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Insider

Tuesday mailbag

9/1/2009

Let's hop right into the questions ...


Q: Welcome to ESPN. There's been much speculation among Bucs fans that the team's NFL-low payroll is a result of ownership's investment in Man U of the EPL. Do you think that's the case? If so, should the NFL care, and what does it mean for Bucs fans? -- Fink (Connecticut)

Don't think so, Fink. I think we've seen any number of teams this offseason being careful with their finances, including Tampa. The year 2011, when the collective bargaining agreement is set to expire, looms for everyone, and to me, that has affected each team's thinking. Just being smart -- like the rest of the people in this economy.

Q: Haloti Ngata, Canton-bound at this rate? I've seen him play some the last two years, but I just watched him wreak havoc on the Jets on MNF. Preseason game aside, I can't remember watching a defensive tackle as athletic and disruptive as him since Warren Sapp ca. 1999. -- Andrew (New York)

A: A little early to put a bust of him in Canton, Andrew. But ... that guy is good! Watched him this summer, and his strength is unlike many players'. Just incredible. Ngata is blessed with rare skills and could wind up a Hall of Famer if he works hard and stays healthy.

To read Adam Schefter's thoughts on the Michael Crabtree situation and which young running backs he expects to break out this season, you must be an ESPN Insider.Insider

Q: I am as frustrated with the 49ers/Crabtree stalemate as I was happy on draft day when Crabtree landed in the 49ers' laps. The 49ers need him, but I agree with them 100 percent to give him No. 10 money (esp. with two No. 1 picks next year). I am afraid if he doesn't get in soon, he will be useless this year. What is the talk with this situation? What are the chances he signs before Game 1? -- James Stark

A: James, this deal isn't getting done any time soon. Now, there always is the chance Crabtree could decide he doesn't want to miss any game checks -- which start coming in Week 1 of the regular season. And things could turn in one day with one call. But there have been a lot of days without a lot of calls, and I don't see anything changing soon. He wants to be paid like a top-five pick, the Niners refuse, and until someone budges, no deal. And I think by now it will impact his rookie season, whenever he signs. If he signs.

Q: Adam, you never hear people talk about dead money on a team's salary cap holding them down anymore. Is there anything behind this or simply that teams have more money to spend and are managing their caps better? -- DPats (Calif.)

A: There still is dead money, DPats -- every team has it. The difference is that teams now have so much salary-cap room and are so far under the cap that even if a team takes a hit on a player's salary, it's not compromising its ability go sign players. The cap has gone up so much in recent years that it has made dead money less meaningful to fans (but certainly not owners).

Q: Is Tennessee looking at using Vince Young in a Wildcat? Seems like it would make sense, and if not, why? -- Glen Boyer (Pleasanton, Calif.)

A: There has to be some way the Titans can use his skills, and the Wildcat makes the most sense, Glen. But if they use him in it, they won't show it during the preseason. They'll wait until the regular season. Wouldn't surprise me, though.

Q: Adam, welcome to ESPN! I was wondering where Jon Runyan and Levi Jones might end up. As a Chiefs fan, I can't believe the team didn't bring in a right tackle to help Matt Cassel. The team's right side of the O-line looks as dismal in preseason as it did last year before it went to the spread formation to disguise the turnstiles. Any chance the Chiefs sign one of these guys, or do you see them waiting for a better (i.e. winning) opportunity? --Shawn (Toronto)

A: This always surprises me, Shawn. Teams are desperate for offensive line help. If Runyan and Jones could help, they would be signed, sealed and delivered. But teams have questions about these players, or players have questions about these teams. Either way, the combination hasn't worked. But far more often than not, there aren't any quality starters sitting on the street in late August and early September.

Q: Adam, thanks for the great first mailbag blog, and welcome to ESPN. Good reading the first go-around. I know you field a lot of questions that have skill positions and offense in mind, but can you answer one about the trenches: Other than [B.J.] Raji, whom you mentioned, who are a few big name performers you see on the O- and D-lines this season, especially breakout guys or groups? Thanks! -- Greg (Cleveland)

A: Well, Greg, don't think you can consider Denver's offensive tackles, Ryan Clady and Ryan Harris, breakout guys. But they're superb. Miami's young defensive ends, Phillip Merling and Kendall Langford, will be great players for the Dolphins for a long time. I think Washington hit pay dirt with Brian Orakpo, whom the Redskins will use to rush the passer. Mario Williams broke out a long time ago, so I guess we can't count him.

Q: Who would be your surprise team of the season? Does Green Bay jump out at you? What do you see from them this season? -- Jeff (Bogart, Ga.)

A: Don't think Green Bay is much of a surprise team, Jeff, not after the way it has played this preseason. But the Packers have been my pick to win the NFC North all offseason. I also like the Houston Texans, Cincinnati Bengals, New Orleans Saints, San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks as some sleeper teams. None made the playoffs last season. Wouldn't surprise me if a few of them did this season. Just remember: For each of the past 13 years, there have been at least five new playoff teams every season. Bet it happens again this season. Teams that no one sees coming always make it to January.

Q: Of the backup QBs available, whom should the Bills target, and why? -- Frank Casullo (Las Vegas)

A:Frank: So many teams in this league now are in the market for a backup quarterback -- the Packers, Giants, Ravens, Seahawks, Patriots, Raiders, maybe the Broncos. It'll be hard for Buffalo to land a quality one. Too many teams need one, and there aren't enough of them right now.

Q: OK, of these young running backs, whom do you see having the best career? Kevin Smith, Darren McFadden, Michael Bush, Rashard Mendenhall, and this year's rookies? For some reason I think Bush and Smith are going to be really, really good for years, and I'm hoping my Seahawks sign one of them when their contracts are up. Any thoughts? Throw in any other second/third year guys if you want. -- Jeff Bunney (Dayton, Wash.)

A: I like Kevin Smith, Jeff, and think he's going to have a good year for the Lions. I think Beanie Wells has started to flash this summer for the Cardinals, and he has a bright future. I think Knowshon Moreno will be a star in Denver once he can return from his knee injury this summer. Cleveland's sixth-round pick, James Davis, has the chance to make some noise his rookie season; he went to the same high school as Jamal Lewis and has a chance to be really good. And I think Shonn Greene will become a workhorse for the Jets in New York. Those are some candidates, but certainly not all.

Q: A lot of people have mentioned how Jay Cutler could use some better receivers, but I see his offensive line posing just as big, if not bigger, a problem. Last season he threw 18 interceptions behind a line that allowed just 12 sacks on more than 600 pass plays. Sure, those 600 attempts escalated the interception total, and Cutler's mobility helped keep the sack total low, but am I wrong to believe he could throw 20 picks behind a line that allowed almost 30 sacks last year on more than 550 pass plays? -- Davey (Vail, Colo.)

A: He could, Davey. Cutler's O-line and receivers are not as good as the ones he had in Denver, and that could impact his production and interceptions. But anyone who watched him Sunday night knows that it won't be easy for Denver to replace him, no matter how many picks he throws.

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