MEDIA NFC Central Mid-Term Grades : LUSENET : Purple : One Thread

April 3, 2001

NFC Central Mid-Term Grades Special to NFLtalk by Terry O'Neil of

We continue our division-by-division analysis of the current off-season with the NFC Central:

MINNESOTA -- Does it make any sense that Minnesota would have signed OT Todd Steussie to a market deal in '98, bought cap room by restructuring him to the max in '99 and '00, then released him last month in his prime simply because the club failed to budget properly?  Oh, and did we mention that Steussie leaves behind $5.5 million in 'dead money' and no apparent replacement?

Minnesota is one of the worst cap-management stories in the League.  While Coach Dennis Green was working magic on the practice field, someone might have covered his back in the executive suite.  Bad deals are everywhere -- another $5.5 million in 'dead money' on DL John Randle (gone to Seattle), an overbid on LB Ed McDaniel, a world record for the two safeties, Robert Griffith and Orlando Thomas.

Once again this fall, Minnesota will be forced to invent a team from the discount rack.  Where last year's reborn pass rushers were supposed to be Bryce Paup and Gabe Northern, this year it'll be Lance Johnstone and Fernando Smith.  Last year's reclamation at cornerback was Cris Dishman; this year, post-June 1, it'll be Dale Carter. Denny Green is good, but he hasn't been good enough to outcoach the mismanagement of his club since free agency began in 1994. MID-TERM GRADE:  D

TAMPA BAY -- In case you can't read General Manager Rich McKay's intention through his moves of the past month, here it is in boldface: he's taking his Super Bowl shot right here, right now. McKay carries the legendary football name of his father, John McKay, coach of the USC Trojans.  But the most useful training for his recent flurry came as a Princeton University undergraduate, a Stetson Law grad, two years clerking for a U.S. District Court judge and six years with a Tampa law firm that represented the Bucs. It was in these venues, not at his father's knee, that McKay acquired the skills to make his three big plays of last month -- signing QB Brad Johnson, signing DE/pass rusher Simeon Rice and daring CB Ronde Barber to find a mega-offer in a soft free-agent market. The deal for Johnson probably killed McKay -- $7.25 million compensation in the first year, $12.75 million through two years for a brittle 33-year-old who has lost considerable arm strength.  But McKay had no choice.  Shaun King had shaken this team with poor game management, causing the locker room to echo too loudly with the complaints of DT Warren Sapp and WR Keyshawn Johnson. McKay compensated in his next negotiation by 'stealing' Rice, a potential 18-sack terror, for no signing bonus and first-year salary of just $1 million.  Rice and his agent, Roosevelt Barnes, understood that Tampa Bay's seven-deep rotation of defensive linemen is the perfect spot for a third-down specialist.  Rice will be a much greater force at 70 per cent playtime than he was in Arizona at 93 per cent. The next signing likely will be CB Barber, who will return at an affordable price, now that top-rated Denard Walker has 'roofed' the cornerback market with his modest deal in Denver.  Tampa Bay presently holds only $1.27 million in cap room, but DE Chidi Ahanotu is a target for restructuring or release, having lost leverage with the arrival of Rice. In the draft, count on the Bucs to upgrade their '00 weakness at offensive tackle.  It's a plentiful position this year and another calculation in Rich McKay's daring off-season. MID-TERM GRADE:  A-minus

GREEN BAY -- The Packers are intent on one more attempt with the current roster.  How else does one explain another restructuring of QB Brett Favre's contract, followed by top-of-their-position contracts for K Ryan Longwell and S Darren Sharper? Nonetheless, Green Bay's problem remains a lack of playmakers on both sides of the ball.  WR Antonio Freeman has withered since signing his big contract in 1999.  On defense, the rushmen delivered only 38 sacks last year.  That void translated into a yield of 28 touchdown passes by a very average secondary. Green Bay is a competent team that has not gotten more explosive this off-season. MID-TERM GRADE:  C

DETROIT -- The Lions' new management is showing how it feels about the roster and cap it inherited with a full make-over this off-season.  Three-fifths of the offensive line is gone -- LT Ray Roberts was correctly released while free agents Jeff Hartings and Mike Compton have signed elsewhere. WR Herman Moore will be terminated, but not until June 1.  Meanwhile, DE Tracy Scroggins remains unrestricted but unsigned by a club that has only $347,000 under the cap. The primary off-season activity in Detroit is new Head Coach Marty Mornhinweg's daily sessions with QB Charlie Batch.  A truism with all clubs is even more pivotal in Detroit this spring:  How quickly is the quarterback developing? MID-TERM GRADE: Incomplete

CHICAGO -- The Bears seem stunned into hibernation by their failed acquisitions of last winter.  CB Thomas Smith, DE Phillip Daniels and WR Eddie Kennison came via free-agent signings and a trade.  Thud, thud, thud. So far, Chicago has added only P Brad Maynard to upgrade its 25th-ranked punt team.  But the club enjoys $3.9 million in cap room, so more activity is possible. Ultimately, the Bears' primary roster-building question is how soon they can outlive RB Curtis Enis, No. 5 overall pick in the '98 draft, and QB Cade McNown, No. 1

-- Mark (Karch, April 06, 2001



-- Tom (, April 06, 2001.

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