Ten Things We Learned: Friday fresh take

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Jul 28, 2011



By Jonathan Comey
Cold, Hard Football Facts Ahab of Analysis
 
Two days have passed since the last Ten Things We Learned and we have been surging through the oceans of free agency with pigskin panache, taking in all of the new NFL signings like a whale gliding open-mouthed through a wave of krill.
 
So here are 10 more things we've learned since Wednesday. You're welcome, Ishmael.
 
1. Houston may no longer have a problem.
The Texans have half of a new secondary in place for 2011, and that's a good thing. They added Cincinnati's Johnathan Joseph and Chicago safety Danieal Manning to their last line of defense Thursday, hoping to finally put some protective armor around their Achilles heel.
 
Fearless leader Kerry J. Byrne has spent much of his offseason telling you just how bad the Texans' secondary is, and these additions should at least help. When you rank third, fourth and third in offensive yards over the last three seasons, as Houston has, you simply can't have a sub-.500 record (23-25).
 
2. The Vikings' trade for Donovan McNabb was a pretty obvious winner.
Vikings fans seemed to greet the news of a McNabb deal with a collective "Oh, I guess that's good," despite the fact that he promises to instantly upgrade their offense.
 
Bad quarterback play almost single-handedly torpedoed Minnesota's 2010 – all three guys, Brett Favre, Tarvaris Jackson and Joe Webb, managed to have passer ratings under 70. In comes McNabb, who had a collective rating in the high 80s over his last five seasons in Philly and showed no clear signs of erosion in 2010 despite a down year.

Judge him by a subpar season in Washington if you must (77.1), but the Vikings might have won two more games in 2010 with McNabb just duplicating his Washington numbers in the purple-and-yellow. Overall, you could do a lot worse than having a No. 1 draft pick on the bench (Christian Ponder) and a calm, smart veteran on the field ... and Minnesota did a lot worse in 2010.
 
3. Green Bay's repeat hopes could hinge on their young Hogs
The Packers have lost a starting guard (Daryn Colledge) and a solid reserve (Jason Spitz) thus far in the silly season. Tackles Mark Tauscher (34, injured last year) and Chad Clifton (35) are no sure things. 
 
The Offensive Hogs were already Green Bay's weakness (tied for 16th in 2010), and it's questionable whether they're getting better. The Packers two studs in guard Josh Sitton and center Scott Wells, but are putting a lot of faith in second-year man Bryan Bulaga and rookie first-round pick Derek Sherrod to protect the league's newest superhero, Aaron Rodgers.

4. At least the Panthers are trying.
It'd be easy to mock Carolina for spending an enormous amount of money to re-sign and retain key guys from a 2-14 team. After all, they had only two more wins than you did, and you're not an NFL team. But DE Charles Johnson and RB DeAngelo Williams were two of the best players on the market, regardless of the team's record. And the trade for Bears TE Greg Olson gives rookie Cam Newton that security blanket that people always say rookie QBs need.

Still, how much will anything the Panthers do this offseason matter? They're in the toughest division in football. Above them: the 2009 Super Bowl champion Saints, the reigning owners of NFC home-field advantage (Atlanta), and a Tampa team that won 10 games last year and has like seven trillion dollars left to spend on the cap. Carolina needs to develop Newton into a star, however it's best to do so, and surrounding him with as much talent as possible is the first step.
 
5. The Saints have assembled the ultimate running back.
Sean Payton has embraced the idea of running back-by-committee, and it's clearly paid dividends. But with the signing of Darren Sproles, he really seems to have put together a Transformers-like super back, capable of any task. Mark Ingram is a tough all-around runner (with a Heisman and a pedigree).
 
Pierre Thomas is a solid do-it-all back that can block and get tough yards (with no pedigree and a chip on his shoulder). And Sproles is a fantastic third-down guy who has blown away Reggie Bush's production over his career. While Sproles was averaging 4.6 yards a carry and 9.6 yards a catch in San Diego, Bush was at 4.0 and 7.3. Can you say upgrade? If all three of them stay healthy – and Ingram lives up to his college potential – the Saints will be scary.

6. Reggie Bush sucks, but ...
Reggie Bush's career numbers are pretty poor, and it's not hard to make a case for him as a pro bust considering his lofty draft position. That said, he makes an awful lot of sense for the Miami Dolphins, who gave up only a deep reserve to get him.

The Dolphins, after finishing 30th in scoring a year ago, need playmakers, and Bush is one. Plus, as much as he didn't seem to contribute much to New Orleans' great success in his five years there, the fact remains that the Saints piled up more yards and the second-most points of any team in the league from 2006-10. At the very least, he makes defenses pay attention, and that's important.
 
7. Arizona's signing of Kevin Kolb defeats the purpose of the new rookie salary structure.
Maybe the biggest shock – outside of New England's Fat Albert/Ochocinco daily double – was the price the Cardinals paid for Kolb, both in terms of what they gave up and the salary they're paying.  They traded a legitimate starting cornerback AND a second-round pick, then gave him a five-year, $63 million contract with $20 million guaranteed.

NFL management railed against the money being paid to top draft picks, saying that they basically had to break the bank for guys (mostly QBs) that hadn't proven anything. Then the Cardinals hand an enormous check to Kolb, who is about as unknown a quantity as your average rookie QB. Is he farther along than a 22-year-old? Sure. But he's also started seven NFL games, four of which he left with passer ratings under 80.
 
8. The Redskins look like a changed organization.
There's not much Mike Shanahan can do about the previous mistakes made in Washington, but the "Mastermind" is doing his best to put his stamp on the new Redskins. While his handling of the quarterback situation is a little strange (John Beck?), there is still time for him to find someone better like Vince Young or Kyle Orton ... or anyone but John Beck.

But the Redskins already had one of their most professional drafts ever, trading down instead of trading up and getting a lot of bodies, and they've made the type of solid moves that build winners through free agency. Defensive end Stephen Bowen and corner Josh Wilson were both strong performers last year, and they join the underrated Barry Cofield on Jim Haslett's remade defense.
 
9. Adam Vinatieri quietly got one step closer to the Pro Football Hall of Fame
During this NFL transaction orgy, a kicker signing a three-year contract is like salad at a Chinese buffet: Not too interesting. But the Colts' re-signing of Vinatieri was significant for those who are hoping to see Canton add another special teams player someday.

Right now, only Jan Stenerud is in the Hall based solely on his kicking, but Vinatieri could get there with three more seasons. He's a four-time Super Bowl winner, owner of some of the most famous kicks of all time, and coming off a season where he converted 77 of his 79 attempts. He's going to pass Stenerud on the all-time scoring list this year, and three more seasons will get him in the top 10 all time – and a shot at immortality.
 
10. There are plenty of impact defensive linemen left.
You could make an argument that, with the exception of Nnamdi Asomugha, the best players left on the table are all Defensive Hogs – Ray Edwards and Shaun Ellis outside, Aubrayo Franklin, Brandon Mebane, and Cullen Jenkins inside. Maybe the depth of the position is keeping them on the market, maybe their price tag is too high. But in a league that values the big beef greatly, there's certainly a lot of it left.
 
As of this second, at least.

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