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.

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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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Brady vs. Manning

Tom Brady, Peyton Manning

I will not accept Peyton Manning as the greatest quarterback ever, unless he wins the Super Bowl this year.

And that’s completely doable because the Broncos’ offense is loaded and their defense is about equally stacked. However, I think a smart team, maybe the Chargers or the Patriots, will challenge Manning to throw deep and grind out the game on offense. That’s the blueprint to beat Denver. When Manning has the ball, do not let them dink and dunk you to death and keep him off the field whenever possible because with all of their pick plays they will find a way to dink and dunk you death.

Manning’s arm has looked better at times this season. He had a pass a couple weeks ago to Emmanuel Sanders that was a bullet 30 yards down field. Eventually, the Demaryius and Julius Thomas will get open or Sanders or Wes Welker. But, this is Manning’s third year in Denver. There’s no way he avoids playing one brutally cold and possibly snowing game in the playoffs. Can he throw deep in those conditions? It’s hard to make a Super Bowl, as Manning would attest.

I don’t think Manning is the greatest quarterback of his era. I’ve made the case that Brady should be considered the greatest quarterback of all time. It went something like this: Brady won three Super Bowls with terrible wide receivers. Past his prime Corey Dillon was the best offensive player he played with until Randy Moss. The one time Brady plays with another hall-of-fame offensive player, he sets the single season yard and touchdown records, completes a 16-0 regular season and should have completed a 19-0 perfect season except for one of the craziest plays in NFL history. Quick side note, it’s amazing in the clip of the helmet catch how bored Joe Buck is. Jesus Joe you just saw perhaps the greatest play in Super Bowl history; can you get a little more excited than calling a sacrifice bunt on a Saturday afternoon?

Anyway, The Patriots can’t keep that team together because Randy Moss was a head case and got old. A few years later Brady takes his fifth team to the Super Bowl with Welker and two great tight ends. They can’t keep that team together because of the Patriots’ stubborn refusal to pay Welker (even though Brady was practically screaming at Bellichick to keep him) and Aaron Hernandez murdered a guy.

At least later in his career, Montana had Rice. Elway had Terrell Davis and Rod Smith. Manning had Marvin Harrison, Edgerrin James and Reggie Wayne and then went to this Denver squad, which is the most stacked either quarterback has had the privilege of guiding. Excluding Moss, has Brady played with a hall-of-fame player? I don’t think Richard Seymour is going to Canton and he’s the only guy who’s close. Maybe Gronk has a chance but he has to stay healthy, a tenuous proposition at best.

Throw all the numbers at me you want; I think the numbers that still matter are three and five, as in the Super Bowls Brady has won and played in. If Manning wins another, he’ll have two and four and all the stats that matter. But as long as Peyton has fewer rings than Eli (who, the last couple seasons, has shown he is the Frank to Peyton’s Sylvester Stallone), he can’t be the best ever. I’d still take Brady.