Curran: Nine interesting developments to watch in the NFL
1. T.O.'s Great Northern Adventure
Let's see, what if the NFL's neediest player were to go to a place that has A) a coach on the ropes, B) an inconsistent young quarterback and C) a media market that's so pedestrian the franchise continues to pitch woo at Toronto. That's exactly the kind of stability Terrell Owens has shown he flourishes in. Oh, there will no doubt be plenty of times this summer and even next season where the Buffalo Bills acquisition of T.O. looks like a masterstroke. He'll fill notebooks and air time, say the right things and maybe even show up at a charity event in Cheektowaga or Tonawanda. But then, inevitably, he won't get the ball enough or where he likes it or somebody else will have too many catches and he'll rip the Bills apart from the inside out. Have fun with that.
2. New Coach Hurts Cutler's Feelings
So many things for a first-time head coach in the NFL to worry about. Dealing with the salary cap. Hiring a staff. Inputting a new scheme and philosophy. Who knew Josh McDaniels would have to worry about the tender feelings of a 25-year-old employee whose teams in Denver have gone 17-20 when he's the starter (major improvement over the teams at Vanderbilt, which went 9-25)? But the cat got out of the bag and Cutler found out his name actually came up in trade discussions. In other words, the kid from Santa Claus, Indiana found out there really wasn't a Santa Claus in the NFL. And it hurt. A lot. So now he won't come out of his room and, along with all his stuffed animals, is plotting revenge against Mean Mr. Coach-Man!
3. Houshmandzadeh. Write it down. Championship.
Tough times in Seattle. Their figurehead coach has called it a career. The franchise quarterback is soon to be 34 and has a bad back. The MVP running back has been gone for a while. And, suddenly, it's just a bunch of so-so players that nobody thinks much about. So with their relevance hanging in the balance, the Seahawks tried to augment their offense with receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh. He would appear to be a dubious cure-all. At least we'll now find out if the terrific reception totals Houshmandzadeh amassed in Cincy were attributable to him alone or whether the presence of Chad Johnson led to his Housh's production. Because Deion Branch is a nice receiver, but he is no Chad Johnson. And a complement of Matt Hasselbeck, Deion Branch and T.J. Housmandzadeh is not exactly an A-list arrangement.
4. Cassel Goes From Scrub to Franchise Centerpiece
Matt Cassel barely made the Patriots last year. He was so sketchy, the team was ready to run veteran free agents through during Week 1 to see if they'd be better equipped to back up Tom Brady. Then Brady got hurt, Cassel had the crown crammed on his head and - surprise! - he became a very good starter. Rendered expendable by the rehabbing Brady, Cassel was franchised then dealt to the Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs got him for a song, sending the 34th overall pick for Cassel AND linebacker Mike Vrabel. Now, with the third pick in April's draft, a new head coach, a new GM and a new vibe, can Cassel hold up his end of the bargain?
5. The Patriots Plus-Minus
Let's see, New England lost its offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, genius GM Scott Pioli, underrated special teams coach Brad Seely, defensive assistant Dom Capers and tight ends coach Pete Mangurian. On the field, it lost backup quarterback Matt Cassel, versatile linebacker Mike Vrabel, backup running backs LaMont Jordan and Heath Evans and No. 3 wideout Jabar Gaffney. The Pats have added corners Leigh Bodden and Shawn Springs, running back Fred Taylor, wideout Greg Lewis, tight end Chris Baker and linebacker Tully Banta-Cain (along with personnel guru Floyd Reese and assorted other personnel and coaching staff replacements). Are they better or worse? Ummm. Better. Tom Brady's coming back.
6. Giants Quietly Reload
The 2007 Super Bowl champions are suddenly a bit pass. The chaotic Cowboys, spendthrift Redskins, resurgent Eagles and stunning Cardinals bumped the Jints off the main stage. But that's OK. In this offseason, they quietly sewed up Brandon Jacobs for the salad days of his career, they snag linebacker Michael Boley and defensive linemen Rocky Bern ard and Chris Canty in free agency. Meanwhile, this is a defense that will be getting its Osi back in 2009. The Plaxico Burress distraction seems to have been allayed and Jerry Reese has shown himself to be an adept drafter. On paper, the best team in the NFC right now is the Giants.
7. Cowboys Getting Sensible
The Cowboys have jettisoned a couple of cartoons - Terrell Owens and Adam "The Pacman" Jones and one safety with cartoonish cover skills, Roy Williams. They've added old pros like linebacker Keith Brooking and backup quarterback Jon Kitna (their expected level of contribution is debatable), safety Gerald Sensabaugh and defensive tackle Igor Olshansky. One can easily make a case that the Cowboys are less talented without T.O. (and defensive lineman Chris Canty, who signed with the Giants) but they are going to be less.dramatic. And that's going to be a plus for them.
8. Superstars Stay Put
Kurt Warner had a week of drama. And wound up back with the Arizona Cardinals as everyone expected. Ray Lewis tried to play footsie with anyone who'd have him. And wound up back with the Ravens. LaDainian Tomlinson got put through the renegotiation wringer. But ultimately, he wound up back with the San Diego Chargers. In other words, the handwringing and breathless reportage about where they might land was misplaced. These were the stories that really weren't in the early part of this free agent season.
9. How Does Albert's Money Impact The Rest
So, after being relatively quiet in free agency in 2008, the Washington Redskins did what they do in 2009 and whipped a massive, market-busting deal at defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth. One wonders, if Haynesworth is worth a seven-year, $100 million deal with $41 million guaranteed, what will Tom Brady be worth when his modest six-year, $60 million deal with $26 million guaranteed expires after 2010? Or, for that matter, Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers if he ever extracts himself from franchise-tag hell in Carolina? The landscape's different at the top and the NFL's superstars are going to draft off of Albert in the not-too-distant future.