Decisions coming for quarterbacks and coaches in Denver

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I’ll come out and say it … Peyton Manning should retire.

A lot of people seem to be tiptoeing around this while talking about his disastrous first-round performance against the Colts. I think the torn quadriceps injury is indicative of the fact that he can’t physically handle the rigors of playing quarterback in the league. He’s 38 years old and he’s played a lot of games.

Here’s some things he can do when his playing days are over:

  • Be a full-time pitchman. Imagine how many more commercials Papa John’s, Buick and Nationwide could squeeze if they had all fall and winter too.
  • Make a billion dollars as a quarterback guru. You see these quarterback whisperers pop up all over the place — none of them are Peyton Manning.

A scenario to consider: the Patriots win the Super Bowl and Tom Brady and Peyton Brady retire in the same off-season. After another disappointing year, Drew Brees retires the next off-season.

The NFL front office might poop a brick if this actually happens.

I did a ranking of the league’s dependable quarterbacks. Here’s how that list would look (in order of dependability) with those three guys off of it:

  • Aaron Rodgers
  • Andrew Luck
  • Ben Roethlisberger
  • Matt Ryan
  • Russell Wilson
  • Joe Flacco (I put him up here on the strength of another good playoff showing)
  • Eli Manning (I’ll move up Manning too, although the last two years have been a disaster)

And for good measure the 50 percent of the time dependable quarterbacks:

  • Cam Newton (he’s the closest)
  • Matthew Stafford
  • Andy Dalton
  • Alex Smith
  • Jay Cutler
  • Ryan Tannehill
  • Colin Kaepernick (but I think he might be bad)
  • Teddy Bridgewater (somewhat shaky)
  • Carson Palmer (if he ever plays again)

With both lists, and there are big question marks on that second list, that’s 16 quarterbacks. If you’re keeping track, the NFL has 32 teams. Anyway, the reason I think it’s good if Brady, Peyton and Brees all retire, all in tier one by the way, is because it will lower the bar of NFL quarterbacking.

Right now, every young guy gets judged against Brady and Manning and I don’t know why that’s fair. Think about it, what does everybody say about quarterbacks — you’ve got to study film until your eyes bleed, you’ve got to stay after practice and work the receivers and you’ve got to be the first one in the building and the last to leave. Brady and Manning are exceptionally good at reading defenses and making adjustments — like on a supernatural level. People think that if you’re smart and you work hard you can just do that and that’s not really true as Kurt Warner pointed out yesterday on Mike&Mike.

Let’s take Cam Newton for example. I think the perception of Cam changes if the bar gets lowered a little. People will see the things he can do — throw deep, pick up first downs with his legs and be durable — more than the things he can’t — run a 4-wide offense like Peyton Manning.

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I think part of the reason people might convince Manning to stick around is his 2013 performance: 68 percent completions, 5,477 yards, 55 touchdowns, only 10 interceptions and 8.3 yards per pass. But I think we should take into account: Peyton was playing with by far the best set of skill position players he’s ever had and the scheme, with lots of short throws, helped compensate for a loss of arm strength.

It’s a good thing one of the purveyors of that scheme, head coach John Fox, is still around … Hold on … Wait, you’re telling me the Broncos fired John Fox?

What the Hell is going on out here?

Seriously, the Broncos are out of their collective horse minds if they think they can find a better coach than John Fox.

Here’s the active coaches who have coached in a Super Bowl:

  • Bill Bilechick (3-2)
  • Tom Coughlin (win, win)
  • Mike Tomlin (win, loss)
  • John Harbaugh (win)
  • Pete Carroll (win)
  • Mike McCarthy (win)
  • Sean Payton (win)
  • Jeff Fisher (loss)
  • Jim Caldwell (loss)
  • Andy Reid (loss)
  • Lovie Smith (loss)

So John Fox is one of four active coaches, because he’s already got a job with the Bears, who’s coached two Super Bowls. All the rest of those guys are happily married with their current teams. Jim Harbaugh (loss) would have been an interesting candidate but he’s stuck with the Michigan job for now.

Now there are some other guys floating around. I think I’ll break them down one-by-one.

Mike Shanahan

I like to think this is what he looked like when he watched RG3's knee explode.

I like to think this is what he looked like when he watched RG3’s knee explode.

  • Won two Super Bowls
  • Best team: 1998 Broncos, 14-2 and Super Bowl champs
  • Improbable playoff run: 2000 Broncos at the helm of Brian Griese
  • Playoff run that should haunt him: 1996 Broncos that lost to the expansion Jaguars
  • Playoff record with John Elway: 7-1
  • Playoff record with anyone else: 1-5
  • Ruined RG3’s career

This would be beyond crazy, so let’s move on.

Bill Cowher

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  • Won a Super Bowl with 2005 Steelers
  • Lost Super Bowl to great Cowboys team with 1994 Steelers
  • 149-90 regular season record in 15 seasons all with Steelers
  • 12-9 postseason record
  • Won division eight times
  • Best team: 2005 Steelers, 11-5, won super bowl
  • Improbable playoff run: 2002 Steelers with Tommy Maddox at the helm
  • Playoff run that should haunt him: 2001 Steelers, lost to Patriots in AFC title game (if there was a year to beat the Patriots it would have been that one)

If Cowher is seriously considered, people need to realize that he has not coached for nine years. That’s a long time.

Jon Gruden

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  • Won a Super Bowl
  • Best Team: 2002 Buccaneers, 12-4 and won the Super Bowl
  • Took over that team after it was built by Tony Dungy
  • Record since then is 45-51
  • Made the playoffs five times
  • Had a sub .500 record three times
  • Improbable playoff run: 2005 Buccaneers who somehow went 11-5 with Brian Griese and Chris Sims
  • Playoff run that should haunt him: 2001 Raiders, tuck-rule game that Ray Lewis was yelling about earlier this week
  • Has gradually been becoming a real life cartoon on ESPN since 2009

Do we think players could take him seriously now? This would be like John Madden trying to coach in the 80s.

Tony Dungy

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  • Won Super Bowl
  • First black coach in NFL history
  • Built Bucs into a Super Bowl caliber team, although the Bucs’ record did get worse the final three years he coached them
  • Regular season record: 139-69
  • Made playoffs 11 times
  • Playoff record: 9-10
  • Improbably playoff run: 1999 Bucs lead by Shaun King, lost to the Rams in part because of a controversial call
  • Playoff run that should haunt him: 2008 Colts, Brady was hurt this year and the Patriots missed the playoffs

Dungy is who my Broncos fan coworker wants. He should know that Dungy has a lot of examples of playoff runs that should haunt him: the Bucs were championship caliber for three seasons and lost to the Eagles in the divisional round two years in a row. The 2005 Colts were 14-2 and were the more talented team than the Steelers that year who in fairness did win a crazy game.

Let’s compare that to Fox

John Fox

  • Lost two Super Bowls
  • Took over 1-15 Panthers team and they went to the Super Bowl just two years later
  • Regular season record: 119-89
  • Playoff record: 8-7
  • Record with the Broncos: 46-18
  • Made the playoffs seven times
  • Has four sub .500 seasons including a 2-14 year that got him fired in Carolina
  • Best team: 2013 Broncos, 13-3 and lost Super Bowl
  • Improbable playoff run: 2011 Broncos, the Tim Tebow team
  • Playoff run that should haunt him: 2008 Panthers who lost to the Cardinals at home but Jake Delhomme did have six turnovers in that game
  • That same Jake Delhomme was the Panthers quarterback when they made the Super Bowl in 2003

I think the Tim Tebow year gives Fox the edge over Dungy in my opinion. Fox was willing to completely change his offense and philosophy to fit Tim Tebow’s skills.

Even if Peyton comes back and Broncos get Dungy, I think letting Fox go will come back to haunt them.

The NFL’s Biggest Problem

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Every five years or so the NBA goes through a philosophical revolution. These days the association is about spacing the floor, perimeter defense and hitting corner 3s. At this point, having two low-post oriented big men is a detriment. Probably in five years, the league will swing back the other way — possibly spurred by the glut of big men coming from college this year.

Baseball also undergoes these changes in attitude, with, I think, one emphasizing speed and contact on the near horizon. Their philosophical changes just happen to be 10 or more years apart.

The NFL, in the past anyway, usually had their philosophical modifications happen naturally through coaching or personnel. The NFL is in dire need of an attitude adjustment.

I think the League is in a very similar situation as the NBA in the early 2000s. Back in the era of Allen Iverson and young Kobe Bryant, the NBA was viewed as bereft of likeable stars and rife with troublemakers. However, the style of play was also consistently frustrating. The knuckleheads were gradually weeded out of the league and rule changes encouraged a more entertaining, offensive style of play. For awhile LeBron was the most hated and popular player in the league, and he’s never been in any criminal trouble.

Yes, player conduct is a huge issue for the NFL. Yes, concussions are a threatening long-term issue. But the reason the NFL is getting beat in the ratings by The Walking Dead is that the NFL has been extremely boring this year.

The problem, I feel, is that teams are far too dependent on quarterbacks and there just aren’t enough good ones in the league. Here are the winning quarterbacks in the league:

  • Aaron Rodgers
  • Tom Brady
  • Peyton Manning
  • Ben Roethlisberger
  • Tony Romo
  • Phillip Rivers
  • Andrew Luck
  • Russell Wilson
  • Drew Brees (hanging on)
  • Matt Ryan

And some borderline guys:

  • Matthew Stafford
  • Cam Newton
  • Colin Kaepernick
  • Eli Manning (maybe it’s unfair for a two-time super bowl winner but he needs to stop throwing so many picks)
  • Joe Flacco
  • Teddy Bridgewater
  • Andy Dalton

I would put Carson Palmer in that second group if there was an indication he was actually going to come back and play. Let’s examine that list. Ten teams every week have an offense that works because of their quarterback alone. Seven more teams have an offense that works about 50 percent of the time because of their quarterbacks. There are 15 more teams that are varying degrees of unwatchable because of their quarterback play.

Now that last sentence is not entirely accurate, because the Eagles are competent in spite of their quarterback play. And there in lies one of my fixes. Chip Kelly and Jim Harbaugh are two of the best coaches in the league coming from college. For most of NFL history, college coaches have struggled to transition to the pro game, with exceptions like Jimmy Johnson. But the NFL drastically needs injections of new blood. All the open jobs at the end of the year should go to college guys, Art Briles probably first.

Second why are so few quarterbacks transitioning successfully into the league? Is that defenses are just so talented? Here’s the elite defenses in the league:

  • Seattle
  • Arizona
  • San Francisco
  • Denver
  • Detroit
  • Buffalo
  • Houston
  • Cincinnati
  • Miami
  • Baltimore

Actually there’s more quality quarterbacks in the league than defenses. That makes sense because it’s harder to play defense than it used to be Also, none of the defenses this year could hold a candle to the best units from a decade ago.

NFL offenses are too complicated. I think back to Robert Griffin III’s rookie year. Part of the reason he was so successful is that the offense was simplified and modified to his strengths. Granted, Griffin’s injuries have been a big factor in the decline in his play, but why did they change the scheme when it worked like gangbusters the year before? Let’s look at Russell Wilson. Wilson has endured sustained success in Seattle because he doesn’t try to do too much and he isn’t asked to do too much.

I think coaches go out of their way to make these offenses so complicated as a testament to their genius. Then they complain the quarterbacks can’t make the reads. Maybe if there weren’t five reads on each play it would be easier.

Another solution, treat running quarterbacks like running backs and change them out every three to four years. Sometimes you’ll have an elite talent like Mariota, Newton, Wilson or Griffin, maybe you try to get five years out of one of those guys. But you could also run a Tebow or Dak Prescott into the ground. You just don’t pay them as much.

While I’m solving NFL problems, I’ll tackle the concussion issue as well, and it might very well help the style of play too.

Positional weight limits, combined with softer helmets (I believe there is a style that has foam outside of the shell).

  • Offensive lineman: 300 pound maximum
  • Defensive tackles: 290 pounds
  • 3-4 Defensive ends: 270 pounds
  • 4-3 defensive ends: 260 pounds
  • Linebackers: 240 pounds
  • Pass rushing linebackers: 250 pounds
  • Cornerbacks: 200 pounds
  • Safeties: 210 pounds
  • Tight ends: 230 pounds
  • Wide Receivers: 210 pounds, unless their over 6-4 then they can be 220
  • Running backs: 230 pounds
  • Quarterbacks: 240 pounds (because many of them are so tall)

Seriously, do any of these positions need to weight more than this?

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Football Philosophy

Just like a I did for baseball, I’ll lay out how I would approach a team-building philosophy for the NFL. I must admit that I know less about this sport.

Offense:

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-Head Coach is the most important position to fill. A good head coach, like Jim Harbaugh with Alex Smith (and maybe Colin Kaepernick), can prop up an average quarterback. Sometimes it doesn’t matter if they are offensive or defensive minded as long as they are strong in game managers. They are rare though and worth paying big money.

-However, a coach should never have full team control. Every coach thinks he wants it. Bill Parcels famously said, “If they want me to cook the meal, I should be able to pick out the groceries.” I agree. Your coach should have a lot of input on roster building; he should sit in the draft room and be consulted on every trade, but he should not have full roster control mainly because they work themselves to death just coaching.

-If you can save money at quarterback, it is much easier to build the rest of the roster. Call this the Russell Wilson effect. In this same vain, if you have a bad team, it’s a bad idea to draft a “franchise quarterback.” While you’re bad invest in the rest of the team using a journeyman gunslinger and then put in a quarterback to try hit the ground running. I like what the Raiders are doing in this arena.

-Intelligence is the most important factor in selecting a QB, at least combined with some throwing talent. Harvard grad Ryan Fitzpatrick is probably smarter than Tom Brady but I’m not arguing that he is a better quarterback. But, Fitzpatrick, despite being physically inferior, is an average QB in the league. JaMarcus Russell, who had all the physical tools, is the biggest bust of all time.

-Accuracy trumps arm strength. For every, Joe Flacco (who is incredibly overrated depending on who you ask) there are three to four Kyle Bollers, guys who completely wash out.

-You can never have too many offensive lineman. You want to have a good offense, invest picks and money into the line.

-Blocking tight ends are great but get me a guy who will go over the middle and catch passes. Notice that all the great pass-catching tight ends, Tony Gonzalez as an example, always have people say, “Well he wasn’t a blocker when he started but now he’s good at it.”

-To find that tight end, scout 6-foot-4 to 6-foot-6 former college basketball playing power forwards. Six-four is small for the NBA, but still pretty big for the NFL. Antonio Gates, Jimmy Graham and Gonzalez — all of them have worked out and then some. I would keep going to that well until there is a bust.

-I want one really fast guy, whether at running back or wide receiver. No need to go all Al Davis and draft Darrius Hayward-Bey 10th overall out of nowhere but you should have one speedster.

-For receivers, I want one guy to be huge and one guy to be a head case complemented by a stand-up citizen type. Randy Moss was best with Cris Carter. Calvin Johnson, Andre Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald are stand-up types. Each should be paired with a maniac.

-It seems like you either find good wide receivers in the first round or in the seventh round.

-Do not draft a running back in the first round. What’s the difference between Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy? If you held up pictures of both of them and asked me to tell you who was who, I would have no idea. Both are bruising runners, both played at Alabama, but Richardson has been a bust because he was picked high in the first round and Lacy has been a wonderful surprise because he was picked late in the second round.

-Tight ends, receivers and fullbacks are valuable in late rounds as special teams guys.

-Don’t ever draft a kicker. You can find them out on the open market for cheap.

Defense:

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-When in doubt draft the unnaturally quick big guy — Robert Quinn and Von Miller as examples. Don’t over think it.

-Although good defensive tackles are valuable, defensive ends are more valuable because even if they bust they at least have a chance to do something on special teams (even though Jeff Fisher disagrees).

-Personnel trumps scheme. Today’s best coaches mold their defenses based on who they have, i.e. Bill Bellichik.

-You can never have too many defensive backs. Soon the nickel defense is going to become the base defense for a lot teams as three-wide-receiver sets predominate. It’s hard enough to find one decent starting cornerback, much less three. When there is a legitimate stud out there, like Joe Hayden or Patrick Peterson, pull the trigger high in the first round. Corner is the most difficult position in football and it requires, quickness, speed, toughness and at least a modicum of intelligence.

-The old rules were that you don’t draft safeties too high. Any good corner can play free safety. I think this is starting to change too. If you think a safety, who may end up as the quarterback of the defense, is a potential difference maker, pull the trigger.

-Do not draft a non-pass-rushing linebacker in the first round. This is the effect of running backs being devalued. Middle linebacker is one of the key run stoppers, with defensive tackles, and with teams running less it’s not as important a position as it used to be.

-Defense wins championships. It’s a cliche but true. Even an amazing offensive team needs at least and average defense to win the Super Bowl.

-Try to not have more than one head case on either side of the ball.

Transactions:

-Avoid free agency in most scenarios. Most big-time free agent signings don’t work out.

-Extensions are a good idea. Most of your high paid players are willing to work out a deal to stay on a good team (if you have a bad team, you should let them go). See the Cowboys, Dallas.

-If someone offers you a bundle of picks for a player or pick, take the money and run. Those deals have a long history of working out.