Eagles, Pats, 'Skins, Bucs among best and worst offseasons of 2009

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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.


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.


The Bad ... Where do I start? The Bucs started the offseason by firing a proven winner and Super Bowl champion in head coach Jon Gruden, as well as a general manager in Bruce Allen who single-handedly got the team from salary-cap purgatory to an enviable financial situation -- while generally fielding competitive teams in the process. Those two were replaced by a guy who has never called signals in the NFL, Raheem Morris, and an executive, MarkDominik, whose initial financial decisions have been dubious at best. Among the duo's first transactions was the release of all-time favorites and role models for younger players like Derrick Brooks and Warrick Dunn.

Dominik's financial acumen must be called into question considering the moves he has made thus far. He gave $10.5 million in guaranteed money to wide receiver Michael Clayton, who hasn't been a legitimate receiving threat since his rookie season. I thought this was a production-oriented business. Then, he gave a contract extension totaling $20 million in guarantees to Kellen Winslow shortly after acquiring him from the Cleveland Browns. The money given to a player with known knee issues is not nearly as concerning as the fact the pact was signed even though Winslow still had two years remaining on his rookie contract. What message does that send to guys like Barrett Ruud and Donald Penn? All they've done for the past three seasons is everything asked of them by the organization, yet no new contract is in the offing for either one -- despite Ruud having only one year remaining on his rookie deal and Penn being a restricted free agent.

But ... The move to sign Derrick Ward was solid. He is a proven commodity who the Bucs didn't need to break the bank for, and he should help whomever ends up winning the starting quarterback job. Also, the trade to get Winslow for second- and fifth-round picks was fine from a draft-choice compensation perspective. The problem was giving him the new deal in front of proven pewter stalwarts like Ruud and Penn.


The Bad ... The Jay Cutler situation was a debacle no matter what you say about how Cutler and his agent, Bus Cook, handled it. The Brandon Marshall saga hasn't ended, but it's been ugly so far. The No. 1 need for the Broncos was young talent in the front seven on defense, especially in light of the move to the 3-4, and they drafted only one player who will contribute (Robert Ayers).

But ...Knowshon Moreno was the draft's most sought-after running back and could thrive under new head coach Josh McDaniels. Kyle Orton is a cerebral quarterback who McDaniels hand-picked, largely because he led the Bears to two winning seasons in the years he was the primary starter. The Broncos signed a host of quality veterans from winning teams like Jabar Gaffney and Correll Buckhalter on offense to Andre Goodman and Brian Dawkins on defense.


The Bad ... The Skins salivated over both Cutler and Mark Sanchez and came up empty twice, alienating presumptive starting quarterback Jason Campbell in the process. So much for instilling confidence in your signal caller. They also gave $41 million guaranteed to Albert Haynesworth, who had significant issues playing hard earlier in his career. What exactly is Haynesworth's motivation now? They also overpaid for DeAngelo Hall, considering there was not a large market, given his subpar performance in Oakland. Their top draft choice, Brian Orakpo, has a questionable motor and moving him to the strong-side linebacker position makes him a project as the 13th overall pick.

But ...Derrick Dockery helps inject some relative youth on the offensive line and could return to previous levels of performance now that he is back under the tutelage of Joe Bugel. If you overlook the high percentage that is guaranteed, Washington was able to secure the services of the most dominant interior defense force in the league for a reasonable $12 million a year for the next four seasons should Haynesworth play at the level of 2007-08. Orakpo has as much upside as any player taken in the draft, and now it is up to defensive coordinator Greg Blache to convert potential into production.