- John Clayton, NFL senior writer
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Recently, I offered an early look at my surprise teams -- the teams that have the best chance to improve by three or four wins in 2008. Carolina, St. Louis, Oakland, Buffalo and the New York Jets were my top five, although I reserve the right to make adjustments at the end of training camp.
But several teams missed chances to improve this offseason, failing to make moves in key areas. Here are the top seven non-moves of the offseason:
Titans' inability to get a No. 1 or No. 2 receiver
The Tennessee Titans toyed with the idea of signing big running back Ron Dayne last week. If that eventually occurs, the Titans will have placed more emphasis on improving a running offense that ranked fifth in the league than on a passing offense was sixth worst.
Tennessee drafted halfback Chris Johnson in the first round to join LenDale White, Chris Henry and running quarterback Vince Young. But at wide receiver, the team added only former Titan Justin McCareins and fourth-round choice Lavelle Hawkins, the 126th pick in the draft. Though it's true no receiver in this draft merited a first-round pick, the Titans don't have a wide receiver among their top three selected higher than the fourth round. If they sign Dayne, they'll have four backs taken higher than the third round. It's clear that
Young, who completed only 15.8 passes a start, needs more receiving help.
2. Bears don't improve passing offense
Coming off their 2006 Super Bowl run, the Bears naturally had to stick with Rex Grossman at quarterback. But the offense dropped to 29th in the NFL last season. Since then, what the Bears did to fix things looked like a caulking job at old Soldier Field. They invested little money to improve the offense. Grossman and Kyle Orton were re-signed for backup salaries ($3 million a year), and Brian Griese was traded to Tampa Bay. Brandon Lloyd was signed for the NFL minimum and Marty Booker came in at $1.75 million a year to challenge for starting wide receiver spots.
3. Pats don't significantly improve at corner
After hitting the performance clause that prevented the New England Patriots from putting the franchise tag on him, Asante Samuel bolted for Philadelphia. Another corner, Randall Gay, signed as a free agent with the Saints.
Veterans Fernando Bryant, Jason Webster and Lewis Sanders were signed to one-year deals close to minimum pay to replace them.
The Patriots used a second-round choice on cornerback Terrence Wheatley of Colorado, who was rated a second-day draft choice by other teams. Unless Wheatley works out, the Patriots didn't find long-term solutions for their cornerback needs.
4. Bengals struggle to fill DT holes
Trades for Shaun Rogers and Dewayne Robertson didn't work out. The Cincinnati Bengals coveted Sedrick Ellis with the ninth pick in the draft, but those hopes slipped away when the Saints traded up to No. 7 to get him. With John Thornton and Michael Myers in their 30s, the Bengals were desperate for defensive tackle help. They picked Pat Sims from Auburn in the third round and Jason Shirley from Fresno State in the fifth.
The Bengals ranked 24th and 26th in stopping the run the past two seasons. Against a brutal schedule that includes run-oriented teams from the AFC South and NFC East, the Bengals are asking a lot of rookie defensive tackles to change their run-defense fortunes.
5. Browns don't get stronger at corner
For the past couple of years, Cleveland Browns general manager Phil Savage took heat for not bulking up along the defensive line. With aggressive trades, he resolved those issues by acquiring Shaun Rogers and Corey Williams. But the Rogers trade cost the Browns cornerback Leigh Bodden, and Kenny Wright was released because of off-field problems. Daven Holly blew out a knee and is done for the season, leaving 2007 rookies Eric Wright and Brandon McDonald as the last cornerbacks standing. Cleveland added veteran Terry Cousin to a two-year deal, but will he be enough?
6. Cowboys' inability to land quality receiver
Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones spent the offseason trying to find a new, exciting addition to an aging receiving corps. Striking out completely in efforts to acquire Roy Williams of the Lions, Anquan Boldin of the Cardinals and Chad Johnson of the Bengals, Jones is talking about using Pacman Jones a little at wide receiver. Don't bet that'll work out.
To be fair, the Cowboys' owner had no hopes of landing any of those receivers. Their teams weren't trading them. Plus, Jones and other teams felt no receiver was good enough to go in the first round. Still, the Cowboys' receiver issues remain. Terry Glenn needs microfracture knee surgery, but he's staying away from the knife to salvage one more season. If Glenn doesn't play this season, the Cowboys will be thin at receiver.
7. Panthers' inability to find another backup QB
The Carolina Panthers tried to upgrade at backup QB last season, but David Carr was a bust. Now, no team has a more fragile QB situation than Carolina. Starter
Jake Delhomme is coming back from Tommy John surgery on his right (throwing) elbow. A healthy Delhomme could take the Panthers to the playoffs. An unhealthy Delhomme could cost management jobs in Carolina. The backup is Matt Moore, an undrafted player plucked from the Cowboys' roster in September. The Panthers like Moore, but things could get dicey if he must start.
John Clayton, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame writers' wing, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
23hEric D. Williams
2dSharon Katz & Hank Gargiulo