By Lucas Kochevar
The second wave of free agency is starting to take shape with some minor signings happening and every coach with a young quarterback is making sure the world knows that their guy "is taking major strides this offseason." The Bears head coach Matt Eberfleus doubled down on Justin Fields and Matt LaFleur is selling his fanbase on Jordan Love. It's hilarious to see these guys talk about their quarterbacks when they're only working out in shorts at this point. Reality of the situation is the public won't know anything until those meaningful snaps take place in August and September. Every team with a young quarterback has hope, but not every team will end up as a success story. There will be numerous teams competing for the first pick in the 2024 draft. In this volume of LK League Notes, I'll be breaking down the most likely teams to fall flat next season.
The Biggest Losers
The Houston Texans are on the uptick with their big draft of C.J. Stroud and Will Anderson Jr., however, they aren't there yet. The offense and defense were among the leagues worst last year. They haven't added anyone crazy to help mitigate these issues, unless those two rookies I listed earlier make an immediate impact. The Texans receiving core is lacking with Dalton Schultz as the primary pass catcher. Their running back Dameon Pierce was solid last year, but he wasn't the healthiest player. They do have the best offensive tackle in the league in Laremy Tunsil. They have some other solid players, but their left guard and center are both super young. It's just not an offense that deserves excitement, yet.
The defense is super young too with names like Anderson Jr., Derek Stingley Jr., and Jalen Pitre. They have a number of rotational guys across their defense, but no one that stands out as an every down starter. I like what this team is cooking, but they're not there yet. It'll definitely be a developmental year, but missing their 2024 first round pick hurts. It'll be a disaster if this team finishes with a top three pick that goes to Arizona. They are fortunate to have an easier schedule with the NFC South opponents so maybe they'll win a couple more games to make that pick worse for the Cardinals.
Las Vegas Raiders
The second AFC team that I have no hope for is the Las Vegas Raiders. The team is lucky they're in a city that uses their games as a tourist stop, because they are not entertaining on their own, at all. They replaced longtime starter Derek Carr with Jimmy Garoppolo, which is like replacing a 1997 Honda Civic with a 1999 Toyota Camry. It's a lateral move, at best. They have exciting players in Josh Jacobs, Davante Adams and Hunter Renfrow. All three are great players, but can head coach Josh McDaniels translate their production into wins? I'm not so sure. Then there's the offensive line, woof. It's certainly full of players, that's all I can say.
Looking at the defense, I suppose it's also full of players. Seriously though, Maxx Crosby and Chandler Jones are great. Rookie Tyree Wilson could be a big factor too, if his foot injury isn't too serious. The rest of the defense, however, is hard to look at. Last season, they ranked near the bottom in nearly every category when it comes to pass defense, notably 29th in the league in passing yards allowed. I don't know what the fix is for a secondary like this outside of taking your lumps and developing. In a division with Patrick Mahomes, Justin Herbert and Russell Wilson, this could be a death sentence. I project it will be and they'll be a top five pick in 2024.
The fact that the Commanders managed to get eight wins last season feels like a miracle. It's crazy that Ron Rivera is also still the coach, especially when they might've hired his replacement to be on his staff. They poached Eric Bienemy from the Chiefs. He's been a popular candidate for head coaching interviews, but hasn't landed anywhere. That's the biggest acquisition they made the entire offseason. The Commanders are deciding to go with Sam Howell as their starter, similar to how the Falcons are rolling with Desmond Ridder. Howell was a popular prospect prior to his last season, but fell in last years draft. Howell has talented weapons around him and a solid offensive line. The fate of the Commanders likely is in his hands.
Looking to the defense, there is a ton of names and talented players. Prior to the draft, Washington floated out some names like Montez Sweat and Chase Young for trades, but didn't do anything. The defense was better than I thought statistically, but I'm still not sold on them as a unit. They lack depth across their front seven, but I do like their secondary, specifically safety Kamren Curl. The Commanders suffer from inexperience at the quarterback position, a tough division and a coach with his future in limbo. I think it's the perfect recipe for a team that underperforms and cleans house with potentially new ownership.
The Cardinals are set up beautifully, for the 2024 draft. This team is bad, horrific and nasty. To me, this is the worst roster in the NFL, especially the defense. They'll likely be without their franchise quarterback as he recovers from a torn ACL. Outside of that, on offense they have a handful of solid players. James Conner, Hollywood Brown and Rondale Moore are an okay supporting cast. DeAndre Hopkins' future with the team is in doubt, however. The offensive line is strange, but maybe first round pick Paris Johnson Jr. can show promise.
Now to the defense, they are certainly some players, similar to Vegas. All in all, I think these defense is multiple years away from being competent. When I look at this depth chart for Arizona, I see two players that might be starters on other teams. This unit will be absolutely atrocious. I know bad defenses when I see them as a Falcons fan and this might be the worse defense I've seen in the last five years. It's an all-time bad defense. That's good news for a team that's trying to tank, but it's sad for the fan base that has to watch it. It's a throw away year for the Cardinals, but they have hope with their first round pick and the Texans first rounder.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The 2021 Super Bowl champions are falling back down to the bottom of the barrel now that Tom Brady retired. The Bucs are heading into the season with Baker Mayfield and Kyle Trask competing at quarterback. Despair has come quickly for Tampa fans. The Buccaneers are in a similar spot to the Commanders where they have a number of talented players, but the quarterback and coach are too questionable. Mike Evans is quietly getting up there in age and Chris Godwin is in and out of the lineup. The offensive line was in a tough spot with injuries last year. This year they're in a tough spot again, but they don't have the injury excuse. The Bucs were 25th in points per game last season and I don't see a world where that number improves.
If the Buccaneers do win games this season, it'll be on the back of this defense. The defensive line is relatively young players, Shaq Barrett and Vita Vea. The linebackers have struggled in recent years and Devin White has made it known he wants to leave. The secondary has solid players as well with Jamel Dean, Carlton Davis III and Antoine Winfield Jr. They definitely are the best overall team on this list, but as I pointed out earlier, the quarterback and coaching is too shaky for me to overlook. Losing the best player of all-time has to take a toll on a franchise that has historically been one of the worst teams in league history.
Forgotten Player of the Week: Asante Samuel
This weeks Forgotten Player of the Week is the father of a current player. Asante Samuel played college ball at UCF and was drafted by the New England Patriots in the fourth round of the 2003 NFL Draft. Samuel came onto the scene and, what's normally true with most Bill Belichick rookies, he wasn't a starter. He still managed to contribute, including two interceptions with one of those being a pick six. The next season he saw his role increase to being a starter for eight games, where he recorded one interception that happened to be a pick six.
It was clear early what type of corner he was with his coverage abilities. The Patriots would go on to win the Super Bowl this season against the Panthers. In the 2005 season, he was the full-time starter and recorded three interceptions. This was en route to another Patriots Super Bowl win over the Eagles. The next season was when he truly made himself known amongst the leagues best ball hawks with a career high 10 interceptions and 24 pass deflections.
In 2007 during the Patriots perfect season, Samuel was acknowledged with accolades such as the first of four consecutive Pro Bowl appearances and he was a first team All-Pro. He recorded six interceptions this season. This would be his last season in New England as a contract dispute saw him leave the Patriots and sign with the Eagles. In 2008, he recorded four interceptions and tied his career-high of 24 pass deflections. In 2009, he intercepted the ball nine times and made second team All-Pro.
Samuel would start to decline as he only started 10 games in 2010. Despite missing some action, he managed to get seven interceptions and his last Pro Bowl appearance. Samuel played his last season in Philadelphia in 2011 and was traded to Atlanta during the offseason. I remember Samuel on the Falcons because I never saw a player hawk the ball like he did. He recorded five interceptions in his first season in Atlanta. Quickly, however, he found himself out of the league as his last season was in 2013 at age 32. He only had one interception that season.
Over the course of his career, Samuel recorded 51 interceptions, six of them were returned for touchdowns. He was one of the better ball hawk cornerbacks during his time in the league. He had at least one interception in every season he played. As I mentioned earlier, his son now plays in the league. Asante Samuel Jr. is very similar to his dad and plays for the Los Angeles Chargers.
Source: Image via Geoff Burke, USA TODAY Sports