This Week’s Cover Story: Inside the End of the NFL LockoutPosted: July 26, 2011
Peter King Predicts the Destinations for theTop 50 Free Agents
Where Will the Top Available QBs Wind Up?
Which Rookie Players and Coaches Will Have the Most Success?
(NEW YORK – July 26, 2011) – As the cover caption for this week’s Sports Illustrated indicates, it’s “Game Time” for the NFL after 38 months of negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement. The cover of this week’s issue — dated Aug. 1 and on newsstands tomorrow — features Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald.
SI’s roster of NFL insiders — consisting of Peter King (@SI_PeterKing), Jim Trotter (@SI_JimTrotter) and Damon Hack (@si_damonhack) — answer all the questions on fans’ minds as the 2011 season finally gets under way. This includes predictions for the free-agent frenzy about to commence, the destinations for the best available quarterbacks, which first-year players and coaches will have the biggest impact and much, much more. Get ready for some football.
FREE-AGENT FRENZY – PETER KING (@SI_PeterKing)
For the first time in years, teams will be able to go after good cornerbacks in free agency; by Peter King’s count, nine of the top 50 free agents are cover men, including Nnamdi Asomugha. Here are King’s predictions for where the top 50 will land (page 36):
|PLAYER||OLD TEAM||NEW TEAM||PLAYER||OLD TEAM||NEW TEAM|
|1. CB Nnamdi Asomugha||Raiders||Texans||26. FS Dashon Goldson||49ers||49ers|
|2. RB DeAngelo Williams*||Panthers||Dolphins||27. CB Josh Wilson||Ravens||Ravens|
|3. DE Cullen Jenkins||Packers||Redskins||28. T Ryan Harris||Broncos||Broncos|
|4. NT Aubrayo Franklin||49ers||49ers||29. LB Paul Posluszny||Bills||Jaguars|
|5. WR Sidney Rice||Vikings||Jaguars||30. CB Carlos Rogers||Redskins||Bills|
|6. DE Jason Babin||Titans||Jaguars||31. WR Steve Breaston*||Cardinals||Cardinals|
|7. WR Santonio Holmes||Jets||Jets||32. SS Quintin Mikell||Eagles||Texans|
|8. T Matt Light||Patriots||Seahawks||33. RB Ronnie Brown||Dolphins||Patriots|
|9. CB Antonio Cromartie||Jets||Raiders||34. SS Bernard Pollard||Texans||Falcons|
|10. DE Ray Edwards||Vikings||Eagles||35. RB Cedric Benson||Bengals||Bengals|
|11. CB Johnathan Joseph*||Bengals||Steelers||36. G Robert Gallery||Raiders||Bears|
|12. QB Matt Hasselbeck*||Seahawks||Titans||37. SS Dawan Landry||Ravens||Cowboys|
|13. G-T Marshal Yanda||Ravens||Ravens||38. CB Richard Marshall*||Panthers||Jets|
|14. T Doug Free||Cowboys||Cowboys||39. CB Kelly Jennings*||Seahawks||Jets|
|15. RB Ahmad Bradshaw*||Giants||Broncos||40. SS Abram Elam||Browns||Texans|
|16. FS Eric Weddle||Chargers||Jaguars||41. LB-S Thomas Davis||Panthers||Jets|
|17. DE Charles Johnson*||Panthers||Panthers||42. G Davin Joseph||Bucs||Bucs|
|18. DT Brandon Mebane*||Seahawks||Broncos||43. TE Kevin Boss*||Giants||Giants|
|19. G Harvey Dahl||Falcons||Dolphins||44. T Jermon Bushrod*||Saints||Saints|
|20. LB Barrett Ruud||Bucs||Bucs||45. LB Kirk Morrison||Jaguars||Giants|
|21. CB Ike Taylor||Steelers||Steelers||46. SS Roman Harper*||Saints||Saints|
|22. SS Melvin Bullitt||Colts||Patriots||47. T Jared Gaither*||Ravens||Bills|
|23. WR Braylon Edwards||Jets||Raiders||48. WR James Jones||Packers||Bears|
|24. T Willie Colon*||Steelers||Steelers||49. CB Chris Carr||Ravens||Eagles|
|25. WR Malcom Floyd||Chargers||Chargers||50. DE Matt Roth||Browns||Patriots|
*Restricted free agent (current team can match offer or take compensation)
THE QUARTERBACK CAROUSEL – JIM TROTTER (@SI_JimTrotter)
An NFL team can’t win without a quarterback — which is why so much attention will be paid to where a handful of signal-callers wind up. Among those being watched closely (page 37):
- Tavaris Jackson: The Vikings’ starter in 2007 (he threw for 1,911 yards, nine touchdowns and 12 interceptions), Jackson was used sparingly over the last two seasons as Brett Favre’s backup. Now he is expected to replace Matt Hasselbeck in Seattle. Jackson, 28, played under new Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell in Minnesota, so he is familiar with the system and should be able to immediately lead the offense.
- Kevin Kolb: The Eagles’ backup is expected to be traded, probably to the Cardinals, who watched Derek Anderson, John Skelton and Max Hall complete barely half their passes last season. Kolb, 26, has thrown more interceptions (14) than TDs (11) and has only seven career starts, but Arizona’s brass believes he has tremendous upside. If Kolb is dealt, Philly could turn to Vince Young, who is also a good fit for Miami and Oakland.
- Matt Hasselbeck: Just before the lockout began, the 12-year veteran turned down a two-year extension with the Seahawks that could have paid him roughly $14 million, including $7 million in guarantees. Hasselbeck’s likely destination is Tennessee, where he would be reunited with former Seahawks general manager Mike Reinfeldt and serve as the bridge to Jake Locker, the No. 8 pick in April out of Washington.
- Donovan McNabb: The Redskins don’t want to pay him a $10 million roster bonus, so unless he agrees to restructure his deal in a trade, it’s likely he’ll be released. He has been linked to Minnesota — where Favre finally retired — but the Vikings drafted Florida State’s Christian Ponder at No. 12 and appear ready to hand him the ball. Several general managers believe McNabb will have to agree to a backup role before a team signs him.
HOW WILL THE ROOKIES DO? – JIM TROTTER (@SI_JimTrotter)
Impact first-year players will be few and far between, but fans can expect this half dozen to thrive (page 35):
- Mark Ingram, RB, Saints: Ideal situation for the 2009 Heisman winner from Alabama: New Orleans has a strong line, a lethal passing game and a creative play-caller in coach Sean Payton.
- Von Miller, OLB, Broncos: Pass rusher is a position that requires minimal coaching, and Miller, out of Texas A&M, has the size, strength and intuition to excel.
- Nick Fairley, DT, Lions: Some thought Auburn’s Lombardi Award winner was a top five talent, but he went 13th. If motivation to prove people wrong isn’t enough to help him thrive, playing alongside Ndamukong Suh should be.
- Jimmy Smith, CB, Ravens: Character concerns pushed the Colorado standout down the draft board to No. 27, but Baltimore has the veteran leadership to keep him in line. Few corners have Smith’s blend of size (6′ 2″, 211 pounds) and athleticism (4.46 in the 40, 36″ vertical).
- Da’Quan Bowers, DE, Bucs: He had 15 ½ sacks as a junior at Clemson but slipped to the second round because of a right-knee injury. He’ll have playmaking opportunities on a defensive front that includes second-year stalwart Gerald McCoy and first-round pick Adrian Clayborn.
- Prince Amukamara, CB, Giants: G.M. Jerry Reese says the former Nebraska star will have a shot at starting; if the Giants’ pass rush regains its disruptive form it could create opportunities for Amukamara to excel in coverage.
WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE – JIM TROTTER (@SI_JimTrotter)
Getting a team prepared after the lockout canceled several preseason activities will be especially hard for the eight first-year coaches. Here’s how Jim Trotter ranks the task each is facing, from toughest to easiest (page 39):
- Ron Rivera, Panthers: Carolina had two victories last season, might lose running back DeAngelo Williams to free agency, must resolve the trade demand of wide receiver Steve Smith and has to choose between a rookie (Cam Newton) or a second-year pro (Jimmy Clausen) at quarterback. Not an easy first job for the former defensive coordinator of the Chargers and the Bears.
- Mike Munchak, Titans: After jettisoning Vince Young and losing Kerry Collins to retirement, Tennessee has no veteran QB; star running back Chris Johnson has all but announced he will hold for a new contract; and big-play wide receiver Kenny Britt has all sorts of off-the-field distractions. And, oh, by the way, Munchak must fill the shoes of the most successful coach in franchise history, Jeff Fisher.
- Hue Jackson, Raiders: Free agency could cost the Raiders cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, their best defensive back; guard Robert Gallery, the most dependable member of the offensive line; and free safety Michael Huff. Then there’s owner Al Davis, who is always prone to doing the unpredictable. What if he brings in QB Vince Young? How would that affect chemistry?
- John Fox, Broncos: Fox loves to run the ball but lacks a bell-cow back. Knowshon Moreno has dropped 15 pounds and is talking the talk, but he has had injury and fumbling problems. The Broncos are also thin on the interior of their defensive line and face questions about their secondary, where safety Brian Dawkins is a free agent and cornerback Perrish Cox is facing sexual-assault charges.
- Jim Harbaugh, 49ers: The former Stanford coach inherited talent, but the lockout prevented him from bringing in a QB to replace veteran Alex Smith, a pending free agent who is now expected to re-sign. The Niners have 16 players (six starters) scheduled to hit the open market, and Pro Bowl cornerback Nate Clements will also have to restructure his contract, or he could be cut.
- Pat Shurmur, Browns: Cleveland is switching to the West Coast offense (which Shurmur used as the Rams’ coordinator) and a 4–3 defense, but these should be fairly smooth transitions because the changes fit the personnel. The Browns’ biggest concern is retaining its key free agents: cornerback Eric Wright, defensive end Jayme Mitchell, guard Floyd Womack and defensive end Robaire Smith.
- Leslie Frazier, Vikings: Frazier faces less of a challenge: He was Minnesota’s interim coach for three games last year and has a veteran-laden, playoff-caliber team. But there are issues, none bigger than at QB, where Brett Favre has retired and the top two candidates to replace him, rookie Christian Ponder and second-year vet Joe Webb, have two career starts between them.
- Jason Garrett, Cowboys: No “new” coach has a roster as loaded as Garrett (Dallas’s interim coach for the last eight games of the 2010 season) does. And unlike other coaches in this category, he has a Pro Bowl–caliber quarterback in Tony Romo. The Cowboys went 5–3 last year after Garrett replaced the fired Wade Phillips, and there will be no significant changes in offensive or defensive philosophy.
OTHER POST-NFL LOCKOUT FEATURES IN THIS WEEK’S ISSUE
- Ten Camp Questions – Everything from “Which coach is under the most pressure?” (answer: Cincy offensive coordinator Jay Gruden) to “Is Brett Favre coming back?” (answer: Please, God, no) (page 38).
- Deal Point: The Rookie Contract – The new CBA will limit the money paid to first-year players by putting a cap on the total amount a team can spend on draft choices based on the number of picks and the round in which they were used (page 35).
- Update: Plaxico Burress – Released from prison in June, Burress will find an NFL home for the 2011 season. But where? As of now the four leading candidates are Philadelphia, Chicago, Cleveland and New England (page 37).
- Back From a Bad Place – Even though fans will return to watching the NFL, the labor crisis gave them reason to wonder where they fit in the game—as partners or simply as pawns shelling out money for PSLs and parking (page 40).
- Are the Players Ready? – It remains to be seen how many players will report to camp in shape (page 34).
- View from the Sidelines – Coaches are not happy with the new deal’s practice cutbacks (page 40).
- Key to the Deal – Negotiations were at an impasse in May when NFL treasurer Joe Siclare stepped in (page 41).