FOX Sports Exclusive
After lockout, Cards need QB in a hurry
Yes, we are ready for some football.
And when this new 10-year deal between the players and owners is ratified and signed, the first winners next week will be those young free agents, ones with four years of vested service.
And like we’ve said from the very beginning, the biggest lockout losers are teams with new quarterbacks and new coaching staffs.
Yes, Jim Harbaugh still has plenty of time to get the San Francisco 49ers cranked up, but just think where his mindset, and that of his players, would be had he been working all spring with QB Alex Smith.
Ready or not, here are my lockout winners and losers:
1. Atlanta Falcons: The best thing about this city is that it’s not Green Bay or Cleveland or Indianapolis. A lot of NFL players live here, and the Falcons may have had the best turnout at their players-only workouts, which started on May 10. Although I thought they needed defensive help, the Falcons’ great receiver Roddy White says his offense can rival the Rams’ Greatest Show on Turf from the Warner-Faulk-Bruce days with the arrival of Alabama rookie receiver Julio Jones. Matt Ryan has Jones more than ready for training camp, and the Falcons seem determined to average 32 points per game this season, up from 25.9 points last season. Such an increase would put them in the Rams’ 500-point range.
2. Chicago Bears: The Bears have been working hard, but the best news during the lockout was that the players stood up for quarterback Jay Cutler, who has looked sharp after minor knee surgery. Cutler’s season ended in ugly fashion with his second-half exit from the NFC Championship Game, with many players around the league ridiculing him on Twitter. The best news, though, is that offensive coordinator/passing guru Mike Martz has figured out that Cutler favorite Earl Bennett should be catching 75-80 passes per season, not his measly 46 from last season.
3. New Orleans Saints: The Saints, like the Colts, have one of the game’s smartest quarterbacks in Drew Brees. When you have experience like that, plus an offensive-minded head coach like Sean Payton, it means you have a huge edge over the rest of the league with the losses of OTAs and minicamps. Brees knows the offense as well as Payton, and now the coach will simply have to fine-tune what the QB has done in this crazy offseason. This should be another fun and high-scoring season in the NFC South.
4. Detroit Lions: The best news is that quarterback Matthew Stafford has been firing fastballs in the Lions’ player-only workouts. Boise State rookie Titus Young said his hands hurt from catching all those throws. Stafford's right shoulder sounds bionic now after corrective surgery. General manager Martin Mayhew has expertly improved the team’s personnel since taking over from Matt Millen, and now the key will be to see how much the Lions spend to improve their secondary in free agency.
5. Fans and retired players: The fans didn’t want to miss their training camp visits, and now they know they won’t be deprived of one single regular-season game despite all the doom-and-gloom talk after the Super Bowl. The NFL has become America’s No. 1 sport and also its best diversion, but even better news is that both the players and owners figured out a way to deposit $1 billion over 10 years into the Legends Fund for all the needy former players who helped make today’s game possible.
1. Arizona Cardinals: The Cardinals are a good team apparently in need of a starting quarterback. Nothing against second-year John Skelton, but all we’ve heard during the lockout is that they're going after Marc Bulger or trading for Philadelphia’s Kevin Kolb. If the latter is going to happen next week, it sure would have been great for his new teammates to have been working their new QB the past couple of months. You hate to overstate the obvious, but we all know how valuable a good quarterback is in the awful NFC West. Just think Sam Bradford. We could say that Seattle is in the same boat with Matt Hasselbeck looking to leave.
2. Washington Redskins: With the Donovan McNabb trade an utter failure, the Redskins have been talking all offseason about John Beck being their new starting quarterback. Problem is offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan missed the chance to work with Beck on a daily basis for the past three months. This is a team that still hasn’t found a resolution with controversial defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth, plus GM Bruce Allen has to make a lot of moves and decisions to get his team competitive with the other three teams in the NFC East in very short period.
3. Cincinnati Bengals: The Bengals forever seem to have personnel headaches and now they have Cedric Benson arrested again — do they re-sign the free-agent runner? — and the constant chatter from Carson Palmer talking retirement or trade. He has sold his Cincinnati home for $1.9 million. These are two huge offensive pieces in the Marvin Lewis puzzle. The Bengals had a very solid draft, but are they really going to start rookie quarterback Andy Dalton, who will be throwing to potential superstar A.J. Green? Mike Brown has plenty of decisions to make, starting with cornerback Johnathan Joseph.
4. Carolina Panthers: The Panthers have so much going on with a new coach (Ron Rivera) and a new rookie quarterback in Cam Newton while their best player, Steve Smith, wants out of there. The big question: Will owner Jerry Richardson allow GM Marty Hurney the ability to spend to improve the roster and retain talented players such as running back DeAngelo Williams and defensive end Charles Johnson? The Falcons already are eyeing Johnson to improve their pass rush. Thomas Davis and Richard Marshall are also defensive starters who are free to leave.
5. Denver Broncos: There’s plenty to like about the combination of John Elway (Denver's first-year executive vice president of football operations) and new coach John Fox. But these two desperately needed minicamps to settle on their starting quarterback and quit all the games with Tim Tebow and Kyle Orton. Heck, even Brady Quinn has been mentioned. What nonsense! Fox may have a training camp competition between his quarterbacks, and that could further put his team behind. The offseason would have allowed Elway and Fox to make a lot of personnel decisions (new defense, too) that will have to be made now in the next month. That’s no way to catch San Diego and Oakland.