Okay, new year, new team! Craziness, huh? Is the Turner Era over? Smith? What comes next. Two of our three killer elements (OL, pass rush) need sudden rebuilding, while a third one (QB) is in his peak and we don't want to squander him. So what to do this year? What to do with our coaching and management situation? What players do we need to replace? How can we replace them? What will our team look like afterward?
Management: I understand those who say that AJ must go. He did a great job for the first three years. The 2003 UDFA class was legendary. But since then, he's really struggled. This year was a bit better, and I wouldn't be surprised if he's getting a handle and coming into a better cycle. If we'd made the playoffs, then we could overlook the mistakes. But now, we really have to replace him, and replace him with somebody we know understands the team and knows how to evaluate talent. This is difficult to do, and you can wreck your team by jumping too fast. I think the best plan is to make it crystal clear that he's on notice, by interviewing GM/HC combos, and if you can find a guy that you know you can go forward with, doing it. No silly ventures. If nobody grabs you as having the smarts and understanding to get the job done, give AJ the Marty '06 deal: one year, get into the championship round or find a new gig.
Coaching: Bye-bye Manusky. Norv, well it depends on what happens with the GM search. If they think they lucked out on a GM/HC type, a new Belichick or Shanahan, and if he's a defensive type (unlike Belichick or Shanahan), there may still be a place for Norv in the organization. If they replace AJ, the new GM may or may not keep Norv, and either decision is okay by me. Probably not.... Somehow I doubt Norv would take a demotion, but if he would, he can run the offense as long as he wants. But as a Head Coach, he's just not going to get us there.
Offense: We have Gaither! Somehow I knew we would end up with him, but it's just fantastic that we got him in the way that we did. We've got the ground game, will be able to keep the receiving squad intact (Jackson's mediocre season was good for us), got the starter QB... and then it's a jungle. If McNeill can play on, I hope they trade him for a 2013 first-round pick, or a high 2012 2nd. He's pretty good, but he's no Gaither. A new GM may not be a big fan of Clary, but he's here one more year for sure, just because of all the problems on the line. We want to draft a RT prospect highly anyway: a bookend pair of maulers would take a lot of pressure off our interior OL, which may be in for a decline, and if we can draft a big mean kid who can play LG for a year, that's even better. Vasquez is fine, but we need to draft a LG and a C, and hopefully can keep Hardwick one more year to help our new C develop on the bench; if not, does Mooch have another year, or do we need a FA? We need depth at QB and TE. There will be journeyman QBs to be had, and we can draft a TE in the 4th or 5th.
Defense: We're deep on the line, but we're at half-staff everywhere else. We need a difference-making pass rusher. You can only draft those guys, you can't count on them, and they're injury-prone. This year, a second or third round pick and another, later draft pick is about all we can manage. We may be in for an upgrade in the pass rush, we may not. Our ILB squad should be okay: maybe another body, but no draft picks unless it's a BPA in the 6th or 7th. We've got one good safety, and lots of depth at SS and nickel. Our corners are limited but not terrible, which makes them sort of a Rorschach test: either you see them playing too far off because the QB has too much time, or you see limited players who have to give up too much cushion. But if you want to do better, only a first-round pick even gives you a crapshoot.
Special Teams: We should make Kaeding fight to beat Novak out. He will, but maybe Scifres can take on kickoff duties? I knew Goodman would be a great KR: if they can incorporate him into the offense, he could be pretty dangerous.
Best case scenario: Hardwick stays on another year, we get a good player or pick for McNeill, and end up filling holes at ROLB and LG, as well as finding a RT and C of the future (one of whom possibly could be the LG of the present, esp if we can do the C transition over two years). A first-rounder on a great ROLB prospect is not all that likely, but a good hit there would solve a lot of the team's problems. If the BPA in the first or second round is a CB, that's not a bad pick. Truth be told, a new DC and a couple new bodies, and the defense could look like a different animal. This could be doubly true if Liuget gets on top of the learning curve next year: Liuget, Castillo, and Martin combine for a great rotation.
Likely scenario: Our OL going into next year is kind of patchwork, with a combination of promising players and experienced players, with Gaither and Vasquez being the only ones who fit in both categories. If we have a rookie Center, we'll be in trouble, but I doubt that will happen. Our pass-rush will be a little better just by regression to the mean, but the offense will have to carry the day. Remember Air Coryell? Of course you do: we've been living it intermittently since 2008.
What do you all think?