* I am not going to cover Bountygate. There is way too much insanity with that subject right now. I'll stick to football.
* The Washington Redskins are excited by the arrival of Robert Griffin III. He is their first true franchise quarterback in a while. They spent a first round pick on Jason Campbell in 2005 and he had some solid years, but never turned out to be the star they hoped. You can go back to 2002, when they drafted Patrick Ramsey. He was less successful than Campbell, but I felt the Skins gave up on him prematurely. If you go all the way back to 1994, that's the last time they spent a top five pick on a quarterback. Heath Shuler had been a big star at Tennessee (the predecessor to some guy named Manning), but he was a disaster in the NFL.
The very fact that the Skins have spent four first round picks on quarterbacks in the last 18 years should tell you what a problem the position has been for them. Oddly, it isn't a case of the quarterbacks falling to terrible coaches and being a victim of playing for some defensive-minded guy who has no patience for development. Shuler was drafted by Norv Turner. Ask Troy Aikman and Phillip Rivers if he can coach. Ramsey was drafted by Steve Spurrier. The NFL wasn't a good fit for Spurrier, but he still knows how to develop talented passers when he gets them. Campbell was drafted by Joe Gibbs. He is an offensive guru in his own right, although his specialty is the running game. There were no Mike Ditkas or Buddy Ryans ruining these young quarterbacks.
Now the Skins hand RG3 over to Mike Shanahan. Team history isn't encouraging, but if Shanahan follows his personal history, they could be a lethal duo. Shanahan was great with Steve Young and John Elway. He started well with Jay Cutler. He had some success with Brian Griese. RG3 has the kind of raw talent and skill set to thrive in Shanahan's system. The question is if he can take Shanahan's coaching. The Skins did get him some weapons to work with. Can they protect him? The offensive line isn't going to be confused with The Hogs anytime soon.
Some wonder if RG3 can have the kind of rookie year that Cam Newton did for the Panthers. No. Go watch the Panthers games. Offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski built the offense around Newton. They ran trick plays. They ran the option. They fed the ball to a pair of talented running backs. Newton threw for 4,051 yards. More than a third of that came on passes to Steve Smith (79-1,394). The Skins have some talented pass catchers, but no one who is in the same class as Smith. Newton could force the ball to Smith and the two of them were special enough for those plays to work. Does anyone think Pierre Garcon, Santana Moss, or Josh Morgan is going to have a year like Smith did? You can argue that the Skins have a better group of receivers than Newton did last year. The problem there is that young guys don't spread the ball around. They lock onto a primary target and force him the ball.
I think RG3 can be a big time NFL star, but I don't see him playing like Cam Newton did last season. RG3 will be more like other rookies. He'll make some amazing plays and he'll make some amazingly dumb mistakes. I don't know if his talent will be enough for the Skins to have a winning year, but they have something that has been missing for a while...hope.
* Things are quiet with the Giants. I would appreciate it if Eli Manning and Jason Pierre-Paul would have the common courtesy to hold out and give us some hope that the Giants would implode due to internal strife. Right now the team is happier than the friggin' Brady Bunch and that's just boring.
The one fun angle so far has been the poor showing of tight end Martellus Bennett. They signed him away from Dallas, but I didn't understand why. He was an out of shape underachiever for the Boys. Why would he be any different in New York? He showed up at 291 pounds and has not impressed his coaches at all. The Giants are a smart, well-run organization, but this is a move that never made any sense to me.
* Things are somewhat quiet in Dallas. It feels like there have been some controversies that just weren't compelling enough to actually get going. That might be a good sign for the team, but a bad one for Jerry Jones. The team is better off when things are quiet. Jones is attention-obsessed so it has to drive him a bit crazy when Dallas is on the back burner of NFL news.
The defense added Brodney Pool, Brandon Carr, and Morris Claiborne to improve the secondary. That's a serious talent infusion. Carr is a high quality corner. Dallas needed him. Claiborne has tons of talent, but is a rookie and must prove himself. I think he'll be a star, but playing in the Dallas scheme and against NFL quarterbacks will lead to some bumps in the road. Pool is a guy the Jets wanted to upgrade so adding him as your starter doesn't make you feel great. There just weren't great safety options in free agency or the draft this year.
The Dallas offense could be great this year. They need to keep receivers Miles Austin and Dez Bryant healthy. Their backups are not a who's who of NFL talent. Laurent Robinson was great last year when he had to fill in for them. The one question I have is the offensive line. I'm fine with them switching the tackles. Doug Free was really good on the right side in the past. Tryon Smith has elite talent and can play on the left side. He just has to adjust and learn the subtleties of the position.
The interior of the line is the mystery area. Phil Costa struggled last year at center. I'm surprised they didn't bring in quality competition for him. Nate Livings is the new left guard. He's big and was a solid starter for the Bengals for the past two years. The other guard spot will be manned by free agent signee Mackenzy Bernadeau. He comes over from the Panthers. I wonder if these guys are the true answer or if this is another case of Dallas trying to look smart by signing a players off the beaten path. Would it not have made more sense to go get Carl Nicks or Ben Grubbs and have one star guard to help the other young guys on the line? Dallas may have made the right call and added the right guys, but there is risk when you take "solid" players from other teams and expect them to help solve a problem area on your team.
* One NFC team I'm really curious about is the Atlanta Falcons. They have had four straight winning seasons. They average 11 wins a year in that stretch. They still haven't won in the playoffs and the games have gotten progressively worse. Losing 24-2 at the Giants was a terrible way to end the season. We've all heard about the Super Bowl hangover. Could there be something like that for the playoff losses?
The Falcons have two new coordinators. Middle linebacker Curtis Lofton, the leader on defense, is gone. Michael Turner, the workhorse running back, is on the decline in a big way. You look at his overall numbers and they look fine, but check out his game logs. He was 10-100 in the season opener and 17-172 in the season finale. Aside from those flukes, he averaged 3.9 yards per carry. He really struggled in the second half of the year. You might wonder why I'm so dismissive of the big games. The season finale was against Tampa and it literally looked as though the Bucs didn't care if they tackled him or not. Their defense was shamefully bad. In the previous five weeks combined, Turner had run for 280 yards. He averaged 3.3 yard per carry in those games. In the playoff game he was 15-43 (2.7 yards per carry).
Can the Falcons replace Turner if he is truly down? Jacquizz Rodgers is his primary backup. I just don't know if he's meant to be a workhorse runner in the NFL. He did look like a quality role player last year. Can the Falcons replace Curtis Lofton? They signed Lofa Tatupu and expect him and Akeem Dent to fight for the job. Tatupu was a bad player in 2010 and then sat out all of last year. Maybe the rest did him good, but I have a hard time believing his legs are back. He's just one of those guys who seemed to get old in a hurry.
The new coordinators could turn out to be a great move. I'm not sure coaching was the big issue in the last two playoff disasters, but it probably didn't help things. I think Atlanta must be more aggressive. I always get the vibe they are playing not to lose rather than to win. That mentality cost Marty Schottenheimer's teams over the years. The formula works well in the regular season, but not in the playoffs.
* Percy Harvin reportedly wants to be traded by the Vikings. They can't do it. He's their lone playmaking receiver. If some team offered fair compensation, okay, but I can't see any team paying a fair price. Harvin has too much baggage.
* 2012 will be an interesting year for the Seahawks. Can they take the next step from being overachievers to a flat out good team? Pete Carroll only has one 10-win season in his six years in the NFL. Getting teams to the next level isn't his specialty. We'll see if the Seahawks are different. They need better quarterback play. Is Matt Flynn the answer? What about Russell Wilson?
* It seems to me that the Buffalo Bills could be a team to watch. They got off to a hot start, but then fell apart. We didn't know it at the time, but that was largely due to Ryan Fitzpatrick suffering an injury. He's healthy now and has a good set of weapons. The defense should be improved with Dave Wannstedt at the helm. The personnel fits his 4-3 scheme better than the 3-4 they played last year. The Dolphins are a mess and the Jets are a major puzzle. The Bills could finish second in the division if they can just stay healthy.
* Houston finally broke through last year and made it to the playoffs. They won the AFC South and made a nice run in the postseason. Things weren't so great this offseason. The team had to let some key veterans players go and you wonder how that will affect them. One of the Texans strengths was their unity. They played like a true team. There was no Jets drama in that locker room. When injuries struck, the Texans didn't go looking for outside help. They lived by the old phrase "next man up". Was 2011 the anomaly because a lot of little things went right or is this now a good team that can overcome whatever it has to? I believe in that defense. They were great last year and could be just as good this season. J.J. Watt looks like a special player.
* If the Chargers don't win the AFC West, this might be the end for Norv Turner. They went 8-8 last year, despite having the best quarterback in the division and just as much talent as the other teams (if not more). Phillip Rivers is in his prime. 8-8 isn't good enough. Turner has been the coach for four years. The team went 8-8 twice and 9-7 another year. They did go 13-3 in 2009. That means that Turner has gotten them to play up to their true talent once. He better deliver this year or I can't see how they would bring him back.
* The Panthers drafted Luke Kuechly and the initial plan was to put him at weakside linebacker and leave Jon Beason in the middle. It sounds like Carolina is now thinking that Beason should move. One potential reason for this is the presence of Thomas Davis. He and Beason are both coming off injuries. If you put Kuechly in the middle, that's a spot he knows best and can thrive. Beason goes outside. If he gets hurt, Davis can replace him. Both of them have started on the outside. If you project Beason to the middle and then he gets hurt, you slide Kuechly inside and Davis takes over for him outside. By just putting Beason outside to begin with, you avoid the potential shuffle. You also let your stud rookie start in a position where he's most comfortable and that should ease his transition to the pro game.