NFL teams have reassembled after the draft, free agency and OTA’s that turned out to be unhappily eventful – Dallas losing its best defender Sean Lee. So except for the occasional arrest or tell-tale drug test, status should be quo until training camps open next month. Then we’ll have contact drills presumably more debilitating than the non-contact that put Lee out until at least December.
With apologies to the Black and Blues, the baddest and best division continues to be the NFC West, where San Francisco has closed the gap on Super Bowl champ Seattle . The 49ers general manager Trent Baalke plugged every hole from salary cap casualties, and he’s added power to the offense, with Carlos Hyde, 230-pound banger from Ohio State.
Most significantly of all, Baalke traded to bring QB Colin Kaepernick the third wide receiver he needed to join Anquan Boldin and Michael Crabtree. Stevie Jackson, who was No. 1 in Buffalo, is still in his prime at 27.
So for an early Super Bowl forecast: San Francisco over Denver. Right now the Broncos, losers of the last Super Bowl, are the better bet, as they have the easier road to get there.
They rebuilt their defense by adding DeMarcus Ware, Aquib Talib and T.J. Ward. Those gains should more than offset some decline in offense with the aging of Peyton Manning and Wes Welker and the departures of Knowshon Moreno and Eric Decker.
Meanwhile, the Seahawks saw the inevitable breaking up of a championship team, with the value of the roster rising above the cap limits. Their GM, John Schneider, managed to keep his core players, but he will miss the sure hands of Golden Tate and the defensive trench-work of Michael Bennett, Red Bryant and Clinton McDonald.
Seattle and San Fran may be pressed by the most improved team in the league, the St. Louis Rams, who benefited a second year for trading the rights to Robert Griffin III. They used Washington’s No. 1 pick (second overall) for a bulldozing blocker, Greg Robinson, and their own first-rounder on a disruptive defensive tackle, Aaron Donald. The Rams now have a deeper, better D-line than Seattle’s, and also a stronger O-line.
They can bang with Seattle and San Francisco, which excel on either side of the line of scrimmage or the law. Thus Rams coach Jeff Fisher trumpets fourth-round safety Mo Alexander, suspended for a year for beating up a Utah State teammate in a bar after knocking several others out of practices.
The Seahawks have a history of drug violations, once prompting Niners coach Jim Harbaugh to say he expected his players to be “beyond reproach.”
That was before his ace pass rusher, Aldon Smith, encountered a run of legal issues. Two days after training camp begins he’s scheduled to be sentenced to possibly four years, after pleading no contest to six charges involving weapons and drunkenness.
Asked why he’s so tolerant of criminal mischief, Harbaugh said, “You don’t just toss people out.”
Not when they can win you a championship.