1. Colts head coach Jim Caldwell has had a solid start to his career, winning two AFC South division championships and taking Indianapolis to the Super Bowl last season and the first round of the playoffs this season. However, he made his biggest coaching blunder in the opening week of the playoffs. With the Colts leading the Jets 16-14 with 29 seconds remaining, New York faced a second-and-eight at the Colts 32-yard line after a 2-yard run by LaDainian Tomlinson. The Jets appeared to be playing conservatively, content to let the clock run down and trot out kicker Nick Folk for a long field goal attempt. That was until Caldwell inexplicably called a timeout. After the timeout, Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer called a deep sideline pass to 6’5” wide receiver Braylon Edwards, who was being covered by 5’10” cornerback Jacob Lacey. Net result: 18-yard gain to the Indianapolis 14-yard line. Rather than Folk having to kick a 40-plus yard field goal, he nailed the game-winning 31-yarder. Caldwell should have let the clock wind down and let the Jets run the ball one more time before attempting a long field. It makes you wonder whether Caldwell knew that Folk had struggled from long distances (3-for-6 from between 40 and 49 yards and 2-for-5 from 50 yards or more).
2. With the Eagles’ playoff loss to the Packers, the focus in Philadelphia will now turn to the team’s quarterback situation. Just as they did last year, the Eagles enter the offseason with question marks at the position. When Donovan McNabb was traded to the Redskins last year, the starting reins were handed to Kevin Kolb, who was injured in Week 1 and quickly lost the job to Michael Vick. Vick’s outstanding, MVP-caliber season and upcoming free-agent status—along with Kolb’s contract status and apparent unhappiness with being a backup—clouds the Eagles’ plans at the position. While Vick will command a hefty salary in 2011, either on a long-term contract or with the franchise tag (provided there is one in the new CBA), Kolb is due just $1.4 million in 2011 in the final year of his contract. Given Kolb’s low salary and Vick’s often reckless running style that makes him susceptible to injuries, the Eagles could decide to retain both quarterbacks. The flip side is that if Kolb isn’t traded this offseason, the Eagles risk losing him to free agency after next season and would receive nothing more for him than a compensatory draft pick (again, provided that stipulation remains in the new CBA). With the best predictor of future behavior being past behavior, the trade of McNabb as he entered the final year of his contract provides sufficient clues to what will happen. With several teams in need of a quality starting quarterback, Kolb will have a good number of suitors. Look for Andy Reid to move him prior to the start of the 2011 season.
3. Sticking with Kolb, let’s run down the franchises that will try to upgrade or bolster their quarterback depth via trade, free agency, or the draft. Carolina, Buffalo, Miami, Arizona, San Francisco, Tennessee, Oakland, Washington, and Minnesota figure to address their quarterback situations in the offseason. Of those teams, only Washington, Buffalo, and Oakland would not have interest in Kolb.
4. The free-agent class of 2011 looks to be extremely weak at quarterback. Including players likely to be released by their current teams, the most attractive free agent options will be McNabb, Alex Smith, Matt Hasselbeck, and Marc Bulger. Other than Kolb, Kyle Orton is the only starting-caliber quarterback likely to be available in a trade.
5. Brett Favre is also not under contract for 2011, although it looks like he’s finally ready to ride off into the sunset—but you never know…
6. With the offseason approaching, it’s worth noting that until a new CBA is signed, the only offseason trades allowed are those that involve draft picks going in both directions.
7. Similar to the Eagles, the Bengals were expected to evaluate the quarterback position in the offseason. Unlike Philadelphia, Cincinnati’s issue wasn’t an embarrassment of riches at the position. Rather, the Bengals were expected to ponder whether it was time to move on from Carson Palmer and use a high draft pick to head in another direction. However, shortly after signing a two-year extension to remain the team’s coach, Marvin Lewis addressed Palmer’s situation and stated that he would remain the starter for 2011. Palmer had a poor season this year when offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski went with a pass-heavy offense after the team acquired Terrell Owens as a free agent, eschewing the smashmouth, run-based offense that led to a division title in 2009. Running back Cedric Benson is a free agent, and he has let it be known that he is unlikely to return if Bratkowski stays. Look for the Bengals to jettison Bratkowski, whose offensive philosophy didn’t seem to mesh with Lewis’ expectations this season, and look for Benson to return to Cincinnati in 2011.
8. Once again, the Rams face a difficult offseason decision concerning the contract of starting free safety O.J. Atogwe. Last year, the Rams placed the lowest possible restricted free agent tender on Atogwe because a higher tender had to include a 10 percent raise over his 2008 salary of $6.3 million (when he was the team’s franchise player). Atogwe refused to sign the tender and, under an anomaly in the CBA, became a free agent on June 1st when the Rams failed to increase his tender by 10 percent of his 2009 salary. With most teams having spent to their budgets, Atogwe received little interest on the free-agent market and re-upped with the Rams on an inflated 5-year, $31.6 million contract. The contract included $4.1 million in guaranteed money for the 2010 season, a 2011 roster bonus of $8 million, and a $3.5 million salary for next season. In essence, it was a one-year deal for $4.1 million, since the Rams are unlikely to pay the roster bonus, which would trigger the remaining four years and $27.5 million. Atogwe has been a solid playmaker during his six years in St. Louis, with 22 interceptions, 16 forced fumbles, eight fumble recoveries, and four sacks. However, he will turn 30 prior to the 2011 season, and Rams head coach Steve Spagnuolo’s defensive philosophy is based on a dominant front four to pressure the quarterback and big cornerbacks with solid tackling ability. Barring a renegotiation to a lower salary, look for Atogwe to be in a new uniform in 2011.
9. We speculated last week that Owen Daniels might not be back in Houston next season. But with Gary Kubiak unexpectedly retaining his role as head coach, he quickly put cold water on those rumors. Kubiak endorsed Daniels’ return in 2011, stating that he displayed Pro Bowl form over the last four weeks of the season and that the Texans needed him on the roster.
10. In a response to a fan’s Twitter posting this week, Terrell Owens remarked that he would love to be catching passes from Rams quarterback Sam Bradford in 2011. After not making a big play for Chargers wide receiver Vincent Jackson, in part because of his two DUI arrests, St. Louis would seem to have little interest in signing Owens as a free agent. Rams head coach Steve Spagnuolo has made character a key priority in determining which free agents to pursue and which rookies to draft, so that match doesn’t seem likely to come to fruition.
11. Saints running back Pierre Thomas was expected to have a breakout season in 2010—with Mike Bell having signed with the Eagles and his replacement, Lynell Hamilton, lost for the season in training camp. That was derailed when Thomas suffered an ankle injury in Week 3 that lingered for almost the entire season, causing him to miss all but six games. He is a free agent after the 2010 season, and there is a strong possibility that he won’t be re-signed by the Saints. Head coach Sean Payton apparently wasn’t pleased with Thomas’ inability to recover from the ankle injury, and the emergence of Chris Ivory may make Thomas expendable in New Orleans, particularly if the team decides to pay Reggie Bush the close to $12 million he is due in 2011.
12. Another running back likely to be looking for a new team in 2011 is the Chargers’ Darren Sproles. Sproles has been an important cog in the San Diego offense and special teams for several seasons, but he was not as productive in either of those areas in 2010. San Diego has paid Sproles close to $14 million over the past two seasons, but they are unlikely to reward him with a lucrative long-term contract extension or to place the franchise tag on him after a season in which he carried only 50 times for 267 yards and caught 59 passes for 520 yards with a pair of touchdowns. In addition, he struggled as a returner, although that can be partially attributed to the team’s overall poor performance on special teams.