Really Stunk it Up So Far

IF IT’S A PANTHER, DON’T ANTHER How could it have possibly gotten worse this year for Carolina football fans? Consider: Your answer to replacing fading RB Lamar Smith is fading RB Stephen Davis. Your answer to ongoing QB woes is perpetual backup Jake Delhomme.

Your team grabs TWO offensive linemen with its first two picks, and the biggest talk around town is whether the PUNTER will be re-signed. I’d donate my season tickets to a charity auction if I thought they’d bring anything. They’d better hope soph RB DeShaun Foster comes around and DE Julius Peppers stays healthy, or a return to 1-15 is looking possible.

DESERT STENCH The worst team in the NFL no longer resides in Cincinnati. Arizona Crudinals, how do I pity thee? Let me count the ways: (1) Downgrading from Jake Plummer to Jeff Blake. You don’t think it’s a downgrade? Consider: Could Blake start for Denver? Could Blake start ANYwhere else in the league? See what I mean? (2) “Hi, I used to be Emmitt Smith.” (3) Giving up the 1.06, the 2.05, and the 4.05 to get the 1.17 and 1.18 was bad enough on Draft Day One. They then selected a WR from a college program that doesn’t pass the ball often, along with the first-ever first-round pick from Wake Forest, the losingest team in college football history. They could’ve traded all the way out of the first round and gotten equal talent. (4) Unless the rookie WRs (and summer FAs) are starters this year, Blake will be throwing to Jason McAddley & Kevin Kasper. Horrifying. SAVING GRACE: Selecting underrated Anquan Boldin at 2.22 (will probably be at least as good a pro as 1st-rounder Johnson) and getting a real steal at 3.06 in ILB Gerald Hayes.

RANCID CHEESE Packer backers must have had their faith severely shaken when the first-round choice was named: Nick Barnett, OLB, Oregon St. Hey, I had that guy graded as the SIXTH-best OLB in the draft. They passed up Boss Bailey for Nicky boy? Way, way, way reach. It’s almost as bad a move as reeling in Eric Crouch, the least deserving Heisman winner in recent memory, and giving him a shot at QB. Sure, it don’t cost nothin’, but Wisconsin, this is just embarrassing. Who’s next, Ryan Leaf? Well, at least they punted Terry Glenn to Dallas…..

SPINNING PATRIOTIC WHEELS New England gave up safety Tebucky Jones, freeing some cap space and getting a few picks…..which they promptly wasted. They looked goofy in the 1st round, trading up to get DT Ty Warren, who would’ve been available much later, and used one of their 2nd-rounders on his Texas A&M; teammate, WR Bethel Johnson. (Name any worthwhile wideout to come from that storied program. Go ahead, do some research. I’ll wait.) Finally, after a ground game that was just short of abominable last season, the Patriots have chosen to let it stay as is. This is the result of a weekend that saw the team make several deals, moving up and down within the draft and stockpiling picks for next year. If this offseason is any indication, Bill Belichick may be in the rumor mill by late season to not be around to take advantage of those extra picks in 2004.

THE TARNISHED GARNET & GOLD The Niners have been on the right track for three years in a row…..and let it crumble to dust in three months. The loss of Coach Steve Mariucci and “consultant” Bill Walsh is inestimable.

The NFL re-entry of Dennis Erickson and escalation of Troy Donahue, a couple of fine college coaches, fills these shoes about as well as my little toe would on its own. While the draft garnered a few decent selections (including the almost-Irrelevant steal of QB Ken Dorsey, a good fit in SF), concern over the contracts of their receiving corps overshadows any mildly positive news. Inability to answer contract questions has also broken up a good D-line. At least the 49ers’ FANS won’t join the exodus to Oakland…..will they?

CHAMPS MAKE LIKE CHUMPS Yeah, yeah, so Chucky Baby is a QB guru. Enough already! He’s got two Johnsons, Shaun King, two recently-former Bears QBs, and now he can’t pass up way-overrated Chris Simms?! This is a sickness, Jon. Get help. Call 1-800-DRAFT-RB now. Oops, too late. Oh, and they’ve brought back Jacquez Green. Huh?

Best Offseason Moves So Far

Every year we get to be bigger fans of certain NFL franchises. Offseason moves in drafting, free agency, coaching hires, etc., earn respect around the country. In no particular order, here are my faves in the first fresh post-draft wave of vibes, taking into account that naturally the people involved with the teams know some things we don’t:

BUNGLING BEHIND THEM? It’s gotten old, thinking “this could be the year” for Cincy to stop sucking. But hey, this really COULD be the year, thanks to the convergence of two monumental events: GM Mike “Duh” Brown gave Marvin Lewis his first shot at the big chair and then got out of his way.

That made way for one of the best drafts by any team this year, including the pre-draft signing of QB Carson Palmer (hel-lo, Mr. Brown, did somebody keep you away from the negotiations too?) and stone-cold steals for CIN atop the 2nd, 3rd, & 4th rounds. (For scouting on individual players, see separate lengthy article on the second half of this page.) The only downside for Bungledom this offseason has been the loss of underrated LB Takeo Spikes, just when he got a coach who could take him to the next level.

NORSE WARS IN THE WAR ROOM Yeah, the first-round snafus are comical in Minnesota for the last two drafts. Fortunately, the team can point to results and say it just doesn’t matter, as the 2002 flub (fumbling away DT Ryan Sims to KC) was made up for by this year’s 1.09 pick of DT Kevin Williams, who’s just about as talented. OK, so they should’ve gotten him at 1.07, and there is a good chance of a holdout as they squabble over whether Williams gets 1.07 money or 1.09 money, but let’s move past the fly in the ice cream and look at the cherries on top.

The Vikes got the steal of the draft when LB E.J. Henderson of Maryland fell to them at the 40th overall slot. Folks, this kid has top 10 talent. There’s been concern about a back injury he suffered about 8-9 months ago, but I saw him play in postseason and nobody can doubt he’s 100%. Add two more steals with WR Nate Burleson in the 3rd (could easily be starting in Week One) and RB Onterrio Smith in the 4th (Bennett insurance and likewise could easily drop Moe Williams to RB3) and you have a fine draft. Don’t forget value picks in 6th & 7th, and some decent FA role players picked up. Good job by Mike Tice as he tries to get this club back on the same page with one another.

LION FANS EXCITED There looked like a bigger crowd in Ford Field for the draft than for most of last year’s games. They were definitely more pumped than at any time last season, except perhaps for the home opener.

They must’ve gone home happy, with local hero Charles Rogers staying home and the steal of OLB Boss Bailey atop the 2nd round, not to mention a great pick at 3.02 in Texas DE Cory Redding. Also, while I was proven right to think safety Terrence Holt was overrated in the winter, he’s good value as a 5th-rounder.

But these new Lions are less important than the Mooch, with SF favorite Steve Mariucci taking over for his former QB coach, Marty Mornhinweg. Not only is this an upgrade in personality and experience, it maintains consistency with the complex offense young QB Joey Harrington has been learning. To top it off, DET added FA Shawn Bryson at the RB position, increasing the possibilities to sort through and find an alternative to James Stewart.

SOUTHWESTERN GRILLED TUNA It’s time to stop beating up on Jerry “How’s My Face?” Jones. He did well in last year’s draft, and, with Bill Parcells at his side this year rather than the perpetually lost Dave Campo, built on that experience this season.

He got the best CB in the draft at 1.05, improved a horribly weak center position atop the 2nd, snared two huge steals in the 3rd & 4th at TE and LB, and resisted the temptation to take any RB who wasn’t a clear upgrade over who’s already on the roster. I don’t think this team could’ve done much better at any point this offseason, including the tough decision to part with Emmitt Smith and look to the future.

ARE THE POE RAVENS BACK? Baltimore head coach Brian Billick has earned a bad reputation among football writers for often seeming arrogant and aloof.

He also has a Super Bowl ring, although many would say that’s thanks to Marvin Lewis more than his own coaching abilities. But for right now, let’s give him his due…..although, again, there are those who would say he’s benefitting from the front office genius of Ozzie Newsome.

Perhaps it was Newsome who insisted the Ravens take sliding DE Terrell Suggs over QB Kyle Boller at 1.10, but you bet it was Billick who wouldn’t let it drop. While Boller himself dropped, Newsome worked a deal to bring both on board, giving his coach a stronger arm to work with than current starter Chris Redman. That will make for a QB controversy, which is the downside, of course.

But with Suggs they have a surefire star, and later the Ravens got some nice value with a pair of underrated safeties and a developmental TE, plus they strengthened a weak receiving corps in free agency with veteran Frank Sanders (yes, it’s sad, but he is an upgrade). The Ravens are starting to bounce back.

ADDITION BY SUBTRACTION? Look at the Steelmen as having made their best offseason move by letting Kordell Stewart wash his hands in the Three Rivers on his way out of town. Permanently. No, I’m not a Kordell hater, but it should be clear to anyone with eyes that you can’t trust him as your QB. He’s not ready to give up on being a starter in the NFL, but he’s best off the bench. Get that out of your locker room.

The addition of Jay Riemersma at TE is helpful (if they’ll throw to that position for a change), and a nice but understated draft brings them two terrific defenders in safety Troy Polamalu and DE Alonzo Jackson. Late QB pickup Brian St. Pierre could develop into a nice spot starter as well.