|Al Messerschmidt / Getty Images|
|Luke McCown, Bruce Gradkowski and Jeff Garcia represent a half of the Buccaneers' current quarterback puzzle.|
The 2008 NFL Draft is over and minicamps are winding down. So what does an NFL personnel department do now in preparation for the upcoming season?
It might seem like a good time for rest, or at least a chance to work on the golf swing. But not in the competitive world of the National Football League. Heck, there's fewer than three months remaining until the first preseason game, and 90 days is not a lot of time to get ready.
Now is the time when teams are going to look very closely at every NFL depth chart, posted on the walls of pro personnel offices around the league. Every player who competed in 2007 will get a spring film grade to update the team data base. That means around 1,700 players should get at least a two-game film grade. As daunting as that project can be, there's still much more work to be done.
Based on depth charts across the league, teams will make some calculated estimates about where the surplus of talent exists. It pays off when teams need to make a trade, pick up a free agent, or simply be prepared when the head coach walks into your office and asks for help at a position.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a surplus at quarterback, with seven players under contract at the position. It's likely only five will go to training camp, with three making the final active roster.
It's clear GM Bruce Allen and the Bucs aren't about to show their hand about which quarterback is going to be made available in a trade. So it's time for all teams shopping for a vetearn QB to study Chris Simms, Bruce Gradkowski, and Luke McCown over the last two seasons. Grade each player and place a value as it relates to trade compensation and salary.
But that's just one team and one position. Where else should a pro personnel department start to focus its attention?
It's impossible to predict which players are going to be available, but the final 53-man roster guidelines provide clues about where to find players.
There are no rules about positions. A 3-4 defense will keep more linebackers than defensive linemen, while a 4-3 defense will keep more linemen than 'backers. A power running team might keep an extra fullback, while a spread offense might keep an extra wide receiver.
In general, these are good rules of thumb for the final 53-man roster: three quarterbacks, six wide receivers, three running backs, four tight ends/fullbacks, nine offensive linemen, eight defensive linemen, six linebackers, 10 defensive backs, and four specialists (kickers/snapper/returners).
The direction a team takes in the draft, especially in the first four rounds, and the areas where they add players during free agency often create a surplus. With that in mind, here are a few situations where a good player who might come free:
If I had no interest in free agents Shaun Alexander or Dominic Rhodes, I would make sure I knew the two teams from Pennsylvania well. The Eagles traded for Lorenzo Booker to go along with Brian Westbrook and Correll Buckhalter. That means a player like Tony Hunt or Ryan Moats could be available.
In Pittsburgh, the Steelers drafted the "best available" player in the first round when they selected Rashard Mendenhall. He joins Willie Parker and Mewelde Moore, the latter signed in free agency. It might mean Najeh Davenport is expendable.
The Seahawks drafted two defensive linemen (Lawrence Jackson and Red Bryant) as well as signing free agents Larry Tripplett and Chris Cooper. They join Patrick Kerney, Brandon Mebane, Rocky Bernard and Darryl Tapp. It might be time well spent to study Marcus Tubbs, Jason Babin and Baraka Atkins, figuring one of them might be available sooner or later.
The Eagles could also have an extra defensive lineman when the season approaches. They added Trevor Laws and Bryan Smith from the draft and signed Chris Clemons during free agency. Unless they keep more than 10 defensive linemen or lose a player to injury, it might be smart to study how much Darren Howard and Monte Reagor have left in the tank.
The Redskins injected draft talent into the receiver position with Devon Thomas and Malcolm Kelly. Antwaan Randle El and Santana Moss are solid, so someone has to shake free from the group of James Thrash, Anthony Mix, Jerome Mathis, Billy McMullen, and Maurice Mann.
When I was player personnel and would leave for my summer break in July, there was a report on file for close to 100 players who might become available and a log of any and all conversations with GMs around the league. We also prepared a report from every spring OTA to break down our own talent, and I attended at least 10 preseason games for a live look at players we might have interest in.
The 2008 preseason schedule was recently released, and there are games scheduled on 17 different dates in August. Four dates would be eliminated to watch our own team, plus the opponent we faced, which would leave 13 dates to get to the other games.
All of a sudden, 90 days doesn't seem like enough time for teams to prepare.