Although training camp and off season activities are looming for all 32 NFL teams, it is never too early to speculate on positional battles and the repercussions of all off season roster shakeups.
Based on who is currently under contract, some teams already appear as if they will field a more competitive 53 man roster than others. Teams like the Ravens and the Jets have seemingly only improved upon their playoff-worthy rosters of last year. Less fortunate franchises like the Bills and – well…I guess it's not very fair to other teams to compare them to the Bills – have done pretty much squadoosh in improving upon their mix-and-match roster of last year. Also, don't forget the perennial contenders in the Colts, the improving young roster of the Packers and of course, the defending champion Saints.
The NFL off season is where the stage is set to actually compete for the Lombardi trophy. Although NFL championships aren't won in the summer, it is clear that some teams are more prepared than others. Below are three pressing questions that must be answered by the time the season kicks off.
Green Bay Packers – Who Will Fill Aaron Kampman's Shoes?
The Packers were one overtime flag away from advancing in last year's playoffs, and could potentially return a large majority of last year's starters from a young, talented roster. Peter King of Sports Illustrated has already listed the Pack as the team to beat next year, but don't redirect that mortgage check to Bodog just yet. This is the same Peter King that put his money on the Bears last season – Jay Cutler promptly rewarded that effort by throwing a league high 26 interceptions. King's sentiments mean nothing more than a testament to the roster that Ted Thompson has assembled over the past few years.
The Pack's one major roster loss, Aaron Kampman, has been a Packer fan favorite for years. Unfortunately for Packer fans, his wish to play in a 4-3 defensive alignment led him to depart Green Bay for Jacksonville. Although Kampman was never a good fit playing outside linebacker in the 3-4, he only had 9 games to prove it last year before going down with a pretty vicious knee injury. Brad Jones, a rookie 7th round draft choice, was forced to fill Kampman's shoes. Although Jones played decently to close the season, he did nothing eye-opening to prove he is worthy of getting significant playing time going into this season.
Nothing was done during the NFL draft to address this roster hole, in part because Brian Bulaga was unexpectedly available with their 1st round selection. On top of that, the retirement of Jeremy Thompson has left the outside linebacker position surprisingly thin leading into training camp. Instead, the Pack have brought in three undrafted free agents – Tim Knicky of Stephen F. Austin, John Russell of Wake Forest and Frank Zombo of Central Michigan. All three players were defensive linemen in college but will try transitioning to outside linebacker in Green Bay. These three, along with Brad Jones and returning backup Brady Poppinga, will compete for the chance to start on one of the deepest rosters in the NFL.
Buffalo Bills – Who Will Be Throwing Unsuccessfully to Lee Evans?
The Bills needed a quarterback. The Bills have yet to get a quarterback. Surprising, considering that this is the most critical position on the field – but then again, this is the same team that actually thought Aaron Maybin was worthy of a high 1st round draft pick. Currently, the Bills quarterback competition boils down to a battle between incumbent Trent Edwards, career backup Ryan Fitzpatrick and reject Brian Brohm. It wasn't too long ago that Edwards was embroiled in another (surprise) quarterback controversy with J.P. Losman. Although Edwards eventually won this battle, his only reward was suffering through three miserable seasons in Buffalo.
Trent Edwards has done nothing to cement himself as a perennial starting quarterback in the NFL, but based on who he is competing with, he is the clear-cut favorite to win this job. What complicates things is that new head coach Chan Gailey prefers running his offense through an athletic quarterback. Unfortunately for Edwards, he's not much of an athlete – his best asset has always been his accuracy and the short-passing game. Regardless, Edwards has also earned the reputation of being as durable as a paper plate. Even if he wins the job, he will inevitably leave the door open. The fact that either Fitzpatrick or Brohm could walk through that door should be troubling for Bills fans.
Fitzpatrick never really set himself apart as a young, promising player, and now he is no longer young or promising. As a former 2nd round draft pick, Brohm has not lived up to expectations. After one full season with the Packers, he failed to make enough improvements in his game to warrant a roster spot. There is nobody currently on this roster that has the capability to lead this Bills team any further than they got last year – which is not very far. This is a dire roster question that must be answered quickly – as we all know, there are only so many repetitions in the summer. For the sake of the Bills, whoever wins this job should win it quickly in order to get as many snaps with the first team unit as possible – they'll need it. Either way, I'll probably be rooting for Brohm. Competing against a Stanford Cardinal in Edwards and a Harvard graduate in Fitzpatrick must make a Louisville diploma look like toilet paper.
Dallas Cowboys – Who Will Protect Romo's Blind Side?
The Cowboys release of Flozell Adams wasn't a huge surprise considering the value of his contract as opposed to his performance on the field. However, it does leave a glaring hole at one of the game's most important positions. Flo has been a staple on the Cowboy offensive line since he was drafted out of Michigan State in 1998. He is nowhere near the player he once was, but his sheer size has always been an asset in the Dallas running game. Doug Free, a promising young tackle from Northern Illinois, is Flozell's assumed replacement – but those of you that watched Minnesota dismantle Dallas in last years playoffs can see that Free is no match against an All-Pro caliber player like Jared Allen.
Free started seven games for Dallas last year at right tackle in place of injured starter Marc Colombo. To his credit, he did only allow just one sack over that stretch. Free, in combination with newly acquired Alex Barron should provide a mediocre tandem at the left tackle position – but remember that this is a team that has championship aspirations. Owner Jerry Jones is taking a huge gamble on Free seeing that he has not brought in additional help via the draft or free agency. Unless Free can take his game to the next level, there will be plenty of “Oh No” Romo moments this coming season.