Summer swoon has intriguing backdrop
Team activities are done until the Bills open training camp on July 25 at St. John Fisher College in Rochester, N.Y. Vacation is on everyone's mind. Even mine. I'll be off next week, but keep loading the inbox for my July 13 return.
In the meantime, there are still a lot of things to resolve. Former Giants receiver Plaxico Burress is probably the biggest unresolved issue. He pushed his hearing on weapons charges back to September, giving him a chance to play this season. But commissioner Roger Goodell is reviewing whether he can slap a suspension on Burress under the player conduct policy.
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The Bears and Jets have backed off Burress, but three other teams, including the Buccaneers, have expressed interest. Don't expect a signing until close to the start of camp.
Brett Favre continues to work through the pain in his sore right arm, but he's on pace to join the Vikings by late July. Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs says he's close to reaching a long-term deal with Baltimore, which would be huge for head coach John Harbaugh.
The progress of rookie QBs Josh Freeman of the Bucs, Matthew Stafford of the Lions and Mark Sanchez of the Jets will be a major storyline all summer. Sanchez has the best chance of starting. Stafford is ahead of schedule, but Daunte Culpepper has the lead. Freeman is a making a furious bid for the starting job and has a chance.
Let's go to this week's mail.
From the inbox
Q: As an avid Eagles fan, my relationship with Donovan McNabb has always been love-hate. But there is a lot of talk that this could be "The Season." I think the Eagles are poised for a playoff run, but they might be a year away from winning it all. What does all this mean for McNabb? Ted in Philadelphia
A: The Eagles are built to win now. They have been aggressive in rebuilding the offensive line. They've tried to get some of the best young receivers in the past two drafts. They've taken distractions away from McNabb by locking him up for two years and removing any challenge to his starting job. I'm not saying they are going to the Super Bowl. They will contend this season. They will contend next season. With McNabb and his five trips to the NFC Championship Game, it's been a great era for them.
Alex in Sacramento, Calif., asks if the veteran additions of Jeff Garcia and Lorenzo Neal will take the Raiders' offense to the next level. I'd say no. Garcia could be an upgrade at quarterback, but he won't get to start unless JaMarcus Russell fails. Darrell in Houston admits he's done an about-face. In 2006, he questioned the Texans taking Mario Williams over Reggie Bush or Vince Young. Now Darrell thinks they are geniuses. Remember, teams have to be lucky. If owner Bob McNair didn't have concerns about whether Bush received extra benefits at USC along with worries about signing him, Bush would have been the Texans' first-round pick. Things just worked out well for Houston. Here's one for Travis in Florida. I watched Chase Coffman practice last week and he offers the Bengals a pass-catching tight end of the future. Considering he is behind because of injuries, I'm not sold he can make a big impact this season. But he could be a factor for the future. Boykin in Colorado wonders why some team doesn't give Tatum Bell a chance. I agree with you, Boykin. Bell is productive and explosive. Plus, he's only 28. The problem is he's had chances with several teams and for whatever reason he turned them off. Ryan in Philadelphia asks about Sheldon Brown's future with the Eagles. As you know, he wants to be traded. It took Lito Sheppard a year to get out of Philadelphia. Unless someone makes a trade offer the Eagles like, Brown will stay in Philadelphia this season. He's still a talented starting cornerback. The Eagles aren't going to give him away. Casey in Minot, N.D., asks the $72 million question: Can the Lions' offensive line keep Matthew Stafford or Daunte Culpepper upright? That's debatable. There hasn't been a lot of change on that line. Normally, stability is a good thing. I don't know if that's the case in Detroit. At least there is more competition, so that might help. Andrew in Richardson, Texas, has a good one. He asks how many NFL players would be willing to lower their salaries for the good of the team. Unfortunately, Andrew, not many. Most players who take pay cuts do it because the team is threatening to cut them. Jamin in Winnipeg, Manitoba, wants a progress report on Michael Crabtree. He's running now but he's well behind as far his ability to run routes is concerned. No problem. He has time over the next five weeks to train and work on routes. Don't expect a rookie of the year season for Crabtree, but he should be good. Steve in Oregan is a Vikings fan who wants to talk something about other than Brett Favre. Yippee. To satisfy your request, Phil Loadholt looks like the right tackle of the future and the perfect bookend to Bryant McKinnie. The good news is they aren't forced to rush him into the starting lineup. John Sullivan should be adequate at center. I think WR Percy Harvin can be an impact rookie even though he might not get a lot of plays this season. Devin in New Hampshire asks if Carolina WR Steve Smith's age will eventually catch up with him this year. Not this year. I still think he has at least three top-flight seasons ahead. Matt from New York is a Pats fan and he's wondering if there is a pass-rusher available for them. Unless they can trade for Derrick Burgess of the Raiders, I think they will have to accept what they have.
Q: Do you have any insight on the status of Brian Westbrook? Is he expected to be ready for Week 1, or do you see the Eagles being extra cautious and slowly easing him back? Either way, I think rookie RB LeSean McCoy will get his opportunity. How do you see this playing out?
Bill in Philadelphia
A: Physically, Westbrook should be fine. He has enough time to heal from ankle surgery. The plan is for him to be full go by mid-August. Although he might not play in the preseason, he should be ready for the regular season. The concern is the toll of ankle and knee problems over the past couple of years. Westbrook has been the featured back for a long time. The days of him being the superstar of the Eagles' offense might be coming to an end. That's why the team was wise to draft McCoy in the second round. He can learn under Westbrook and take some of the load off him this season.
Q: Is it possible Denver's offense can score more in 2009 than in 08'? I do not think the passing game will be as good, but I also think it doesn't have to be. The running game will be great with the experienced Correll Buckhalter, the dynamic Knowshon Moreno and the power of Peyton Hillis.
Ryan in New York
A: It is possible the Broncos could end up scoring more than 23.1 points a game, but this has to be put in context. The defense gave up 28 points a game last year. Jay Cutler won three games in which he overcame a defense that surrendered 30 or more points. The Broncos have to be prepared for shootouts if the defense is suspect again, and I think that could be the case. I'm concerned about the run defense. The three-man line is patched together with castoffs from other teams, and there isn't a nose tackle who draws the double-team block. If opposing teams run the ball 30-plus times with success, the Broncos' offense might not get the ball enough to score 23. Yes, the Broncos can score a few more points, but it might not translate into more wins if the defense isn't right.
Q: When will the Dolphins start Chad Henne?
Joseph in Las Vegas
A: The Dolphins play the league's toughest schedule, so Chad Pennington has to be the quarterback. It's the only way the Dolphins can survive this season and stay above .500. A team that goes from worst to first in one season usually suffers around a three-game drop-off the next season as a result of a tougher schedule. That could drop the Dolphins from 11-5 to 8-8. And that would be if Pennington is the quarterback. Inserting Henne under these circumstances could drop Miami to seven or six wins. This isn't a slight of Henne. His time is coming, and it's probably coming in 2010. Pennington is in the last year of his contract. The Dolphins will work Henne pretty hard this preseason with the idea of getting him ready in case of an injury to Pennington. He'll get his chance next season.
Q: Will the Saints cut CB Jason David? Also, is the NFC South the toughest division right now?
Steven in Hot Springs, Ark.
A: I think David has a chance to be a training camp casualty. He's rapidly falling down the depth chart. If Malcolm Jenkins has a good camp and wins the No. 3 cornerback job, that could seal David's fate. Jenkins was drafted to match up against the bigger receivers in the NFC South. David is more of a Cover 2 corner, and the team is going to try more man. Unless David has a remarkable camp, he's in trouble. The NFC South is three-deep with good teams, because I think Tampa Bay is in a rebuilding mode. The best division remains the NFC East because there are four potential playoff teams there.
Q: Like many other Cowboys fans, I like Tony Romo, but I think he needs to learn to protect the football. Have the coaches worked with him in the OTAs to correct his sloppy ball-handling skills?
Tom in Dayton, Ohio
A: Naturally, coaches work with every quarterback on protecting the ball. They worked with Brett Favre, but he's a gunslinger. So is Romo. Romo will take chances, but it's one of the reasons he's a good quarterback. The question, now that Terrell Owens is gone, is whether Dallas' receivers can get separation from defenders. The other question is whether the offensive line is going to give Romo enough time to throw. The line is old, with five starters in their 30s. Romo just has to make the best of the situation.
Q: Is there any chance the Cowboys could make an impact trade -- maybe for somebody like Vince Young?
Richkie in Dallas
A: No big moves are planned. There also isn't a spot for Young on Dallas' roster. Romo is the starter. Jon Kitna is the backup. The big moves are done leaguewide. It's hard to find a situation in which a team can make a big move. Look at all the teams that have been trying to get a wide receiver. The Cowboys were the team that made that big move last year by getting Roy Williams. Now some Cowboys fans are down on it. It's always better to build through the draft. The Cowboys have built a decent defense through the draft. They have patched together a pretty good team, but I don't know if it is going to be good enough to make the playoffs. Accept what is there and hope for the best.
Greyson from Kansas City
A: Greyson, I'm with you. If you want quality, you pay quality prices. A No. 1 wide receiver is worth a first- and third-round pick. There are no bargains when it comes to trading for receivers. Why are teams timid? They are afraid of failure. A bad trade could lead to changes in an organization. In my opinion, there are only about 20 No. 1 receivers to fill out 32 rosters. A No. 1 receiver can catch 80 balls for 1,200 yards and draw double-team coverage. They are hard to find. But you can look at the debate going on in Dallas to see why teams are shy. Williams had a couple of big seasons in Detroit, but no one is sure he can be a top receiver for the Cowboys. Nobody knows because he hasn't been given the chance since being acquired by Dallas. Owens had that role this year.
Ed in Pittsburgh
A: The McFadden loss was a blow, but the Steelers were prepared for it. Coach Mike Tomlin likes William Gay. Even though McFadden had his best season in 2008, he shared time with Gay. The Steelers actually came close to getting him back, but the Cardinals won the bidding war. Things were going to be tight for the Steelers because of the franchise tag placed on OT Max Starks. Their priority was the offensive line, not the secondary, so something had to give. We'll see how well Gay can take over as the full-time starter.
Q: It appears the 2010 draft is quarterback-rich in talent. Will the Carolina Panthers dip into this QB pool and draft their quarterback of the future?
Denny in Wooster, Ohio
A: The organization is well aware it needs to find a long-term replacement for Jake Delhomme. The Panthers know free agency can't provide the answer, and the draft is the main hope. However, the more successful they are with Delhomme, the less chance they have at finding a replacement. If there was a way to get Matt Ryan last season, the Panthers would have done it. They knew Ryan was going to be a superstar. Over the past five years, he was the quarterback who interested them the most. The Panthers are built to try to win each year, which -- if they are successful -- lowers their chances of being in a good draft position to get a top quarterback. They aren't the only team with that dilemma.
John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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