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Dan Levy
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Dan Levy

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Have you ever noticed that in MLB and the NBA -- and to some extent the NHL -- teams go into the season with gaping holes in their lineup? If team X can get a big man, they'd be a contender in the East. All team Z needs is another lefty out of the bullpen and they can make a serious playoff run.

I never understand if teams can't find the right players in the off season, or structure their teams as a cost-saving measure. "Well, if we're competitive this year, we'll pick someone up at the deadline. That way, we only have to pay him for half the year."

The NFL does it right. Build your team in the off-season, through free agency, good trades and the draft. Of the 31 trades recorded in the 2008 calendar year, just five took place during the season, with only one trade coming on the trade deadline.

So what does all that mean? It means that teams better get good players now, because when they're all gone, that's it. In the League, they 'dance with who brung ya.' And this year, the pickin's look mighty slim.

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Look at Pat Kirwan's top five free agents at every position. Chris Simms is on the list? The best running back listed is Derrick Ward, who was successful last year as part of the 'tetra-headed monster' in New York but has never carried the load for an entire season.

There are some big names (and long names too -- Houshmandzadeh and Kleinsasser make hell for equipment guys) but it seems that outside of Albert Haynesworth, Bart Scott, Housh and maybe a few others, if a team wanted to hold on to the player, they would have. Kurt Warner is the third-best free agent available. I didn't even think he was available to anyone other than Arizona?

There are some good interior lineman on the list, but I'm not sure anyone on this panel (man I hope Maske or La Canfora prove me wrong) can say if a team out there is one center away from breaking through.

There are some big (BIG) names on the list: Marvin Harrison, Brian Dawkins, Ray Lewis. Actually, if you add in Warner and veteran QB Kerry Collins, the average age for these five players, all listed as top 15 free agents, is...78 years old. My math might off here, but it's close. And while Ray Lewis is listed as just 33, by the end of the season he looked like he was 43.

As unfortunate as it sounds, the guy out there who might be the most valuable player on the market, after he gets cut of course, is Michael Vick. He'll never be a pocket passer, but did anyone else find it incredibly ironic that the year Vick is out of the league in shackles is the same year teams decide that the Wildcat formation is a viable offensive set? Vick is built for the Wildcat (although the PETA people might want that name changed to something less vicious. Perhaps Tabby cat formation) and if he does get cut, don't be surprised if a strong-willed owner doesn't give him a league minimum contract with tons of bonuses to come in as a change of pace.

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I'm fairly certain I have yet to answer the question. But if you look at last year's standings, the only teams that didn't make the playoffs last year that look to 'break out' are Dallas and New England. Chicago still doesn't have a quarterback (and there aren't any good ones available). Minnesota won their division and is probably a good quarterback away from being a real contender, too. The hot name is San Francisco. What do they need? Probably a quarterback.

Is there a team out there with an established quarterback that is one or two players away from making a splash? Sorry Skins fans, even with Albert Haynesworth (mazel tov, by the way) you're still probably the fourth-best team in the division.

Surely I'm not breaking any ground with this selection, but if pressed to actually give an answer to the question, I'd go with the Saints. Their offense was tops in the league, but their defense was 26th in points and 23rd in yards. Add in a few solid players on defense and the worst team in what was probably the best division in football last season might be the team to watch.

By Dan Levy  |  February 27, 2009; 11:09 AM ET  | Category:  Dan Levy , Free Agency , Tennessee Titans , Washington Redskins Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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