In the midst of the blistering heat and dog days of summer, NFL teams are making initial preparations for their annual quest to become Super Bowl champions. This week players from all 32 NFL teams are required to report to training camp, marking the official beginning of the NFL season and the first time that newly acquired free agents will meet their new teammates.
Over the last 10 years, the trend in the NFL has been winning through free agency. Every year teams spend large sums of money trying to bolster their rosters by bringing in talented veterans to lead them to the ultimate prize at season’s end.
This year is no different. Many of last year’s underachieving teams have spent a considerable amount of time and money signing some of the biggest free-agent names. Now that the off-season is officially over and the dust has cleared, general managers around the league are hoping that the talent will mesh together with the existing veteran nucleus during camps this week.
There are three teams that have used their free-agent money well and are ready to make a big splash in the 2006 NFL season.
One of the most blockbusting acquisitions of the off-season is the Cowboys catching best-selling author and former Eagles’ wide receiver Terrell Owens. The always vociferous and often disgruntled Owens has a reputation of corrupting once-successful, established franchises. His track record includes playing an integral part in the destruction that has ensued in San Francisco and single-handedly dividing an entire team in Philadelphia with his choice comments about quarterback Donovan McNabb and head coach Andy Reid.
While it is well-publicized that T.O. has had major behavioral problems, he is also arguably one of the best wide receivers in the game. That is exactly why a team like Dallas is willing to take a chance on a player like Owens. If head coach Bill Parcells and company can find a way to control the vocal receiver, Dallas may be on their way to the playoffs and beyond.
His greatest impact will be improving a mediocre Cowboys’ passing attack that ranked 15th in the NFL last season. He has an incredible ability to make a routine slant pattern into a 60-70-yard touchdown. T.O. will bring much more than touchdowns to Dallas. He will bring charisma and energy to a team that could use a boost. The combination of Big D and T.O.’s big ego will be especially fun to watch this season. The NFC east will have a great year, with the Giants and Washington both having made the playoffs last year and the Eagles rounding out a very competitive division.
At the beginning of this season, Owens will not be the only star wearing a different jersey because of behavioral issues. Daunte Culpepper is in the same boat, literally. His actions on a boat during a bye week could be a reason why dropping the all-pro quarterback was an easy decision for the Viking organization. In a season where the strong-armed quarterback was hindered by three torn knee ligaments, Culpepper and other Vikings could be charged with sexual assault, when all is said and done, over the disappointing 2005 campaign.
With his move to Miami, Culpepper will try to forget his mistakes in Minnesota and rejuvenate his career. His acquisition by the Dolphins came in a situation where Culpepper needed the Dolphins just as much as the Dolphins needed him. Since Dan Marino retired after the 1999 season, the Dolphins have been unable to find a suitable successor. The likes of Jay Fiedler, A.J. Feely, Sage Rosenfels, Gus Frerotte, Damon Huard and Brian Griese have all appeared under center for Miami.
So, it is evident that the Dolphins have been searching for a quarterback that can bring some stability to the most important offensive position on the field. Culpepper could be the answer. Prior to last season, Culpepper averaged just a touch above 3,700 passing yards every season, which is a major improvement over the Dolphins’ pedestrian 3300 yards and 16th team ranking last season.
The buzz around the Dolphins’ camp so far has been the strength of Culpepper’s right arm. Last year’s breakout wide receiver Chris Chambers has been raving about his new quarterback’s powerful throwing arm. Chambers, who had 1118 yards on 82 receptions and 11 touchdowns last season, appears to be excited about the possibilities that Culpepper’s arrival could result in a large increase in his production this season. Along with rookie Derek Hagan and veteran Marty Booker, the Dolphins will have a stellar receiving corps. That combined with sophomore sensation Ronnie Brown at tailback and a solid defense should propel them into the playoffs. This may be very simple with the horrid Jets, lackluster Bills and struggling Patriots who share the AFC east division.
The playoffs are a very realistic goal for the Arizona Cardinals after snagging perennial Pro Bowl running back Edgerrin James from the free-agent waters.
Last season, the Cardinals were the best passing team in the NFL. Starting quarterback Kurt Warner held the job well and utilized the talents of receivers Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald amazingly. The receiving duo combined for 205 completions and over 2800 yards last season without a consistent contribution from the lackluster running game. As evidence of Arizona’s poor rushing attack the Card’s top back, Marcel Shipp, finished the year with only 451 yards and a 2.9 yards per carry average. Shipp’s performance pales in comparison to Edge’s amazing production over 1500 yards and 4.9 yards per carry average in Indianapolis.
With the offensive side of the ball solidified after the addition of Edge, the only other concern for the team that calls the desert home is their defense. Although the Card’s defense finished in the top ten and really surprised people, they lack play-makers. If the defense repeats their remarkable performance this season, the sky is the limit for the Cardinals in the weak NFC west.
These three teams are done wheeling and dealing for this off-season. Do not be surprised to see any of them in the post season. Now it is time for NFL players to strap on their helmets for a long ride that will lead one team to the Promised Land and 31 others home disappointed.