What has turned out to be one of the most active NFL offseasons to date started way back in March, when Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay and future Pro Football Hall of Famer Peyton Manning squared off over a contract deadline. Manning went on a slight tour of teams, with many coming to see him (San Francisco, Miami and Tennessee). The quarterback known as the “sheriff,” though, ultimately settled in Denver. While the transition to a new organization, run by one John Elway, looks good on paper thus far, the son of Archie and brother of Eli, who endured three neck surgeries within a 20-month period, has not taken a hit yet.
The 49ers, coming off a very disappointing loss to the Giants, who went on to win another Super Bowl title, were particularly active this offseason in free agency. They also did well in the draft, making them again the cream of the crop of the NFC West – if quarterback Alex Smith plays within the box and manages the game instead of trying to carry the team. What might be the biggest street free-agent accusation is the signing of Pro Bowl receiver and future Hall of Famer Randy Moss. San Francisco felt he still has some juice left in the tank and should help a young receiving corps, while improving the red-zone offense and keeping opposing secondaries on their toes with that long stride and vertical speed. While father time is knocking at the door, when Moss is on the field, I can’t help but quote the robot from the old TV show “Lost in Space”: “Danger, Will Robinson, danger.”
While the Manning and Moss moves proved interesting from a fan and media standpoint, the Bills’ decision to reward Mario Williams, who struggled in the Houston Texans’ 3-4 defense, with $96 million raised eyebrows. I’m sure he has never seen a four-foot icesicle, let alone a snowblower. Of course, the cash might motivate him both on and off the field.
Rams owner Stan Kroenke has also made a huge statement to the rest of the NFC West – and the league as a whole – with the hiring of coach Jeff Fisher. Along with Fisher, a new general manager came to the Show-Me State – Les Snead, late of the Atlanta Falcons. Teamed up with chief operating officer Kevin Demoff, Kroenke has a three-headed monster in place for years to come. Not only did this team get younger, faster and more athletic during the offseason, it added key pieces on defense that will set the tone early and often when it comes to physical mentality. Cornerback Cortland Finnegan, who is familiar with Fisher’s coaching methodology and direction, will help set the tone starting in training camp. This will give this young team a spark, which may work into a very contagious and out-of-control (for opponents) bonfire.
The Seattle Seahawks made a big reach for a signal-caller with very limited game reps and production, rolling the dice on free-agent quarterback Matt Flynn. The former Green Bay Packer might turn out to be a great No. 1 favor, but for now, the odds don’t look favorable on paper. I loved the fact they drafted Wisconsin’s Russell Wilson, my fourth-highest graded quarterback in the 2012 draft behind Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Ryan Tannehill. The only negative I could find on this young man was his height. Flynn will have his hands full in a training camp competition against this star in the making.
In Chicago, Brandon Marshall and Jay Cutler reunite for the first time since their days as Denver Bronco teammates. And, of course, I can’t leave out the drama in New York, specifically the arrival of Tim Tebow in a trade from Denver to the Jets. New offensive coordinator Tony Sparano, who was fired by the Miami Dolphins and hired by the Jets, aims to give Tebow at least 20 touches per game. Teammates and coach Rex Ryan have already warded off rumors of a quarterback controversy, and incumbent starter Mark Sanchez has shrugged off the rampant speculation for now.
With the holdout of New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, Jacksonville Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew and the unhappy camper that is Minnesota Vikings utility man Percy Harvin, there will be plenty of other things to talk about before training camp, which opens in six weeks. Let the countdown begin.