The Bears' signing of Rex Grossman to a one-year deal ($3 million, with an additional $1.5 million in incentives) may prove to be a wise investment.
Despite Grossman's inconsistent play last season, he's 19-11 as a starter in regular season games, and his physical tools are unmatched by any of the free agent or draft prospects on the market.
Grossman excels at throwing the deep ball, and his ability to attack vertically perfectly complements the Bears' power running game. When Grossman is on top of his game, he provides a big-play element that few quarterbacks can match. He's had 13 completions of more than 40 yards in the past two seasons, which is more than quarterbacks Matt Hasselbeck, Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger.
Though Grossman's accuracy and decision-making needs improvement, he still has enough potential to develop into a franchise quarterback. Most quarterbacks turn the corner in their third year of starting; so this is the make-or-break year for Grossman. If Grossman shows a similar arc of development to Pro Bowlers Drew Brees and Matt Hasselbeck in their third starting year, the Bears' short-term gamble will prove to be one of their wisest decisions in recent history.
But credit the Bears for protecting themselves against the Grossman gamble by signing Kyle Orton to a two-year extension (two years, $5 million with $1.6 million in bonuses). Orton, who sports a 12-6 career record as the Bears' starting quarterback, demonstrated that he was just as capable of leading the Bears offense during a three-game run to close the 2007 season. Although he completed only 53 percent of his passes during the stretch run, Orton proved he could manage the offense and avoid the costly turnovers. That conservative approach may be the perfect solution for the offense, if Grossman falters.
• The 49ers' re-signing of veteran defensive tackle Isaac Sopoaga was critical. By retaining the fourth-year pro, who is coming off his most productive season (58.5 tackles, 1.5 sacks), San Francisco avoids the task of integrating three new starters along the defensive line. Though Sopoaga had only eight career starts, he was expected to draw strong interest on the open market -- due to his ability to man the middle as a 3-4 nose tackle. By keeping the emerging playmaker inside, the 49ers free Pro Bowl linebacker Patrick Willis to roam the field unobstructed by interior blockers.
Also, expect DeShaun Foster to thrive in his role as a complementary player to Frank Gore. Foster, who rushed for 876 yards last season with the Panthers, never developed into the feature back that Carolina had envisioned when he entered the league from UCLA. But the seven-year pro has been effective when used as a change-of-pace back in the past. Foster flashes enough burst to be a productive runner, but his ability to be an effective receiver out of the backfield makes him an ideal back in the Mike Martz system. Foster has averaged more than 29 receptions a season when playing in 14 or more games. An NFC scout who has watched Foster closely over the years says, "This should be the ideal role for him. He is an upgrade over their previous back ups (Maurice Hicks and Michael Robinson) and should be productive in their offense as a runner/receiver with 10-12 touches a game".
• The Broncos' reported pursuit of Shaun Rogers would be their latest attempt to solidify the middle of their defensive line. After watching Daryl Gardener, Gerard Warren and Sam Adams fail as Broncos, Mike Shanahan is once again pinning his hopes on a perceived underachiever to address their defensive line woes. Rogers, a two-time Pro Bowl selection, was roundly criticized in Detroit for his work ethic, stamina and weight issues. By pulling the trigger on the reported deal, the Broncos would ignore several potential red flags to make a play for a player with the potential to be a dominant force in the middle. At the reported cost (fourth-round pick), the move is a relatively low-risk arrangement, given Rogers is still regarded as a top-tier talent at the position when motivated and healthy. In fact, several league officials viewed the seven-year pro as the least risky of all the available defensive tackles (Kris Jenkins and Dewayne Robertson) on the trade market.
• The return of receiver Muhsin Muhammad to the Panthers is more about filling a leadership void than upgrading the second receiver position. Although Muhammad still has enough ability to be effective, the return of his work ethic, toughness and leadership to the locker room fills a void that was never replaced during his three-year absence. As one of the few holdovers from the 2003 NFC champions, Muhammad will undoubtedly push his teammates to regain some of the blue-collar attitude and toughness that fueled the team's rise to ranks of the elite during that period. In addition, Muhammad will aid in the development of former second-round pick, Dwayne Jarrett, and fuel the competitive fire of three-time Pro Bowler Steve Smith during practices.
• The Lions' dismissal of Fernando Bryant may make Brian Kelly's decision to buy out his Bucs contract a wise move. Kelly, who paid more than $450,000 to become a free agent, would appear to be a logical fit in the Lions' defense, after spending 10 years as fixture in Tampa Bay. Plus, he would join former teammate Dwight Smith in bringing extensive knowledge and experience of the "Tampa-2" to the Lions' young secondary. Kelly's play has slipped in recent years due to injuries, but he brings 22 career interceptions and dependable ball skills to the position. Per league rules, Kelly has the right to negotiate with the Lions as a vested veteran prior to the start of free agency, so it shouldn't come as a surprise to see Kelly reunite with former Bucs' coaches Rod Marinelli,Joe Barry and Jimmy Lake in Detroit.
• The Jags' acquisition of Troy Williamson is not surprising, given the presence former Vikings head coach Mike Tice on the Jaguars' staff. Tice drafted Williamson with the No. 7 overall pick in 2005 and had plans to develop him into Randy Moss' replacement. Although Williamson never developed into the big-play threat the Vikings envisioned, his addition to the lineup fills the Jaguars' need for a speed receiver on the outside. If he can fulfill any of the potential that surrounded his entrance into the league, the relatively low cost of the deal (sixth-round pick) could reap huge rewards for the Jaguars. With three former first round picks -- Reggie Williams (2004), Matt Jones (2005) and Williamson -- the Jaguars have enough talent to field a formidable receiving corps in 2008.