Scout NFL Roundtable: Biggest Gamble

What's the biggest gamble your team is taking with their roster this season? That's the question we posed to our Scout NFL team experts from around the network. And we learned that plenty of teams are taking some big risks heading into 2007. Learn more inside from our experts...

Tim Yotter,
Minnesota Vikings

There is little debate that the Minnesota Vikings' biggest gamble is at the quarterback position. They have elected to have it be a competition between Tarvaris Jackson and Brooks Bollinger, but all indications from offseason practices are that the job is Jackson's to lose. 

Going into the season counting on a second-year quarterback with two starts is a huge risk. It could reap huge rewards with his strong arm and mobility, but there isn't much debating that it is a big risk for a coach whose job could be on the line if he doesn't win or create some excitement and hope for the future.

Stan Jones,
Tennessee Titans

The Titans are gambling on the success of second year quarterback Vince Young due to plenty of uncertainty at the running back position.

Travis Henry, who was the biggest and most consistent offensive weapon for the team last year, was cut by the Titans in early March after they decided not to pay him an $8 million roster bonus and failed to reach a new contract agreement. Heny signed with Denver instead.

While the Titans did re-sign running back Chris Brown recently, the staff was counting on LenDale White to carry the load after carrying the ball only 61 times last season for 244 yards. White reported to the offseason training overweight, and his dedication has been questioned.

In April, the Titans selected running back Chris Henry in the second round after impressing many scouts at the NFL Combine with great results in all of his tests and drills. Henry, who played sparingly while at the University of Arizona, could prove to be a wild card in the situation if he plays up to some of his expectations.

Doug Farrar,
Seattle Seahawks

Seattle's primary roster gamble is at tight end, where the team is putting its stock in 35-year-old Marcus Pollard.

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The former Indianapolis and Detroit TE has displayed some skill into his early 30s. Though his numbers plummeted from 46 receptions for 516 yards and 3 touchdowns in 2005 to 12 receptions for 100 yards and no scores last season, the hire of Mike Martz as the Lions' offensive coordinator before the 2006 season was the main factor. Martz doesn't really use tight ends as offensive options.

Still, Mike Holmgren's confidence in Pollard's ability to catch 40-50 footballs for the Seahawks in 2007 seems to be a bit of wishful thinking, especially since Seattle's still-struggling offensive line needs blocking from the tight end position and they don't run 2-tight end sets at all. I'm not sure if it was wise to take a chance on Pollard, even after (justifiably) cutting Jerramy Stevens and losing out to the Broncos in the Daniel Graham sweepstakes.

Undrafted free agent Joe Newton from Oregon State might seize this positional shortfall as his opportunity to find a place on the team.

Ken Palmer,
New York Giants

By far, New York's biggest gamble is its decision to slide David Diehl over to play the all-important left tackle position. Diehl has played three other spots on the line -- RG, RT and LG -- and played them all well, but as everyone knows, left tackle is an entirely different animal. 

One of new GM Jerry Reese's first moves was to jettison Luke Petitgout, who's now starting for the Bucs. Yet Reese did nothing to replace him other than slide Diehl over, a move that has most fans losing sleep at night. If Diehl fails, and there's no training camp trade for a left tackle, last year's fourth-round pick, Guy Whimper, would get the next shot.

Denis Savage,
Oakland Raiders

The Raiders plan to begin the year with Josh McCown as their starting quarterback, and that might be the biggest mistake they can make. Despite selecting JaMarcus Russell with the first overall pick in the 2007 NFL Draft, the LSU alumnus is slated to begin the year with the clipboard as his primary responsibility. For a team that is trying to find its identity, putting Russell in the fire from the start is the right thing to do.

There are growing pains often associated with putting a young quarterback at the helm. How will he respond under duress? Will he find the timing with his receivers? While these represent but a few of the prominent questions, the timetable to find those answers will be pushed back by putting McCown in and having Russell sit. 

If the Raiders are in a rebuilding mode this year, what is next year if Russell is given the reigns for the first time? Find out what you have now, and if Russell is in over his head after the first six games, fall back to McCown to hedge your bets.

Chuck Hixson,
Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles have gambled with letting two free agents head for other destinations.

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Jeff Garcia, who took over for oft-injured quarterback Donovan McNabb without missing a beat, headed for Tampa Bay and will battle for the starting job with the Buccaneers. So the Eagles will have to rely on A.J. Feeley and Kelly Holcomb if McNabb's two seasons in a row with significant injuries turns into three seasons in a row. At least they've started thinking about the future by drafting Kevin Kolb, but he certainly won't be ready for this season.

The Birds also made the decision to gamble with their secondary by letting Michael Lewis head to San Francisco. Sean Considine stepped up well last season and can handle duties at the safety spot and Brian Dawkins plays much younger than he is, but you have to be concerned about how long that will last. Dawkins turns 34 shortly after the season begins and if he stumbles, Lewis will be greatly missed. It's not as big of a gamble as letting Garcia go, but having Lewis exit is still a gamble for the Eagles.

Barry McBride,
Cleveland Browns

General Manager Phil Savage acknowledged when he took over the Browns that it would take several years to remake the roster. So, whether the situation on the team's defensive line is a "gamble" or simply an unchecked item on Savage's to-do list is open to interpretation.

Still, there's no denying the risks the Browns are taking on their defensive line heading into 2007. Despite the offseason signings of Shaun and Robaire Smith, the Browns are still counting on aging nose tackle Ted Washington (39) and defensive end Orpheus Roye (34) to hold down two starting spots on the line. Washington had a respectable season in 2006, and was a remarkable improvement over his predecessor (Jason Fisk). Now, however, he is one of the oldest players in the NFL. 

Roye, in the meantime, had an "off season" and the jury is out on whether that was due to playing through injuries or simply the ravages of time.  The Browns don't know the answer, but are placing a lot in the hopes that the aging warriors still have one season left in them. The answer will have a huge impact on the Browns 2007 season.

Todd Korth,
Green Bay Packers

Green Bay's offensive backfield lost a pair of former Pro Bowl players in running back Ahman Green and fullback William Henderson this offseason. Green signed a multi-year deal with Houston and the 36-year-old Henderson was not re-signed.

Many felt the Packers would pursue a veteran running back to help replace Green, but the Packers are rolling the dice with third-year pro Vernand Morency and rookie Brandon Jackson to carry the load at running back. The fullback position probably will be occupied by third-year pro Brandon Miree and backed up by rookie DeShawn Wynn.

Can Morency and Jackson overcome their inexperience with their quickness and ability to adapt to Green Bay's zone-blocking run scheme? That's a major question in Green Bay and the Packers' biggest gamble this off-season.

Charlie Bernstein,
Jacksonville Jaguars

Despite their best pass rusher, Reggie Hayward, rupturing his Achilles in the first game of the '06 season, and Paul Spicer getting on in years (32 years old), the Jaguars didn't address the defensive end position during the offseason.

Reggie Hayward
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Once Adalius Thomas signed with New England in free agency, what was left in the market didn't represent any immediate upgrades. And during the draft, no one matched the value at the spots where Jacksonville selected.

It is unclear whether or not Hayward will be able to play this season and Spicer is an average end on a good day. Reserve end Bobby McCray does a great job at getting to the quarterback, but is somewhat of a liability in stopping the run (although he has improved each year). Other possible contributors are Brent Hawkins, who was placed on the IR last season, and the Jaguars' fourth-round draft pick, Brian Smith, who is recovering from a broken hip.

The Jaguars head into camp with some questions to answer at the position, and they must depend on guys coming back from injury to play at 100 percent.

Aaron Wilson,
Baltimore Ravens

The Baltimore Ravens are taking a calculated risk that offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden's toe injury will heal well enough for him to play the entire schedule. They have installed former backup left tackle Adam Terry as their new right tackle. 

The chief problem is a lack of quality depth on the roster behind either player. They are banking on undersized, scrappy rookie Marshal Yanda being able to play tackle in a pinch. They need to hope that it never comes to that because Yanda is small and inexperienced.

Matthew Postins,
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tampa Bay's biggest gamble is something they didn't do this offseason -- sign a veteran safety. 

Donovin Darius, Robert Griffith and Ken Hamlin were just some of the possibilities. But Tampa Bay has opted to use rookies like Sabby Piscitelli and Tanard Jackson to push last year's starters, Jermaine Phillips and Will Allen. Both were sub-par last year and Tampa Bay's management is counting on an improved pass rush to help bolster Phillips and Allen. 

But what if it's not the pass rush? What if it's Phillips and Allen? Then the Buccaneers have little to replace the pair with.  It's a gamble that the Buccaneers could have easily avoided by paying the veteran minimum to a capable safety.

Jon Scott,
New England Patriots

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The Patriots addressed their main areas of concern, linebacker and receiver, via free agency. Although it can be argued that New England is gambling on Randy Moss and his commitment to playing hard, he signed an inexpensive deal that puts most of the risk in Moss' court. If things don't work out, the Patriots can just cut bait and run.

A bigger gamble is not securing the cornerback position. New England heads into the 2007 season not knowing if cornerback Asante Samuel will be part of the team.

Although he's franchised -- basically tying his hands from leaving --Samuel has threatened to sit out until Week 10 unless he gets a contract to his liking.  The Patriots are gambling that Samuel will not sit out 10 games and forfeit his nearly $460,000 per game paycheck just to prove his point. Not signing another pure cornerback as insurance against Samuel's holdout is probably their biggest gamble.

John Crist,
Chicago Bears

Even though I believe it was the right move to make, many experts are questioning the Bears' decision to trade Thomas Jones and give their starting tailback job to Cedric Benson.

Jones led the team in rushing each of the last three seasons, but he was not going to get another contract from GM Jerry Angelo after selecting Benson fourth-overall in the 2005 NFL Draft. Nobody denies Benson's talent or his laundry list of accomplishments as a collegian at the University of Texas, but the former Longhorn started his career with a nasty holdout, has been repeatedly injured, and although he finished 2006 very strong in a reserve role, was a non-factor in Super Bowl XLI. Jones, on the other hand, played well, played hurt, and was the only member of the offense to make an impact on Super Sunday.

Adding to this gamble is the fact that Adrian Peterson, who is predominantly a special-teams player, and Garrett Wolfe, an undersized rookie with zero experience, are currently second and third on the depth chart.

Jim Wexell,
Pittsburgh Steelers

The only gamble, and it's a small one, is that the Steelers have only one legitimate return man, and he, Willie Reid, has a bum foot. Reid says he'll be okay, but if not they could be looking at the disastrous Ricardo Colclough, whose fumble against the Bengals last year, many Steelers fans believe, was the turning point of the lost season. 

If neither Reid or Colclough is available, the Steelers would have to turn to Santonio Holmes and Willie Parker, and Mike Tomlin would be forced to live up to his "all-hands-on-deck" promise about putting starters on special teams. Those promises usually never make it out of spring ball.

Michael John Schon,
Denver Broncos

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The Denver Broncos took the biggest gamble of the Mike Shanahan era last season, trading up to draft Vanderbilt quarterback Jay Cutler with their first round selection. In 2007 that gamble begins to take shape, with Cutler assuming full- time duties from former starter Jake Plummer.

Although Cutler was able to get his feet wet during the final five games of 2006, it remains to be seen how quickly the youngster will adapt to the day- to- day pressures of being an NFL quarterback, especially in a city still searching for the heir apparent to John Elway.

There's no questioning the arm strength, Cutler has shown flashes of brilliance with the Broncos veteran receiving corps. It's the consistency, endurance and leadership skills that pose the biggest question mark. 

Can the twenty-four year old from Santa Clause, Indiana prove himself to be Denver's newest savior?  Head coach Mike Shanahan is banking on it.

Craig Massei,
San Francisco 49ers

The biggest gamble the 49ers are taking with their roster this season is the men who've been put in place to guide it. In the third year of the Mike Nolan regime -- the year the 49ers are expected to emerge again as a NFC contender -- Nolan will have a new offensive coordinator, a new defensive coordinator and a new special teams coordinator. And only one of those guys has ever been a NFL coordinator before.

Jim Hostler is making his debut running a NFL offense and Greg Manusky is at the helm of a NFL defense for the first time. Hostler is working with a unit that's breaking in new wide receivers and still searching for quality performers at that position, while Manusky is expected to oversee the team's complete transition to a 3-4 scheme with at least four new starters in the lineup.

Al Everest previously was a top special teams coach with the Saints, but the other new coordinators have no such experience or credentials. How they perform in their new roles figures to have a significant impact on how the 49ers perform on the field in this season of elevated expectations.

Ed Thompson,

Taking a quick look around the league, a pair of roster gambles that haven't been mentioned yet are in Indianapolis and Buffalo.

The Colts will be rolling the dice at running back this season -- not because of any doubt in Joseph Addai's abilities, but because his likely tandem partner is another second-year back who only saw action on special teams as a rookie -- DeDe Dorsey.

Elusive, versatile and confident, Dorsey should step in and do well. But the depth behind the pair consists of a CFL player and a pair of undrafted free agents, so they better stay healthy.

Over in Buffalo, their running back gamble is just as precarious. After trading away the disgruntled Willis McGahee, rookie Marshawn Lynch will have to get his NFL career off to a fast start. While the Bills also have journeyman backup Anthony Thomas, it's Lynch that will determine how much of a rushing attack Buffalo can provide to take pressure off of quarterback J.P. Losman.

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