimism for UK football fans as Calvin Johnson took part in practice again. The receiver looked comfortable running routes with the offensive team, but Caldwell insisted his star man wouldn’t be rushed, “he did work yesterday and I thought he did a pretty good job. We’ll see where he is today”.

Reggie Bush is also questionable to play on Sunday, along with TE Brandon Pettigrew. It remains unclear as to whether we’ll see Eric Ebron and Joseph Fauria as well.

Both Atlanta and Detroit have embraced their visit this week and UK fans look like we’re in for a show on Sunday. Will it be the Falcons flying home with the win, or will the Lions roar at Wembley? Whatever the result, we’re lucky to have them both over here.

Who needs a QB in 2015?

We’re nearly half way through the season, and already some teams are well adrift of the 2014 playoff picture. With the contraversial 6ft 4inch figure of Seminoles QB Jameis Winston looming on the NFL horizon, who is going to be looking to pick up a rookie signal caller in the 2015 draft?

It’s looking like the candidates for the top 2 picks, the Jags and the Raiders already have their franchise QBs for the future – Blake Bortles and David Carr have already wrestled starting positions from experienced place holders, and are starting to show promise on limited rosters. They’ll both be picking in the top 5, but they won’t be going QB.

The Jets and the Buccs are also going to be picking high – whether the Jets are ready to pull the plug on Geno Smith will depend on whether Rex Ryan and Jon Idzik keep their jobs, but the Buccs would be an interesting proposition – with all the off the field troubles, will they really want to keep Winston in Florida? The McCown move looked disastrous prior to his injury, and it seems that Lovie Smith is despairing with the inconsistent Glennon – regardless of whether Lovie survives this season, they are sure to go QB with their 1st round pick.

So, with Winston being the standout QB in the class, who else might be tempted to move up? In the AFC, the Titans, the Bills and the Texans will all be looking at upgrading, while in the NFC the Rams might be considering moving on from Sam Bradford. You can also throw into the mix some of the sides with aging QBs, who might be tempted at redshirting a high pick – the Saints, Giants, Cardinals and Cowboys might be surprise packages.

A midseason review of our draft

So, does anyone really care about somebody elses fantasy team? probably not. But I’m going to go through the 1st two rounds of our 2015 draft to reflect on how some high draft picks are performing this year – with some surprising results!!

Round 1

Adrian Peterson
Jamaal Charles
Jimmy Graham
LeSean McCoy
Peyton Manning
Matt Forte
Eddie Lacy
A.J. Green
Calvin Johnson
Matthew Stafford
Montee Ball
Marshawn Lynch

So, my 1st reflection was shock – what were we thinking!! The top four have been massive disappointments this season, and shows that you shouldn’t look at last years results when planning your draft. The Peterson situation was unforeseen, but from this list Charles, Shady, Lacy and Ball have been underperforming, while Graham, Green and Johnson have picked up injuries, while only Manning, Forte and Lynch are maintaining 1st round value.

PS – the owner who picked up Stafford in the 1st round, ahead of some the monsters in Round 2 is obviously insane.

Round 2

Aaron Rodgers
Drew Brees
Arian Foster
DeMarco Murray
Brandon Marshall
Gio Bernard
Dez Bryant
Cordarelle Patterson
Demaryius Thomas
Jordy Nelson
Tom Brady
Reggie Bush

So having lost all faith in my fellow owners in Round 1, our Round 2 picks reassured me that we’re not all total clowns. Foster, Murray, Bernard, Bryant, Thomas and Nelson are all putting up Round 1 numbers, while Brees and Brady have had difficult starts, no one is going to laugh in your face for taking an experienced signal caller early. So no freaky picks like in Round 1, but still a couple of disappointments – both from the NFC North, in Patterson and Bush.

So to further embarrass my fellow owners, where did our early-season point leaders get picked up?

QB - Andrew Luck
RB - DeMarco Murray
WR - Antonio Brown
TE - Julius Thomas
K - Stephen Gostkowski

The leading DEF, the Philadelphia Eagles, went undrafted, but got picked up in the 2nd week!!

As a league, I give our drafting skills a D-, but there is still plenty of football to come!!