First off, kudos to Jerry and the boys on an excellent season. Sure the ending was disappointing, but we won the East, beat the snot out of the Eagles--twice, silenced that mess in Washington (good luck, Mr. Shanahan...), and proved we belong in the conversation of the NFL's elite. Given where we were after September, I'll take it. Things are looking GOOD for the foreseeable future!
That said, there's a lot of work to be done to get this team ready for the run towards a home-field Super Bowl in 2011. Here's my to-do list for GM Jerry and his staff:
1. Self-scouting - a couple of things to figure out...
- Jay Ratliff - was it just my perception or did Rat wear down at the end of the season? Didn't seem like he made as many big plays down the stretch, so I'd watch some film to see if this is the case. Of course, it's also possible that he was getting more attention from the o-line, contributing to Spencer's rapid emergence. Either way, back-up NT remains a need--but how big of one depends on an analysis of the last half of Ratliff's season.
- Marcus Spears - how much is this guy worth, and how does that compare to the offers he'll draw on the open market? I'd say he's comparable in value with Olshansky, so I'd offer him the same contract and let him walk if he can get more elsewhere. Bowen and Hatcher can give nearly the same production in their contract-drive years.
- kicker - Suisham isn't the answer, but is Buehler more than a kick-off specialist? (Personally, I'd resign Nick Folk right now and find a good psychologist for him. I hated him this year, but I don't think he's a lost cause.) Anyway, this kicking thing has to be solved--and it might mean bringing in a kicking coach to help out DeCamillis.
2. Strategerie - getting the most out of the guys we've got, particularly the youngsters.
- RED ZONE OFFENSE - I'd mandate that Jason Garrett watch every single red-zone possession of every winning team from 2009, especially the Chargers and Colts. The wildcat is not the answer. Getting the ball to the TEs probably is.
- Kevin Ogletree and the WR rotation. Looks like we know that we have something there, now we need a better plan to get him on the field more often. I'd think long and hard about giving Ogletree most of Crayton's snaps at 3rd WR.
- Martellus Bennett - is that offer of a second-round pick still out there? John Phillips just called and he thinks you should take it! Seriously, did anyone notice a difference when Phillips was in there for Bennett? Marty B will probably be a solid player somewhere, but he's going to be a front-runner, not a tandem guy with Witten. Take that draft pick (whatever you can get) and apply it to the O-Line situation.
- Bobby Carpenter - have him shadow Keith Brooking this offseason (hell, have him move in with the guy!) and you'll be pleasantly surprised with the results come next spring. Bobby showed some signs of life this year and Brooking has what Bobby is missing.
3. Looking for upgrades
- Ken Hamlin - Sorry, but the guy isn't a winner. We can do better, so make it a priority.
- Patrick Crayton, PR and WR - again, not a winner. He's a muffed punt waiting to happen and doesn't have the explosiveness to make the risk worthwhile. FA, Draft, or reality show winner, it's past time to move on. Crayton is the last of the "addition-by-subtraction" guys, and given Ogletree's rise at WR, he's now a progress-stopper as well. Cut him.
- Bradie James - From my spot on the couch, I can't accurately judge Bradie's contributions as captain and signal-caller. But as a football player, I think he's maxed out and much of his success is due to scheme rather than talent. His speed is a liability and his instincts and tackling are nothing special. ILB, as we saw with Brooking, can be a huge impact position, so I'm looking for a big impact guy to replace Mr. James, if not this year then next.
- Andre Gurode - Who you gonna blame for the problems with the O-Line (i.e. lack of power running game, blown assignments, and penalties). Can't blame Kosier--we saw what happened without him last year. Can't really blame Bigg (he'll track you down!). Flo has his own faults, but they don't impact the rest of the line. And before Ray Edwards made him look silly, Colombo was doing just fine (pre-injury, and vs. Eagles). So I'll blame Gurode--not smart enough and not physical enough, mainly. Maybe his replacement can be found in the 2nd-round, or at least someone to push him.
- Hudson Houck - speaking of the O-Line, I had high hopes for Hud's return. But I gotta say I'm disappointed with his inability to get that much beef moving people out of the way for a power run game. Delayed handoffs are great, but not as a primary weapon.
4. Looking for Reinforcements - draft needs and future replacements
- CB - Terrence Newman is NOT a Pro Bowler. He's the most overrated Cowboy of the decade, unless your name is Steve Smith (oh wait, even that's not true anymore thanks to the new Giant #1 WR). This draft needs a #4 CB in the first three rounds, because he's going to be playing sooner rather than later. a #5 and #6 CB gotta come from somewhere as well.
- O-Line - Give me a tackle in round 1 and a center in round 2. Free showed me something, but someone's gotta play opposite him. And the interior needs an upgrade as well.
- punt and kick returner - how can we spend 8 picks on special teamers last draft and still end up with zero good options in the return game? (Felix doesn't count because you need him in the backfield...)
- kicker, ILB, and FS - see above, unless you think that Buehler, Carpenter/J. Williams, and Mike Hamlin will challenge for a starting spot next year.
5. Print out the 2011 playoff tickets (send one to T.O.) and clear some space in the trophy case!
This team is nearly complete--and the experience gained this year is a big piece to the puzzle. A few lineup changes and some re-thinking of strategy (uh, Red Zone Offense?), and the new dynasty is ready to take over the new decade!