1. In what seems like a post-season ritual, anonymous Jets players have used the early part of the off-season to rip the play of the team’s starting quarterback. Brett Favre got the treatment after his only season with the team, roasted by his teammates for his performance and work habits although it was well known that he played most of the season with an injured throwing shoulder that affected his arm strength, velocity and accuracy. Mark Sanchez got the Favre treatment this week with reports that his teammates felt he didn’t work hard enough, was coddled by the organization and that they would prefer the team acquire a veteran signal caller (with Peyton Manning mentioned as a possibility) to either challenge Sanchez or take over as the team’s starting quarterback. As was the case with Favre, few of them were willing to mention that Sanchez had led the team to two AFC Championship game appearances during his three years in the league and came within a game of qualifying for the post-season this year despite getting little help from top wide receiver, Santonio Holmes, who clearly quit on the team. While Sanchez has not developed as quickly as the team would like and remains maddeningly inconsistent, the mercurial Holmes was at least as much to blame for the team’s poor offensive showing.
2. Sticking with the Manning to Jets conjecture, that possibility seems remote for several reasons. First off, while the Colts have given every indication that they plan to use the first overall pick in the draft to acquire Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, they have also stated that Manning will return to the team in 2012 provided he is healthy enough to play. In addition, recent reports indicate that both Manning and the Colts are willing to renegotiate his contract, pushing a $28-million option payment currently due prior to the start of the league’s new year to a later date. Taken together, this would seem to indicate that the odds are strong that Manning will be a Colt in 2012. Even if that fails to transpire, a Manning to the Jets scenario is unlikely. The Rex Ryan led Jets have a personality that seems ill-suited to Manning’s buttoned down, business-like style. In addition, given the dissension on the team, it is easy to question why Manning would come to New York when he would likely have at least a half-dozen other suitors to choose from. Finally, having played his entire career in a dome stadium, he would likely choose to suit up for another team that plays in a dome or in a warm weather location.
3. Despite enjoying a solid four-year run together in Atlanta, Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff and head coach Mike Smith were put on notice this week by owner Arthur Blank that he expects the team to win a Super Bowl. The Falcons have put together four consecutive winning seasons under Dimitroff’s and Smith’s leadership, including qualifying for the post-season three times. Further, they have made several astute personnel decisions including the decision to draft quarterback Matt Ryan with the third pick in their first draft together in 2008. However, they have failed to win a post-season game and Smith was heavily criticized after the team’s 24-2 playoff loss to the Giants for his decision to gamble twice on fourth down with the team in field goal range as well as the play calls on those gambles, one of which included a quarterback sneak with an empty backfield. Blank stopped short of saying that it was Super Bowl or bust for his solid managerial duo but the implication was clear – more is expected in Atlanta in 2012.
4. With first-year offensive coordinator Jay Gruden receiving interest as a head coaching candidate, the Bengals moved this week to lock him by agreeing to a three-year contract extension. Despite having to start a rookie quarterback in Andy Dalton and use another rookie, the fourth overall selection in the draft in A.J. Green, as the team’s leading wide receiver, the Gruden-led offense finished 21st in total offense and 18th in total points. Considering the Bengals schedule included two games against both Pittsburgh and Baltimore (the first and third ranked defenses in the league), those results are more impressive than they appear. The Gruden signing is further evidence that the Cincinnati organization is now prepared to move aggressively in building a perennial contender in the difficult AFC North division.
5. Look for Buffalo to use the draft or free agency to help bulk up the depth chart at wide receiver. Steve Johnson, the team’s leading wide receiver in each of the past two seasons, is an unrestricted free agent but the Bills have been in discussions with his agent regarding a long-term contract. Look for Johnson to sign long-term or for the Bills to place the franchise tag on him. Opposite Johnson, the Bills had a plethora of options in 2011 but emerged to claim the starting position. Marcus Easley, the team’s 2010 4th round pick, has excellent size and speed but missed the season with a head ailment. David Nelson has solid size at 6’5” and excels in the slot but struggles on the outside. Donald Jones struggled with injuries and consistency and seems destined for a backup.
6. In Arizona, Kevin Kolb suffered through a miserable first season in the dessert and the word out of the Cardinals organization is that backup John Skelton will be given at least a cursory opportunity to win the job in 2012. Kolb figures to get a significant lead in that battle given his lucrative contract and the fact the team gave up former 1st round pick Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie as well as a 2nd round pick in order to acquire his services. However, his 2-6 record in 2011 pales in comparison to Skelton’s 6-2. If Skelton improves his accuracy and Kolb continues his inability to stay healthy, Skelton figures to get an opportunity to claim the starting job, if not in training camp, then at some point in 2012.