Cutdown day slashes Seattle
Matt Leinart, 10 unrestricted free agents, backup QBs are among day's losers
The NFL's final cutdown to 53 players on Saturday was crazier than usual.
The Seahawks' cuts went a little bit deeper than expected when Alex Gibbs, one of the best offensive line coaches of his era, quit, creating more turmoil for a line that has seen plenty of it for years. The Seahawks also decided to pay wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh $7 million to go away, leaving one of the league's top slot receivers available for anyone to sign at a bargain-basement price.
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Joe in La Crosse, Wis., I see the Patriots using tight end Aaron Hernandez a lot this season. In fact, I think he could be among the five or six best offensive rookies this year. He catches the ball well and he gets open. David is a frustrated Chiefs fan who can't understand why they can't get the defense together. That's why they brought in Romeo Crennel. I see improvement, but they still aren't great. Quick answer for Jamie in Richmond, Va.: Players must clear waivers before they can be signed to the practice squad. To Brian in Chicago, in regard to your question of whether I think the current quarterbacks are better than the quarterbacks of the 1980s and 1990s: There aren't as many Hall of Fame quarterbacks as there were in the 1980s and 1990s, but there are more top quarterbacks to fill out more teams. That is a byproduct of rules changes to help passing offenses. Jamin in Winnipeg, I think Michael Crabtree of the 49ers will catch more passes than Dez Bryant of the Cowboys, but I think Bryant could end up with more touchdown receptions. Gabe in Bay City, Mich., I like what I've seen of Peyton Hillis in Cleveland. He's a tough inside runner and a good player. He works well with Jerome Harrison and gives the Browns the chance to have a pretty decent running attack. And to Spencer in Cleveland, I don't hate the Browns. In fact, their 10-win season a few years ago was a blast to cover. They simply are the fourth-best team in a strong division. Oliver in Istanbul, it is safe to say offense wins championships in modern-day football. Of course, you need a decent defense and it helps to have a good running attack. But the key to the Super Bowl run now is the quarterback more than it has been any other time in the past. To Michael Lee in Las Vegas, I am concerned the Raiders' defense gave up too many big runs during the preseason, but I still like the talent. This is the best-looking Raiders front seven I've seen in years. It may take a little time, but I think they will be much improved stopping the run this year. Casey in Sharpsville, Pa., poses a great historical question: "Was Aaron Rodgers really this good coming out of Cal?" The knock on him was his mechanical delivery. Once he got into the pros, he went back to the way he threw in high school. The guy has a cannon. Had he thrown like this coming out of Cal, he would have been the first pick in the draft. Ricardo in Mexico, the early line is that Charlie Batch will get the start over Dennis Dixon at quarterback for the Steelers, but expect Dixon to play in September. The Steelers worry that Batch might not hold up physically over four games, but they also know he's a quarterback who won't screw things up. Dixon is young, and young quarterbacks make mistakes. Believe me, this is a pretty good debate among Steelers coaches. Jeff in Hamel, Ill., is a huge Rams fan. He sees Steven Jackson as a rare bright spot, and he thinks the young tackles should be good in time. Throw in the addition of Sam Bradford at quarterback and the Rams have something to build on. Unfortunately, it's going to take time. Steve in Janesville, Wis., wants to know how B.J. Raji stacks up against Gerald McCoy and Ndamukong Suh. Suh and McCoy are better and have a better chance to do well in the 4-3 scheme. Raji is good, but he won't be as noticeable at nose tackle in the Packers' 3-4 defense.
From the inbox
Q: A great deal has been made of the cornerback situation in Baltimore. However, watching the preseason games it seems that during blitzes, tight ends and running backs are getting open on our linebackers in coverage. The Ravens traded with the Seahawks for a good cornerback. What can they do to improve coverage in the linebacking corps?
David in Baltimore
A: I'm not as worried about the linebacking corps. Ray Lewis has lost speed in coverage, but the outside guys have a enough speed, so the Ravens should be fine there. Don't forget that most defenses don't scheme in the preseason, which makes good defenses look exposed at times. I still worry about the secondary. I think the Josh Wilson acquisition should help, but the Ravens have Fabian Washington and Lardarius Webb coming off ACL injuries, and I don't know how effective they will be. The Domonique Foxworth injury is one of the most damaging of any of the preseason injuries because it came at the Ravens' most vulnerable position.
Q: As the season approaches, I've been seeing a lot of mixed assessments and expectations regarding the Atlanta Falcons. While I won't claim to be completely unbiased, I try to be objective, and I see a lot of promise in this team. Your thoughts?
Mike in Elmira Heights, N.Y.
A: You're probably talking to the wrong guy because I've already angered the people in New Orleans with my prediction that the Falcons will win the division. The schedule favors the Falcons, who have their tougher games at home. The Saints have their tougher games on the road. I think the Saints will make the playoffs and end up going to Atlanta and winning a playoff game.
Q: I have read a lot about Detroit RB Jahvid Best. The guy is lightning quick, with good hands. Of course, the downside is he is injury prone. If he stays healthy, do you think Detroit has good enough line and passing game for him to have a Pro Bowl year?
Chad in Humble, Texas
A: That won't happen. Best looks great, but do you see him getting more than 170 carries? Even at a 5-yard average, that's not going to get him anywhere close to Pro Bowl numbers, particularly in a conference that has Adrian Peterson, Steven Jackson and DeAngelo Williams. I also question the offensive line's ability to open holes. Best is a great small back who can help the offense. Like Reggie Bush, he can really speed up the effectiveness of any offense. But like Bush, I think it's hard for a back that small to have a 1,000-yard season.
Q: Why did the Seattle Seahawks trade Josh Wilson? He was great for them last year, and was only improving this year too. I don't like this trade. Can you explain it to me please?
Nick in Port Orchard, Wash.
A: As you know, Nick, this trade didn't go over well in Seattle. Wilson was clearly the team's second-best cornerback and he was also a good kick returner. Pete Carroll and the new administration viewed him as a good third corner in most schemes. He was also in the final year of his contract. Wilson and former first-rounder Kelly Jennings probably aren't starters on most teams, but Jennings is a thinner corner who probably doesn't garner the fifth-round trade value Wilson had. The Seahawks could get a fourth-round choice if Wilson starts most of his games in Baltimore. That will help Seattle with the rebuilding process. The other reason is Jennings is better at man coverage than Wilson, who plays more off coverage, something that doesn't work as well in Carroll's defense.
Q: I have a problem with what you consider an elite QB. Elite should mean the best of the best, five guys max. Guys like Tony Romo and Carson Palmer are very good QBs but not elite. Elite should mean something. You don't get into Canton by being very good. Only the best of the best get in.
Josh in California
A: You probably read my starting quarterbacks ranking piece. Here's my rationale: If this were an era of great running backs, and you have 14 running backs who could rush for 1,200 or more yards, they all would be considered elite. If you have 14 quarterbacks who have the potential to throw for close to 4,000 yards and complete more than 60 percent of their passes, they are considered elite. The number of top quarterbacks -- call them what you want -- has exceeded the number of top running backs. Back during the running days of the NFL in the 1970s and 1980s, there were seven or eight Hall of Fame quarterbacks and a lot of guys who were good. Elite doesn't mean Hall of Fame. It means they fit a certain profile that helps determine how difficult it is for the teams without those quarterbacks to be able to function. The term elite gets me in trouble a lot, but remember, there are more top quarterbacks now than ever before. There is also a big gap after that top group.
Q: As a Steeler fan, I want to know why you think a lot of analysts think the Steelers are going to be third in the AFC North when their Super Bowl XLIII defense is almost all back and their offense has adjusted to last year's problems.
Michael in Lawrence, Kan.
A: The problem is the Ben Roethlisberger suspension. Everyone thought before the Byron Leftwich knee injury the Steelers would struggle to get out of the first four games with a 2-2 record. Now, it will be even tougher. I think they will go with Charlie Batch over Dennis Dixon because Dixon, a younger quarterback, will make more mental mistakes than Batch. Batch can manage the game, but he doesn't have the arm strength of Leftwich. Sure, reassembling the Super Bowl XLIII defense is nice, but that defense is also a year older. A 1-3 start in a good division will be tough for the Steelers to overcome.
Q: Alex Smith might be going into his sixth season, but he's only had two seasons of more than 200 attempts. He put up 18 TDs, 2,350 yards and a 60.5 completion percentage in his 10½ games last year behind one of the worst O-lines in football, and had a higher QB rating than a quarterback you listed as elite, Matt Ryan. But you give him a no chance of becoming an elite QB. Why?
Anthony in Bay Area, Calif.
A: Accuracy. I know he has his completion percentage up to 60.5, but he doesn't place the ball as accurately as the quarterbacks I rated above him. Smith tends to throw passes that are a little behind or a little ahead of a receiver. Remember, the receiving corps around him is very good and they catch more bad balls than most other teams. I think Smith is as good as he's going to get.
Q: After a great breakout rookie campaign, the Bears' Matt Forte looked destined for NFL workhorse success. After last year's disaster of a season, a lot of people have been kind of down on him. What kind of year do you see him having under Mike Martz?
Mycah in Los Angeles
A: He'll be better this season, but I doubt he will repeat the 1,238 yards he had in 2008. As great as that season was for him, he still needed 316 carries, a pedestrian 3.9-yard-per-carry average. Only six backs got more than 300 carries last season. In Martz's offense, Forte won't come close to 300 carries this season. He had 258 carries last year, putting him in the workhorse category in this new age of the shared backfield. I do think his average per carry has a chance to improve with Martz spreading the football in passing sets. If things work right, he should get more than 1,000 yards, perhaps even 1,100.
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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