- Jan 22, 2006
- Reaction score
Season of change
Don Banks, SI.com
The Super Bowl was three months back, and three months still remain until Hall of Fame weekend. But for the most part, with the bulk of free agency finished and this year's draft in the books, NFL teams by now have assembled the rosters they will carry into the 2006 regular season.
Here's a division-by-division overview of each AFC club's work as the long personnel-acquisition stage of the offseason slows to a crawl.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
Headline additions: Drafted running back Laurence Maroney and receiver Chad Jackson in the first two rounds. Signed safety Tebucky Jones.
Offseason vibe: The rest of the division is sensing vulnerability in New England after the Patriots had an exodus in free agency, losing Adam Vinatieri, David Givens, Willie McGinest, Tom Ashworth, Christian Fauria and Tim Dwight. And while reports of the Patriots' demise are probably exaggerated, the talent drain was more substantial than at any other time in the Belichick era. Getting Maroney and Jackson in the draft adds a couple of new promising skill-position options, but New England's air of invincibility is no longer enough to ensure it the AFC East title.
Headline additions: Traded for quarterback Daunte Culpepper. Hired Mike Mularkey as offensive coordinator. Signed cornerback Will Allen and drafted safety Jason Allen.
Offseason vibe: We can't shake the feeling the Dolphins went with the second-best quarterback option in Culpepper, after not landing free agent Drew Brees. The fate of their 2006 season figures to turn on how quickly Culpepper recovers from last year's season-ending knee surgery and how close he can come to approximating his ultra-productive 2004 performance. Mularkey was a quality hiring, but the Ricky Williams saga took another depressing turn, and there's no indication that the Will Allen-for-Sam Madison "trade'' is really an upgrade.
Headline additions: Hired Dick Jauron as head coach and Marv Levy as general manager. Signed defensive tackle Larry Tripplett and drafted safety Donte Whitner.
Offseason vibe: Between owner Ralph Wilson's CBA rants and relocation talk, coach Mike Mularkey's surprise resignation, Marv Levy's equally surprising return and confusion regarding his job title, and the Bills' debatable first-round decision-making in the draft, it's been a newsy little offseason for the pride of Western New York. Throw in the Eric Moulds trade to Houston and the reacquisition of Peerless Price, and the Bills haven't lacked for subplots. Kind of puts the lingering quarterback question into perspective, doesn't it? Maybe it was all a plot to take the pressure off J.P. Losman.
NEW YORK JETS
Headline additions: Hired Eric Mangini as head coach and promoted Mike Tannebaum to general manager. Traded for quarterback Patrick Ramsey and drafted offensive tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold in the first round.
Offseason vibe: Let's see, what have the Jets accomplished since wrapping up that 4-12 stinker and letting Herman Edwards skedaddle off to Kansas City? New head coach? Check. Front office realignment? Check. Quarterback insurance? Check. Resolution of pesky John Abraham problem? Check. And rebuilding of porous offensive line? Check. New York isn't ready to make any real trouble in the AFC East, but the Jets are headed in the right direction. And we're not talking about their impending move of the team office to New Jersey.
Headline additions: Signed defensive tackle Sam Adams and safety Dexter Jackson. Drafted cornerback Johnathan Joseph in the first round.
Offseason vibe: More than anything, what head coach Marvin Lewis has brought to the Bengals in his three-plus years on the job is a sense of stability and adherence to a plan. This offseason has been the perfect illustration. Cincy now concentrates on re-signing its priority free agents, and adds a piece here and there as needed. Adams addresses the club's continued weakness against the run, while Jackson and Joseph upgrade the secondary. Jon Kitna left for Detroit, but Anthony Wright should be able to pinch-hit until Carson Palmer's knee rehab is a wrap.
Headline additions: Traded up in the first round to select Ohio State receiver Santonio Holmes.
Offseason vibe: Unlike some other recent Super Bowl winners in the salary-cap era, the Steelers didn't suffer immediate and mass defections in free agency. Yes, they would have preferred to keep both safety Chris Hope and receiver Antwaan Randle El. But Pittsburgh won't break the bank for anyone (at least until Ben Roethlisberger's next deal), and you can't say that approach has backfired. If Holmes takes up some of the slack that Randle El's departure creates, and Jerome Bettis' leadership isn't dramatically missed, the Steelers look as poised to defend as any champ could be.
Headline additions: Signed running back Mike Anderson and defensive end Trevor Pryce. Drafted defensive tackle Haloti Ngata in the first round. (Maybe the biggest acquisition is still to come if the Ravens sign quarterback Steve McNair.)
Offseason vibe: The Ravens have been patient, not rushing to fill their veteran quarterback vacancy with just any old arm. And if Steve McNair winds up providing the competition for Kyle Boller, Baltimore's prudence will have paid off in a big way. We already know that McNair to Derrick Mason works. The Ravens deserve a thumbs-up as well for getting Anderson to replace the underrated Chester Taylor and for landing Ngata in the draft, thereby negating the void in the middle of the defensive line created by Maake Kemoeatu's free-agent signing with Carolina.
Headline additions: Signed linebacker Willie McGinest, center LeCharles Bentley and defensive tackle Ted Washington. Drafted linebacker Kamerion Wimbley in the first round.
Offseason vibe: If there was a team other than Washington passing out Monopoly money during free agency this year, it was the last-place Browns, who paid above market for the likes of Bentley, McGinest, offensive tackle Kevin Shaffer, receiver Joe Jurevicius and even punter Dave Zastudil. In some ways, we understand it. The Browns were buying credibility for their program and had to overpay to get players to give them a look. But snapping up free agents as aged as McGinest and nosetackle Ted Washington can be a risky proposition. The payoff might be too slight in the rugged AFC North.
Headline additions: Signed kicker Adam Vinatieri and drafted running back Joseph Addai in the first round.
Offseason vibe: You knew the Tony Dungy-led Colts weren't going to overreact in the wake of their demoralizing playoff meltdown against Pittsburgh, taking a throw-the-baby-out-with-the-bathwater approach to personnel. Edgerrin James and Mike Vanderjagt were given their freedom after many years of productive service, with Vinatieri and Addai smoothly acquired to fill those holes. Indy didn't want to lose linebacker David Thornton and defensive tackle Larry Tripplett but made the necessary tough choices. Taking a cue from the Steelers, the Colts wisely are going to get back to work and keep banging on the door.
Headline additions: Signed cornerback Brian Williams. Drafted tight end Marcedes Lewis and running back Maurice Drew.
Offseason vibe: The Jaguars would be wrong to assume they've arrived among the ranks of perennial playoff qualifiers based on last year's 12-4 success story. Jacksonville often won ugly in 2005, and those kind of results can be difficult to duplicate from year to year. But there's not much the Jaguars had to address this offseason, so why tinker? Jacksonville did need more playmakers on offense, and we like the additions of Lewis and Drew in the draft. If new assistant head coach Mike Tice can make something of ex-Bills offensive tackle Mike Williams, all the better.
Headline additions: Drafted quarterback Vince Young and running back LenDale White in the first two rounds. Signed receiver David Givens, safety Chris Hope and linebacker David Thornton.
Offseason vibe: At first glance, things appear a bit messy in Nashville, what with the Steve McNair lockout fiasco and the organization's Young-versus-Matt Leinart debate in the pre-draft period. But in truth, the Titans have helped themselves quite a bit this offseason, signing three young quality free agents in Givens, Hope and Thornton, and replacing departed center Justin Hartwig with veteran Kevin Mawae. If McNair leaves, Billy Volek can handle things until Young is ready. And despite his many dramas, White could end up being one of the better heists of the 2006 draft.
Headline additions: Hired Gary Kubiak as head coach. Drafted defensive end Mario Williams. Traded for receiver Eric Moulds.
Offseason vibe: Until their controversial No. 1 draft pick starts helping win games with some serious pass rush off the edge, nothing is likely to diffuse the fallout from the Texans passing on both hometown hero Vince Young and Heisman winner Reggie Bush in the draft. It's not the easiest way for Kubiak to cut his head coaching teeth in the NFL, but after a 2-14 season there's really nowhere to go but up. In Houston, improvement has to start with the offensive line. That's why the signing of Mike Flanagan and the drafting of tackles Charles Spencer and Eric Winston might end up being the most pivotal moves of all.
Continued next post....