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RP: The Quarterback Dead Zone

There’s not much real NFL news out there as the lockout continues, but that hasn’t stopped the rumors from floating around. Kevin Kolb remains a hot prospect for several teams at quarterback, while rumors are that the Redskins are prepared to go with John Beck as their starting quarterback.

Since both Kolb and Beck are former second-round picks, I was curious to dig back through drafts of past years to see how such picks have done in the NFL. The results of this research project were startling, and they revealed that both the second and the third rounds of the NFL draft have become the quarterback dead zone.

Can John Beck escape the QB dead zone in his 3rd NFL stop? Photo via bleacherreport.com

Only 14 percent of quarterbacks (5-of-35) taken in the second and third rounds since 1997 have been successes – and that’s if you grade generously and count Kolb as a success. And if you start grading after the first third of the second round, the success rate plummets even more to 7 percent (2-of-29).

Let’s look back at the drafts to see how these failures have happened. Our guess is that you’ll look at this list and marvel at just how poorly teams have done drafting quarterbacks in the dead zone. And after the list, we’ll make some conclusions.

Pat White, just another victim of the QB dead zone, via nydailynews.com

FYI, Quarterbacks who we’re grading as successes are in all caps below. We went back through the 1997 draft, since there’s only one QB left in the league who entered before then (Kerry Collins, 1995).

Second round

2011 – Andy Dalton (CIN, 35); Colin Kaepernick (SF, 36)

2010 – Jimmy Clausen (CAR, 48)

2009 – Pat White (MIA, 44)

2008 – Brian Brohm (GB, 56); Chad Henne (MIA, 57)

2007 – KEVIN KOLB (PHI, 36); John Beck (MIA, 40); Drew Stanton (DET, 43)

2006 – Kellen Clemens (NYJ, 49); Tarvaris Jackson (MINN, 64)

2001 – DREW BREES (SD, 32); Quincy Carter (DALL, 53); Marques Tuiasosopo (OAK, 59)

1999 – Shaun King (TB, 50)

1998 – Charlie Batch (DET, 60)

1997 – JAKE PLUMMER (ARIZ, 42)

Third Round

2011 – Ryan Mallett (NE, 74)

2010 – Colt McCoy (CLE, 85)

2008 – Kevin O’Connell (NE, 94)

2007 – Trent Edwards (BUFF, 92)

2006 – Charlie Whitehurst (SD, 81); Brodie Croyle (KC, 85)

2005 – Charlie Frye (CLE, 67); Andrew Walter (OAK, 69); David Greene (SEA, 85)

2004 – MATT SCHAUB (ATL, 90)

2003 – Dave Ragone (HOU, 88); Chris Simms (TB, 97)

2002 – Josh McCown (ARIZ, 81)

2000 – Giovanni Carmazzi (SF, 65); Chris Redman (BALT, 75)

1999 – Brock Huard (SEA, 77)

1998 – Jonathan Quinn (JAX, 86); BRIAN GRIESE (DEN, 91)

Conclusions

History tells us that to have any chance of success with a second-round quarterback, you have to take him in the first 10 picks of the round. That’s what the Bengals did with Andy Dalton and the 49ers did with Colin Kaepernick this year. But after the first 10 picks of the round, the chances of success plummet and stay low through the third round.

And we discussed last year how trading into the back end of the first round for a quarterback is a strategy that fails. In other words, it seems like the best chance for success with a quarterback isn’t just taking one early – it’s taking one in the first 15-to-20 picks. Spending a second- or third-round pick is an even worse risk than the 50/50 shot a first-round QB is.

Meanwhile, lower-round quarterbacks – Kyle Orton, Matt Cassel, Ryan Fitzpatrick, David Garrard, Matt Hasselbeck, and of course Tom Brady – have had more success than the QBs taken in the dead zone of the second and third rounds. While it’s been a few years since a late-round or undrafted QB has rocketed to stardom, finding a QB that way is ironically a better bet than taking one in the second or third round.

All this history points does not bode well for recent draftees like Jimmy Clausen (who appears headed down the traditional second-round path) and Colt McCoy (who has shown a bit more promise). And it makes us wonder whether the Patriots’ 2011 gamble on Ryan Mallett will end up like their selection of Kevin O’Connell three years before.

We’ll see if Dalton, Kaepernick, Mallett, or any other young quarterbacks can escape the trend. But for now, we have no choice but to believe in the force of the QB dead zone.

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Forever Young, or for now? Week 12 Transactions

Vince Young on the sidelines.

Image by rexhammock via Flickr

Each week we share insights, analysis, and opinions of the week’s transactions. To see previous posts, click this link and start working back.

The most notable move of the week was Tennessee’s decision to put QB Vince Young on injured reserve with a right thumb injury. Of course, the transaction itself is only part of the soap-opry story going on in Nashville. Young hurt his thumb against the Redskins, and he thought he was healthy enough to be able to return to the field. But the coaching staff disagreed, opting for rookie Rusty Smith in what ended up being an overtime loss. Then, all heck broke loose, as Young openly defied head coach Jeff Fisher in the postgame locker room, and Fisher announced that Young wouldn’t be the starter, injury or not. Smith will start until Kerry Collins is healthy enough to take over, and Chris Simms returned to provide depth.

The question now that Young has gone on IR is whether he will ever start for the Titans again. Young has apologized to Fisher, but the head coach has seemingly tired of Young’s rabbit ears, moodiness, and work ethic. That last item is the one that could ultimately keep Fisher from giving Young another chance. One of the big storylines of the offseason will be whether the Titans give Young another chance, and if they do, whether Fisher is part of that decision or uses that choice as an excuse to leave the Titans after a 17-year run that dates back to Houston Oiler days.

In other moves this week…

Redskins (put RB Clinton Portis on injured reserve, promote RB James Davis from practice squad)  – Portis has had an injury-plagued year with just 54 carries in parts of five games, and his latest injury will likely end his Redskins tenure, if not his career. Portis has had a fine career, but he has so many miles on his legs that it’s hard to see him being a major contributor going forward. With Portis down and Ryan Torain dinged up as well, the Redskins promoted James Davis, a former Brown, from the practice squad to complement Keiland Williams.

Dolphins (put C Cory Procter on IR, add C Eric Ghiaciuc) – Procter is the second Dolphins’ center to be forced onto injured reserve. Ghiaciuc, who has bounced around in recent years, provides depth behind replacement Richie Incognito.

Buccaneers (cut DT Ryan Sims, promote DT Frank Okam from practice squad) – The Bucs let veteran Sims, a former top-10 draft pick in Kansas City, go and promoted Okam, who has spent time with Houston and Seattle this year.

Bengals (put DT Tank Johnson on IR, add CB Fred Bennett) – Johnson, who has done a nice job in his two years in Cincinnati, went on injured reserve with a knee injury. His roster spot went to Bennett, a former starter in Houston.

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FR: April pre-draft signings

In this post, we’re comparing signings between the beginning of April and the NFL draft. For previous signings in free agency, go to the March signings post and work your way back. We’re using a comparison in which 10 marks the team with the most noteworthy moves and 1 indicates the team with barely noteworthy moves.

10 – Jets (added UFA OLB Jason Taylor) – Taylor is a specialty player at this point as a 3-4 outside pass rusher, but he had seven sacks in that role last year and should be able to shine in Rex Ryan’s attacking scheme. He got a two-year deal nominally worth $13 million, but in reality it’s a one-year deal worth up to $3.75 million with a bunch of funny money in the second year. Taylor will help the Jets continue to gear up for a major run at a championship this year. And his Dancing with the Stars-inspired acting career won’t suffer from a year in the Big Apple, either.

9 – none

8 – Saints (added DE Alex Brown and UFA DT Jimmy Wilkerson) – Brown was cut in Chicago after Julius Peppers landed there, and now he makes his way to New Orleans. There, he’ll take the spot of former first-round disappointment Charles Grant. Brown is a pretty good (but not great) defensive end who can rush the passer and stop the run, and he’s better than any other defensive end on the market in April – by a lot. For the Saints to get him was a coup that came at a reasonable two-year, $5.5 million price. That’s fair but not excessive starter money. Wilkerson got a one-year, $2 million deal even though he’s recovering from an ACL injury. If he gets healthy, he’ll be a fine second or third tackle who can help stabilize the interior of the Saints’ defense.

7 – Vikings (added CB Lito Sheppard) – Sheppard has bounced around the last couple of years, after being dissatisfied in Philly and falling out of favor with the Jets. But he’s still a pretty good player who will help a Vikings secondary that’s probably the weak link on an otherwise stacked team. Sheppard can’t play man-on-man coverage all day long, but he can be a dependable cog in a strong defense, and that’s exactly what the Vikings have. So getting Sheppard for $2 million over one year is a coup for the Vikes.

6 – Patriots (added WR Torry Holt, DT Damione Lewis and P David King) – Holt had an OK but not spectacular season in Jacksonville last year, and he’s definitely falling off from his Greatest Show on Turf days. Holt will get up to $1.7 million this year, which is a fair price for a veteran receiver, but you have to wonder if the Holt signing will repeat the failed Joey Galloway experiment of last year. Lewis had plenty of good moments as a rotation tackle for the Panthers, showing that he can get into the backfield on occasion. But the Panthers, in a youth movement, let Lewis walk. Now he goes to New England, where the Pats need a backup who can bring the pass-rush skills that Jarvis Green used to bring. Lewis is a decent bet to fill that role well, and that makes him worth a low-cost shot for the Pats. King is another of the Australian Rules Football players trying to make the move into the NFL punting fraternity.

5 – Giants (added S Deon Grant, kept UFA P Jeff Feagles) – Grant has started every game for the last nine seasons for Seattle, Jacksonville, and Carolina, and his presence at free safety will help protect the Giants against Kenny Phillips’ major 2009 injury. With Grant and Antrel Rolle, the Giants now have a solid safety duo in a spot that was troublesome last year. Feagles returns for a 23rd season, and he remains one of the best directional kickers in the league. Feagles isn’t the boomer he once was, but he gets the job done.

5 (con’t) – Bengals (kept UFA OG Bobbie Williams) – Williams was perhaps the best guard on the market, but the Bengals were able to get a deal to keep him around. He’s been a starter for the last three years, and his physical blocking is one of the reasons the Bengals have strengthened their run game the last two years.

4 – Redskins (added UFA RB Willie Parker, UFA DT Howard Green, WR Roydell Williams, and RB Ryan Torain) – Parker becomes the latest import into the Redskins’ aged backfield, as the Redskins are paying him up to $3.1 million on a one-year deal. This is an uncapped-year special by Washington, which is giving Parker a chance to vie for carries against fellow vets Clinton Portis and Larry Johnson. Parker doesn’t have the speed he did in his Fast Willie days, but he probably still has more pop than Portis or Johnson does at this point. Perhaps a five- to eight-carry role will allow Parker to showcase what speed he has left. But our suspicion is that the Redskins just wasted a couple million dollars on a bet that won’t come in. Green is a sturdy 3-4 nose tackle who should probably be a backup but who can fit the role as the Redskins move to that defensive system. Williams once was a prospect for the Titans, but he hasn’t played an NFL game since 2007. Torain was a Shanahan favorite two seasons ago in Denver before injuries shortened his rookie campaign. It’s hard to see him getting a shot behind Parker, Portis, and Johnson, but Torain probably landed with the coach most likely to give him a fair shot.

4 (con’t) – Rams (added LB Na’il Diggs) – Diggs, part of the Panthers’ purge of experienced players this year, lands in St. Louis, where his former LB coach Ken Flajole is the defensive coordinator. Diggs can take over the veteran role Will Witherspoon had in St. Louis before being traded last year. Diggs is consistent, but he doesn’t make many plays from the outside linebacker spot.

4 (con’t) – Seahawks (added OG Ben Hamilton and WRs Mike Williams and Reggie Williams) – The Seahawks’ receiving corps is pretty sorry, and so Pete Carroll is taking a shot on a couple of reclamation projects. Mike Williams, who played for Carroll at USC, hasn’t panned out anywhere as a top-10 draft pick. Reggie Williams showed some flashes of ability in Jacksonville, most recently in 2008, but he sat out last year after repeated legal problems. Reggie is more likely than Mike to make the 2010 roster, but both of these guys look like longshots at this point. Hamilton started eight games for the Broncos last year, but as a holdover from Alex Gibbs’ days as the line guru in Denver, he no longer fit the Broncos. But Gibbs is now in Seattle, and Hamilton’s knowledge of and fit in the system makes him a natural to replace the traded Rob Sims at left guard, at least in the short term.

3 – Lions (kept DE Jared DeVries) – DeVries, who Detroit had released in the offseason, returns to the only team he has played for on a one-year, $1.7 million deal. He’s probably better off as a backup at this point in his career, but DeVries is a veteran who can still be an asset.

3 (con’t) – Jaguars (kept UFA DE Reggie Hayward) – Hayward returns for his sixth season in Jacksonville after coming off an injury that limited him to a single game in ’09. He’s little more than a rotation pass-rusher at this point, but he could provide depth behind youngsters Quentin Groves and Derrick Harvey and offseason acquisition Aaron Kampman.

2 – Cardinals (added UFA PK Jay Feely) – Feely, whom the Jets didn’t make a big push to retain, moves to Arizona, where he’ll replace Neil Rackers. Feely has been a reliable kicker in past years, and moving out of the Meadowlands into the Arizona dome at age 34 could help prolong his effectiveness.

2 (con’t) – Texans (added UFA Neil Rackers) – Rackers lost his gig to Feely in Arizona, and so he moves to Houston to compete with Kris Brown. Neither Rackers nor Brown was at his best last year, and the Texans’ prolific offense needs a consistent kicker to produce maximum points. If Rackers makes good and wins the job from Brown, he’ll earn $4.1 million over two years. But with only $350,000 guaranteed, Rackers will have to go out and take the job from Brown.

2 (con’t) – 49ers (added UFA OLB Travis LaBoy) – LaBoy missed the entire 2009 season with torn tendons in his foot, but before that injury he had 23.5 sacks in five years with the Cardinals and Titans. At age 28, he’s worth a one-year, $1.6 million risk to see if he can recapture his pass-rush skills.

2 (con’t) – Bears (kept UFA LB Pisa Tinoisamoa) – The linebacker we affectionately call The Tower missed most of his first Chicago season with injury, but he knows Lovie Smith’s defense well from St. Louis days and can be an effective fill-in starter.

2 (con’t) – Steelers (kept UFA DE Nick Eason) – Eason started five games last year, but he’s best as a fourth defensive end who can hold up in the 3-4 defense. He’s also one of the all-time good guys and the subject of one of the most telling stories I picked up covering Clemson football back in 2001. Just for personal reasons, I’m glad to see Eason stay in the league as long as possible.

1 – Browns (added C Eric Ghiaciuc) – Ghiaciuc started at center for the Bengals for several years, but he bounced around last year. Now he lands in Cleveland as Alex Mack’s backup.

1 (con’t) – Titans (added QB Chris Simms) – The Titans brought back Simms, who spent last year with Denver, to serve as the No. 3 quarterback behind Vince Young and Kerry Collins.

1 (con’t) – Raiders (added QB Kyle Boller) – Boller, who started a few games as the Rams’ backup last year, moves to Oakland to serve as the No. 3 quarterback behind JaMarcus Russell and Bruce Gradkowski. Gradkowski’s offseason pectoral muscle injury makes having Boller, a veteran who knows new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson, a nice insurance policy.

1 (con’t) – Panthers (added PK Todd Carter and S Aaron Francisco; claimed DB Brian Witherspoon on waivers) – Carter, a small-school kicker, comes in to serve as the kickoff guy in Carolina. The Panthers had Rhys Lloyd in that role last year, but finding a first-year player to fill that role saves them $800,000. And right now, every penny seems to count in Carolina. Francisco is a special-teams ace who has played on the last two Super Bowl losers. He won’t make much of a defensive impact, but he could help replace the departed Dante Wesley. Witherspoon brings some kick return skills.

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FR: March cuts

This post compares releases in the NFL during March. For cuts in February through the first week of the new league year (i.e. March 10), check out this post. We’ll update this post through the end of March. The 10 level marks the team that cut the most significant players; the 1 level is for teams whose cuts are merely worth mentioning.

10 – Eagles (cut OT Shawn Andrews, DE Darren Howard, and WR Kevin Curtis) – Andrews, who once was a first-team all-pro with the Eagles, missed the 2008 training camp with depression and then missed most of the last two seasons with back injuries. The Eagles tried everything they could to make Andrews at home, including signing his brother Stacy, but it just wasn’t going to work for him in Philly. It’s a shame that Andrews, whom Ross Tucker said was once the best guard in football, couldn’t return to prominence with the Eagles. We can only hope that he is healthy and happy in the future, with football or without it. Howard, a long-time Saint, spent the last four years with the Eagles, the last three as a reserve pass rusher. He had 10 sacks in 2008 and 6.5 last year, which will be attractive to teams looking for pass-rush punch. But the Eagles, who just acquired Darryl Tapp as a younger option in the featured pass-rusher role, got younger at this position as they have at so many. Still, Howard will get a shot somewhere as a 4-3 outside pass rusher. Curtis, another over-30 player, missed 13 games last year with a sports hernia and finished the year with just six catches. He’s just two years removed from a 77-catch, 1100-yard season, and his ability to play outside or in the slot will add to his appeal for receiving-poor teams. But Curtis will have to prove he’s healthy before he gets anything above a minimum deal. Still, a receiver-poor team like Carolina or Tennessee or Tampa Bay or St. Louis could do worse than taking a shot at Curtis. The release is no surprise since the Eagles are set with DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, and Jason Avant as their top three wideouts.

9 – none

8 – none

7 – none

6 – Raiders (cut DT Gerard Warren) – Warren was a bust as the No. 2 overall pick in Cleveland, but he emerged as a decent starting-level tackle in Oakland the last couple of seasons. But he wasn’t worth the hefty $5.9 million roster bonus that he was due in Oakland this year. Warren will hook on elsewhere at a more limited price, because defensive tackles who are even decent are hard to find, but he’s not an impact guy no matter where he lands.

5 – Bears (cut CB Nathan Vasher and FB Jason McKie) – In the Bears’ Super Bowl run a few seasons ago, Vasher and Charles Tillman were a terrific tandem of cover-2 corners. But Vasher has been banged up in recent years, and when he returned in 2009 his performance relegated him to the bench. If he’s healthy, Vasher would be a good fit for one of the few cover-2 teams left in the league, but that health is a big question. McKie is a solid blocking fullback who doesn’t fit new offensive coordinator Mike Martz’s plan, and so the Bears saved a roster spot and let McKie try to hook on elsewhere. McKie is good enough to play in the league for a team that wants to use a traditional fullback.

4 – Broncos (cut LB Andra Davis, DE J’Vonne Parker, and QB Chris Simms) – The Broncos, who started strong on defense last year but dropped off precipitously as the season progressed, made changes by cutting Parker and Kenny Peterson off their defensive line and Davis out of their linebacking corps. Davis is a solid tackler who doesn’t make much of an impact, but his veteran presence could be missed in Denver and prized in his new home in Buffalo. Parker’s a backup and nothing more. Simms lost the backup QB job in Denver when the Broncos were able to steal Brady Quinn from the Browns.

3 – Seahawks (cut S Deon Grant) – Grant, who suffered one of the most gruesome injuries I ever covered, has started every game since 2001 for Carolina, Jacksonville, and Seattle. He’s not a game-changing free safety, but he’s solid and still has decent range. His price tag was inflated, but he’s still good enough to be a low-cost starter for a safety-poor team that misses out on a Darren Sharper-type.

2 – none

1 – Falcons (cut CB Tye Hill) – Hill, a former first-round pick in St. Louis, went to Atlanta in exchange for a seventh-round pick last year, and he didn’t pan out. With Dunta Robinson coming in, Hill wasn’t going to get any playing time, and so releasing him was the only move the Falcons could make.

1 (con’t) – Browns (cut TE Steve Heiden) – When the Browns signed Ben Watson, Heiden got replaced. The long-time Brown was a solid role player for Cleveland since 2002 and has played in the league since ’99. He still might have enough left to be a third tight end somewhere.

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Jersey Numbers: Quarterbacks

Over the next several weeks, we’re going to look at several different positions (I can’t yet promise all) to identify the best players wearing each jersey number at each position. If this goes as planned, we’ll then compile a list of the best player wearing each jersey number in the league.

If you have quibbles, or want to add someone I forgot, leave a comment and we’ll update this post. And please have patience – this is a big job.

We started this project with wide receivers in this post and then with tight ends in this post. Now we move to quarterbacks, who wear numbers between 1 and 19.

1 – None – Sorry Warren Moon and Jeff George, but no significant quarterback in the NFL is currently wearing No. 1.

2 – Matt Ryan, Falcons – Two young quarterbacks wear No. 2, and Ryan, who is the future of the franchise in Atlanta, is an easy choice over JaMarcus Russell, who apparently cannot be the future of the franchise in Oakland. Other notable 2s: Brian St. Pierre, Cardinals; Chris Simms, Broncos, Sage Rosenfels, Vikings

3 – Derek Anderson, Browns – Anderson is no good and is having an even worse year, but he’s the only quarterback who has seen the field this season that wears No. 3, so he wins this by default. But you can go ahead and expect Anderson to lose to a kicker or punter in the final jersey number comparison. Other notable 3: Matt Moore, Panthers

4 – Brett Favre, Vikings – There’s no question that Favre is not only the most significant No. 4 currently playing now; he may be the best No. 4 in the history of the league. Part of that is that 4 was never a popular number before Favre, and part of it is of course Favre’s longevity and production. Other notable 4: Kevin Kolb, Eagles

5 – Donovan McNabb, Eagles – When McNabb first started wearing No. 5, it seemed like a bit of a novelty for a quarterback. But now this is a popular number. Still, McNabb remains the standard-bearer, both for his current play and his long and storied career. But it’ll be interesting to see how long McNabb can hold off up-and-coming Joe Flacco to keep the claim on 5. Other notable 5s: Kerry Collins, Titans; Trent Edwards, Bills, Josh Freeman, Buccaneers; Bruce Gradkowski, Raiders

6 – Jay Cutler, Bears – Cutler narrowly wins this number’s honors over rookie Mark Sanchez, simply because Cutler has a little longer pedigree. At the end of the year or next year, the decision could be different. Other notable 6: Pat White, Dolphins

7 – Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers – Big Ben wears 7 in honor of John Elway, one of the greatest 7s of all time. Now Roethlisberger is writing his legacy at the number with two Super Bowl titles very early in his career. The fact that Big Ben seems to be emerging as a passer is a sign that his career may actually be starting an upswing just now. Other notable 7s: Matt Cassel, Chiefs; Chad Henne, Dolphins; Byron Leftwich, Buccaneers; Matt Leinart, Cardinals; Tarvaris Jackson, Vikings; Michael Vick, Eagles

8 – Matt Hasselbeck, Seahawks – This was a tough call. Matt Schaub of the Texans is having by far a better year than Hasselbeck, but Hasselbeck has a much better career at this point. So we’ll side with experience over the present, knowing full well that we might want to flip the tables on this number very soon. Other notable 8s: Kyle Orton, Broncos; David Carr, Giants; Brian Hoyer, Patriots

9 – Drew Brees, Saints – Brees may be for the early 2010s what Tom Brady and Peyton Manning were for most of this decade. He’s at the top of his game, piling up numbers with great accuracy and providing great leadership to boot. And if he can get a Super Bowl ring this year, his status will only grow. As good as Dallas’ Tony Romo, Cincinnati’s Carson Palmer, and Jacksonville’s David Garrard are, they aren’t in Brees’ league. Other notable 9: Matthew Stafford, Lions

10 – Eli Manning, Giants – Manning isn’t a perfect quarterback, but he’s good and he’s won his share of games and then some. That’s enough to earn him the 10 spot over declining players like Marc Bulger of St. Louis and Chad Pennington of Miami. Other notable 10s: Matt Flynn, Packers; Brady Quinn, Browns; Vince Young, Titans; Troy Smith, Ravens

11 – Daunte Culpepper, Lions – There are no current star quarterbacks wearing 11, so we’ll give this honor to a former star in Culpepper who has started a couple of games this year. Other notable 11s: Josh Johnson, Buccaneers; Alex Smith, 49ers; Mark Brunell, Saints; Kellen Clemens, Jets

12 – Tom Brady, Patriots – It’s an easy call to give the honors at 12 to Brady, who’s already got the resume of an all-time great. Plus, Brady continues to perform at the highest of levels. He remains the real deal. Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers is a good quarterback, but he’s outside Brady’s echelon. Other notable 12s: Brodie Croyle, Chiefs; Kyle Boller, Rams; Josh McCown, Panthers; Jim Sorgi, Colts

13 – Kurt Warner, Cardinals – This is another easy call, as Warner is playing at a high level 10 years after he burst on the scene in St. Louis. His career has been a little up and down, but at his best there are few better than Warner. Other notable 13: Shaun Hill, 49ers

14 – Ryan Fitzpatrick, Bills – Fitzpatrick isn’t great, but he’s the only QB wearing 14 who has even played this year. Dan Fouts must be ashamed.

15 – Seneca Wallace, Seahawks – This is another slow number, as Wallace and Washington backup Todd Collins are the only quarterbacks wearing 15. We almost gave this to Tim Tebow in advance, but we’ll stick with NFL players for now.

16 – Charlie Batch, Steelers – At least we had a choice at 16 between Batch, the former Lions starter who’s now Big Ben’s backup, and Tyler Thigpen, who had some good games in K.C. last year before going to the Dolphins via trade this year.

17 – Philip Rivers, Chargers – Rivers isn’t on the Brees-Manning-Brady level, but he may be the best of the next batch of quarterbacks. He’s productive and continuing to grow as a leader and late-game threat. Other notable 17s: Jason Campbell, Redskins; Jake Delhomme, Panthers

18 – Peyton Manning, Colts – There’s no question here that Manning is by far the best 18 not only at quarterback but at any position in the league. No player is doing more to elevate his team this season than Manning, who is carrying his team to the top of the pack once again.

19 – NONE – No quarterbacks are wearing 19 this year either. Apparently young QBs need to see more Johnny Unitas highlights.

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Fantasy Football: Injuries and issues

As a service to fantasy football players, here’s a combined list of some of the major injuries and other issues that will affect players’ ability to play as the regular-season starts. So here’s the list, which we’ll update as more news develops. All week designations refer to the regular season.

Out to begin regular season

QB Matt Cassel, Chiefs – could be out up to two weeks with sprained MCL and ankle injury

QB Kyle Orton, Broncos – could miss opener with dislocated finger

QB Chris Simms, Broncos – up to first two weeks with a high-ankle sprain

QB Michael Vick, Eagles – undetermined suspension; will know how many games by Week 6

RB Marshawn Lynch, Bills – 3-game suspension

RB Kolby Smith, Chiefs – out at least 6 weeks

WR Brooks Foster, Rams – 4-6 weeks with ankle surgery

WR Jabar Gaffney, Broncos – “several weeks” (likely 2-4)  with a hamstring injury

WR Brandon Jones, 49ers – up to first four games with a shoulder injury

WR Chaz Schilens, Raiders – up to first four games with broken left foot

TE Ben Patrick, Cardinals – 4-game suspension

PK Garrett Hartley, Saints – 4-game suspension

Out for the year:

RBs Justin Green, Cardinals; Thomas Clayton, 49ers; Andre Brown, Giants

WRs Syndric Steptoe, Browns; Harry Douglas. Falcons; Roy Hall, Colts; Marcus Smith, Ravens; Plaxico Burress, Giants (suspension); Chris Davis, Titans; Donte Stallworth, Browns (suspension); Devard Darling, Chiefs; Brandon Tate, Patriots; Demetrius Byrd, Chargers

TEs Cornelius Ingram, Eagles; Dan Campbell, Saints; Reggie Kelly, Bengals; Tory Humphrey, Packers; Ben Utecht, Bengals

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FR: Training Camp Injuries

As happens most year, there have been several notable injuries in training camps this year. Here is a comparison of the players who have suffered significant injuries in training camps this summer, with the 10 level being the most significant injuries and 1 being the least significant. This post does not include minicamp injuries; you can find a comparison of those losses here.

A few notes: We’ve only included injuries that could affect regular-season play. And we’ll continue to update this post through the fourth preseason game; we’ll do invidiual posts of major injuries and link back here.

10 – Panthers DT Maake Kemeoatu – Kemeoatu is the Panthers’ anchor on the defensive line. He has used his tremendous size to clog the middle and keep blockers off of MLB Jon Beason. His presence also allows fellow DT Damione Lewis to slash through the line and rush the passer more often, which maximizes Lewis’ value. The Panthers don’t have any backup DTs with any experience, so they’re likely going to have to add some depth via free agency or the waiver wire just to set up a four-man DT rotation. Regardless, this injury could make Carolina much more susceptible to the run.

9 – Eagles MLB Stewart Bradley – Bradley suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Bradley emerged as a starter in Philly last year, totalling 108 tackles, 86 of them solos. He’s a big thumper who provides the kind of stability that a 4-3 defense needs inside. With Bradley now almost certainly out for the year, the Eagles will turn to Omar Gaither or Joe Mays or recent addition Matt Wilhelm to fill in. Regardless of who steps in, it’s going to be a drop-off from what Bradley could do.

8 – Seahawks OLT Walter Jones – Jones, who quietly has been an all-time great at offensive tackle, was trying to come back from microfracture knee surgery, but he suffered a setback and had to have a follow-up surgery during training camp. The Seahawks are saying he’s out indefinitely, which could mean anything from a return at the beginning of the season to the end of Jones’ Hall-of-Fame-caliber career. The Seahawks don’t have a successor in place, so losing Jones for any amount of time is a monster problem for them.

7 – Panthers LB Jon Beason – Beason, the Panthers’ Pro Bowl middle linebacker, suffered a torn MCL in the second preseason game. That’s usually a 4-to-6 week injury, which would indicate that Beason could miss up to the first month of the regular season. Reports indicate that the Panthers hope it’s a mild enough sprain that Beason will be able to play before that, which would be a huge boon to the Panthers. Remember that Carolina already lost DT Maake Kemeoatu, and consider that the Panthers don’t have enough of a depth of defensive playmakers to replace another key starter.

7 (con’t) – Saints OLT Jammal Brown – Brown, an emerging star at left tackle, had surgery to repair a sports hernia in late August. The Saints still hope he can return to open the regular season, but that would be an especially optimistic timetable. A more normal recovery is 1-2 months, which would cost Brown the first 4-6 games of the regular season. The fact that Brown’s backup has also been dinged up in the preseason makes Brown’s speedy return even more possibly.

6 – TE Cornelius Ingram, Eagles – Ingram was a fifth-round pick who looked like a steal because his athletic ability merited a higher pick but a college knee injury depressed his draft stock. But that potential went bust when Ingram tore the ACL in his left knee during training camp. It’s the second time Ingram has done that, and that makes the chance that Ingram will ever contribute pretty remote. It’s a shame, because Ingram was a nice prospect. Now the Eagles must rely heavily on Brent Celek to bring them some offense over the middle.

6 (con’t) – WR Harry Douglas, Falcons – Douglas emerged as a big-play threat (actually a triple threat) as a rookie last year for Atlanta, and he added a pretty interesting dynamic to the Falcons’s offense. But he tore an ACL in training camp and now will miss the season. That’ll hurt the Falcons’ ability to threaten defenses out of multi-receiver sets, and with Roddy White holding out, it could quickly become an even more significant blow.

6 (con’t) – Bengals TE Reggie Kelly – Kelly is a starting tight end who doesn’t catch many balls but still makes an impact by being a fantastic blocker. His absence will likely cause the Bengals to change the way they approach offense, but it could actually open up snaps for rookie Chase Coffman, who has a lot of potential as a pass-catcher.

6  (con’t) – TE Ben Utecht, Bengals – Utecht, who was probably going to start for the Bengals at tight end, suffered a nasty concussion that will cost him the season. With Utecht and Reggie Kelly out, the Bengals are counting on rookie Chase Coffman pretty signficantly.

6 (con’t) – Giants DT-LS Jay Alford – Alford is a key member of the Giants’ defensive line rotation, and he also serves as the team’s long-snapper. But in the team’s second preseason game, he suffered a knee injury that tore his MCL and partially tore his ACL. He’ll be out for the year. This injury hurts on two fronts – the Giants’ defense, which attacks so much that depth is vital, and on special teams as well. Alford’s potential as a penetrating pass rusher will be missed.

5 – Lions DE Jared DeVries – DeVries, a usual starter over the past three years in Detroit, ruptured his Achilles tendon and will miss the year. DeVries isn’t wonderful, but he’s a legitimate rotation guy and an average starter in the NFL. For a team as devoid of depth as Detroit still is, losing that kind of guy is a big blow.

5 (con’t) – Ravens OT Adam Terry – Terry, who was slated to compete with Michael Oher for the starting right tackle job and then settle into a role as the primary backup at both tackle spots, had a knee injury that just wasn’t getting better, so during the first week of camp he had a surgery that will cost him the entire ’09 season. His absence limits the Ravens’ experience but shouldn’t be a deathknell because Baltimore has done a good job of accumulating depth.

5 (con’t) – Buccaneers LB Angelo Crowell – Crowell, a former standout in Buffalo, signed with the Buccaneers in the offseason to be a starter after missing the entire ’08 season. But a torn biceps muscle will bench Crowell for the entire ’09 season as well. That hurts a Bucs defense that let a lot more talent go in the offseason than what they brought in. Crowell’s veteran wile will be missed in what looks like a rebuilding season in Tampa Bay.

5 (con’t) – QB Matt Cassel, Chiefs – Cassel, the Chiefs’ starting quarterback, suffered a sprained MCL and an ankle injury in the third preseason game, and it could cost him up to two regular-season games. That’s a huge blow to the Chiefs, who are counting on Cassel to provide QB stability for the franchise over the long term. This injury could also inhibit K.C.’s ability to trade QB Tyler Thigpen for a draft pick, as it had hoped.

5 (con’t) – Bears RB Kevin Jones – Jones, who was slated to be Matt Forte’s primary backup this season, tore an ankle ligament and will miss the entire season. Jones, who had a major knee injury in Detroit that cost him an entire season, now must rehab again. That’s a bad break for him and a blow to the Bears, who thought Jones was a higher-quality backup than Adrian Peterson (the other one) or Garrett Wolfe.

4 – WR Brandon Jones, 49ers – Jones, whom the Niners signed in the offseason to bolster their receiving corps, could miss up to four regular-season games with a broken shoulder. That’s a big blow, because aside from Isaac Bruce, Jones is probably the most experienced wideout San Fran has. Jones and Josh Morgan will still be fighting for a starting job, but this injury gives Morgan an edge in that battle. And Michael Crabtree (in the midst of an acrimonious holdout) could figure in later this offseason as well. But the Niners probably need all four receivers to contribute, and this injury limits the chance of that happening.

4 (con’t) – RB Andre Brown, Giants – Brown, a rookie out N.C. State, was the guy the Giants drafted as they tried to replace Derrick Ward in their Earth, Wind, and Fire running back corps. But Brown ruptured the Achilles tendon in his left leg in the opening preseason game and will miss the season. That’s a blow both to the Giants and to this promising runner, because he is good enough that he could have helped in a complementary role this season.

4 (con’t) – WR Chaz Schilens, Raiders – Schilens isn’t a household name, but he was actually slated to be the Raiders’ No. 1 wideout this season before he broke a bone in his left foot in mid-August. If the injury follows the normal course of healing, it will sideline Schilens until early-to-mid October. That’s a shame, not just because Schilens showed so much promsie as a rookie but also because we all need more guys named Chaz in our lives.

4 (con’t) – S Daniel Bullocks, Lions – Bullocks started 15 games last season, and as a former second-round pick he still has some potential. But he’s also dealing with a lingering knee injury that will end up costing him the entire 2009 season.

4 (con’t) – Seahawks C Chris Spencer – Walter Jones isn’t the only Seahawk lineman who’s hurting. Spencer, the starting center, has an injured left quadriceps, and the team has yet to figure out how many regular-season games he’ll miss, although it will be at least a couple. At least rookie Max Unger could step in for Spencer, a former first-round pick who has turned into a decent center. But losing two offensive line starters, even if it’s just for a handful of games, will most likely put a significant crimp in Seattle’s offensive style.

4 (con’t) – Bears DT Dusty Dvoracek – Dvoracek, once a second-round pick, now sees his season ended early by injury for the fourth time in four years, this time with a torn ACL. That’s a blow to the Bears, who are going to have to limit stud DT Tommie Harris’ snaps to keep his aching knees as healthy as possible. This injury probably will spell the end of Dvoracek’s Bears tenure as well, because it’s hard to see a team counting on a guy who has been injured so often once again next season.

4 (con’t) – Cardinals OLB Cody Brown – Brown, the Cardinals’ second-round pick this year, is a pass-rushing linebacker from Connecticut who was expected to find a rotation role for Arizona this year. He and Calais Campbell were slated to help replace the potent rush of Antonio Smith, who moved to Houston via free agency. But Brown broke his wrist and will miss the entire season. That hurts his development and takes a defensive weapon away for a defense that could use him.

3 – LB Nick Griesen, Broncos – Griesen was one of the myriad veteran free agents Denver brought in during the offseason to create depth. However, he suffered a knee injury on Aug. 3 that will cost him the season. His intelligence and experience in a 3-4 defense would have helped, but he looked to be more of a backup than a starter, so this loss doesn’t look to hamper Denver too much in the long run.

3 (con’t) – WR Syndric Steptoe, Browns – Steptoe had 19 catches as a rookie last year, but he’ll miss his second year with a shoulder injury. The most interesting thing about this injury is that Steptoe’s agent blames Browns head coach Eric Mangini for it. Steptoe was hurt in a practice conducted at full speed in a driving rain. Maybe this lends a little more credibility to our argument against Bill Belichick lieutenants succeeding as NFL head coaches. It’s a shame for Steptoe, who actually had some promise.

3 (con’t) – TE Tory Humphrey, Packers – Humphrey broke his forearm in training camp and will miss the entire season for the second time in three years. He has showed promise as a receiving tight end, but given his injury history it’s unlikely Green Bay will rely on him again.

3 (con’t) – LB Mark Simoneau, Saints – Simoneau was once a starter in New Orleans, but a right triceps injury will force him to miss the entire season for the second straight year. That limits New Orleans’ LB depth, which is already short because of Stanley Arnoux’s minicamp injury, and it caused the Saints to start looking at veteran ‘backers like Derrick Brooks.

3 (con’t) – P Josh Bidwell, Buccaneers – Bidwell had so much soreness in his hip that the Buccaneers opted to sideline him for the year and replace him with Dirk Johnson. The one-time Pro Bowl pick is a consistent punter, if not the biggest leg in the league, so losing him will sting – especially if Johnson struggles as much as he has in recent years.

3 (con’t) – LB Cato June, Texans – June was a starter with Indy and Tampa Bay, but at age 28 he was trying to start over and find a role in Houston. While he had the look of a future starter, he was running with the third team when he broke his arm just before the second preseason game. It will cost him the season.

3 (con’t) – Cowboys OT Robert Brewster – Brewster, a third-round pick, was projected as a backup tackle for the Cowboys. Instead, he’s going to be on injured reserve and miss the season after tearing a pectoral muscle. Given the age of Dallas’ tackles, this move could end up hurting more than it would appear at first glance.

3 (con’t) Broncos QB Chris Simms – So much for a quarterback competition in Denver. Simms, who had an opening to try to seize the starting job from Kyle Orton after Orton’s up-and-down performance in the first two preseason games, suffered a high ankle sprain that will cost him the last two preseason games and could hinder him in the first few weeks of the season. It’s another in a long list of injuries for Simms in his career.

3 (con’t) – WR Jabar Gaffney, Broncos – Gaffney, brought over from New England to be Denver’s reliable outside receiver, suffered a broken thumb that will cost him a few regular-season games.

3 (con’t) – OG Darnell Stapleton, Steelers – Stapleton started 12 games for the Steelers last year, and helped to stabilize an offensive line that struggled much of the year. But he suffered a knee injury early in training camp and will miss the whole season.

2- WR Donnie Avery, Rams – Avery hurt his leg in training camp and could miss the season opener. He’s vital to the Rams’ offensive plans this year, because he’s their No. 1 receiver. In fact, Avery is the only receiver for the Rams who’s even semi-proven in the NFL. So missing him for any games is a huge deal for St. Louis.

2 (con’t) – CB Jacque Reeves, Texans – Reeves broke a leg early in training camp and should miss at least a couple of games in the regular season, if not more. Reeves was a starter, and his absence could be compounded by the holdout of Dunta Robinson. Missing both of those players to start the season would really inhibit Houston’s ability to defend the pass, which is why the Texans added Deltha O’Neal after Reeves was hurt.

2 (con’t) – OT Khalif Barnes, Raiders – Barnes broke a leg in the first week of August and should miss some early regular-season action. He was slated to be the team’s starting left tackle after signing a one-year deal in the offseason, and so his absence will hurt the Raiders. But this falls to the bottom of this list because the Raiders don’t appear to be much of a contender even in the mediocre AFC West.

2 (con’t) – TE Dan Campbell, Saints – Campbell had only played three games over the past two seasons because of a knee injury, and it just didn’t get better. He’s a good blocking tight end, but given this chronic knee injury, his 11-year career looks to be nearing the end.

2 (con’t) – WR Marcus Smith, Ravens – Smith, a fourth-round pick in 2008, was slated to perhaps become the Ravens’ No. 4 receiver after a rookie season in which he played seven games without a catch. Instead, he tore an ACL and will miss the season.  The significance of this injury is about Smith’s potential but also about the lack of depth the Ravens have at receiver.

2 (con’t) – Cowboys LB Brandon Williams – Like fellow rookie Brewster, Williams will miss the season. He has a torn ACL. Williams, a fourth-round pick, was slated to be a backup linebacker and likely a special-teams contributor.

2 (con’t) – Rams WR Brooks Foster – Foster, one of myriad young receivers who are trying to find playing time in a rebuilt corps, suffered a high ankle sprain in the first preseason game and had surgery two weeks later. The fifth-round pick will be out 4-6 games, but that might be long enough for the Rams to put him on IR and save him for 2010.

2 (con’t) – OLG Todd Herremans, Eagles – Philly’s starting left guard will miss the first regular-season game with a left foot injury.

2 (con’t) – CB Brandon Hughes, Chargers – Hughes, a fifth-round pick, will miss the entire season with a knee injury he suffered late in training camp.

2 (con’t) – OLs Ryan Tucker and Fred Weary, Browns – As they tried to stabilize their offensive line, the Browns signed Weary and kept veteran Tucker around. But both suffered knee injuries in training camp, and both are now on injured reserve.

2 (con’t) – WR Devard Darling, Chiefs – Darling, once a promising prospect in Baltimore, suffered a knee injury and will miss the season. The Chiefs had Darling as a starter on the depth chart, and while that wasn’t going to last, Darling would have made the team and contributed.

2 (con’t) – CB Don Carey, Jaguars – Carey was a sixth-round pick in Cleveland, and when he injured his shoulder, the Browns tried to stash him on injured reserve. But because he had to clear waivers first, he was available, and the Jaguars grabbed him. Jacksonville will stash Carey on injured reserve this season and then see if they can develop him in 2010.

1 – OT Damion Scott, Lions – Scott was an occasional starter in Detroit last year, but as the Lions added depth this offseason, Scott’s roster spot began looking precarious. But that’s moot now, because Scott tore a triceps muscle and will miss the season.

1 (con’t) – LB Cody Spencer, Lions – Spencer was brought over from the Jets to provide depth at linebacker, but he’ll miss the season with a knee injury. For a team as thin as Detroit is, any loss like this stings.

1 (con’t) – WR Roy Hall, Colts – Hall was competing for the Colts’ No. 3 receiver job with rookie Austin Collie and Pierre Garcon, but injuries plagued him throughout his three-year career and knocked him out for the season this year. At this point, it’s hard to see Hall getting another shot in Indy, which is a shame because the Colts could use a young wideout as promising as him.

1 (con’t) – WR Chris Davis, Titans – Davis was fighting a hamstring injury, but the fact that he got arrested during his rehab doomed him. That’s why Tennessee waived/injured him, which should land him on injured reserve for the year.

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FR: Quarterback battles

Training camp is still two months away, but some quarterback battles are starting to crystalize across the NFL. We expected some of these battles to take place; others are surprise appearances. But there are enough of them that we thought it would be interesting to compare these battles using football relativity. Here’s how it will work: 10 is the battle most likely to impact a team’s fate, and 1 is a battle least likely to matter. This rating includes the quality of the players in the battle as well as how long the battle will go on.

For more on these (and other) quarterbacks as individuals, check out this post on the top signal callers for 2009 and beyond. And this site of NFL depth charts has become a resource that I’ve gone back to several times now, and so I thought it was worth a link.

10 – Vikings (combatants: Tarvaris Jackson, Sage Rosenfels and potentially Brett Favre) – Jackson and Rosenfels both have talent, and they both have moments in which they look like they should be NFL starters. Rosenfels is a long-time backup who has 12 career starts in eight years and a career passer rating of 81.5, which is slightly above average. But Rosenfels also seems to make the killer mistake at the killer time way too often. Jackson was demoted at the beginning of last season, only to reclaim the starting job when Gus Frerotte was hurt, and at the end of the season Jackson played really well. His passer rating for the season was 95.4, which is a standout mark. But Jackson’s tendency to make a killer mistake showed up in the playoffs, when his pick-6 ultimately cost the Vikings the wild-card game against Philly. If either Rosenfels or Jackson put it together and played consistently, the Vikings’ championship chances would rise, because the rest of the team is contender-caliber. But the question is whether either guy can be consistent, and whether Brad Childress and company will stick with the guy they pick. Plus, the specter of Brett Favre looms over the situation, but would that even be an improvement?

9 – none

8 – Jets (combatants: Kellen Clemens and Mark Sanchez) – Clemens, a former second-round pick, has only gotten one extended chance to start (half a season in ’07), but he’s the veteran hand who has the reins to begin. That means that Sanchez, who didn’t have that many starts at USC, has a real shot to be the opening day starter. I believed in Sanchez over Matthew Stafford at draft time, but even a Sanchez-phile like me isn’t sure about the wisdom of starting him from Day One. I like Sanchez’s attitude and confidence, but that could be shaken if he performs poorly, especially in the media jungle of New York. The Jets could have used a Byron Leftwich type of guy as a bridge, but they didn’t get one in the offseason. So while there’s a ton of upside potential here, there’s lots of downside potential as well. It’ll be interesting to see whether Sanchez can show enough to demonstrate that he’s ready to go when the season opens, especially with a team that looks to repeat on last year’s winning record.

7 – Browns (combatants: Derek Anderson, Brady Quinn and Brett Ratliff) – Everyone will have an eye on this battle through training camp because of Quinn’s golden boy status and Anderson’s one shining year in ’07. Anderson isn’t consistent, but he has a big arm and can get hot enough to throw with the best of them. Quinn doesn’t throw as powerfully, but he’s more consistent and more suited to a timing offense. It seems like the new Browns coaching regime under Eric Mangini would favor Quinn, who would be a bit easier to build a run-first offense around, but that’s merely a guess. A small part of me is afraid that Mangini is silly enough to give Brett Ratliff, the former Jets’ No. 3 QB who came over in the Mark Sanchez draft day trade, a shot. Ratliff played well in the preseason last year, but preseason QB phenoms who can’t play when the real games start are far too common to count on Ratliff. But Mangini appears to have a man crush on Ratliff, and that’s worrisome when figuring out whether Anderson or Quinn has the edge.

6 – Broncos (combatants: Kyle Orton and Chris Simms) – It’s quite a fall for Denver from Jay Cutler, a Pro Bowl level talent, and two workmanlike journeymen like Orton and Simms. Simms, like Leftwich, gets a lot of attention as a prospect, but he hasn’t played significant snaps since 2006, and he didn’t get a lot of attention in free agency. He’s probably good enough to be OK, but he’s not a winning quarterback unless there’s a really good team around him. (And there’s not in Denver, at least not at this point.) Orton has a similarly strange career path – he started 15 games as a rookie in ’06, then sat behind Rex Grossman for two years before becoming a starter again last year. He played OK in Chicago, and he has actually shown more upside than Simms, but Orton isn’t going to scare anyone. He’s good enough to be an average NFL starter, and he’ll have a few moments where he looks better than that, but Orton isn’t a guy you can build a team around – no matter what Josh McDaniels thinks.

5 – Buccaneers (combatants: Byron Leftwich, Luke McCown, Josh Freeman) – At one point this offseason, McCown was resigned and told he would have a chance to win the starting job in Tampa Bay, and even after Leftwich came on board and Freeman was selected, McCown still asserted the job was his to lose. We still figure that McCown will lose it, most likely to Leftwich, who looked impressive as a Steelers backup last year. But remember that Leftwich looked pretty rotten the two previous years in Jacksonville and Atlanta. He’s good enough to challenge McCown, and probably best him in ’09, but he’s not a long-term solution, no matter how personable he is. Freeman doesn’t really figure into the competition this year, but he is the QB of the future. The question is how soon that future will come – late in 2009, 2010, or even later. The Bucs look like they’ll take a step back before taking a step forward, and it’s possible that Leftwich is good enough to keep them competitive and around .500. But it’s also easy to see Tampa slipping to 6-10 or even worse.

4 –  Raiders (combatants: JaMarcus Russell and Jeff Garcia) – Russell, a former No. 1 overall pick, started a full season last year, and while his touchdown-to-interception ratio was OK at 13 to 8, his completion percentage of 53.8 didn’t cut the mustard. He’s still the future in Oakland, but the Raiders added Jeff Garcia as a backup. That’s where the dysfunction begins. Garcia is still a solid performer who can lead a team and move it downfield, and performance-wise he’s a really good backup quarterback. But he doesn’t have the personality of a backup. It’s not that he will try to undercut Russell, but Garcia won’t be the supportive caddy. Instead, he’s going to try to beat Russell out, whether that’s the best thing for the future of the organization or not. And it’s not the best thing for Garcia to beat out Russell. The Raiders need Russell to be the answer if they are to build a foundation, but the 39-year-old Garcia doesn’t care. He just wants to start as many games as he can before his career is over. And that mindset could lead to a lot of tension in Oakland going into Game One – especially if Russell struggles in the preseason.

3 – 49ers (combatants: Shaun Hill and Alex Smith) – The expectations on Hill, a former undrafted free agent, and Smith, a former No. 1 overall pick, couldn’t be more divergent. But it’s Hill who has the leg up on the job in San Fran going into the season. Hill spent five full seasons in the league before he threw his first pass, but he played well at the end of the ’07 season, and when he became the starter in ’08 he continued to perform. In the 12 games he’s played over the last two seasons, Hill has completed 64 percent of his passes and has 18 touchdowns versus just 9 interceptions. His career passer rating of 90.5 makes you take notice. Smith, on the other hand, has just one halfway decent season out of the three that he played, and he missed all of last season due to injury. He would have been cut by the 49ers in the offseason had he not taken a big pay cut. Hill is more consistent in the short passing game, and he can run an offense effectively. But he’s not the kind of quarterback who can shoulder the burden of carrying a team to the win. Smith has the talent but hasn’t put it together in the four different systems the Niners have used since he was drafted. So while Hill has a clear leg up in this competition, Smith should still be more than an afterthought. He still has enough talent that he could take advantage of a chance to play. That’s no certainty, but it should be a consideration.

2 – Lions (combatants: Daunte Culpepper, Matthew Stafford and Drew Stanton) – This isn’t a battle as much as it is a test of Stafford’s readiness. Stafford will be the guy in Detroit when he’s ready, but even though he was a 2 1/2-year starter in the SEC, most draft analysts didn’t think Stafford would be ready right away. Until the Lions want to throw him in there, it appears that Culpepper will be the caretaker. It’s a strange role for a guy who was briefly one of the top 5 QBs in the game (circa 2004), but injuries have robbed Culpepper of most of his elite skills. Although Culpepper is in better shape than he was after signing midseason in Detroit, it would be foolish to expect great play out of him. The Lions can only hope that Culpepper doesn’t kill them until Stafford gets in there. And don’t expect a Joe Flacco type of situation here; Drew Stanton, a former second-round pick, might get the nod instead of Stafford were Culpepper to get hurt before opening day.

1 – Rams (combatants: Marc Bulger and Kyle Boller) – This isn’t a battle most people are expecting, but I’m forecasting that at some point the heat is on Bulger big time. That point could even come in the preseason. Bulger has a good reputation, but the last 2 years his passer ratings have been 70.4 and 71.3. Those numbers aren’t good, and with a new coaching staff who has no loyalty to Bulger (despite his bloated contract), a change is possible. I’ve always had a predisposition to like Boller – maybe because I saw both of his really good games – but he has talent, and if he puts it together he could well be a better option than Bulger. So keep an eye on St. Louis to see if a battle develops under the arch under center.

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FR: Free agency weekly review

Here are some thoughts on this week’s free-agent moves. (You can read about the opening weekend moves relative to each other here.) Once the market slows down and the draft approaches, we’ll put everything together in a massive offseason moves relativity post that compares the entire movement of the market team-by-team. (And if this post is 2000-plus words, then that post really will be massive.)

The following moves are compared relative to each other, with 10 as the most significant and 1 as mere drops in the bucket. Only the moves listed below are considered in this particular ranking.

10 – Cardinals (kept QB Kurt Warner and P Ben Graham; added FS Keith Lewis) – After some tense and contentious moments, the Cardinals were able to come to terms on a two-year deal with Warner (with $19 million of the $23 million guaranteed). The Cardinals simply had to get this deal done to have any shot of maintaining their momentum from their Super Bowl appearance, especially considering all of the coaching-staff changes they’ve had. Warner is a tone-setter in the locker room and still a very good player to boot. Now he has the chance to conclude his career in an ideal situation for his talents.

9 – Ravens (kept LB Ray Lewis; added C Matt Birk) – After losing Bart Scott, the Ravens needed to keep Lewis to maintain continuity on their defense. The fact that Lewis gets to retire as the greatest Raven ever is icing on the cake. Lewis had a great season last year after struggling for a couple of campaigns. He doesn’t have to be at the all-time-great level anymore, but the Ravens still need him to play at a high level to help the other defensive stars (Terrell Suggs, Ed Reed, and Haloti Ngata) do what they do best. Birk replaces Jason Brown. Brown is younger and more physical, but Birk is a solid pro who will do his job effectively.

8 – Seahawks (added WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh and TE John Owens) – Houshmandzadeh, who got $40 million total and $15 million guaranteed in a five-year contract, was the best wide receiver to become a free agent. He’s been productive despite being across from the more highly touted Chad Johnson/Ocho Cinco. Even with below-mediocre quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick playing most of last year, Houshmandzadeh still posted decent numbers. Now he moves to Seattle, where he and Deion Branch will try to reinvigorate an offense that sputtered last year. Neither is a great deep threat, but the West Coast scheme that the Seahawks continue to run doesn’t really require that. We’ll discover if Houshmandzadeh is a true No. 1 as this move plays out; I tend to believe that he’s not quite at that dominant level but will still be very good. Owens is a block-first tight end who will help in short-yardage situations.

7 – Eagles (added S Sean Jones) – After losing Brian Dawkins (as well as Sean Considine), the Eagles needed some safety help, and they got an impact player in Jones. Jones has 14 interceptions since 2006 and is thought of in some circles as a borderline Pro Bowl player. The deal is only for one year, so it’s a make good for Jones, which should encourage strong performance even more. If Jones reaches his potential and gels in the Philly defense, he’ll be a standout, and this deal will go down as one of the underrated steals of this year’s free agent market.

6 – Titans (added WR Nate Washington and DT Jovan Haye; kept P Craig Hentrich) – These two moves are designed to replace losses (WR Brandon Jones and DT Albert Haynesworth). Washington may be better than Jones. He can get deep consistently, but the question is whether he is consistent enough to be a top receiver. The Titans need him to be at least a 60-catch guy, and that might be asking too much. But of all the receivers on the open market, Washington (6 years, $27M)  is the best bet to take a step up. Haye (4 years, $16M) isn’t anywhere close to Haynesworth, but he will fit comfortably into the Titans’ DT rotation. Tennessee will need several players to step up to replace Haynesworth, and Haye can be part of that – but only part. It’ll be interesting to see if the Titans can retain their scary factor on defense without their best player from ’08.

6 (con’t) – Buccaneers (added RB Derrick Ward, LB Niko Koutouvides, and PK Mike Nugent; kept safeties Will Allen and Jermaine Phillips, TE Jerramy Stevens, and WR Cortez Hankton) – This offseason, the Bucs have added TE Kellen Winslow and re-signed WRs Antonio Bryant and Michael Clayton. Now they add Ward, a solid running back who had his best success in a rotation with the Giants. Ward, who gets a 4-year deal worth $17 million, moves from partnering with Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw to teaming with Earnest Graham and Cadillac Williams. Those are 3 talented backs, so the question will be finding the right way to divide carries. It’s clear from the moves so far that the Bucs are trying to upgrade their offensive skill positions, which were never eye-popping under Jon Gruden despite Gruden’s play-calling prowess. Meanwhile, Nugent could replace Matt Bryant as the Bucs’ placekicker. Allen and Phillips should be starters at safety – Phillips was sought after elsewhere but opted to stay. Stevens is a curious retention given Winslow’s arrival, but Stevens is a talented pass catcher as well.

5 – Bengals (added WR Laveranues Coles and QB J.T. O’Sullivan; kept RB Cedric Benson and OLB Darryl Blackstock) – Coles worked his way out of New York even though the Jets owed him $6 million guaranteed, and the gambit worked. He moves to Cincinnati to replace T.J. Houshmandzadeh (and perhaps even WR Chad Johnson/Ocho Cinco) as a primary target. Coles isn’t as big as Houshmandzadeh, but he has a little more speed, and he’s still a legitimate starting receiver. This is a pretty good fallback option for the Bengals. On the retention side, Benson isn’t great, but he was better than the other options Cincinnati had last year. If he starts and produces a 1,000-yard season, which isn’t asking a ton, this deal (2 years, $7 million) is probably at a fair market price. And if Benson can like up to his talent, this deal has a chance of being a steal. (A small chance, admittedly, but still worth noting.)

4 – Dolphins (added C Jake Grove) – The Dolphins have spent big to keep their own good players, but Grove (5 years, $30 million) is one of the first big outside additions. Grove, who was in Oakland, will replace Samson Satele and try to help control the massive 3-4 nose tackles like Vince Wilfork, Kris Jenkins, and Marcus Stroud in the AFC East.

3 – Broncos (added RB Lamont Jordan, QB Chris Simms, and DT Ronald Fields; kept DE Kenny Peterson) – More moves from the Broncos as they add seemingly every other mid-level free agent on the market. Jordan is the third running back Denver has signed this offseason. He’s most likely to take on a short-yardage role, with Correll Buckhalter carrying the load regularly and J.J. Arrington serving as a third-down receiver out of the backfield as well as a returner. Fields got a minor deal (2 years, $5 million), but he should start at defensive tackle. He’s a solid part of a 4-man DT rotation. Simms is at least a quality backup, and if the Jay Cutler situation ultimately blows up, Simms is a decent fallback option as a starter. His addition means the Cutler situation still bears watching.

3 (con’t) – Saints (added CB Jabari Greer and FB Heath Evans; kept WR Devery Henderson) – The Saints are constantly looking for secondary help, and Greer should provide at least some. But Greer is not a No. 1 cornerback, and if the Saints put him in that role, he could suffer a similar collapse to what Jason David endured in the Big Easy. Despite that risk, though, this is a move the Saints had to make, and Greer was the best of what was left on the market at corner. Henderson is a speedy wide receiver who isn’t consistent enough to be a starter but is dangerous in short bursts. With Marques Colston and Lance Moore on hand, the Saints don’t need to rely on Henderson consistently. That allows them to put him in the best possible positions for his talents. he’s a highly paid No. 3 receiver now, but he fits the Saints’ roster and scheme well. Evans replaces Mike Karney as a blocking fullback and is an upgrade because he’s better with the ball in his hands.

2 – Jets (added S Jim Leonhard; kept PK Jay Feely) – Feely beat out Mike Nugent last year, and so the Jets kept him and let the former second-round pick leave as a free agent. Feely has bounced around a bit, but he’s a quality kicker.) – After taking LB Bart Scott from the Ravens, the Jets raided Baltimore again to get Leonhard. While Leonhard isn’t the most physically gifted player, he’s always fought his way into the lineup and been productive. When Dawan Landry went down last year, Leonhard played really well. He’s a heady player who will help new head coach Rex Ryan install his defense. With Kerry Rhodes in place, Leonhard doesn’t have to be the play-making safety, but Leonhard’s dependability will allow Rhodes more freedom to do what he does best. This is a solid addition for the Jets. Meanwhile, Feely beat out Mike Nugent last year, and so the Jets kept him and let the former second-round pick leave as a free agent. Feely has bounced around a bit, but he’s a quality kicker.

2 (con’t) – Bills (added CB Drayton Florence; kept OT Kirk Chambers) – Florence busted out after signing a big contract in Jacksonville last season, but his new deal with Buffalo (2 years, $6.6 million) befits his talents much better. With Jabari Greer likely leaving, the Bills had to add cornerback help, but they have ’08 first-rounder Leodis McKelvin and Terrence McGee in primary roles there. Florence is paid like a nickelback, and he can probably fill that role sufficiently.

2 (con’t) – Lions (added DT Grady Jackson and CB Philip Buchanon; kept OG Damion Cook) – Jackson is a run-stuffer personified at 375 pounds (or more, depending on the year). He’s a two-down player at most, but when he’s in the game the middle is completely clogged up. It’s hard to say whether he’ll play all three years on his new $8 million contract, but if he stays in somewhat reasonable shape, he’s an asset to any roster. Buchanon busted out as a first-round pick in Oakland but resuscitated his career in Tampa. He’s not a shut-down corner, but as a starter he’s a little above average.

2 (con’t) – Patriots (added CB Shawn Springs; kept OL Russ Hochstein, P Chris Hanson, and LB Eric Alexander) – Springs was cut in Washington after an injury-plagued year, but he’s still a useful guy. He might end up at safety instead of cornerback, but the Patriots more than most teams seem willing to use a veteran who may have lost a step on the outside. This, like the addition of RB Fred Taylor, just feels like a natural Patriots type of move.

2 (con’t) – Browns (added TE Robert Royal; kept S Mike Adams) – After trading Kellen Winslow, the Browns needed tight end help. Royal (who got a 4-year, $10 million contract)  is starting caliber, so he’s a good worst-case scenario for the Browns. They also have Steve Heiden, like Royal a solid NFL starter at the position. But my guess is that Cleveland wants second-year TE Martin Rucker to emerge as the pass-catching threat at the position. If he develops, Rucker could end up replacing a lot of what Winslow contributed in the passing game. Adams chose to stay in Cleveland instead of moving to Green Bay. With fellow safety Sean Jones still sans contract, it was important for the Browns to keep Adams for continuity’s sake.

2 (con’t) – Vikings (kept LB Heath Farwell) – Several teams wanted Farwell, a solid linebacker and special-teams contributor, but the Vikings were able to fight them off and keep him.

1 – Falcons (kept DE Chauncey Davis) – Davis isn’t a starter, but he’s an important player because Atlanta knows that sackmeister John Abraham is better in shorter bursts. Davis can rotate with Abraham and plays well when he’s in there. So while a 4-year, $14 million deal with $8 million guaranteed looks too rich, it makes some sense.

1 (con’t) – Raiders (kept OL Cooper Carlisle and TE Tony Stewart) – Carlisle is important to Oakland because of his versatility. He can start effectively but can also move inside if necessary.

1 (con’t) – Giants (added S C.C. Brown) – Brown is the fourth veteran the Giants have brought in to supplement their defense. He’ll help to take over for James Butler, who left via free agency. Brown isn’t special, but he’s solid, which is all the Giants need given their other playmakers defensively.

1 (con’t) – Texans (kept WR David Anderson) – Anderson had signed a contract tender with Denver, but the Texans chose to match it and keep the former seventh-round pick. Anderson emerged as a No. 3 receiver last year behind Andre Johnson and Kevin Walter, and he’s the perfect size to make plays out of the slot position.

1 (con’t) – 49ers (added DE Demetric Evans and QB Damon Huard) – Evans got a decent deal (2 years, $8.5 million) to come from Washington and serve as a starter. Huard is a professional backup who can help to mentor Shaun Hill and Alex Smith as they compete for the starting quarterback job.

1 (con’t) Chiefs – (kept S Jon McGraw; added LB Darrell Robertson) – McGraw is a backup safety and special-teams player who is used to the Patriot way because he played for the Jets and former Pats aide Eric Mangini. Robertson was cut by New England Thursday and immediately snapped up by the Chiefs, who are fast becoming New England Midwest.

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