This offseason, Shutdown Corner's Frank Schwab and Eric Edholm will look into what is overrated and underrated in all aspects of the NFL. We fully expect your angry emails and comments that are sure to follow.
OVERRATED AND UNDERRATED: 2014 NFC storylines
Eric Edholm: The 49ers' offseason drama
The Cleveland Browns take the cake in any offseason-circus discussions, but the way many Seahawks fans talk-radio hosts league observers see it, the Jim Harbaugh stuff and all the other 49ers offseason drama is right up there with it.
Forget all that. Talent is what wins in the NFL. No, not the fantasy-football collections the Cowboys (in 2008) and Eagles (in 2011) tried to buy. But the honest-to-goodness, from-the-ground-up roster loading that teams such as the Seahawks, 49ers, Patriots and a few other teams have done so well the past few seasons.
Throw out one horrific draft class in 2012 — everyone has their misses — and the 49ers have done just this. Ten of their 11 offensive starters, plus several key reserves, have come from their draft picks or rookie free agents. The number on defense is seven homegrown starters, and they also drafted seven more defensive players this year.
They’re strong at almost every position, with no eminently replaceable starters. They have the kind of depth and competition at some positions many teams only dream of. They have one of the four or five best coaching staffs in football. Their quarterback is 26, signed up for the next several seasons and yet still has to play well to earn his new money.
That’s enviable stuff right there. And yet the world is acting as if the 49ers are suffering from sorority-caliber drama overdoses.
All seems fine to me. Harbaugh and management might get along similarly to Harbaugh and the media, which is to say in doses. But that’s a bit overblown. That creative tension has delivered three straight NFC title game appearances and a few ball bounces from that fact being three Super Bowls.
The Aldon Smith situation is concerning, as it appears to be a very delicate situation right now. The end of that one is not clear. But Vernon Davis and Alex Boone skipping OTAs isn’t anything to worry about, and the team navigated the Colin Kaepernick waters quite well prior to his contract extension. When nothing came of that Miami situation, which no one expected it to, the offseason should be viewed as a net success.
As in, this very good team — the one that was a few plays from knocking off the would-be champs in Seattle in January — appears to be better than it was a year ago. Drama, be damned.
Frank Schwab: The Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys always are in the spotlight. They're scheduled for five prime-time games this season. And let me tell you something ... those are going to be some bad games.
Dallas isn't going to be very good. In fact, it's easy to see the Cowboys completely bottoming out this season. The defense was really, really bad last year, and then lost perhaps its three most talented players (defensive tackle Jason Hatcher, outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware and inside linebacker Sean Lee). Once Lee went down with a torn ACL during a "non-contact OTA practice" (hahaha, good one), it was lights out for the Cowboys. Yet the way they get talked about, you'd think they were right there with the 49ers and Seahawks as Super Bowl contenders.
Even the offense might take a step back. Tony Romo is coming off back surgery. DeMarco Murray has rarely been a picture of health. Jason Witten is 32 and can't keep being this productive forever. And even if everything holds up and the offense is good, it's not going to be enough to make up for that defense.
But because they're the Cowboys, they'll be on prime-time television more often than "The Big Bang Theory" this fall. What a joy that will be.
EE: Cam Newton's contract situation
So far, Cam Newton has said all the right things about his contract: essentially, that he’s not worried about it yet. After the 2014 season, he can be a free agent. He won’t because of the presence of the NFL teams’ fifth-year option for one, and the franchise tag after that. Although a 2015 tender of roughly $13-14 million sounds like a lot to me, you know Newton is seeking a higher average per year than that.
The Panthers don’t have to make a real contract offer to Newton until 2016 if they don’t want to. And with their salary-cap situation, don’t put it past GM Dave Gettleman. He has been a bit of a lone wolf since taking the job, clearly unafraid to fly in the face of convention on a number of things. And he has a cold, analytical way of doing what he feels is best of the team.
So why, then, if Newton’s contract might not be addressed directly for a year or more am I calling it an underrated storyline? Two reasons: One, Newton’s performance this season will go a long way toward determining his ultimate value, and two, many other NFL teams with first-rounders from that talented 2011 class and those with franchise QBs to take care of will be watching how the Panthers handle this one.
Gettleman and Ron Rivera have said good things about Newton, and they want him to succeed. It’s not a Steve Smith type of situation, clearly. It’s also not as if the Panthers want Newton’s value to go down; that’s not the reason they jettisoned Smith and failed to make big upgrades on offense in the offseason.
That was their approach because they felt, I believe, that taking a small step backward this season could lead to them being back in contention in 2015. But how will Newton handle it when his offensive line breaks down, his receivers run the wrong route and the injury-prone running backs aren’t getting it done? That might not be a season-long theme for the Panthers, but there will be a lot more on Newton’s shoulders on and off the field this season, even with a great defense.
There now are legitimate expectations coming off a 12-win season, and yet Newton hasn’t been able to work much with his new receivers coming off ankle surgery. This is a fascinating situation in the making, even though it hasn’t gotten its due.
FS: Robert Griffin III
Ah, the summer of 2013, when all the talk was about Griffin, his return from a knee injury and his relationship with Mike and Kyle Shanahan in Washington. Those were the good ol' days.
A year later, Griffin hasn't been talked about much at all. That's probably good news for the quarterback, who is going into his third year. That doesn't mean this isn't a hugely important year for him and the Washington franchise.
In 2012, Griffin was fantastic. He looked like the next star at the position and gave Washington some much-needed hope. And he needed to look great, considering how much the team gave to the Rams in a draft-day trade to acquire him. Then he was hurt in a playoff game against the Seahawks that he shouldn't have been in (this, folks, is Mike Shanahan's legacy with the franchise), and just never looked right in 2013. That made sense because he didn't have a full offseason to progress as a quarterback. It was all spent working at a feverish pace to get his knee healthy for the season opener. The one smart thing Shanahan did last season was shut him down in December, to make sure he was healthy and could have that full offseason to get better as a player.
You can dismiss 2013 because of the knee injury, but that won't be the case in 2014. Griffin needs to show that he's back on the star track, or else there should be some serious concern in Washington. He has a new offensive-friendly head coach in Jay Gruden, who turned Andy Dalton into a productive quarterback when he was his coordinator in Cincinnati. He has a great new deep threat at receiver in DeSean Jackson. Simply, there are no excuses for Griffin this year. We're sure to hear a lot more about him during the season, but this offseason has been strangely quiet around RG3.
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