A year ago, St. Louis released Madison Hedgecock after the first game of the season and the New York Giants quickly signed him. It happened again when the Broncos let Domenik Hixon go a few weeks later and New York jumped.
Hedgecock was so efficient as a blocking fullback in the Giants' improbable Super Bowl run that he got a contract extension. Hixon had a kickoff return for a TD last year and is becoming an important part of New York's passing game; he had three catches for 60 yards against St. Louis last week, including a 32-yarder to set up a touchdown.
What the Giants did is one of many examples of why there is a little less parity in the NFL these days.
Some teams get it and others don't.
latively cheap, and stay competitive. The bad teams remain clueless and rarely get better, even if they annually pick at the top of the draft.
Which teams know what they're doing? In most cases, look at the standings. Injuries can equalize things in some seasons (Tom Brady), and the good franchises might fall back temporarily while the bad ones play decently.
But most of the time, they revert to their true level pretty quickly, as the Bengals seem to have done after a few years of respectability.
These teams certainly get it: Patriots, Giants, Steelers, Chargers, Packers, Eagles, Colts, Titans, Jaguars, Bucs, Seahawks, and (quietly) the Bills.
These don't: Raiders, Rams, Lions, Cardinals, 49ers, Bengals, Jets and, until Bill Parcells took over, the Dolphins.
Asterisk: Dallas obtained its best players during the Parcells era. With owner Jerry Jones back in charge the Cowboys show signs of player acquisition methods (Adam Jones and Tank Johnson) that resulted in three straight 5-11 seasons pre-Parcells. Although to give Jerry credit, first-round pick Felix Jones looks like a perfect fit.
ther (Larry Fitzgerald) got a huge new deal. Fitzgerald's renegotiation was necessary because the team made a mistake with his incentive-laden rookie deal that would have required the Cardinals to pay him more than $17 million this season and leave little cap room.
In general terms, the good teams do what good teams have always done: scout well, draft well and stay calm when they make a mistake, knowing that everyone will miss from time to time. In other words, if a high pick is a bum, get rid of him quickly, don't keep him to justify your choice.
They also understand that sometimes they might have to take a step backward to continue to thrive.
That's what the Packers were doing when they told Brett Favre they didn't want him after he decided to unretire. The reasoning was simple: Favre was the past and Aaron Rodgers is the future, and it was time to put the future in place. So far, so good - the way Rodgers has performed, the future is now.
The bad teams don't plan.
The worst non-planners have been the Lions, 31-83 since Matt Millen took over as president in 2001, and the Raiders, 20-62 since winning the 2002 AFC championship. One example: Detroit taking wide receivers in the first round in four of five drafts, hitting on Roy Williams and Calvin Johnson, missing on Mike Williams and Charles Rogers.
nt wildly in the offseason to try to atone for past sins, paying $55 million alone on wide receiver Javon Walker, a one-time star with Green Bay with a history of serious knee injuries. So far he has played in one of two games and has no receptions.
The Raiders also broke an unwritten rule: be wary of signing players that good teams are willing to let go. The best teams almost always re-sign the players they want to keep, meaning if a player is a free agent, they're willing to let him go.
Name one player, for example, who has left the Patriots and been better elsewhere. The converse is also true. Over the past few decades, a slew of former Cardinals have thrived after leaving Arizona, the most recent being Leonard Davis in Dallas.
In Oakland's case, it gave $39 million with $16 million guaranteed to Gibril Wilson, the former Giants safety. Wilson was a good player in the Meadowlands, but his reputation was as a solid tackler who fit in New York's system. Yet in the Raiders' opener against Denver, he was left in single coverage, something that rarely happened in New York. And he kept getting beaten.
In many cases, the difference is not worrying about ``names'' and finding no-name role players such as Hedgecock and Hixon.
ones brought in Ryan Leaf, Chad Hutchinson and Drew Henson.
Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli in New England are the masters of fitting in no-names and veterans seemingly past their prime. Belichick does it by putting them in position to exploit their strengths and minimize their weaknesses.
Rodney Harrison was cut by the Chargers in 2003, picked up by the Patriots and at 35 remains the leader of their secondary.
``I often prefer players who are pretty good at a lot of things to a player who does one thing very well, but can't do much else,'' Belichick has said on numerous occasions.
The results speak for themselves. So do the post-New England performances of the likes of Lawyer Milloy, David Givens, Deion Branch, Willie McGinest and others. Belichick knows when to get rid of players, be it for age, declining performance or salary demands.
The Pats also are flexible enough to change philosophies when they have to, trading for Randy Moss and Wes Welker to beef up a weak receiving corps in 2007 - a risk considering Moss' history. It worked out great and Belichick was able to say later: ``That was our draft.''
overall. But they made up for it by taking Corey Webster in the second round, Justin Tuck in the third and Brandon Jacobs in the fourth, three starters now at Pro Bowl level or close to it.
San Diego, another well-run team, wanted Osi Umenyiora, unproven after his rookie season, but New York opted instead to give up that 2005 first pick, which the Chargers used for Shawne Merriman. Two similar players and both, coincidentally, sidelined for this season with knee injuries.
When other teams go that route, it doesn't work as well.
Cleveland gave up its second and third draft picks this season to shore up its interior defensive line with Shaun Rogers and Corey Williams. The Browns are 0-2 and Williams hasn't performed well.
Minnesota also went for the quick fix, trading for Jared Allen to plug a hole at defensive end, then paying him millions. But the Vikings couldn't get Favre to come their way, were left with third-year-man Tarvaris Jackson at QB, and after starting 0-2 have turned to 37-year-old Gus Frerotte at the game's most important position.
The team that did get Favre, the Jets, spent a lot of money on other aging players. Maybe they will sneak into the playoffs, but what will they do for a quarterback next year or the year after?
eams to jump when a team cuts a Hedgecock or Hixon. The latter was let go by the Broncos because he played badly after being involved in the special teams collision that left Buffalo's Kevin Everett paralyzed - fortunately temporarily.
The Giants, knowing he had talent, figured they would try to get him out of his funk, especially because they didn't have to give up anything.
As for Hedgecock ...
``I have no clue what went into that. I'm just one of the guys. I knew he could play in this league and I'll leave it at that,'' St. Louis quarterback Marc Bulger said last week.
That's why the Rams are 3-15 over the last two seasons and likely to be looking for a new front office and coach in short order.

The top six and bottom six teams in the NFL based on current level of play:
1. New York Giants (2-0). Given the upcoming schedule, it may be a while before they lose.
2. Dallas (2-0). Could have lost Monday night. All that counts is the Cowboys didn't.
3. Pittsburgh (2-0). A first-class operation for four decades. Which is why the NFL can't let anyone buy out Dan Rooney.
4. New England (2-0). Whatever it takes to win, the Patriots do it.
5. Philadelphia (1-1). OK, so the Eagles lost in Dallas. They looked like a legit contender doing it.
n't someone named Brett play here once?

27. Minnesota (0-2). When you change QBs after two games, someone is panicking.
28. Miami (0-2). The turnaround will take longer than two games.
29. Detroit (0-2). Jon Kitna puts up numbers. Then he does the worst thing at the worst time, usually a pass to the other guys.
30 Cincinnati (0-2). There are ochenta y cinco reasons why the Bengals are bad.
31. Kansas City. (0-2). You land here when you lose two QBs to injury in two games.
32. St. Louis. (0-2) Rank last in offense, last in defense and have lost five straight by an average of 40-15.

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