Monday, February 13, 2006

NFC East Speculation for 2006

I predict that the NFC East will be much tougher next season. The division boasts a stellar cast of head coaches. Stability in leadership and schemes translates into refinement of strategy and execution. In 2006, the NFC East play teams from the NFC and the AFC South. The East as a whole features rugged defenses. They will need it when facing the likes of the Colts, Jaguars, Falcons and Panthers. Look for sharp competitiveness within the division and the for East to emerge as the beasts that dominate the NFL postseason as they did in the 80s and 90s.

NEW YORK: Little Eli will have another season under his belt and should cut down on mistakes. The experience alone should provide for a 25% boost in the Giants' passing efficiency. The Giants have a good linebacker group, led by "our" guy, Antonio Pierce. The Giant secondary got better through the season. Theirs was a "bend but don't break" type defense; disruptive without being overpowering. They need another receiver to balance Plaxico Burress. Armani Toomer's stellar career is near done from what I see. They will compete for a receiver with the Redskins on the free agent market. Tiki Barber is the best running back in the division. He, not Eli Manning, is the key to making that offense work.

PHILADELPHIA: The Eagles were a playoff caliber team through 2004. Donovan McNabb made them so. They were a Super Bowl team with McNabb and Terrell Owens and team unity. Faced with the reality of getting nothing in return for dropping him, the Eagles may lose the emotion and make a hard core business decision: they will not drop or trade Owens if they get no value in return. For Terrible Owens, there is no better way to rehabilitate his reputation than by playing well -- for Philadelphia.

Owens will not improve his contract by leaving, as he and his agent are now learning. He is unlikely to play any other team with a top three quarterback, as he has with Philadelphia. Is the guy who savaged Jeff Garcia, rejected Kyle Bollar and disparaged Donovan McNabb going to be happy with Jake Plummer or Chris Simms? I don't think so. But, Coach Shanahan took a risk on Maurice Clarrett, and may take a shot with Owens, but this is very risky. Owens reputation for disrupting team cohesion was built on the experience of two teams (three, if you count Baltimore).

Eagles GM Tom Heckert seems resigned to kissing Owens off. He flatly said he would not bring Owens on board if he could do it over again, adding "He's going to end up somewhere. No one has ever questioned that he is a great, great football player. I think some teams are willing to overlook some things. It might work out somewhere else for him. It didn't work out here for whatever reason and if it works out for T.O., I'm happy for him."

However, the contract for Owens' services is an asset. Businessmen do not write off an asset 100%. They want something -- anything -- in return. Their best shot of recovering something is to put Owens in a green jersey, have him play well and trade him in 2007. Preposterous, you say? No more than Ricky Williams, whose abrupt "retirement" in 2004 doomed the Dolphins season before it began. Williams did not walk away on the high ground as Barry Sanders did with the Lions. Williams freely admitted that he was a pothead, had been caught before as a pothead and wanted to remain a pothead. Yet Nick Saban found a way to recover Williams the asset and play him in in 2005 (743 yards, 4.4 yards ave., 6 TDs). The Eagles could cut Owens in March rather than pay him a roster bonus. Owens just might decide that kissing Donovan McNabb's butt is a small price for his $6 Million roster bonus(I know I would). I say it's 50-50 Owens stays with the Eagles. I'm not predicting this, but neither would I be surprised if it happens! If Owens signs a new contract elsewhere, he should consult the career advice offered by Master4Caster.

Owens remaining an Eagle does not solve all problems. Donovan McNabb's interview before the Super Bowl exposed deep wounds and deeper fissures in the Eagle locker room. That has to be resolved before any of this works. That calls for a Dr. Phil more than Coach Reid. The emotional Owens brings huge risks with the Eagles, Broncos, or whomever he's with, to go along with plenty of upside.

The future without Owens could be grim. The Eagles have not performed well on the ground since they let Duce Staley go. Owens made up for a weak receiver corps. There is no one of note after Alan Pinkston, although Reggie Brown showed promise at the end of last season.

DALLAS: The Cowboys have the biggest challenge only because O-line issues are the hardest to fix. The return of a healthy Flozell "the Hotel" Adams, a MSU Spartan, solves half their problem. When Drew Bledsoe has time, he makes few mistakes and good decisions; just what the doctor ordered for a young team. Apart from Keyshawn Johnson, who is a decent possession receiver, The 'boys are thin. Yet, they managed to score points at critical times (fortunately, not against the Redskins) and dominate possession (average 32:24 per game). If they can coach up those young tackles, they could easily win 9 games.

WASHINGTON: The Redskins' approach to 2006 is to invest in coaches. I think that's smart. Most of the other pieces are in place already. The O-line is almost good enough to earn the name "Hogs." David Patten returns; at least he draws double coverage. They have young rushing talent to back up Clinton Portis. We don't need to talk about the D, except to say we are better off with Arrington on the roster. But mostly they have team continuity in staff and players. They have to make better use of who they have.

Gibbs didn't play fantasy football (play the name game) last season. He did his homework and thought about the attributes he wanted in role players. Then he got guys everybody else overlooked. What did YOU think when you heard he signed Santana Moss and Mark Brunell? I believe he and Al Saunders will do the same and come up with the right cogs to fill the holes. Chances are, it won't be anyone that anyone expects.

Barring injury, I say the Giants and Redskins could win 10-11 games next season. Philly could be in that group with McNabb and Owens, or, the spillover from last season could drag them to 6 or 7 wins. Dallas' prospects depend on how well they upgrade protection for Drew Bledsoe.

The new contract year begins in March. The draft is in the Spring. It's time for the games between the season and that's just as interesting as the game itself. (Wow, did I say that? How soon before training camp?)


Anonymous said...

Your analysis of the Eagles situation on TO is interesting. A number of teams and their fans are now anxiously awaiting his release. Several smart business communities understand the economic impacts TO will have for them in terms of bringing people to their city and generating money and jobs in the hotel, restaurant and entertainment industries.

After the Super Bowl, a couple of million dollars to TO would have avoided all of this! The risk assessment should have been done then.

Now it is too late. We are sick of the drama there. For the good of the NFL and the national psyche, he must go. We don't want to go through it anymore and it would be irresponsible of the Eagles to take us to Part II of the Saga.

They need to find someone else. The moral of this story for the Eagles is "don't be pennywise and pound foolish". Pay your people, especially when they do exceptional things."

Master4Caster said...

A perspective from an Iggles fan .... Thanks. And, you are right. A few extra bucks after the Super Bowl - when Owens richly deserved it - coulda/woulda helped. But then we all would have missed out on all that drama. What would an aspiring blogger have found to write about?

Anonymous said...

With no CBA, the Redskins better be more concerned about keeping players than investing in coaches. $95M cap? Let the blood-letting begin ...

Master4Caster said...

Don't worry about the Redskins. They will do just fine. If there's no CBA, and that's a big "IF," the Skins will do just fine. In fact, the roster disruption resulting from failure to renew the CBA will put a premium on coaching. Like college basketball, it's coaches who will provide contiuity.