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What's in store for new regimes?
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A big reason for so few alterations to organizations was related to the uncertain status of a new collective bargaining agreement -- some owners simply wanted to wait to see what happens before spending big money on new employees -- while others obviously didn't want to fire everybody after one or two seasons on the job.
Typically, in the four franchises with new leadership, the one common denominator is a quarterback solution. That's right; you can't win in this league without one. A bad quarterback is a coach killer! Let's run through the four new general managers and where they are focused for the season.
There is no question that Bills owner Ralph Wilson was more comfortable in elevating 70-year-old Buddy Nix, a proven scout, into the GM's role rather than looking outside the organization. But Nix and the Bills made a smart move in hiring Doug Whaley, 37, away from the Pittsburgh Steelers where he was the team's pro scouting director. As Buffalo switches to a 3-4 defense under new defensive coordinator George Edwards, Whaley's insights into players who fit that scheme should be invaluable. Whaley was a team player in Pittsburgh's front office and his will be a younger voice to complement Nix and veteran Tom Modrak, who also worked for years in Pittsburgh.
The Bills have had decent drafts recently, but they do have some major personnel issues. Does new head coach Chan Gailey want to bring back Terrell Owens, who signed a one-year $6.5 million contract? And does T.O. really want to consider another year in NFL Siberia?
On defense, they really don't have pass-rushing outside linebackers to fit the 3-4, although last year's No. 1 pick Aaron Maybin could fit the bill. But what happens if defensive end Aaron Schobel really retires? Plus, starting linebackers Kawika Mitchell (knee) and Keith Ellison (quad) are coming off season-ending injuries. Buffalo finished last season with 20 players on injured reserve.
Still, the biggest decision in Buffalo for Nix and Gailey is at quarterback. Is there a real starter among Trent Edwards, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Brian Brohm? A good backup, maybe, but nothing more. The Bills have gone 54 games without a 300-yard passer. With their competition in the AFC East set at quarterback, the Bills may try to find one in the draft.
Outlook: Unless a miracle happens, the Bills don't have a shot at the playoffs in the next two seasons and Nix and Gailey could be under the gun.
The most fascinating watch is in Cleveland where Mike Holmgren is calling the shots. Owner Randy Lerner is paying Holmgren $7 million a season to take the heat off himself, while hoping the former Green Bay and Seattle head coach can work wonders in personnel. No one really thought Holmgren would take this job, but money and his desire to prove that former Seahawks executive Bob Whitsitt make a horrible mistake in firing him from his GM role there serves as his motivation. Holmgren is out to prove something in Cleveland.
Holmgren, though, does have a history with quarterbacks. He made the right call in trading with the Packers for Matt Hasselbeck, who led the Seahawks to their only Super Bowl appearance. Had Holmgren coached better, they might have beaten the Steelers in Detroit. Assisting Holmgren will be former Eagles general manager Tom Heckert, who needed a change of scenery. Also, Holmgren hired his good friend, Gil Haskell, to put another set of eyes on Cleveland's woeful offense.
There is no question that the Browns need playmakers at wide receiver and quarterback. Also, is James Harrison, the end of the season hero at running back, a long-term solution with Jamal Lewis serious about retirement? They've already dumped Donte Stallworth and no one sees Holmgren running a wildcat offense with Josh Cribbs at quarterback.
Holdover coach Eric Mangini isn't a fan of Brady Quinn and no one is sure about Derek Anderson, either. Cleveland holds the seventh pick in the first round and could they dangle that in hopes of trading for the Eagles' Donovan McNabb?
Holmgren and Eagles coach Andy Reid are friends (that's how Heckert landed in Cleveland) and possibly that could lead to some kind of deal. The Eagles have kept all three quarterbacks and most believe they would part with Michael Vick before McNabb, but these are desperate times in Cleveland and everyone expects Holmgren to make a bold move.
Outlook: Lerner will give Holmgren three years to be a Super Bowl contender before looking for another big-name president.
The bottom line in Seattle was that CEO Tod Leiweke didn't want Holmgren in the building being the boss and that's why he made an end run on USC's Pete Carroll, who knows how to produce first-round draft picks. Carroll wasn't allowed to offer his good friend, Pat Kirwan, a major role in Seattle's front office and so Green Bay's John Schneider was hired as general manager. Schneider worked as Ted Thompson's right-hand man -- he worked the phones to finalize the Brett Favre trade to the Jets -- but the Packers don't plan on replacing him.
Everyone expects Carroll to have the final say on all personnel decisions, so it will be very interesting to see how this marriage works. Carroll is putting his career on the line by coming to Seattle, where the personnel cupboard is pretty bare. The offensive line is a mess and it will be worse when left tackle Walter Jones retires while the team's best receiver, Nate Burleson, wants a huge raise and is an unrestricted free agent. New offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates is a grinder in the Jon Gruden school of football, but he needs 16 solid games out of Matt Hasselbeck to really make a run at the Arizona Cardinals. Hasselbeck's back hasn't been that cooperative lately.
In hindsight, Tim Ruskell, the former GM, probably should have pulled the trigger last April on USC quarterback Mark Sanchez, but that's another story.
Outlook: Carroll will have three or four years to make a serious playoff run. There's plenty of patience in Seattle.
The best news in Washington is that new coach Mike Shanahan isn't a big fan of the dink-and-dunk passing game that really doesn't suit quarterback Jason Campbell. Shanahan's first project will be finding out if he can salvage Campbell's career and keep him as a starter or look to draft or trade for a quarterback. Shanahan did draft Jay Cutler, however those two never won a playoff game for the Broncos.
The other good news for Washington fans is that owner Daniel Snyder will actually allow Shanahan and new general manager Bruce Allen to make all the football decisions. Snyder has spent unwisely in the past on what was perceived as fantasy football picks in free-agency. Now, the Redskins will still spend to get the right talent, but Allen and Shanahan will decide.
The offensive line will need some talent infusion with left tackle Chris Samuels retiring and the defense will need major adjustments if defensive coordinator Jim Haslett is allowed to use a 3-4. You can bet Albert Haynesworth is howling about being a nose tackle. A concussion shut down Clinton Portis last season and it was Shanahan who wanted the running back out of Denver, trading for Champ Bailey. That could be an interesting decision in the making. There is no question that Allen and Shanahan bring instant credibility to the Redskins.
Outlook: Snyder will give this combination three years to win the NFC East.
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