A few people have asked me to do a write up of my thoughts on some things that have been happening this offseason, so I've decided to oblige. I swear that I think of so much more to talk about but when I sit down to actually write them, I can only remember about half of it. (I usually just throw in some filler talk about the Giants and Patriots since they have the most numerous/responsive fans, ha)
First, the music:
1.) The Broncos look like the AFC West favorites with Peyton Manning
This prediction isn't exactly off the wall, but it seems like there is a little debate about it.
Before this signing, I would have predicted the Chargers to win the division, simply because they have the best QB. The "Norv Turner effect" could and probably would hurt them, but really, they were, by a slight margin, the "best" of a bad bunch. The Chiefs have Matt Cassel and guys recovering from injuriezz, the Raiders are still the Raiders being led by a washed up Carson Palmer and the Broncos...I think it's pretty clear that I didn't expect year 2 of the Tim Tebow experiment to work out.
Now that you add Peyton to the mix in Denver and remove the noxious, smothering Tebowmania cloud, I like Denver's chances the best.
They have some young talent at WR who should flourish under Peyton in Decker and Thomas. They've added some solid TEs in Dreessen and Tamme, and we all know how much Peyton loves throwing to his TEs. Their o-line isn't bad. McGahee + maybe a mid-round rookie should be an adequate enough run game. Defensively, I still have a few doubts but they have some talent to work with plus the whole draft to help fill any remaining holes.
Assuming Peyton is healthy enough to play all year, I do like the Broncos chances the best.
And there's that health question...all we can do, for right now, is assume. You'll read one report that says Peyton's arm is shot
(supposedly in one of his neck surgeries, a nerve leading to his throwing shoulder was damaged reducing his arm strength.) Then you'll read another where his arm is just fine.
Considering the Broncos decision makers got to watch him throw then decided to give him more money than his last deal with the Colts would have paid out, I'm going to err on the side of his arm looking good until more evidence is produced.
So for now, quite early in the offseason still, I'm going with the Broncos as the favorites to win the AFC West, though not by a wide margin. And that really is the first step in the process...as we learned the last two years, anything can happen once you get to the playoffs. And in the weakening AFC, it's looking even easier to put together a good run and potentially make it to the Superbowl.
Speaking of the weakening AFC...
2.) The Balance of Power has Swung Back to the NFC
Take a look back through recent NFL history. You'll probably notice that, during any given stretch of time, you can pick out which conference was dominant. In the late 80s and into the mid-90s, the NFC was king. The 49ers, Cowboys, Redskins, Giants up to the Favre/Holgrem Packers...the NFC was on top. Then things started to flip around and we saw the Shanahan Broncos step up, leading into the Patriots/Colts/Steelers dominance over most of the 2000s. Even if you look beyond the Superbowl winners, it seems like the majority of the league's elite teams in those years also came from the same dominant conference.
And starting in 2007 when the Giants beat the nigh-invincible Patriots, the pendulum started to swing back towards the NFC being in command after the AFC was in command for most of the decade. With the Saints in 2009, the Packers in 2010 and the Giants last year, the NFC has retaken the title of "most dominant conference" in terms of Superbowls.
Now, we're starting to see the NFC fill in those other "elite" team spots near the top. The Giants and Packers are at the top, with the 49ers appearing not far behind. Look a little further back and you find the Saints, who would otherwise be up at the top if not for the bounty madness. You can also see other playoff level contenders who could put together a Superbowl run if some things fall just right for them like the Falcons, Lions, Eagles, Bears, Cowboys...maybe even the Panthers.
Meanwhile, in the AFC, we see the "old guard" top teams starting to decline while the young up-and-coming teams aren't rising. The Patriots are still dangerous, and always will be when led by Belichick and Brady, but for them to be the cream of the AFC crop with their weaknesses doesn't bode well. The Colts have collapsed, crashed and burned. The Steelers hit a wall with the age and injury level of the team catching up last year. They've moved a lot of money into future years banking on the salary cap to rise enough to cover the guaranteed money they handed out. I'm always expecting the Ravens to finally take that step back...and they keep staying the course. But for how much longer? I hate their coordinators, Flacco doesn't appear that he's ever going to take that next step into franchise QB territory and, like the Steelers, they are going to be faced with their own age issues in some key areas soon enough. Houston was a team that I thought might be poised to take over, but they don't seem to have any idea what they're doing in order to maintain long term success. I have more faith in the Bears winning every Superbowl for the rest of all time than I have in the Bengals to do anything sensible with all of their cap space and multiple first round picks. Adding Peyton has made the Broncos short term contenders, but that division is otherwise...questionable...in the long term. Throw in some other teams who seem to be going in the right direction but are probably still a ways off from serious contention (Tennessee, Buffalo) and the AFC is fading fast.
Take a look at ESPN's most recent power rankings for a moment:
The top 10 is currently split 5/5 for AFC/NFC. However, the AFC teams in appear to be trending downwards as I outlined above, while most of the NFC teams appear to be holding strong. Throw in the fact that 6 of the next 7 outside the top 10 are all NFC and my point is further made.
I know that I'm going to settle in for another 4-5 years or so of NFC dominance. How about you?
3.) The Running Back Dilemma
So you've got a good running back. He's really versatile...he can run inside, run outside, catch and pass block. He's doesn't have especially exceptional physical tools or anything like that, but he's an overall asset to your offense.
For the last 4 years, he's been playing on base salaries barely above the league minimum...which is fantastic. But now he's up for free agency and wants $40 million guaranteed.
What do you do?
Well, I can think of three options.
Option A: Pay him. He's one of the best at his position and has earned all of that guaranteed money afterall. Unless you're ********, this option is out.
Option B: Franchise tag him. This one is pretty palatable to NFL teams. Instead of that asinine amount of guaranteed money, you get him reasonably cheap for one year on the franchise tag. If he tears up a knee or starts to show signs of slowing down, you can simply let him walk NEXT year...or, if someone makes you an offer you can't refuse for him, trade him.
Option C: Let him walk. Just call it quits. You can always find another capable back for 1/80th the salary. You save the cap space for positions that are harder to find and more worthwhile to keep while you just run a revolving door at RB.
For me, I'm all over Option C. **** overpaying RBs. And quite honestly, we're seeing the league starting to adopt this mentality too.
The league average seems to be hovering over option B right now. There are still a few instances where teams gave big money deals to their RBs (Adrian Peterson, Chris Johnson...DeAngelo Williams...) but for the most part, when a top RBs contract expires, teams seem plenty satisfied to tag him and move on. (Forte, Rice, Foster last year on an RFA tender.)
One thing about that approach that I especially do not like is that with the RB not under contract, he can skip out on training camp. And I'm a major proponent of the idea that no matter what a player does on his own, it cannot match the intensity level of working out with the team in an official capacity. Those guys who hold out seem to start off sluggish and are more prone to injuries early in the year. We saw it with Foster and Chris Johnson, and hell, it goes beyond only applying to RBs in that we saw it with Darrell Revis a few years back as well.
Ideally, and what I'm seriously hoping the Bears do, is to trade the franchised RB. Let someone else pay the huge salary required to make him happy. The Bears offered him a plenty fair deal that would pay him more than Jamaal Charles got over a shorter period of time...that would easily make him a top 10 paid back..but noooo. He wants more than that. He and his agent surely look at that DeAngelo Williams contract and want more, because Forte (and like 15-20 other backs in the league) is better than Williams.
I'd say **** that and let some other team pay it. Ask for a late first round pick and accept the highest second rounder you get offered. Roll with Michael Bush and a mid-round rookie next season. Combined, they probably wouldn't even cost a fifth of what Forte would cost his new team.
Overall, it just doesn't make sense to pay such ludicrously high salaries to such a fungible, easily injured position with the shortest life-span in the sport. If I can assemble a platoon of backs making $500k to $1m a year out of mid-round picks and get 80% of the production I'd get out of Forte for 40-80 times the cost, you bet your ass I'd do it.
Every other year, I'd draft a RB in the 2nd, 3rd, 4th round, run him ragged, draft his replacement, supplement with the occasional late round pick or cheap free agent, then let him walk when his rookie contract was up. (If he was particularly good, then franchise and trade him.)
The platoon approach is the way to go. The last 3 Superbowl champs (Giants, Packers, Saints) have all done it, as have 3 of the last 4 Superbowl runners-up (Pats, Colts, Cardinals.)
We're only going to see the league continue to trend in this direction I feel.
4.) Young QBs WILL Play
"Team X should draft QB prospect Y and let him sit behind incumbent QB Z for a few years!"
If you have more free time on your hands than I do, go through the Draft section and count how many times some variation of that statement is uttered.
If the amount is higher than zero (and I absolutely guarantee that it's well above that,) then that amount is far too high.
The situation where a rookie QB is allowed to sit for any length of time simply does not occur very often anymore. It is, in fact, squarely in the minority of cases.
Let me break it down for you:
Cam Newton - Started every game.
Jake Locker - No starts, sat behind Matt Hasselbeck
Blaine Gabbert - Started 14 games
Christian Ponder - Started 10 games
Andy Dalton - Started every game
Colin Kaepernick - No starts, sat behind Alex Smith
In 2011, 4 of the 6 QBs drafted in the first two rounds started at least 10 games. The two that sat only sat because of relatively unexpected good performances out of the team and the veteran QB in front of them.
Sam Bradford - Started every game.
Tim Tebow - Started 3 games
Jimmy Clausen - Started 10 games
Colt McCoy - Started 8 games
Again, 3 of the top 4 QBs drafted in the first 3 round started at least half of the games their rookie year. Even Tebow is notable because he was supposed to be a huge project who sat for at least a year to develop...but nope, he was starting by the end of his rookie year.
Matt Stafford - Started 10 games (missed starts due to injury)
Mark Sanchez - Started every game (missed 1 start due to injury)
Josh Freeman - Started 9 games
All 3 of the top drafted QBs started more than half their games, and the top two only missed starts due to injury.
Matt Ryan - Started every game
Joe Flacco - Started every game
Brian Brohm - 0 starts (behind Aaron Rodgers)
Chad Henne - 0 starts (behind Chad Pennington)
Here were have a 50/50 split of the top drafted QBs. Ryan was supposed to be pro ready and he was, but Flacco was supposed to be the raw, small school prospect who got some time to develop...but nope. Starts every game. Even the 2nd round exceptions have solid reasoning as to why they didn't start. Brohn was behind Aaron Rodgers and is terrible. Henne likely would have gotten starts but the Dolphins went on a surprise playoff run behind Pennington at QB.
JaMarcus Russell - Started 1 game
Brady Quinn - 0 starts (behind Derek Anderson)
Kevin Kolb - 0 starts (behind McNabb)
John Beck - Started 4 games
Drew Stanton - 0 starts
Trent Edwards - 9 starts
This year was the island in a sea of rookie QBs starting. Quinn almost certainly would have gotten starts had Derek Anderson not come out of nowhere for a great season and Kolb was behind an entrenched starter in McNabb.
Vince Young - Started 13 games
Matt Leinart - Started 11 games
Jay Cutler - Started 5 games
Kellen Clemons - 0 starts
Tarvaris Jackson - Started 2 games
Another year where some of the top rookies got starts. Four of the top five drafted started a game and the top two both started well over half.
So let's break this down:
28 total QBs surveyed in the last six years.
20 started at least one game as rookies. (71%)
15 started at least half their rookie season (54%)
5 started every game as rookies (18%)
11 first rounders started half their games as rookies (out of 16, 69%)
So what does this tell us?
- Nearly 3/4 of highly drafted rookie QBs will get at least one start as a rookie
- Over half of highly drafted rookie QBs will start more than half the games their rookie season.
- Nearly 1/5 of highly drafted rookie QBs will start every game their rookie year. (Would be even higher barring injuries.)
- Nearly 70% of QBs drafted in the first round will start half of their rookie year.
So if you take absolutely nothing else away from this write up, please take remember this:
ROOKIE QUARTERBACKS ARE HIGHLY UNLIKELY TO "SIT" IN THE MODERN NFL!
Nearly three quarters of highly drafted rookie QBs will start at least one game. Those that do sit are typically behind a veteran who gives a surprisingly good performance. For instance, last season, Matt Hasselbeck and Alex Smith had better seasons with more team success than anyone would have reasonably predicted. Otherwise, the rookies behind them would almost certainly have played by the end of the year.
Remember that the next time you want to talk about a QB prospect "sitting." A highly drafted rookie QB is MORE LIKELY to start at least 8 games than he is to sit the whole year. Remember that.
So no, guys like Tannehill,
Gabbert Osweiler, Weeden, Cousins, Foles, etc. are unlikely to "sit and learn" next season. In fact, if any of them are drafted in the top 2-3 rounds, they're about 70% likely to end up starting at least one game. And over 50% likely to start half the games.
5.) Random Tidbits
(Those last items took a lot of out of me, so I'm just going to gloss over a few other points.)
- The NFL needs to make all officials full time - For whatever reason (cost) this still hasn't happened. Invest a few of those billions of TV dollars to make all NFL officials full time. Spend the offseasons reviewing rules and going over game film to discuss with them how to handle tricky calls. It's unbelievably stupid that this isn't already instituted.
- The Ravens take a step back next year - I touched on it briefly in my AFC/NFC power struggle item, but I'll elaborate a little further here. I'm sure that right now you're already thinking up counters to whatever arguments I make..."Oh but BeerBaron, they win like 12 games every year and haven't missed the playoffs since Harbaugh took over and blah!" I'm aware. But this year, I think they take a step back. That dropped TD and missed FG in the AFC Championship game are as close as this core group is every going to get to sniffing the Superbowl. Flacco has apparently developed all the further he can in that offense. He has the tools to make a great throw from time to time, but he'll also make plenty of stupid decisions and just doesn't seem to be advancing as a franchise QB. Age is catching up in a few spots on both sides of the ball as well. Free agency took a bit of a toll with the loss of Grubbs as well some defensive role players and they didn't really bring anyone new in. Oh and their coordinators! What a godawful mess they are... They're supposed to be such a great drafting team and...I just don't know. We'll see. But I for one am not going to be shocked if they suffer a .500 season next year. I always say that they won't win a Superbowl with Cam Cameron on the staff...now I might expand that into "they won't win one at all with this team."
- Quick Giants Note - I don't expect them to repeat as champs. I can all but guarantee you that Perry Fewell goes back to the utterly conservative "crap" defensive scheme of the first 14 weeks of last season. With a full offseason to try and implement it, he'll feel that it's the best way to go. Maybe they'll be less terrible this time around...who knows. Throw in the fact that when the Giants don't have their backs to the wall, they underachieve and we have the makings of a disappointing year.
- Quick Bears Note - In the last two years, the Bears are 11-5 and 7-3 with a healthy Jay Cutler...we get him back, plus make any improvements at all whatsoever anywhere else on the team, and we should be back in playoff contention.
If I think of more stuff to add, I shall. So have at it.