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Rams make second best off-season moves
Street & Smith's Top 10 NFL Offseason Moves
By Steve Silverman
Reunited, Parcells has his man Bledsoe at the helm
Who else has made the right moves?
With the start of training camp and the completion of the 2005 NFL Draft, it?s time to look at some of the most important moves of the offseason. After considering hirings, firings, free-agent signings and draft choices, here are Street & Smith?s Top 10 offseason moves in the NFL.
1. Drew Bledsoe signed by the Dallas Cowboys
There?s significant pressure in Dallas for coach Bill Parcells to turn this team around. Not that there wasn?t before, but as Parcells enters his third season in partnership with owner Jerry Jones, nothing but success will be tolerated.
The Cowboys slipped to 6-10 last season and the idea of going to war with Drew Henson or ancient Vinny Testaverde behind center did not appeal to Parcells. As a result, the Cowboys signed Bledsoe to a three-year, $14 million deal.
The combination of Bledsoe and Parcells was successful in New England. While they were known for some tempestuous and public sideline battles, the Patriots won the AFC Championship Game in 1996 before losing to the Packers in Super Bowl XXXI.
Bledsoe got off to a terrible start with the Bills last year, but did much better in the second half of the season. He ended up completing 256 of 450 passes for 2,932 yards with 20 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. At 33, Bledsoe is hungry to show the NFL that he?s not over the hill and is capable of leading a team to a title.
?I?m not here just to renew acquaintances or to give the media a good story,? Bledsoe said. ?My goal remains the same?to win a title. I?m going to do everything I can to get the Cowboys back to the postseason.?
2. Linebackers Chris Claiborne and Dexter Coakley signed by the St. Louis Rams
The Rams defense let the team down throughout the season and was particularly poor against the run (29th in the league). By picking up Claiborne from the Vikings and Coakley from the Cowboys, they likely have immediately helped themselves.
Claiborne is a big hitter who moves well, while Coakley is one of the fastest linebackers in the game. As they get familiar with each other and defensive coordinator Larry Marmie?s scheme, the Rams could go from defensive sieves to a punishing unit that excels against the run. Claiborne had 56 tackles, an interception, a sack and a fumble recovery last year for Minnesota, while Coakley had 71 tackles and five passes deflected for Dallas in 2004. Both also bring the kind of nasty attitude that has been missing from the St. Louis defense since Lovie Smith left to coach the Bears in 2004.
If coach Mike Martz sticks to offense and doesn?t muck up Marmie?s defense, the Rams could see significant improvement in 2005.
3. Romeo Crennel becomes head coach of the Cleveland Browns
After winning a third Super Bowl in four years as defensive coordinator of the Patriots, Crennel became the hot name on the list of head coaching candidates a year ago. Crennel has learned from two of the best in New England coach Bill Belichick and Parcells, and he appears to be ready to run his own NFL team.
If he can turn the Browns around, Crennel should be considered one of the better coaches in the league. Former Browns coach Butch Davis left this team in shambles. His divisive coaching style?Davis left his players and assistant coaches questioning their overall worth in an attempt to motivate?was a failure. The Browns rarely played well in 2004 (when they went 4-12) and the lack of effort in the second half of the season was startling.
Crennel will be a decisive leader. Instead of berating players like Davis, the new Browns coach will simply get rid of people who are not performing. He will build a strong defense and revamp the offense through the acquisition of hard-nosed players like offensive linemen Joe Andruzzi (New England) and Cosey Coleman (Tampa Bay) and running back Reuben Droughns (Denver), who all will ensure that this team plays for 60 minutes.
?It?s one thing to get the job; it?s quite another to succeed,? Crennel said. ?I?m not happy just to be here. I?ve come from a successful organization and that?s what we have to build here. It will get done.?
4. Randy Moss traded to the Oakland Raiders
When Moss walked off the field with a few seconds remaining in a regular-season loss at Washington and then held his head in his hands in the postseason loss at Philadelphia a few weeks later, the Vikings had seen enough. Moss was causing more trouble and was the source of more problems than he was worth.
Even though he is arguably the most dangerous receiver in the game ?although Terrell Owens, Torry Holt and Marvin Harrison are among those who can make an argument?the Vikings decided to upgrade their team attitude and their defense by trading Moss to Oakland for determined LB Napoleon Harris and the seventh overall pick in the 2004 draft, who turned out to be receiver Troy Williamson from South Carolina.
The new environment should work wonders for Moss. He goes to a team that has enjoyed resurrecting castoffs from other teams for decades and Moss has had seven oft-brilliant seasons. Even though he caught only 49 passes in 2004, 13 of them were for touchdowns. Look for Raiders quarterback Kerry Collins to get the ball to Moss early and often.
Moss will be ready. He called the trade by the Vikings ?a slap in the face? and should be ready to show the Raiders his best side?at least in 2005.
5. Cornerback Duane Starks signed by the New England Patriots
The never-stagnant Patriots made some major moves in the offseason once again. Losing coordinators Charlie Weis (Notre Dame) and Romeo Crennel (Cleveland) hurt badly and Belichick also cut former All-Pro CB Ty Law.
As a result, he knew the team had to add to its secondary, and they picked up Starks to fill in for Law. Starks had been with the moribund Cardinals, but before that he had held a vital spot in the Ravens secondary, so he knows what it?s like to play for a successful and high-powered defense.
Starks had three interceptions and nine passes deflected for Arizona last year, but he will try to play like he did in the 2000 season, when he had six picks and defended 17 passes. Starks excels at setting up receivers to make them look like they are open and then swoop in and pick off a pass. If he stays healthy, the Pats should have another veteran gem on their side.
6. WR Derrick Mason signed by the Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens remain one of the most consistent teams in football. While their performance has never matched their Super Bowl run following the 2000 season, their reputation as a defensive oriented team has remained the same. While Ray Lewis & Co. play some nasty and physical football, the reputation remains largely because the offense has been so inept.
Coach Brian Billick has finally grown tired of waiting for Travis Taylor to turn into a clutch receiver, so he went out and signed Mason away from the Titans in free agency. Mason may not get his share of publicity, but he was the leading receiver among AFC wideouts last year. He caught 96 passes for 1,168 yards and seven touchdowns and was consistent even though Titans QB Steve McNair was injured much of the year, which led to backup Billy Volek becoming the starter.
Mason will always get open, something he has done throughout his career. But he has also become a big-play wideout?something that has definitely been lacking since Billick has been the coach in Baltimore.
7. LB Kendrell Bell signed by the Kansas City Chiefs
Weepy Chiefs coach Dick Vermeil is tired of watching a first-rate offense be overshadowed by a third-rate defense.
The Chiefs have been abused on the defensive side of the ball for the past three seasons and bringing CB Patrick Surtain (Miami), safety Sammy Knight (Miami) and Bell (Pittsburgh) into the fold, and adding Texas LB Derrick Johnson in the 2005 draft could turn that around.
Of those moves, Bell?s signing should provide the biggest impact. In addition to being one of the nastiest tacklers in the league, Bell will provide verbal leadership in the locker room and won?t allow the Chiefs to shrink on defense without enduring his wrath.
Injuries limited Bell to three games in 2004, but he had 99 tackles and five sacks in 2003. If Bell stays healthy in 2005, he has a chance to lead a Kansas City defensive turnaround that Vermeil has been desperate to see.
8. RB Cedric Benson drafted by the Chicago Bears
The Bears finished 32nd?dead last?in the league in eight key offensive categories last year and were far and away the worst offensive team in football.
Second-year head coach Lovie Smith dumped offensive coordinator Terry Shea and brought in former Illinois head coach Ron Turner to revitalize the offense. Turner had been the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for the Bears between 1993-96, where in 1995 Bears QB Erik Kramer set an all-time team record for passing yards (3,838).
So, how will Benson help the passing game? Turner believes that a credible running threat will take pressure off QB Rex Grossman and the WR crew. Benson ran for 1,834 yards and 19 touchdowns last year at Texas and will get 20-25 carries a game for the Bears. He has been successful since his first carries in high school all the way through his collegiate career, and the Bears expect the same from him in his rookie season. He could be an early rookie of the year candidate.
9. Alex Smith drafted No. 1 by the San Francisco *****
After several weeks of subterfuge, the Niners used their No. 1 pick to select Alex Smith. The Utah quarterback turned out to be one of those athletes who looked better as the scrutiny intensified.
While some thought he was just a product of Urban Meyer?s system at Utah?nearly every snap came out of the shotgun and he often rolled out of the pocket before throwing?his overall skill set left a lasting impression on San Francisco rookie head coach Mike Nolan and the *****? scouts.
Smith?s college numbers were unbelievable last year. He completed 214 of 317 passes for 2,952 yards with a 32/4 TD-interception ratio. Smith also ran for 631 yards and 10 touchdowns, averaging 4.7 yards per carry.
Ultimately, Smith?s college numbers will end up in the scrapbook and the measure of his career will be determined by his career with the *****. The reason he should be successful is his quickness and intelligence. Smith put it extremely well just a few days before the draft. ?The thing that separates me from the rest of the competition is that six or seven times a game the play will break down,? Smith said. ?I can make things happen in those situations.?
That?s what Nolan is counting on.
10. QB Kurt Warner signed by the Arizona Cardinals
Cardinals coach Dennis Green had nothing but success at the quarterback position when he was coaching the Vikings. Brad Johnson, Jeff George, Warren Moon and Daunte Culpepper all prospered under his tutelage, and Green knows that success at the QB position is vital if he wants to turn around the Cardinals. And simply put, the combination of Josh McCown and Shaun King didn?t make it happen for the Cardinals a year ago.
As a result, Green reached out for Warner, who was cast aside by the Giants when they decided to give Eli Manning an opportunity last year. It?s difficult to be certain that Warner has much left, because he has struggled since the St. Louis Rams? Super Bowl loss to New England in the 2001 season, but Green believes there?s enough magic in Warner?s arm to get the Cardinals on track in the weak NFC West?at least for one season.
Warner is not a long-term solution in the desert, but he could very well be a decent answer in 2005.