|Ed Zurga / Associated Press|
|Pierre Thomas wants to prove he can be a No. 1 back, and the Saints appear ready to give him the chance.|
The job of the personnel department is to replenish the roster and put the best team on the field. Tough decisions must be made every year.
If players end their careers through injury or retirement, they must be replaced. If they walk away in free agency or get traded, they must be replaced. If they simply can't play championship-level football anymore, they must be replaced.
It's a never-ending battle. If you go back and look at any team photo from four years ago, you would quickly realize that your favorite team's roster has turned over close to 80 percent.
While many teams this offseason have replaced talent with high-priced free agents or high-profile draft picks, some teams have chosen to replace talent with players who were already on the roster. Is that a vote of confidence in the rank-and-file on the roster? Or is the team crossing its fingers and hoping things will work out? As one GM said to me last week, "We're going to go with what we got ... I think!"
|Dilip Vishwanat / Getty Images|
|Can Patrick Crayton make up for production lost with the release of Terrell Owens? The Cowboys apparently think so.|
Let's take a look at some teams that are planning to "go with what they got" -- at least for now -- after not signing big-name free agents, trading for veterans or using a pick in the first three rounds of the draft to fill a perceived need. What do you think of these decisions?
Buffalo Bills: OT
After the trade of Jason Peters, Langston Walker moves to left tackle and Brad Butler to right tackle. Walker has been on the right side for most of his career and Butler has played guard. The Bills passed on an offensive tackle with both first-round picks and elected to fortify the interior of their line by taking center/guard Eric Wood at No. 28 and Andy Levitre in the second roun at No. 51. Will Butler be able to handle Miami's Jason Taylor coming off the edge? Can Walker protect Trent Edwards' blind side long enough for Edwards to get the ball to Terrell Owens?
New Orleans Saints: RB
Pierre Thomas, who went undrafted in 2007, has six starts over his two-year NFL career with 181 carries for 877 yards and 10 rushing touchdowns. He told us on Sirius Radio that he wants people to stop doubting that he can handle the load. The Saints had just four draft picks, but only Knowshon Moreno was off the board when they picked at No. 14 in the first round. There were a number of running backs available in free agency -- and Edgerrin James is still out there -- but it appears the Saints have given Thomas a vote of confidence.
New England Patriots: OLB
It was reported all offseason that the Patriots were in the market for a veteran outside linebacker. Julius Peppers and Jason Taylor were the two most prominent names, but Taylor has returned to the Dolphins and Peppers appears to be going nowhere. The Patriots watched six outside linebackers go in the first round of the draft and another four in the second round, so it appears they will use the tandem of Pierre Woods and Shawn Crable at one outside linebacker spot. Between them they have three career starts, one sack and no interceptions. I wouldn't be surprised if the Patriots found a veteran over the summer, but for now it looks like New England has its fingers crossed that these guys can do the job.
New York Jets: WR
The Jets made the big move to trade up and get quarterback Mark Sanchez, but they also lost the services of wide receiver Laveranues Coles and have not replaced him. By the time the Jets had their second pick in the draft at No. 65, eight receivers were off the board. In free agency, they had little interest in the talent pool and did not strike a trade to bring in Cleveland's Braylon Edwards or Arizona's Anquan Boldin. Now it appears they will go with a combination of Chansi Stuckey and David Clowney. Combined, these two guys have two career starts, 33 receptions and three touchdowns. If Sanchez is to start -- and it appears he may -- he needs a solid veteran target. I'm not sure there is a vote of confidence for Stuckey and Clowney at this point.
Arizona Cardinals: DE
The defending NFC champs appear ready to send defensive end Calais Campbell out on the field after the departure of Antonio Smith in free agency. Campbell has zero starts, zero sacks and just 28 tackles in his only NFL season. Coach Ken Whisenhunt, who came over from the Steelers, has been trained to believe that you develop your own and send them out on the field in the second season. Campbell got a vote of confidence from the staff when the team passed on prospects such as Everette Brown in the first round and Jarron Gilbert in the second.
Dallas Cowboys: WR
The Cowboys let go of Terrell Owens and his 38 touchdown receptions over the past three seasons, and they did not turn to free agency or the draft to replace him. There appears to be a true sentiment that the young receivers on the roster can get the job done. All eyes are on Patrick Crayton, who gets the first shot opposite Roy Williams. Crayton, with 27 career starts in five years, has 18 career touchdowns and has never had more than 50 receptions in a season. He will be pushed by Miles Austin, who has even less experience and production. By the time the Cowboys had their first pick in the draft -- No. 69 overall in Round 3 -- eight receivers were off the board. The fact that they didn't make their classic move up in the draft told me they were confident in Crayton and Austin.
Washington Redskins: OT
With all of the rumors swirling around the Redskins that the club was trying to replace Jon Jansen at right tackle, free agency and the draft came and went with no replacements or challengers. Jansen has to stay healthy, especially when you consider that he has started only 12 games over the past two seasons and just 43 games over the last five years. Jansen never missed a start over the first five years of his career and is working hard to regain that consistency. In the meantime, the Redskins have their fingers crossed.
Carolina Panthers: WR
Dwayne Jarrett doesn't have to be the starter in Carolina's two-receiver sets, but he'd better come through in the three- and four-wideout packages, which can make up more than 50 percent of the snaps in today's NFL. The Panthers were up against the cap all spring. They weren't active in free agency and didn't take a receiver in the draft, even though D.J. Hackett and Mark Jones are no longer on the roster. Jarrett has one start, 16 receptions and zero touchdowns in his NFL career. The Panthers have their fingers crossed that he blossoms this season, to say the least.
Kansas City Chiefs: TE
The Chiefs ended their 2008 youth movement when they signed guys like Zach Thomas and traded for Mike Vrabel, but then they traded away tight end Tony Gonzalez, who is coming off the most productive back-to-back seasons in his career (195 receptions in 2007-08). Now it appears that second-year pro Brad Cottam (seven career receptions, zero touchdowns) will take a shot at the tight end spot. No matter who wins the quarterback job, it would be great if there were a tight end to throw to when the pressure is on. I know people say new head coach Todd Haley didn't use the tight end in Arizona, but he sure liked the tight end in Dallas.
Pittsburgh Steelers: OT
The Steelers won the Super Bowl, but many thought they were in the market to replace one or both of their offensive tackles. It's not like the Steelers to go out in free agency and buy a tackle, especially when they were up against the salary cap. They didn't re-sign Marvel Smith, who left for San Francisco, and then they passed on a tackle at the bottom of the first round in the draft when Eben Britton, Phil Loadholt and William Beatty were still on the board. That's a vote of confidence for Max Starks and Willie Colon, but can the Steelers repeat if the sacks and hits on Ben Roethlisberger keep piling up?
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: WR
Whether Luke McCown, Byron Leftwich or rookie Josh Freeman starts at quarterback, there was a serious vote of confidence given to wide receiver Michael Clayton when he got a new contract. In the last three years he has 22 starts, and in the last four years he has just two touchdown receptions. The Bucs didn't sign a veteran free agent at wide receiver and they didn't draft a wideout until the seventh round, so the spotlight is squarely on Clayton.
Oakland Raiders: OT
The Raiders have their skill positions covered on offense, but can they block from the left-tackle position? Khalif Barnes was signed in free agency, but he is much better suited on the right side. When the Raiders surprised many by taking safety Michael Mitchell out of Ohio University in the second round, it made a statement about the confidence they have in Mario Henderson to compete at left tackle. We'll find out if that vote of confidence was legitimate. There are a few game tapes from late in the '08 season to indicate they made the right move.