Soon, friends. Soon enough we will have fresh football to digest and react to. Until then, it’ll be my 20th viewing of Ohio State v Michigan from 2018 so I can get eyes on the Wolverines OL and WRs vs the Buckeyes front seven and secondary, but this time focusing on a new set of draft-eligible prospects.
For the most part, the construction of NFL rosters is complete. And with that in mind, some teams still have plenty of unanswered questions to consider. This week’s 6-pack is dedicated to digging into those concerns.
I hope that this column has become a staple for you each week, but just in case you are new, 6-Pack Thursday is my weekly brain dump on six football-related things that involve the NFL, College Football or NFL Draft.
Let’s crack this thing open.
I really like Matt Nagy as a head coach, but I absolutely hate the way he has prolonged the aftermath of last season’s playoff loss to the Eagles that officially ended in a 43-yard field goal attempt by Cody Parkey that was blocked. Instead of burying it in the past, moving on and finding a new kicker, Nagy continues to comment and bring attention to the unfortunate finish to a great first season in Chicago.
The Bears hired a kicking consultant to help find a new kicker and after a slew of tryouts and adopting rules to create an “eerie” atmosphere to put kickers under pressure when attempting field goals in practice, the candidates entering training camp are Eddy Pineiro and Elliott Fry. Neither player has attempted a field goal in an NFL game. Perhaps a better solution would have been signing Pro Bowl kicker Jason Myers who was a free agent this offseason after making 33-of-36 field goals for the Jets in 2019 including 6-of-7 from over 50 yards. Had that been the case, Nagy wouldn’t have to spend every press conference commenting on the unresolved kicking situation. More importantly, the Bears would have the reliable kicker they yearn for.
There is so much to like about the Jets defense. The defensive line is stacked, linebackers are improved and the young safety tandem is really exciting. But the cornerbacks? There are question marks galore for a premium position.
No. 1 corner Trumaine Johnson is coming off a disastrous first season with the Jets. Coming over from the Rams, Johnson inked a five-year, $72.5 million deal with New York. Johnson dealt with a nagging quad strain that forced him to miss five games and his performance on the field yielded inconsistent results. Johnson was later benched in Week 17 due to repeated tardiness. Johnson needs to be the elite corner New York is paying him to be moving forward. Brian Poole is likely to be the starter opposite of him and his best moments have come working from the slot and not the outside where he fits best. Parry Nickerson needs to take a major step forward in Year Two of his career to hold down the slot position. For all the money New York tossed at free agents this offseason, perhaps a few bucks could have been allocated to improving this weakness.
In Joe Flacco, John Elway now has his fourth starting quarterback since Peyton Manning led Denver to a Super Bowl Championship in 2015. Despite being a former franchise quarterback and building a formidable roster, Elway hasn’t been able to identify the long-term solution to the most important position in sports.
After throwing some darts, Elway has settled on the somewhat proven Flacco who has found himself in every “tier” of quarterback. With that said, his career isn’t exactly trending in a way that would inspire hope that he’s the answer in Denver. After watching the team he quarterbacked and won a Super Bowl with draft Lamar Jackson in the first round to replace him, Flacco led the Ravens to a 4-5 record to start 2018 only to see Jackson replace him due to injury and lead Baltimore on a 6-1 run to close the season and make the playoffs.
In the past two drafts Elway has passed on Josh Allen, Josh Rosen, Lamar Jackson and Dwayne Haskins in the first round in addition to passing on opportunities to trade up, but did invest in Drew Lock in the second round of the 2019 Draft. If Flacco bridges the gap to Lock who becomes the answer, that will be forgotten about but Elway’s track record with quarterbacks doesn’t give him the benefit of the doubt.
Texans Offensive Line
The Texans need to improve its offensive line was arguably the greatest need of any team in the entire NFL. Franchise quarterback Deshaun Watson was welcomed back to the lineup coming off an ACL tear by getting sacked a ridiculous 62 times last year.
General manager Brian Gaine entered free agency with over $70 million in available cap space and the pressing need to improve the protection for Watson and the fish he landed was the perpetual underachieving Matt Kalil on a one-year deal. There were a number of starting-caliber offensive linemen available to sign including Trent Brown, Ja'Wauan James, Mitch Morse, Rodger Saffold and Matt Paradis for starters and Gaine basically sat on his hands.
After striking out in free agency, Gaine made offensive line investments via the Draft in the form of small-school projects Tytus Howard and Max Scharping.
Gaine was abruptly fired in early June after only 17 months on the job. And while he completely mismanaged Houston’s resources this offseason, Watson still doesn’t have the projection he deserves.
Patriots Tight End
The writer of this column is the last person in the world that would ever doubt Tom Brady. But after having Rob Gronkowski at his disposal for the last eight seasons and forming an impossible-to-stop hookup, Brady now has arguably the worst tight end situation in the league. Adapting and moving on has never been an issue for Brady but New England was remarkably not aggressive or intentional about even coming close to trying to replace Gronk this offseason.
A host of blocking specialists and the ancient Ben Watson are slated to be the New England tight ends in 2019.
Offense hasn’t been the problem in Tampa Bay and it will continue not to be with Bruce Arians in the mix. I’m expecting Jameis Winston to have a career-year and the Bucs to boast a top-10 offense again. Defense is the problem.
While I don’t believe Tampa Bay didn’t try to improve its defense this offseason, I have questions about how it went about doing so. With Todd Bowles as the defensive coordinator, from a coaching standpoint the unit will be better. But general manager Jason Licht essentially swapped Gerald McCoy for Ndamukong Suh and drafted six defensive players to improve the defense. Do veterans like Deone Bucannon, Shaq Barrett and Kentrell Brice move the needle?
In a highly competitive NFC, I’m not convinced this defense will be improved enough for Tampa Bay to be considered a playoff contender.