AFCE status report.
The Reboot may be on hiatus but Kolonich is still with us. Here’s his wry take on the AFC East.
As corporate monoliths go, the league was either brazen or brainless enough to allow Jerry Jimmy Haslam and Stephen Ross to discuss “Expectations of Leadership” with dozens of bored rookies. While the jury is both literally and figuratively out on Haslam, Ross has already proven that he is indeed Jerry-class when it comes to running an NFL team into the ground.
- The Dolphins play in the league’s weakest division, yet have not visited the playoffs since the Chad Pennington era.
- Ross chased Jim Harbaugh while Tony Sparano twisted in the wind. Ross missed badly, apologized to Sparano by giving him an extension – then ate the contract a year later.
- Ross green lit Jeff Ireland’s pathetic 2013 offseason shopping spree (a desperate attempt to save his once promising career), before firing him a year later.
- Watched from afar as Richie Incognito media morphed from a simple asshole football player into nuclear Bin Laden.
- And naturally, head football coach Joe Philbin – the guy who allowed both gay blow up dolls and an NFL leading 58 sacks of Ryan Tannehill – was brought back for the 2014 season.
And because cap-strapped teams with weak ownership, a horrid reputation, a new general manager and an average quarterback usually don’t equal success, Philbin is already a lame duck in a throwaway season.
Oh, and about that new general manager:
But wait – it’s not all bad!
Re-signed: DT Randy Starks, CB Brent Grimes
Veteran additions: OT Branden Albert, WR Kevin Cone, FS Louis Delmas, CB Cortland Finnegan, OT Jason Fox, NT Earl Mitchell, RB Knowshon Moreno, G Shelley Smith, WR Damian Williams.
Veteran subtractions: CB Nolan Carroll, OT Tyson Clabo, SS Chris Clemons, G Richie Incognito, G John Jerry, TE Dustin Keller, OT Jonathan Martin, OT Bryant McKinnie, WR Marlon Moore, CB Chris Owens, DT Paul Soliai, LB Austin Spitler, DB R.J. Stanford, G Danny Watkins, OT Will Yeatman, CB Dimitri Patterson.
Draft picks: 1-Ja’Wuan James (OT), 2-Jarvis Landry (WR), 3-Billy Turner (OT), 4-Walt Aikens (CB), 5a-Arthur Lynch (TE), 5b-Jordie Tripp (OLB), 6-Matt Hazel (WR), 7-Terrence Fede (DE).
OFFSEASON GRADE: How about a P for Pointless?
Fifteen years of Browns’ expansion ball informs me that Dennis Hickey and Joe Philbin won’t be around in 2015, so let’s not pretend that most of these additions are going to be favored by the next regime (My fake money’s on Holmgren sniffing out Ross’ Lerner-esque ooze.).
As for the free agents, the Dolphins pulled an Ireland to get a year or two out of Branden Albert, rewarded Brent Grimes for a big contract year, then picked up either dumped or damaged goods in Knowshon Moreno, Cortland Finnegan and Louis Delmas. Certainly, draft picks Ja’Wuan James and Billy Turner will add depth to what was probably the league’s worst O-Line (and they will always be polite and respectful towards each other) and Jarvis Landry can ideally make a few plays over the middle of the field.
However, the Dolphins are clearly in transition between a past, present and future front office and coaching staff (whether they realize it or not). Or in other words, Philbin needs to win now, Hickey is looking to the future – and both will be gone soon anyway, much like the team’s image as a successful NFL franchise.
ANALYSIS: Ryan Tannehill is probably the fifth best quarterback of the 2012 draft class (I would probably go Wilson-Luck-Foles-Griffin-Tannehill), which, given the talent from that year, actually means something. Pair Tannehill with Chip Kelly or at the least, give him an average offensive line and his rank goes a bit higher. But then again, I’m probably reflecting more on the start of Tannehill’s 2013 season than its dismal end.
But the bigger question is – is Tannehill worth a big grown-up contract? Given that elite NFL QB’s have become the NFL’s one percenters – and since Tannehill and Andy Dalton have the exact number of playoff wins – this is already a make or break year for the Dolphins’ still insanely young QB to define his career.
A run to the playoffs in an increasingly weak AFC East could spare Philbin and Hickey for another year and likely put Tannehill in the Dalton-sphere of 12-15 mil a year. Anything less means Tannehill is Christian Ponder in 2015.Of course, the problem is that Charles Clay was probably the Dolphins’ best receiver. Last year, the Dolphins’ O-Line couldn’t block well enough to allow Tannehill to connect downfield with Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline. Clay benefitted from a variety of dump offs and Oh My God I’m About to Get F-ing Sacked Again! types of passes.**
The running game was bipolar, as witnessed by four games in which the Dolphins were held under 25 total rushing yards (naturally, one of those games was a win over the Browns), and 157 and 181 yard outputs in wins over the Bengals and Steelers. LaMar Miller and the concussed brain of Daniel Thomas return along with Bronco castoff Moreno.
The hope is that new talent along the offensive line and the arrival of offensive coordinator Bill Lazor*** from Chip Kelly’s Eagles sparks an inconsistent offense. It had better – given that the Dolphins’ offensive skill players are nearly identical from 2013.
On defense, the Dolphins were 20th in the league in yards allowed, but top ten (8th) in giving up points. The Dolphins’ front seven is strong and bolstered by a classic Kanicki front four. Olivier Vernon – also known as NOT Dion Jordan – came out of nowhere to grab 11.5 sacks across from veteran Cameron Wake. Phillip Wheeler and Dannell Ellerbe add some nice range but the secondary is a huge mess. Grimes anchors a unit that will probably (in September only) feature the ghosts of Finnegan and Delmas.
THE PICK: The Dolphins definitely targeted a need along their offensive line and of course won’t have Slate.com writers picking through their garbage this year. However, the Dolphins return the same skill players from an average 2013 offense and somehow got older on defense. Throw in lame duck Philbin and the Dolphins are staring at a top ten pick next year.
* It’s only a matter of time before Chris Fedor is mock drafting dick pics.
** Surprisingly not a category on Football Outsiders.
*** Funny how Lazor and not “Offensive Coordinator” Pat Shurmur got a promotion.
I’ve long held the belief that had Art Modell not been a stunningly incompetent businessman, he could have kept the Browns in Cleveland for another decade – long enough to crumble the franchise into something resembling today’s Bills.
- A depressed, post-industrial economy with a shrinking population;
- A decaying stadium built eight Presidents ago;
- An octogenarian owner whose last smart move was hiring Bill Polian;
- Lake Effect Snow!!
- Endless talk of a new stadium.
Throw in great, great fans whose best sports memories are almost winning something 25 years ago and now suffer through endless organizational reboots and you have a sinister Modell-ian vision that almost makes a Browns’ fan thankful for the Lerner family.
But there is hope – I guess.
Re-signed: S Aaron Williams, TE Scott Chandler, K Dan Carpenter, TE Mike Caussin, WR Chris Hogan, CB Brandon Smith.
Veteran additions: RB Anthony Dixon, CB Corey Graham, LB Keith Rivers, LB Brandon Spikes, G Chris Williams, DE Jarius Wynn, WR Mike Williams, RB Bryce Brown.
Veteran subtractions: FS Jairus Byrd, DE Alex Carrington, QB Kevin Kolb, FS Jim Leonhard, LB Arthur Moats, OT Thomas Welch, WR Steve Johnson.
Draft picks: 1-Sammy Watkins (WR), 2-Cyrus Kouandjio (OT), 3-Preston Brown (ILB), 4-Ross Cockrell (CB), 5-Cyril Richardson (G), 7a-Randell Johnson (OLB), 7b-Seantrel Henderson (OT).
OFFSEASON GRADE: B for Buffalo!!!!!!
But depressing misery aside, the Bills have some things going for them. Over the past few years, they have quietly built a solid defense featuring one of the league’s best pass rushes. Buffalo’s offense features more speed than any team in the AFC East (which sounded like a positive statement a few seconds ago) and playing a last place schedule in the league’s worst division is always a positive.
The Bills added playmakers in Sammy Watkins, Mike Williams and Chip Kelly expendable Bryce Brown and upgraded their porous offensive line depth with Kouandijo and Richardson. On defense, Brandon Spikes and Preston Brown should help a run defense that allowed more than 120 yards eleven times in 2013. Obviously, the big free agent loss was Jairus Byrd – who signed an eleventy billion dollar contract with the Saints. Re-signing Aaron Williams helps with depth in a secondary that really improved over the last third of 2013.
On paper, the Bills are doing a patient and thorough job of rebuilding – that is until you remember two things:
- They just traded their (high) 2015 first rounder away.
- EJ Manuel is your Week One starter. (Thad Lewis starts Week Fifteen.)
ANALYSIS: Obviously, Browns’ fans are going to be paying close attention to the 2014 Bills. And wouldn’t it be hilarious if Doug Whaley (or his replacement) calls Farmer again next May looking for his next franchise QB?
As for the current one, EJ Manuel looks the part of an NFL franchise QB, but he (and pay attention, Jaguar fans) completed less than 60% of his passes in six of his ten 2013 starts. Even more troubling was Manuel’s wobbly accuracy on passes downfield. In a normal football universe, we would be talking about a typical rookie QB. However, in today’s ADHD NFL, Manuel’s inconsistency, brief injury history and general aloofness points to the Bills looking for a new QB in 2015.
This is kind of a problem, given that the Bills have crafted their roster around Manuel.
Coach Doug Marrone is trying to copy a Sean Payton blueprint in Western New York and has added some nice young players in Robert Woods, Marquise Goodwin, Williams and now Watkins. Having this young core necessitated the exodus of Stevie Johnson. Add in CJ Spiller and Brown to the league’s second best rushing attack and on paper, the Ontario Saints look like a formidable bunch.
That is, if Manuel can make a quantum leap into becoming a living, breathing NFL QB**** – and not the guy who played worse than Thad Lewis. By the time December rolled around, Marrone had basically given up on his passing game.
Defensively, Mike Pettine’s former squad boasted the 10th best unit in yards allowed and were 21st in points given up. Of course, the telling stat found the Bills second in the league in sacks with 57, led by Mario Williams’ 13 and the Dareus/Williams inside duo with 18 combined. Clearly, the front seven push allowed the Bills to boast the 4th best pass defense. However, the Bills gave up a ton of rushing yards – ranking 27th in the league.
Stats aside, the Bills have a stacked front line and an emerging star in linebacker Kiko Alonso. Both free agency and the draft further addressed the run stopping linebacker problem. Obviously, Byrd’s departure can’t help – but the bigger issue should be replacing Mike Pettine’s versatile system with Jim Schwartz’s 1995 playbook.
Oh and there’s this:
THE PICK: Because NFL teams are infinitely stupid, there’s a great chance that Marrone and Whaley are canned after the coming season – especially if the Bills are sold. Clearly, the Doug’s know this – as evidenced by the Watkins gamble. However, the biggest gamble is assuming that Manuel makes a leap, along with his talented, but really young receivers. Defensively, the Bills can’t get better under the unimaginative Schwartz – which leaves them about where they were a year ago.
Good news, Browns fans.
**** Here’s one for all you Lobster Fest bettors, is Jameis Winston that much better than Manuel?
How is it that in the inflated hype media capital of the world Rex Ryan isn’t lauded as the best coach in football after what he accomplished in 2013?
What about the following doesn’t scream Coach of the Year?
- Turned 16 Geno Smith starts into 8 improbable wins.
- Milked 1600 yards out of Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell.
- Survived a locker room where Kellen Winslow was a veteran leader.
- Forged the league’s 3rd best run defense out of Sheldon Richardson, Muhammed Wilkerson and scraps.
- Won games with Marty Morningwheg as OC.
- Again for emphasis – Turned 16 Geno Smith starts into 8 improbable wins (and yes, they got really lucky and weird breaks in three of them).
Most impressive, Ryan did the impossible and not only survived a lame duck season under new GM John Idzik, but managed to squeeze out a contract extension. In an NFL world of power grabs that makes ancient Rome look like a scrapbooking meet, Idzik actually zipped up his pants and realized that no other coach could do as much with so little as Ryan did in 2013.
Re-signed: Head coach Rex Ryan, OLB Calvin Pace, T Willie Colon, DT Leger Douzable, K Nick Folk, CB Ellis Lankster, CB Darrin Walls, LB Nick Bellore, TE Jeff Cumberland.
Veteran additions: WR Eric Decker, WR Jacoby Ford, OT Breno Giacomini, CB Johnny Patrick, QB Michael Vick, CB Dimitri Patterson, RB Chris Johnson, OLB Garrett McIntyre.
Veteran subtractions: DB Aaron Berry, WR Josh Cribbs, CB Antonio Cromartie, G Vladimir Ducasse, QB David Garrard, RB John Griffin, WR Vidal Hazelton, RB Lex Hilliard, WR Santonio Holmes, OT Austin Howard, LB Josh Mauga, FS Ed Reed, TE Konrad Reuland, RB Darius Reynaud, DB Isaiah Trufant, TE Kellen Winslow, QB Mark Sanchez.
Draft picks: 1-Calvin Pryor (S), 2-Jace Amaro (TE), 3-Dexter McDougle (CB), 4a-Jalen Saunders (WR), 4b-Shaq Evans (WR), 4c-Dakota Dozier (OT), 5-Jeremiah George (ILB), 6a-Brandon Dixon (CB), 6b-Quincy Enunwa (WR), 6c-IK Enemkpali (DE), 6d-Tajh Boyd (QB), 7-Trevor Reilly (OLB).
OFFSEASON GRADE: A+++
Again, solely for bringing back Ryan and not installing Darren Bevel or Ray Horton as HC, the Jets win their offseason. Although to continue with our alliterative theme, the A could also stand for Addition (by Subtraction). The Jets dumped a lot of dead weight – starting with the remains of Mark Sanchez, Ed Reed, K2, Santonio Holmes and Antonio Cromartie. Getting younger is always a smart idea, particularly when your veteran talent isn’t that great to begin with.
Idzik’s second Jets’ draft focused on the two things the Jets are pretty bad at – throwing the ball and stopping other teams from doing the same. Calvin Pryor is a quintessential Ryan safety and could be a Pro Bowler in a year or two. Dexter McDougle adds depth to a thin corner spot. Taking Jace Amaro was a necessary reach and Idzik adds two more mid-round wideouts to what was probably the league’s worst group of receivers a year ago.
However, the biggest splash came during free agency, where the Jets made Eric Decker worth more than a third world country. Of course, without Peyton Manning, Decker is probably a miscast, 50-catch receiving reality TV B-lister. But then again, David Nelson was probably the team’s most reliable pass catcher a year ago. Kind of intriguing is the arrival of Jacoby Ford – still one of the league’s fastest players.
Speaking of which, Chris Johnson is in town to do whatever it is that people think Chris Johnson does – which has to count for something.
Oh and Mike Vick.
ANALYSIS: There’s no reason to think the Jets can’t again do what it is they do well – which is run the ball and stop the run. Ivory and Powell led the league’s 6th best rushing attack, which is amazing given how defenses knew they were facing Geno Smith. This is likely Smith’s last year as a starting NFL QB, at least based on how extraordinarily limited the Jets’ passing attack remains. Of course, you can’t really blame Smith. He has that Big 12 one read, throw to the wide open guy, Weeden(y) rock head type of mentality and unfortunately is running an equal parts complex and dumb Marty Morningwheg offense.
Vick arrives for a reunion of sorts with Morningwheg, albeit without Andy Reid, which should tell you everything. He’ll probably end up starting by October and if he avoids fumbling every third snap, could be surprisingly effective. Although it remains to be seen if Vick’s old man body can take another few months of abuse. Unfortunately, the 2004 version of Vick would be a much better fit in this current Jet offense, something that popped into my head after reading about Ryan’s goofy jab at Tebowmania. Given that the Jets’ passing game is probably the worst in the league (although I’m holding out hope for Charlie Whitehurst in Tennessee), some 1930’s triple option action seems wholly appropriate.
Sadly, this probably won’t happen.
Defensively, the Jets feature two of the league’s best D-lineman in Wilkerson and Richardson. These two make up for a lot of weaknesses behind them, particularly an underwhelming outside pass rush that featured 59-year old Calvin Pace1 as the team’s sack leader. The corner play is shaky (which means Dmitri Patterson gets another year of checks), but there is a lot of young talent available – led by Pryor, who is my early lock for Defensive Rookie of the Year.
THE PICK: Even with what looks to be a solid draft and an offseason that produced that NFL rarity of franchise stability, on paper the Jets are an exceptionally boring 4-12 team. Yet, Ryan pushes this group into that always competitive but usually super frustrating grinder squad class that is capable of winning an incredibly bad division of football.
***** Seriously. Marcus Mariota to New Jersey in 2015.
The Patriots have basically evolved into the “Good Parents” team of the NFL. They’re boring, consistent, never controversial (minus the occasional player getting arrested for murder) and ever reliable. Or in the particular case of Brady and Belichick, they are so grown up that they remind me of a couple who were raised in the Depression. You know – the kind who paid off their house 65 years ago and are sitting on millions, yet reuse coffee filters.
How else to explain the rationale behind GM Belichick giving his career could end on any snap Hall of Fame QB the following opening day lineup?
- Danny “Injured Reserve” Amendola;
- Kenbrell Thompkins – the guy who barely cracked Butch Jones’ UC lineup;
- Michael Hoomanawanui, aka “Gronk’s backup;”
- Julian “Guy Michael Lombardi would have given 100 mil for” Edelman.
And don’t forget about Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce (Leon McFadden can’t).
On one hand, you can cite a massive murder boner and a bad knee, hip, back and neck for the Patriots’ thrift store offensive lineup.
Or: Jesus Christ Grandpa – you can afford one Outback dinner!
To think that Brady, he of the perfect Randy Moss regular season, is going to retire with a Kent State 7th rounder as his top target is sad – and predictable. Similarly, Brady isn’t helping his own legacy by not pressing for some legitimate playmakers. Could you only imagine this offense with Larry Fitzgerald or Josh Gordon (because you know that could have happened last year)?
But then, that’s not what the Patriot Way is about.
It’s more about drafting shitty backups from Rutgers, then replacing them with street free agents.
Re-signed: C Ryan Wendell, WR Julian Edelman, TE Michael Hoomanawanui, LS Danny Aiken.
Veteran additions: CB Brandon Browner, FS Patrick Chung, WR Brandon LaFell, CB Darrelle Revis, DE Will Smith, LB Josh Hull.
Veteran subtractions: RB LeGarrette Blount, DE Andre Carter, WR Austin Collie, LB Dane Fletcher, SS Steve Gregory, TE Matthew Mulligan, LB Brandon Spikes, OT Will Svitek, CB Aqib Talib, OT Markus Zusevics, DT Isaac Sopoaga, S Adrian Wilson.
Draft picks: 1-Dominique Easley (DE), 2-Jimmy Garoppolo (QB), 4a-Bryan Stork (C), 4b-James White (RB), 4c-Cameron Fleming (OT), 6a-Jon Halapio (G), 6b-Zach Moore (DE), 6c-Jemea Thomas (S), 7-Jeremy Gallon (WR).
OFFSEASON GRADE: How about an E for Ego?
If any Head Coach truly needs a strong GM to draft for him (which will never, ever happen), it’s Belichick. Last month, Belichick basically took his usual surplus of picks and turned them into a top two of Dominique Easley (a guy who Gronkowski thinks is injury prone) and Jimmy Garappolo (who it turns out is not a playmaking wide receiver). Although pay attention to whoever was taken in the seventh round, as he will be starting Week Two.******
Of course, the Patriots made some uncharacteristic noise in the free agent market by renting Darrelle Revis for a year and ordering Brandon Browner off the dollar menu. Edelman was re-signed to a huge deal, along with former Panther Brandon LaFell. Starters Brandon Spikes, Aqib Talib and Steve Gregory leave a defense that was average against the pass and terrible (30th in the league) against the run.
ANALYSIS: While my cranky black heart finds it easy to poke holes in GM Belichick’s doings, Coach Belichick is still one of the league’s best. Before a run of injuries to veterans Tommy Kelly, Vince Wilfork and Jerrod Mayo, the Patriots boasted a strong early season defense. Later on, Chandler Jones, Don’ta Hightower and Jamie Collins emerged as real talents (and yes, I again realize that Belichick drafted all three players). However the Patriots couldn’t stop the run and most importantly didn’t have the kind of pass rush or flexibility to slow down the Broncos.
In adding Revis and Browner, Belichick is basically game planning for next January. Yet, if the Seahawk blueprint proved anything (or history in general), beating Peyton Manning requires a lot of pressure and solid underneath coverage. I’m not sure this Patriots’ team is always capable of either.
Also, it helps to score points – something the Patriots were really good at – except against playoff teams like the Bengals, Panthers and Broncos.
Mainly because of the skeleton crew Brady had to work with, the Patriots leaned on their running game throughout 2013. Although it’s far too primitive for the advanced stat nerds out there, the Patriots boasted an 11-1 mark last year when they ran for more than 100 yards. (So they should probably do that more). Brady heated up in the middle of the year and torched some bad defenses, including the Steelers and Browns. Edelman did a nice Welker impression and the young wideouts made a few plays.However, the big key for the Patriots remains the health of Gronkowski – which by now is just an echo from the last New England Super Bowl loss. Without their star tight end, the Patriots still win their dismal division and could again sneak into another conference championship. Football people I respect love Dobson and the Pats’ O-Line is more stable than it’s been in years. Revis will no doubt give Belichick some options in the secondary and a promising young defense will get better.
THE PICK: Belichick drops another January heartbreaker, then steals his neighbor’s newspaper.
****** Although bonus points have to be awarded for BB taking Cameron Fleming (surprisingly not a surprise first rounder).
1. New England 10-6
2. NY Jets 8-8
3. Buffalo 6-10
4. Miami 5-11
No wild card.