Originally Posted by Drek
Typed this up the morning after the playoff game, held off on posting it until my angst regarding the loss cleared, and then re-read it. Still think it's pretty worthwhile so now i'm posting it (hence why I refer to "last night's game" frequently).
So here's the road map to fixing this team's problems, as I see them.
Fact #1 Knowshon Moreno was the straw that stirred the drink on offense.
This is not because Moreno is a great player, he's pretty good but has his issues. No, this is because Moreno's skill set fits a Peyton Manning offense. He's become a solid north/south runner who gets into his cuts quickly and gets you consistent positive yardage. Hillman and Hester are all or nothing backs where Hillman either gives you a nice 5-10 yard run or a gain of zero and Hester either falls forward for 3 or falls on his face for zero. Moreno consistently moves the ball forward and converts 3rd and shorts. This is important, but it's also something McGahee could do.
Moreno also steps up big in pass pro, where we saw our other RBs all fail us at some point last night. Hillman is simply too small, Hester is not a running threat so simply putting him back there on anything but short yardage telegraphs pass and effectively chums the waters, and Ball outright misses assignments. McGahee also did this well.
Where Moreno and McGahee deviate is when asked to catch the ball. Consider Moreno's touchdown catch. Would anyone ever expect McGahee to pull that ball in? Hell, would anyone ever expect McGahee to put that stutter step on a defender that Moreno used to separate? I sure has hell wouldn't. Moreno as a check down and extra receiving threat was huge for this offense and is something we need to recognize and build on in any way possible.
Fact #2 This OL is too shallow and too weak to handle the best DLs in the league. Clady get bent back on top of Manning repeatedly, and Beadles, Koppen, etc. get zero push against Ngata and Kemoatu in the run game. Orlando Franklin was probably our best OL last night and Kruger was whipping him around the edge with regularity.
A 100% Kuper would be a slight help, but I doubt enough to turn the tide. While Koppen was replacing JD Walton I also think we all agree that Koppen played better than we'd ever expect Walton to.
This OL lacks depth and power. We couldn't run the ball with AD taking hand offs with the kind of blocking this OL sets up.
Fact #1 1. We STILL can't stop even average TEs. This is a failure by both our safeties and our linebackers. None of our safeties or LBs are good in man coverage at all, and Moore is probably the best in zone despite his **** up in last night's game. This is unacceptable. Q. Carter was hands down our best man cover guy between both groups last year, but now had arthroscopic knee surgery on a leg with an already bum hamstring. He might not be the same player when he comes back.
Fact #2 Our pass rush comes entirely from the edges, not a single person on this team can generate pressure up the middle. Opposing QBs far too often have a pocket to step into and make clean throws regardless of what our edge rushers do. This is the end result of us targeting a big time DT year after year in FA but failing to sign them. In the spring of 2011 we chased Brandon Mebane but let him return to Seattle for a very reasonable offer, and in spring of 2012 we did the same with Paul Soliai. This doesn't even go into the fact that we weren't even in on Barry Cofield, who left the Giants and signed with the Skins in 2011. We need a mauler in the middle who pushes the pocket. He doesn't need to get sacks, just deform the pocket and be stout against the run. Doom and Miller will do the rest.
Fact #3 Champ is no longer an elite corner. He simply couldn't run with Smith. No excuses. He went against one of the game's fastest wide outs and he got ran off the field. He's still a good corner and will still give us great production against most teams in the regular season, but against playoff level competition he's a liability. Want proof? After seeing what Flacco and Smith did to him last night picture what it'd be like for us to play the Falcons with Champ on Julio Jones and Matt Ryan throwing the ball. Or worse, the Packers and any of their WRs against him with Rodgers. If Flacco was a more accurate QB the Ravens could have blown us out in regulation because of this.
So that's defense. Special teams weren't a problem at all last night, other than Prater ****ing up his one field goal opportunity. But Prater is better than what we could replace him with so that is a case of rolling with it and hoping he matures. The leash on Prater has definitely gotten shorter, but it's still plenty long enough to not spend finite resources on a replacement.
Ok, so we've identified the major problems from a thematic standpoint, so how can we upgrade? Well first, what are our resources?
$18M in cap room, about $5M of that earmarked for rookie signings. We can clear another $17.75M with the following cuts:
DJ Williams has a cap number of $7.7M next year with only about $1.7M guaranteed.
Joe Mays has a cap number of $4.16M with only $160K of that guaranteed.
Mike Adams has a cap number of $1.75M, no guaranteed money.
Caleb Hanie has $1.25M in salary, none guaranteed.
Manny Ramirez has $715K, none guaranteed.
Andre Caldwell has a $1M cap number, only $100K guaranteed.
Jacob Hester has a $715K cap number, none guaranteed.
Julius Thomas has a $651 cap number with only $96K guarnateed and $96K of outstanding signing bonus money for 2014.
Willis McGahee has a $3M cap number with $500K guaranteed and $500K of outstanding signing bonus money for 2014.
So that's $30.75M after these cuts but minus the rookie money.
First, retaining our own guys:
Clady is the big one here. He's already turned down 5/$50M. The tag is $9.6M for OLs this year though, so worst case he gets tagged if he won't take a more reasonable extension than the rumored "more than Joe Thomas" demands. Lets just put him down at the $10M, knowing the team has all the leverage here. So that brings us down to $20.75M.
Carter and Colquitt are undrafted RFAs, so in order to protect them at all we're looking at $2M each. Reasonable and necessary, if a little pricey. Another $4M off the books, now at $16.75M.
At DT all three of Vickerson, Bannan, and Unrein are free agents. Unrein is an exclusive rights RFA, so we can give him $550K and call it good. Bannan signed here for $1M last year, I don't see him having much leverage to get a raise, so another $1M for him. Vickerson played well, but I don't think he'll find a massive market, he's a roll player. I'd say $2M and if he wanted more let him try to find it. So all total we're talking about $3.5M at DT. Brings us down to $13.25M.
Koppen is a free agent and only made $825K last year. He should definitely be brought back as he was a stabilizing influence on an OL that needs stability. I'd expect him to resign for something in the $1-$2M range, so we'll go with $1.5M as an average. That brings us down to $11.75M.
Bruton is likely to be retained for something in the area of $1M, same with Stokley. So that brings us down to ~$9.75M, and in my opinion basically wraps up the FAs we should really care about keeping.
Not very much money, but some renegotiation by Doom, Champ, Manning, etc. could buy us a decent bit more cap space. We'll see how that goes.
With that $9.75M to work with and our full allotment of draft picks this is the road map I'd outline for us:
1. Running Back.
I see a RB taylor made for this offense in the draft, his name is Stepfan Taylor from Stanford, currently projected as a late 2nd/early 3rd by most draft prognosticators. He's a well rounded three down back who can contribute in all phases of the Manning offense, much like Knowshon Moreno. He should offer a bit more explosiveness than Moreno and will be an ideal #2 behind him for a season or two before replacing him. Couple this with Hillman developing physically and we could have a good two back tandem of Taylor and Hillman for a long time going forward.
2. Offensive Line.
I'd love to draft one of the premier guards in this class, and Barrett Jones before his lisfranc was my top target with our first round pick. Unfortunately I just don't see the numbers adding up there, as the premier OGs likely go before our first round pick, Jones' health makes him a question mark we can't really afford to roll the dice on before round 3, and honestly, we need a guy we know can contribute right away. To me that means free agency. Obviously a late round OL should be included in the mix, but a quality 6th man needs to be acquired on the OL. To that end my personal preference would be signing Louis Vasquez away from the Chargers. He was a spread OL in college and is a better pass protector than run blocker, but has improved in that aspect of his game in the pros. Most importantly he's big and powerful. With the Chargers dropping both Smith and Turner there will likely be some front office transition and Vasquez isn't the kind of guy you put a tag on. For an AAV around $4-$5M we likely could lock up a 26 year old starting guard for a reasonable price. This would bump Beadles to the swing guard/tackle role, making him that 6th man I was talking about. If Vasquez can't be had then Donald Thomas from New England would be a solid alternative, competing with Beadles for the LG job while also providing another player with some experience at OC in a pinch.
3. Defensive Tackle.
We won't be in range to grab a standout DT in the draft and also will not have the money to go after a Henry Melton. That's ok because I see a perfect fit that will likely sign cheap on a "make good" deal. Terence Knighton of the Jacksonville Jaguars. Some off-field issues and freak injury problems have greatly depleted Knighton's value, including him losing his starting job in Jacksonville. They have a new GM and are likely once again changing coaches. This sounds like an excellent opportunity for Del Rio to recruit one of his former standouts, getting Knighton here on reasonable money to provide the 4-3 nose tackle this defense needs to take the next step. His salary would likely be quite reasonable since he needs to re-establish his value. If he does that and makes our roster he'd bump one of the other DTs off, making this more or less cap neutral as far as the final 53 man roster is concerned (what the cap number is based on).
4. Middle Linebacker.
To me this is where we go with our first round pick. Manti Te'o, Kevin Minter, and Alec Ogeltree are all first round worthy MLBs and one is almost definitely going to be available for us in the first. If Te'o's lackluster championship game makes him slide to us then great, we're sitting pretty, otherwise I'd be more than happy with Alec Ogeltree, the former safety with elite athleticism and NFL ready coverage skills. He'd instantly improve our ability to handle opposing TEs.
This is a two part solution. Step one, move Champ to safety, taking his declining speed from only above average back to elite status, step two is sign another corner to battle Carter for the #2 job opposite Harris. This leaves a safety depth chart of Champ, Rahim Moore (he's a solid player, he's coming back, quit hating on him for one play), Q. Carter, and Bruton. I like the looks of that. So that leads straight to...
Ideal world Del Rio can get us a sweet deal on Derek Cox from Jacksonville. While oft-injured he's a standout when on the field. I don't see that happening though, he's likely looking at >$7M AAV and we'd have a hard time fitting that on the books. The alternative also comes from Jacksonville though, in the form of Rashean Mathis. A former standout at corner he wasn't quite up to par this season after his ACL tear in 2011. He's healthy now though and got stronger as the year went on. He's an older experienced veteran who would provide us a very solid base to only work up from at #2 corner if Carter takes the next step forward. This way worst case scenario Mathis is #2, Carter is #3, and Omar Boldin is #4. Solid group. Add another mid to late round corner and we should be doing ok here.
So that's a road map I'd like to see the team shoot for. Use the available cash to splash the pot in stealing a division rival's best young OL, fixing one of our weaknesses while creating one for them, add even moderate draft luck and we can hit needs while still going BPA in rounds 1 and 2, then fill out the other immediate needs with low cost veteran signings that Del Rio should have some strong appeal to.