Mar 122013

Mike WallaceWe will continue updating this article for the next few days until may of the top tier free agents have landed. Some may get their own article, but this spot will keep track of the major comings and goings of players as the free agency period begins.


Tuesday, March 12

– Prior to the start of free agency today, the Jets released defensive tackle Sione Po’uha, who had a base salary of $4.9 million for the upcoming season, creating $3.8 million in cap space. No word yet on whether or not he is expected to re-sign at a lower price.

– The Panthers released linebacker James Anderson, whom they had overpaid for last season to the tune of 5 years and $22 million.

– The Chargers released tight end Randy McMichael.

– The Rams released safety Quintin Mikell, and have now parted ways with both starting safeties from last season.

– Word is that Wes Welker is still waiting to hear the Patriots’ first contract offer before free agency begins.  Tom E. Curran suggesting it is hard for the Patriots to know what the market for Welker will look like, but Welker is likely to wait for offers to increase his leverage. The soft market for wide receivers doesn’t help the Patriots. The Colts and Broncos may well rival the Patriots for Welker’s service. The Pats are risking not making the highest offer to Welker, and it might come back to bite them. Perhaps the Patriots are heading in another direction? One thing is for sure… Bill Belichick has ice water in his veins.

Tony Gonzalez looks like he is heading back to the Falcons.

– The Texans have released receiver Kevin Walter.

– The Vikings have re-signed receiver Jerome Simpson for one year. Meanwhile, the Steelers are giving Plaxico Burress another shot (drum roll).

– Safety James Ihedigbo has re-signed with the Ravens, insuring another year of him being able to drop to the ground in pain after every play.

– Linebacker Larry Foote has worked out a deal to stay in Pittsburgh. Linebacker LaMarr Woodley has also agreed to restructure his contract.

Santonio Holmes has worked out a deal to restructure his contract and remain with the Jets.

– Cornerback Antoine Winfield has been released by the Vikings.

– Running back Beanie Wells released by the Arizona Cardinals.

– The Rams reach a deal to keep defensive end William Hayes in St. Louis.

– As expected, the Eagles have released cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha from their famous “Dream Team”

– Prediction 14 minutes before free agency begins, though not a stunner. Wes Welker is not returning to New England, and the Patriots don’t appear too concerned about losing him, despite numbers that put him on a path to the Hall of Fame.

– Giants sign cornerback Aaron Ross, who did not have to wait for free agency to begin as a result of being released by the Jaguars and going unclaimed.

– Vikings keep tackle Phil Loadholt just before free agency begins.

And now free agency begins…

Paul Kruger looks like he is headed to Cleveland… major surprise that the Ravens couldn’t get this one done. New word is that he has officially signed.

– The Bengals re-sign defensive end Robert Geathers.

– The Broncos steal away guard Louis Vasquez from the Chargers.

Mike Wallace appears set to make $13 million a year with the Miami Dolphins.

– Tight end Delanie Walker agrees to a deal with the Titans.

– The Bills have cut quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. I guess that prank phone call caused some embarrassment in western New York. Talk about addition by subtraction.

– The Chiefs have agreed to a deal with tight end Anthony Fasano.

– The Alex Smith to Kansas City trade is now official.

– Are the Colts set to steal both Talib and Welker from the Pats? A tweet from the Colts’ bizarre owner seems to go in this direction.

– Former Bills guard Andy Levitre headed to Titans on a six year deal.

– Or is this what Irsay was talking about? The Colts have reached agreement with offensive tackle Gosder Cherilus. Does he really merit that many exclamation points?

– Quarterback Chase Daniel agrees to terms with Chiefs.

– No, this is why Irsay is excited. The Colts have agreed to terms with cornerback Greg Toler. It’s a good move by Grigson.

– The Colts are on a roll. Linebacker Erik Walden has left Green Bay to join the Colts. Good moves by Indy, even if they aren’t sexy.

– Ah, the Colts did steal a Patriot! Guard Donald Thomas is headed to Indy.

– Punter Sav Rocca is staying with the Redskins.

– Elvis Dumervil now appears willing to take pay cut from Broncos; the two sides are apparently negotiating according to Ian Rapoport.

– Another Ravens loss: Linebacker Dannell Ellerbe reaches agreement in principle with Miami Dolphins.

– Colts make it five Day One signings as they pen linebacker Lawrence Sidbury from the Falcons. Busy day for the Colts.

Taking a dinner break now… will be back later.

Back from a long dinner break, and lots more has happened…

– Safety Darius Butler will be remaining with the Colts.

Martellus Bennett has landed with the Bears, with the tight end signing a four year deal.

– The Ravens signed defensive lineman Chris Canty to a three year deal.

– The Vikings re-signed fullback Jerome Felton to a three year deal.

– The Dolphins dumped linebacker Karlos Dansby, who started all 16 games last season playing with a torn biceps muscle and racking up 134 tackles. Ouch. They added linebacker Phillip Wheeler and re-signed safety Chris Clemons.

– The Rams are poised to sign the coveted tight end Jared Cook, formerly of the Titans.

– The Eagles get into action by signing former Patriots’ safety Patrick Chung (good riddance) and former Panthers’ linebacker Jason Phillips, as well as tight end James Casey from Houston.

– The Eagles keep it coming with former 49ers nose tackle Isaac Sopoga and former Rams’ cornerback Bradley Fletcher.

– The Raiders released receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey and safety Michael Huff.

– The Chiefs have stolen away a Jets’ favorite by signing defensive tackle Mike DeVito.

– Apparently Warren Sapp doesn’t think much of covering Bill Belichick on the NFL Network. Or maybe he just doesn’t think.

– The Browns get another one with the signing of defensive tackle Desmond Bryant.

The pace is slowing down a little at 8:30 pm Central, but there may still be a few transactions before the end of the night. In the meantime, the free agents that we are waiting to see what transpires with on this thread include (in no particular order):

Cliff Avril (Det / SEA)
Wes Welker (NE / DEN)
Jake Long (Mia)
Greg Jennings (GB / MIN)
Aqib Talib (NE)
Dashon Goldson (SF / TB)
Osi Umemyiora (NYG)
Steven Jackson (StL / ATL)
Ed Reed (Bal)
Danny Amendola (StL / NE)
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (Phi / DEN)
Sebastian Vollmer (NE)
Connor Barwin (Hou / PHI)
Adrian Wilson (ARI / NE)
Andre Smith (Cin)
Cary Williams (Bal / PHI)
Brian Urlacher (Chi)
Dustin Keller (NYJ / MIA)
John Abraham (ATL / NE)

– Last one for tonight – offensive tackle Sam Baker is staying with the Falcons, signing a six year deal. See you tomorrow!

Wednesday, March 13

A few early tidbits before the action begins again in earnest.

Wes Welker and the Patriots are described as very far apart on terms, with the Patriots maintaining an offer on the table. It will be interesting to see how this develops between now and the weekend.

– The Redskins signed defensive tackle Kedric Golston to a new three-year contract on Tuesday.

Will Smith and Jonathan Vilma are taking big pay cuts to stay in New Orleans.

– The Chargers signed former Eagles tackle King Dunlap to a two year deal.

– The Browns signed free agent linebacker Quentin Groves, who played in Arizona last season.

– The Jets housecleaning is in full swing. And even with Revis likely on his way out of town, it didn’t stop the the Jets from restructuring the contract of cornerback Antonio Cromartie. Baby Mamas should beware.

More to come as the day develops!

– The Ravens have just released safety Bernard Pollard. Is he worth a look in Foxboro?

Mike Giardi is tweeting that Wes Welker drew some attention, and those offers have impacted negotiations with the Pats. Expect the Patriots to move on and find a new slot receiver.

– The Lions have re-signed cornerback Chris Houston.

– The Broncos have guaranteed the salary of Peyton Manning for the next two seasons.

– Linebacker Manny Lawson has signed a multi-year deal with the Buffalo Bills.

– Some very interesting chatter about where Wes Welker may be going. Due to the source I won’t share where, but this is going to be a very interesting thing to watch. Plus I am going to lay $5 on my info.  I know, I know… big spender. :-)

– The Steelers have signed quarterback Bruce Gradkowski to a three-year deal.

– The Jaguars have waived wide receiver Laurent Robinson one year after signing the former Cowboy to a huge deal.

Wes Welker’s agent has described the Patriots’ offer to the wide receiver as “laughably low.” Sounds like all sides are ready to move on.

– The Giants have signed kicker Josh Brown.

– Former Colts’ receiver Donnie Avery is joining the Kansas City Chiefs.

– The Ravens have re-signed offensive guard Ramon Harewood.

Reggie Bush is the new lead back for the Detroit Lions.

– Word is that the Patriots offered 4 year, $32 million to Wes Welker and the Welker camp is unhappy. Suitors may be down to the Broncos and Pats, though I am hearing there are two dark horses, at least one of which has made a better offer than New England.

– The Arizona Cardinals agree on a one-year deal with former Steelers’ running back Rashard Mendenhall.

– A big one is off the market; the Rams have signed offensive tackle Jake Long to a contract. Update: Correction; an offer has yet to be made or accepted (as of 1:56 pm Central).

– It looks like the Broncos are working hard to get a deal with Wes Welker done today. I’m going to lose my five bucks.

– The Detroit Lions have added safety Glover Quin, formerly of the Texans; this is a big upgrade in their secondary.

– The Buccaneers have signed former 49ers safety Dashon Goldson to a five year deal.

– The Jaguars signed former Bears free agent linebacker Geno Hayes to a one-year deal.

– The Wes Welker to Denver deal is looking close to done.

– The 49ers have agreed to a contract with former Chiefs defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey.

– The Titans have reached agreement on a three-year, $10 million deal with former Jets’ running back Shonn Greene.

– According to WEEI, Wes Welker’s camp has brought the Broncos’ offer back to the Patriots to give New England a chance to match. My guess is no, but this shows where Wes’ heart really is.

– The Broncos announce one-year deal with linebacker Stewart Bradley.

– Running back Lex Hilliard has signed a one year deal to stay with the Jets.

– Cornerback Drayton Florence has agreed to a one year deal with the Panthers. It looks like the corners are now going to start to go.

– Defensive tackle Samie Lee Hill has reached agreement on a three-year, $11.4 million deal with the Titans.

Wes Welker has agreed to terms with the Denver Broncos. Clearly, the Patriots declined the offer to match. It is only a two year deal, so it must be coming down to guaranteed money. Waiting for the details.

– Details on Wes Welker… it is “only” two years, $12 million. Must be fully guaranteed, and it must be that the Patriots set a value for the position and would not exceed it.  Sounds like the Patriots had already determined that Welker was no longer “Plan A.” Patriots have yet to make major moves, but it’s in the air. The next couple of days should show us the Pats’ off-season approach.

According to Greg Bedard, Patriots initial offer to Wes Welker was two years and $10 million with incentives. Albert Breer accurately notes that the Pats likely see Aaron Hernandez and Wes Welker as redundant, and Hernandez is much younger and at least as difficult to cover. This deal underscores how much the Miami Dolphins, who have agreed to shell out $30.55 million over five years for Brian Hartline, overpaid for a number two receiver.

– Quarterback Drew Stanton signed a three year deal with the Arizona Cardinals. Here’s hoping they don’t trade for Tim Tebow.

– The Broncos have signed former Jaguars defensive tackle Terrance Knighton.

OK… time for another dinner break… and to make sure I move the Wes Welker to the back of my closet.

– The Oakland Raiders signed linebacker  Kaluka Maiava and defensive tackle and defensive end Pat Sims, as well as defensive end Jason Hunter.

– The Arizona Cardinals signed cornerback Jerraud Powers and safety Yeremiah Bell.

– The Seattle Seahawks have landed defensive lineman Cliff Avril, who provides an instant upgrade to the Seahawks’ pass rush.

– Not waiting long to respond to Wes Welker’s deal with Denver, the Patriots have signed wide receiver Danny Amendola to a five year, $31 million deal,, with $10 million guaranteed.

– The Titans signed linebacker Moise Fokou, formerly with the Colts.

– The Broncos complete a successful day by reeling in cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie on a one year deal.

– The Colts have signed former Jets free agent safety LaRon Landry

That’s all for tonight…. more to come on Thursday!

Thursday, March 14

I’m expecting today to be a little bit slower as the agents and teams take a breath and assess where they are, and as remaining players line up visits with teams.

– Former Seahawks’ running back and return man Leon Washington will visit the patriots, who just lost their punt returner yesterday (what was his name again?). Washington has also been connected to talks with the Bucs.

– Cornerback Derek Cox has signed a four year, $20 million deal with the San Diego Chargers.

– Running back Chris Ogbonnaya will be staying in Cleveland, agreeing to a two year deal.

Greg Jennings will be visiting the Minnesota Vikings, who seem to be the front runners (along with Green Bay) to land the veteran wide receiver.

– A mystery suitor for Wes Welker has been revealed by Adam Schefter.. the Tennessee Titans. I rather suspect we will learn of one or two more teams in the coming days.

Great article from Mike Reiss details that Wes Welker went back to the Patriots with the Broncos’ offer, only to be later informed that the Patriots had already made a commitment to another player (Danny Amendola).

– The Chiefs have released Matt Cassel. Is a homecoming a possibility in Foxboro?

– The J-E-T-S are trying to build leverage by suggesting that they are not actively trying to trade Darrelle Revis.

– The Panthers are keeping quarterback Derek Anderson for another year.

– Cornerback Sean Smith has found a new home in Kansas City, agreeing to a three year deal.

– It turns out that the Patriots signed Danny Amendola on Tuesday, a full day before the Wes Welker drama took place. Anyone else think the team hadn’t already decided to move on?

– The Redskins and offensive tackle Jeremy Trueblood have reached a deal.

Kevin Kolb is about to be released by the Cardinals, and his next destination appears to be the starting quarterback of the J-E-T-S.

Ricky Jean Francois has agreed to a four-year, $22 million deal with the Indianapolis Colts.

– The Vikings have landed quarterback Matt Cassel, who was just released from the Chiefs.

– The Eagles have added cornerback Cary Williams and safety Kenny Phillips .

– Cornerback Keenan Lewis has agreed to terms with the New Orleans Saints on a five year deal.

– The Falcons have landed running back Steven Jackson to replace Michael Turner in Atlanta.

– Linebacker Connor Barwin leaves Houston for Philadelphia and a six year deal.

– The Patriots have landed kick returner and running back Leon Washington.

– The Buccaneers have signed wide receiver Kevin Ogletree.

 Friday, March 15

We’ll wrap this thread up with a recap of last night’s signings and some look at today.

– The Jets are close to signing running back Mike Goodson. UPDATE: Goodson has signed.

– Defensive end Michael Bennett has agreed to a one year, $5 million deal with the Seattle Seahawks. The 49ers may be an early favorite for the Super Bowl, but right now they appear to have serious competition to win the NFC West.

– Former Vikings’ linebacker Jasper Brinkley has agreed to a two year deal with the Arizona Cardinals.

– John Elway says that defensive end Elvis Dumervil’s salary is “out of whack.” From a business perspective Elway is right, but does anyone seeing a change of location coming for the pass rushing star?

– The Jaguars re-signed cornerback Antwaun Molden to a one-year veteran minimum deal.

– The Rams have re-signed defensive end William Hayes and defensive tackle Jeremelle Cudjo.

– The Bears re-signed defensive tackle Nate Collins to a one-year contract.

– Former Bears’ linebacker Nick Roach has joined the Oakland Raiders.

– Adam Schefter is expecting cornerback Aqib Talib to return to the Patriots, as the cornerback market is not drawing the same dollars it was just a year ago.

We’ll keep updating the list presented at the end of Day One, but we will only be posting updates for bigger news the rest of the way out.

– OK, this is worth an update. According to PFT, the 49ers are in “serious discussions” with cornerbacks Nnamdi Asomugha and Charles Woodson.

– The Patriots have signed former Bills’ wide receiver Donald Jones.

– Tight end Dustin Keller has joined the Miami Dolphins, who appear to be cementing second place in the AFC East.

Kevin Kolb is being released in Arizona. Is New York next?

– Cornerback Kyle Arrington has re-signed with the Patriots and a four year deal.

– Running back Danny Woodhead has signed to two year deal with the San Diego Chargers.

– Offensive Lineman Willie Colon has joined the Jets.

– Safety Louis Delmas has signed back on with the Detroit Lions.

– Defensive end Matt Shaughnessy has a one-year deal in Arizona.

– Huge drama surrounding Elvis Dumervil. Dumervil agreed to a salary reduction but the paperwork did not get filed on time by his agent. The Broncos were seven minutes late filing, and Dumervil has been officially released. The release, along with Welker’s new deal, has just created a cap problem in Denver. The Broncos can likely still work out a deal, but they now have a huge financial mess on their hands. UPDATE: The release creates $4.87M in dead money for this season, meaning Denver will be hard pressed to bring Dumervil back. Question: Why are teams in a multi-billion dollar industry still relying on fax machines?

– While fax machines are being flung out windows in Denver, defensive end John Abraham officially becomes a member of the New England Patriots.

– Eagles announce they acquired wide receiver Arrelious Benn, a former 2nd-rd pick, and 7th-rounder from Tampa Bay for a 2013 6th-rounder and 2014 conditional pick.

– Wide receiver Brandon Gibson is now a member of the Miami Dolphins.

– Running back Justin Forsett has agreed to terms with the Jaguars.

– Big news breaking that the Patriots have signed wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders to an offer sheet, which is undoubtedly front-loaded with case. The cap-strapped Pittsburgh Steelers now have a chance to match the offer. It’s been a big day for the Patriots.

– The Cardinals agree to terms with cornerback Antoine Cason on a one year deal.

– Safety Adrian Wilson has signed a three year deal with the New England Patriots. Right now Bill Belichickk is looking like a salary cap genius.

– Big news in Minnesota… the Vikings have signed wide receiver Greg Jennings away from Green Bay.

– The Jets signed defensive tackle Antonio Garay to a one year deal. That’s two good moves in the same day, Jets’ fans.

– The Ravens signed defensive lineman Marcus Spears to a two year deal.

Saturday, March 16

– Per Adam Schefter, the Patriots have not signed wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders to an offer sheet… yet. They are mulling over the possibility. That may be a cap issue, or it may be an issue of whether or not they believe they can fit Sanders in with Lloyd, Amendola, Jones, Gronk, Hernandez, and Balllard. The Pats have also been quiet on the re-negotiations with Lloyd, so that may be part of the calculus.

– Hearing that something is likely forthcoming on cornerback Aqib Talib’s return to the Patriots. All is still quiet on the Sebastian Vollmer front.

Jun 062012

With every new season, hope springs eternal. Almost every year, some team moves from worst to first — and fans around the league ask themselves, “Hey; why not us?”

While it may be fun to speculate which team might follow the example of the St. Louis Rams (1998: 4-12 doormat; 1999: 13-3 Super Bowl champs), let’s be honest: there are some teams who would be better off closing up shop and waiting ’til next year. Thus, I present this year’s Snowball Report — as in, who has a snowball’s chance in Hell of making the 2012 playoffs? Because I don’t feel like going into detail about each team’s offseason moves, I’ll be using the grades assigned by USA Today. (What’s the internet for, if not to make my life easier?)

First up, the mighty mighty[1] AFC West!


2011 Results: Broncos (8-8); Chargers (8-8); Raiders (8-8); Chiefs (7-9)

2012 Offseason Grades: Broncos (B+); Chargers (C); Raiders (I); Chiefs (B+)

I would have given the Broncos an “A+”, ’cause they added the best quarterback since God Himself created football. Of course, I’m a homer, and I would say that. On the other hand, John Elway managed to completely ignore the defense, which was the true force behind Tim Tebow’s miracle stretch last season. So USA Today’s B+ is probably a bit generous… I for one am hoping Denver doesn’t end up in too many shootouts. Nevertheless, the Broncos will no doubt repeat as AFC West champs.

The Chargers’ and Chiefs’ grades seem appropriate, and they will likely come in second and third, respectively. Meanwhile, the Raiders get an “incomplete” from USA Today, mainly out of deference to new GM Reggie McKenzie. However, the simple fact is this is a team in disarray. Maybe McKenzie will right the ship; but it’s going to take more than one season to do it. The AFC West Snowball is the Oakland Raiders.


2011 Results: Ravens (12-4); Steelers (12-4); Bengals (9-7); Browns (4-12)

2012 Offseason Grades: Ravens (B-); Steelers (B); Bengals (B+); Browns (B)

In analyzing the AFC North, one has to take a lot into account… there are so many variables to consider.

Actually, I lied — there’s only one question that needs answering. Are the Browns still in the AFC North? Yes? Okay then. The AFC North Snowball is the Cleveland Browns.


2011 Results: Texans (10-6); Titans (9-7); Jaguars (5-11); Colts (2-14)

2012 Offseason Grades: Texans (C-); Titans (C-); Jaguars (B); Colts (C)

I really want to pick another team from this division. It’s too easy to just look at last year’s record, see two wins, and think, “Yep; the Colts have a long road back.” While that is true, signing Andrew Luck was a huge step in the right direction. Assuming Luck turns out more a Peyton Manning than a Ryan Leaf, I don’t think it’ll be long before Indianapolis is a playoff contender once again. However, they’ll have to break through the Texans to do it. Houston doesn’t factor into the Super Bowl picture (yet), but they look to be fighting for divisional titles over the next few years, at least.

The Colts may finish out of the bottom spot in the division — and if the ball bounces their way a few times, they might break even and go 8-8. However, that’s not going to be enough to get them into the playoffs. While it’s possible the Titans or Jaguars will finish below them in the standings, each of those teams also has a higher upside. The AFC South Snowball is the Indianapolis Colts.


2011 Results: Patriots (13-3); Jets (8-8); Dolphins (6-10); Bills (6-10)

2012 Offseason Grades: Patriots (A-); Jets (C-); Dolphins (B-); Bills (A-)

Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Sadly, I’m not talking about the Patriots, who will (barring an earthquake that sends the entire state of Massachusetts drifting out into the north Atlantic) make another deep run into the playoffs. No, I’m talking about the Jets — a team that made it to the AFC Championship Game in consecutive seasons, sticking with the Manning-led Colts for one half in 2009, and knocking off favored New England only to lose a close game to the Steelers in 2010. Rex Ryan’s boys had reclaimed the swagger of Joe Namath, and looked for all the world like they were going to become a perennial foe for the Patriots.[2] Then came a disappointing 2011 campaign.

The worst part of the season wasn’t the lack of a Super Bowl championship, or even the 8-8 record. It was the way in which Mark Sanchez, whose skill set was never highly regarded outside the Meadowlands, was exposed for all the world to see as an average quarterback, at best — certainly sub-par for a team expecting to contend for trophies.

Then, the Jets added insult to injury; they traded for Tim Tebow. This act in itself doesn’t say much about the Jets’ chances in 2012 — in fact, the addition of Tebow could be seen as an asset to an offense that desperately needs a spark (this is a team that failed to score more than 21 points seven times last season, and lost all seven times). However, the decision to acquire Tebow so soon after giving Sanchez a three-year extension shows that this is a team that has no idea what it’s doing.

Tebow is a good player — he might even one day be a consistently good quarterback. But does the Jets’ management actually think the fan base in New York is going to be any more patient than the fans in Denver? You know, the ones who screamed for Tebow after week one? Putting Tebow in New York is like throwing meat to the wolves, and is not a recipe for helping Sanchez regain his confidence.

For a team built on swagger, this is a disaster in the making. The AFC East Snowball is the New York Jets.

[1] By “mighty mighty” I mean, of course, “pathetic and sad, but social.”

[2] No, they never did back up the swagger with achievement — but in the AFC East, no one’s getting past New England unless they first convince themselves they can do it. So, I forgive the baseless arrogance as a necessary step.

Jun 042012

So, my Broncos won the Peyton Manning sweepstakes. Yaay!

But what does that mean?

Denver has been in a state of flux at quarterback for over a decade now. Most recently, Tim Tebow was exciting, and he was probably responsible for winning three or four games last season the Broncos would otherwise have lost. It’s also probable that he was responsible for losing two or three games the team would have won with Kyle Orton under center.

Predicting what Peyton’s presence will do for the Broncos this year is a bit complicated — for one, while most observers seem to think he’s back to his pre-injury form, we won’t know for sure until Manning gets hit for the first time. Secondly, Denver has made some other moves in the offseason, the impact of which is yet to be determined.

Instead, I thought it would be fun to speculate what (pre-injury) Peyton’s presence might have done for the Broncos in 2011.

First, a quick recap of the team’s quarterback journey:

  • 1999: John Elway retires. There is much wailing and gnashing of teeth all along the front range. Brian Griese is designated as the heir apparent.
  • 2003: Griese is released for the twin transgressions of (1) failing to prevent Terrell Davis’ ACL injury four years earlier, and (2) not being John Elway. Jake Plummer is brought in to save the team.
  • 2006: Plummer is benched after 11 games in favor of Jay Cutler. Plummer’s benching, which would lead directly to his retirement in 2007, was the result of his heinous crimes of (1) failing to be single-handedly better than the entire Pittsburgh Steelers team in the 2005 AFC Championship, and (2) not being John Elway.
  • 2009: Cutler is abruptly traded to the Chicago Bears in a straight-up swap for Kyle Orton. This trade was instigated by ex-Patriot offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, who blames Cutler for not being Tom Brady. The rest of the city goes along with the move, because they can’t forgive Cutler for not being John Elway.
  • 2011: To the surprise of exactly no one, Orton turns out not to be John Elway, either. In despair, the team turns to Tim Tebow, whom many suspect of being Jesus, which is almost as good as being Elway, so why not?
  • 2012: The team signs Peyton Manning, shipping Tebow off to New York without so much as a fruit basket for his efforts. As of press time, some (heretics) are wondering if maybe, just maybe, Manning might be better than Elway was.

And here we are. In some ways, the situation in Denver is not unlike the one in 2003, where a highly-regarded college player is given a shot, only to fall short of expectations, and an established quarterback is brought in from elsewhere to push the team over the top. Of course, Tebow was not Griese, and Plummer was certainly not Manning, but the parallels are interesting.

Okay, enough background. Let’s get to the breakdown of last season. Below is a list of all the regular-season game results, and my predictions (postdictions?) of what would have happened with Manning instead of Orton/Tebow:

Week 1 vs. Raiders (L, 20-23): Manning is certainly worth more than 3 points against the third-worst scoring defense in the league. BRONCOS WIN (1-0)

Week 2 vs. Bengals (W, 24-22): There’s no reason to think Manning’s presence would have done anything but increase the margin of victory. BRONCOS WIN (2-0)

Week 3 at Titans (L, 14-17): Again, a 3-point loss to a middle-of-the-pack team, although this time the defense was ranked 9th in the league. Still, you have to think Manning is worth more than a field goal. BRONCOS WIN (3-0)

Week 4 at Packers (L, 23-49): An ugly, ugly game which set the stage for the eventual switch to Tebow. Manning would have made the game much closer, but the Pack at home are a tough nut to crack. BRONCOS LOSE (3-1)

Week 5 vs. Chargers (L, 24-29): This is one I’m looking forward to in Real Life™; Manning vs. Rivers. Phil isn’t what he used to be, but neither is Manning, and I think the two games they play in 2012 are going to be closely fought and entertaining. In this case, I think Peyton would have turned defeat into victory. BRONCOS WIN (4-1)

Week 6 (BYE)

Week 7 at Dolphins (W, 18-15): Tebow’s first start, and his first “miracle”. A Manning-led team wouldn’t have been down 15-0 in the first place. BRONCOS WIN (5-1)

Week 8 vs. Lions (L, 10-45): A soul-crushing game, one to which people should have paid more attention as the Tebow Train rolled on over the next six weeks. The 2011 Detroit Lions were no juggernaut, but they were clearly better that day. Manning would have made the final score more respectable, and maybe even had a chance to win, but it’s reasonable to assume the outcome would not have changed. BRONCOS LOSE (5-2)

Week 9 at Raiders (W, 38-24): If Tebow can throw up 38 points on the Raiders’ defense, what could Manning have done? BRONCOS WIN (6-2)

Week 10 at Chiefs (W, 17-10): Manning turns a close game into a laugher. BRONCOS WIN (7-2)

Week 11 vs. Jets (W, 17-13): The one benefit Tebow had over his first several games was just how unique his style of play was in the NFL. Given enough time, defensive coordinators can usually come up with a solution for most anything — and they most certainly did for Tebow. However, the Jets game (specifically, the last drive) was one in which it was clear the opponent was expecting something completely different than what they got. Had they been able to prepare for a more traditional passer, they might have had enough to win. At home, I’d have given them the benefit of the doubt. BRONCOS WIN (8-2)

Week 12 at Chargers (W, 16-13): Another game in which I think Tebow’s presence helped more than it hurt. In San Diego, the Broncos always seem to struggle. With Manning under center, it’s entirely possible the Chargers would have come out on top. BRONCOS LOSE (8-3)

Week 13 at Vikings (W, 35-32): This was the game in which Tebow’s fate was sealed. Although it was easily his best passing performance of the year (149.3 rating) and he came out with the victory, he passed nearly four times as often as he ran (15 to 4). The team yardage was more balanced (150 rushing to 202 passing), but the implications were clear: the Broncos knew full well it was only a matter of time before Tebow had to prove himself as a traditional passer. He did well against the Vikings, but the Patriots were looming two weeks down the road… In any event, with Manning, this is still a win. BRONCOS WIN (9-3)

Week 14 vs. Bears (W, 13-10): Tebow extends his streak to six wins, but only with a lot of luck, and some help from Marion Barber. Nevertheless, scoring only 10 points, the Bears are no match for Manning. BRONCOS WIN (10-3)

Week 15 vs. Patriots (L, 23-41): Tebowmania meets Belichick. Belichick wins. Manning has struggled against the Patriots, but I look to the 2009 AFC Championship, and Belichick’s history at Mile High, for guidance on this one. BRONCOS WIN (11-3)

Week 16 at Bills (L, 14-40): The Tebow “magic” is well and truly dead at this point. While the Bills soundly crushed the Broncos in reality, a lot of it may have been a hangover from the previous week. Nevertheless, there’s reason to think that, on the road, the Broncos would have had a similar let-down after Manning led them to what would have been a huge win against New England. BRONCOS LOSE (11-4)

Week 17 vs. Chiefs (L, 3-7): Seriously? BRONCOS WIN (12-4)

The Broncos finish four games better than in reality, but their position in the division remains the same, winning the AFC West. What about the other playoff teams?

The Patriots, due to their loss to the Broncos in week 15, drop to 12-4, tied with the Broncos and Ravens. The Texans are still 10-6, having not played the Broncos. The Steelers are also 12-4, but finish second to the Ravens, while the Bengals remain at 9-7, since they lost to the Broncos both in reality and under Manning.

Had Baltimore not been 12-4, the Broncos would have gotten the top seed due to their head-to-head victory over New England. Because of the three-way tie, however, conference records are used for playoff seeding. Luckily, this also gives the Broncos the top spot (10-2 vs. 9-3 for New England and Baltimore). Playoff seeds are as follows:

  1. Broncos
  2. Ravens[1]
  3. Patriots[1]
  4. Texans
  5. Steelers
  6. Bengals

So, the Broncos and Ravens get a bye week, while the Patriots host the Bengals and the Texans host the Steelers.

AFC WILDCARD 1: I think it’s obvious. PATRIOTS WIN
AFC WILDCARD 2: Houston did beat the Steelers in week 4. TEXANS WIN

The divisional playoffs feature the Broncos hosting the Texans and the Ravens hosting the Patriots.

DIVISIONAL 1: Manning is too much for a team coming off its first ever playoff victory. BRONCOS WIN
DIVISIONAL 2: In reality, the Patriots only managed a 3-point win at home. RAVENS WIN

AFC CHAMPIONSHIP: Ravens at Broncos. Although Manning is thankful the Ravens eliminated a constant thorn from his side, they are not exactly a pushover. Nevertheless, Baltimore’s strength is its defense, and they never did contain Manning (7-2 record vs. the Ravens). BRONCOS WIN

And, at this point, the NFL giggles like a schoolgirl at the thought of a Manning-vs-Manning Super Bowl…

Okay, clearly, this is hypothetical. Just as clearly, I’m biased. Nevertheless, while others might get different answers, I don’t think my results are unreasonable. I think we can safely say that a fully-recovered (or even mostly recovered) Manning, if he stays healthy, means the difference between yet another slog through the AFC West followed by (if we’re lucky) a summary bounce from the early rounds of the playoffs, and being a serious contender for another Super Bowl ring.

Bring it on!

[1] Based on strength of victory (.484 to .423), since both teams were 3-1 in games against common opponents.

Jun 012012

Don’t get me wrong — I am a football fan. The NFL holds my attention in a way the other leagues can’t. Once MJ retired, my interest in the NBA dropped in lockstep with the Bulls’ place in the standings. The NHL has never seemed anything more than soccer on ice. Speaking of the beautiful game, I really really want to like soccer, but the MLS just doesn’t do it for me.

However, baseball has things going for it that the NFL can’t (and probably never will) touch. Aside from the sense of continuity and the deeply-held loyalty (if there are football equivalents of long-suffering Cub fans and [ugh] Red Sox Nation, I don’t know who they are), there is one more-recently developed advantage: Sabermetrics.

Moneyball didn’t invent the idea that the common wisdom can be wrong, but it did popularize it for the baseball world. Naysayers like Tracey Ringolsby and Joe Morgan aside, there is no doubt that hordes of geeks and statheads have transformed the way we view baseball statistics — and by extension, player performance.

This is my long-winded way of introducing today’s topic: Quarterbacks.

On Wednesday, in an article for NFL Films, Greg Cosell took on the phrase, “He’s a winner,” which got me thinking about how we evaluate quarterback effectiveness. While there are plenty of other data points to consider (raw passing stats, durability, longevity, etc.), all too often the discussion begins and ends with “winning”.

Dan Marino could have been one of the best QBs of all time, but he never won the Big Game.

Joe Namath may have completed only 50% of his passes, and his TD-to-INT ratio[1] is 173-220, but he predicted victory in Super Bowl III! Woo!

This is so ingrained into the way we view the position, and happens so quickly, that even when it should be obvious to the world that there’s not enough information to form a valid opinion, players are elevated — and subsequently vilified for our failure to understand what was really going on.

The Bears’ offensive line has more holes than something really holey, but Jay Cutler is a whiny little crybaby who can’t win when it counts.

His first several opponents weren’t prepared for his style of play, but I think Tim Tebow couldn’t handle success.

Simply put: it’s not fair. It’s not fair to criticize players when they don’t win due to circumstances outside their control, nor is it fair to beatify quarterbacks who benefit from being on great teams. Players should be praised (and criticized) for doing (or not doing) their jobs. That’s it.

Pitchers aren’t paid to win games. They are paid to keep the other team from scoring runs. Obviously, if a pitcher does his job well, his chances of “winning” are greatly increased — but there are many other factors at play. As a result, baseball has (slowly) recognized that ERA is a much better indicator of a great pitcher than mere “wins”. Sabermetric stats like DIPS and BABIP are even better.

Likewise, quarterbacks aren’t paid to win games. They are paid to run the offense and throw the ball. Thus, the way in which the common wisdom elevates or demotes quarterbacks due to their team’s success or failure provides an incomplete picture at best, and prevents us from recognizing (or misidentifying) true greatness at worst.

As an example, let’s consider the only two quarterbacks to start in five Super Bowls: John Elway and Tom Brady.

  • Elway’s career winning percentage was .643, or an average season of 10-6. Brady’s is currently .780 (the highest in NFL history), or an average season of 12-4.
  • Elway made it to the playoffs nine times, starting 21 games. Brady has also made it nine times, starting 22 games.
  • Elway’s record in conference championships was 5-1. Brady’s record is also 5-1.
  • Elway started out losing his first three Super Bowls, then winning in his last two seasons. Brady started out winning his first three, then losing twice to the Giants.

In other words, the difference between the two when it comes to winning is two regular-season games per season, which is not insignificant. However, the point of the regular season is to get into the playoffs; and in the playoffs, the difference is exactly one Big Game.

What’s the point? Well, consider the narrative built up around the two players:

Elway was viewed as a ridiculously talented, reckless “gunslinger” who was capable of bringing his team back from any deficit — but criticized for having put his teams in big holes in the first place, and unable to win the Big Game because of it. He finally knocked that monkey off his back, but there’s still the suspicion among many that he only got the Lombardi Trophy on the strength of Terrell Davis’ legs.

Brady, on the other hand, was an also-ran backup QB, who only got his shot at greatness because of an injury to one of the best passers in the game, Drew Bledsoe. His story became rags-to-riches when he knocked off the Greatest Show on Turf. He came back two years later to cement his position among the elite by winning back-to-back Super Bowls (the first to do so since — yep — John Elway). He hasn’t won a championship in seven seasons, but that’s just because his defense has been sub-standard, and the Giants got a bit lucky.

To illustrate the importance placed upon winning and losing in the formation of a player’s narrative, let’s reverse the win-loss portions of the two players’ Super Bowls:

Elway was a wunderkind, winning back-to-back Super Bowls with his inspirational leadership and incredibly strong arm. Yeah, he subsequently lost three Super Bowls, but that’s because he ran into one of Bill Belichick’s best defenses (1986 Giants) and one of the only quarterbacks better than him (Joe Montana), while his defense had one really really bad day (Super Bowl XXII). There’s no question Elway is one of the greatest quarterbacks ever!

Brady, on the other hand, lost his first two Super Bowls, having been manhandled by the Giants in the first and outplayed by Eli Manning in the second. Sure, he’s talented, but there are serious questions about his toughness and his ability to come through in the clutch. He came back later on to win three Super Bowls, but really, he was more of a game manager — heck, his team won those games by a combined total of nine points! Brady’s a very good quarterback, but he’s nothing without Belichick.

I’m not saying Brady’s not a great quarterback, and I’m not saying Elway is better (that’s an argument for another day). I am saying that quarterbacks are unfairly praised when their team wins, and blamed when their team loses. More importantly, we end up passing judgement on a quarterback’s entire career based not only on whether their team wins or loses Super Bowls, but when those wins and losses happen.[2]

This leads to the truly silly situation in which it is better for a quarterback to never get to the Super Bowl, than to get there early, lose, and then never get back — or worse, get there many times and never win. Nobody talks about Archie Manning as a great quarterback who couldn’t win the Big Game; he was a great quarterback on really bad teams. On the other hand, failing to win a Super Bowl is probably the biggest knock on Dan Marino’s career, yet that only enters the discussion because he had the misfortune to get there in the first place.

Meanwhile, Jim Kelly is too often seen not as one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time (top 20 in career passing yards, passes completed, yards per attempt, game-winning drives, comebacks, and total offense) but as the guy who lost four straight Super Bowls.

At least Marino and Kelly are in the Hall of Fame. The “winner” issue looms much larger for others. Does anyone think Trent Dilfer (one ring) and Brad Johnson (one) were better than Boomer Esiason, Dan Fouts, or even Warren Moon (zero rings between them)? Of course not.

Then why is it that Terry Bradshaw (51.9%, 27,989 yards, 70.9 passer rating, four rings) gets the keys to Canton, while Joe Theismann (56.7%, 25,206 yards, 77.4 rating, one ring) remains on the outside looking in?

Narratives are important; they build context around an individual play, a game, a season, or an entire career. The Catch wouldn’t be remembered for what it is if it came in the third game of the season. But narratives can also hurt our understanding of the real story. When the dust settles, we shouldn’t use them in place of more objective analysis.

I don’t have an answer (yet). I don’t know what should go into the evaluation of a quarterback. For one thing, there are far too many differences in the style of play between teams (not to mention across eras). For another, football doesn’t keep the kind of detailed stats that baseball does to allow an easy analysis.

I do know winning — at least winning the Big Games — should not be factored as heavily as it is now. Otherwise, the debate about the Best QB of All Time begins and ends with one name:

Otto Freakin’ Graham, baby![3]

[1] Which is not a “ratio” at all! Arrgh.

[2] Not to mention that QBs are the only players whose legacies are so clearly impacted by championships. When was the last time you heard anyone argue that Clay Matthews (one ring) is a better linebacker than Dick Butkus (none)?

[3] Seven championships, including five in a row.