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Thoughts on the Hall of Fame Class of 2011

Pro Football Hall of Fame, at Canton, Ohio, Un...

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Over the weekend, the Pro Football Hall of Fame announced its class of 2011. We predicted six of the seven inductees in our Football Relativity comparison, so we obviously support the class. Here are some other thoughts:

*Ed Sabol’s induction is well deserved. NFL Films gets a lot of credit for helping to build the league’s popularity and profile in the 1960s and 1970s, to the point that football is now America’s game. Like John Madden (the video game entrepeneur, not the coach), Sabol is one of the rare contributors whose legacy affects not only one franchise but generations of fans. He simply has to be included in any real Hall of Fame.
*Sabol’s induction cost a player a spot because of the Hall’s rules. The two seniors candidates – Les Richter and Chris Hanburger – get yes or no votes, while the other 15 finalists have just five spots. That’s why there gets to be such a backlog at certain positions. So only one pass rusher was going to get in – Richard Dent finally got that spot over Chris Doleman and Cortez Kennedy – and only one receiver – Shannon Sharpe over Cris Carter, Andre Reed, and Tim Brown.
*It was gratifying to see Dent and Sharpe get in after long waits. Both are completely deserving of induction.
*Carter is a cause celebre for fans who think he deserves induction. We agree, but Carter was in the first cut for the second straight year. Unless a bunch of Sharpe supporters swing to Carter, he could find himself behind Reed in the pecking order next year.
*The selectors chose the right running back in Marshall Faulk, and they rightly eliminated Jerome Bettis before Curtis Martin. Martin will be a curious case in coming years, because he’s right on the borderline of the Hall of Fame and the hall of the very good.
*Next year’s first-time eligibles are an interesting group. Of players, former Chiefs OG Will Shields is probably the best candidate (over Drew Bledsoe), but three prominent coaches – Bill Parcells, Marty Schottenheimer, and Bill Cowher – join the class. Cowher may get ignored because selectors believe he’ll return to the field – that’s the reason Parcells isn’t yet in. But if Parcells or Schottenheimer gets in, it’ll cost another player.
*With Shields coming on board, his former teammate William Roaf and ex-Steelers C Dermontti Dawson are facing an offensive line glut that only gets worse with Larry Allen and Jonathan Ogden in 2013. Next year needs to be Dawson’s year, or else he’s going to be facing a long wait.
*I had an interesting Twitter exchange with a buddy after the selection. He lamented the fact that both the baseball and football Halls don’t put everyone in who’s a Hall of Famer. But the problem is different in the two sports. In baseball, voters often vote for less than the 10 they’re allowed to vote for – even leaving ballots blank in some cases – and as a result the classes are small with one, two, or three inductees. In football, writers put the maximum number of candidates in pretty much every year, but there’s such a backlog (in part because there are 22 starters per team, vs. 9 in baseball) that it’s exceedingly hard to get in.

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Washington nabs McNabb

Last year, the big trade of the offseason happened in the first week of April and sent QB Jay Cutler from Denver to Chicago. This year, in the first week of April, we have another huge trade, as the Redskins traded for QB Donovan McNabb. Below are some thoughts on the trade; you can see how it trumps other trades from the 2010 offseason in this post.

The Eagles opted to end the McNabb era by dealing him to their NFC East rivals in Washington. This says a lot about what the Eagles think about McNabb right now. (Chris Mortenson brough up the fact that the last time this happened was when the Patriots traded Drew Bledsoe to the Bills, and the Pats knew when they made that deal that Bledsoe was falling off the cliff.) They’re obviously not scared of playing McNabb twice a year, because it’s not like the Redskins paid a premium for McNabb. In fact, instead of getting a Jay Cutler windfall for McNabb, Philly accepted a deal much like what the Patriots got for Matt Cassel last offseason – an early second-round pick (37th overall) and either a third- or fourth-rounder in 2011. So Philly takes a fair but not exorbinant deal to send away McNabb, who led them to one Super Bowl and five conference championship games in his 11 seasons there. Still, McNabb was never fully embraced by Eagles fans. I was there at the 1999 draft when McNabb, drafted third overall, was roundly booed by Eagles fans who had been bussed into New York by a sports-radio station that had called for Philly to select Ricky Williams. But McNabb proved well worth that pick, becoming easily the best of the five first-round quarterbacks that year and a top-level leader for the Eagles. At age 33, McNabb doesn’t have many of his prime years left, but he certainly played at a quality level throughout the ’09 season. In Washington, though, he faces the obstacles of a mediocre offensive line and receiving corps, along with a running back trio of Clinton Portis, Willie Parker, and Larry Johnson that may be completely cooked. The Redskins do have good tight ends, and the fourth overall pick now figures to go toward an offensive tackle like Russell Okung, which will help. But at best, McNabb takes a team that was headed for five or six wins with Jason Campbell to eight or nine wins max. He can’t solve all the Redskins’ roster problems. The Eagles, meanwhile, now cast their lot with Kevin Kolb, who played well in two starts last year and now gets the chance Aaron Rodgers got in Green Bay two years ago. If Kolb is ready, as Rodgers was, the Eagles will benefit from this move within two years. Kolb steps into a good situation with young receivers DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Jason Avant, and Brent Celek, so the Eagles now look set in the passing game into the middle of the decade. That’s a good thing, even if the Eagles are making the move to their new quarterback a year early. But it’s pretty clear that Philly wasn’t going to re-sign McNabb, and so getting something for him now makes sense. They can only hope that McNabb doesn’t exact his revenge twice this fall and cost them a playoff spots, or else the fans will absolutely revolt against Andy Reid and his regime. On paper, this trade makes sense for the Eagles, but on the field McNabb could make it look foolish if he can keep his play at its current level over the next 3-4 years.

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Research project: QB contemporaries of Favre

With the retirement of Brett Favre, we have the end of an era. Favre, of course, owns most of the most important quarterbacking records — TD passes, yards passing, completions, attempts, interceptions, and victories as a starter, just to name the big ones. But how does he rate against the quarterbacks of his era? We did a research project and used the information to do a football relativity comparison of quarterbacks in the Brett Favre era.

A couple of descriptions: The era we’re talking about is the current era. We define this era as beginning with the end of the Cowboys dynasty (which means with the 1996 season). Also, we’re only including quarterbacks with 20,000 passing yards. Of course, that leaves out some important current quarterbacks (listed at the bottom of this post), but we had to make a cutoff somewhere.  We’ve also excluded some quarterbacks who played a bit in this era of ’96-’08 but weren’t necessarily in this era. (Those guys are also listed at the bottom of this post.) A couple of Hall of Fame quarterbacks, Steve Young and John Elway, would have been left out of this relativity comparison but won’t be because they had significant accomplishments in this era.

We’re using a 10-point scale, with 10 being the best quarterback of the era and 1 being a quarterback who hit the yardage qualifier but won’t really be remembered.

10- Tom Brady (26k passing yards), Peyton Manning (45k passing yards), Troy Aikman (32k passing yards), Steve Young (33k passing yards), John Elway (51k passing yards). Brady and Manning are the standard bearers since 2000, while Aikman, Young, and Elway all finished their careers with several years in this era.
In the era:
Brady: 3 Super Bowl wins, 1 MVP, 1 passer rating crown, 2 TD passes crowns, 2 passing yards crowns.
Manning: 1 Super Bowl win, 3 MVPs, 3 passer rating crowns, 3 TD passes crowns, 2 passing yards crowns.
Elway: 2 Super Bowl wins.
Young: 2 passer rating crowns, 1 TD passes crown.

9- Kurt Warner (28k passing yards), Brett Favre (65k passing yards). These guys are just a notch below the first group because of consistency. Favre was dynamic in the 1990s, but for most of the 2000s he was a step behind Brady and Manning. Warner has several unbelievable years, but also has a black hole in his career.
In the era:
Favre: 1 Super Bowl win, 2 MVPs, 3 TD passes crowns, 1 passing yards crown.
Warner: 1 Super Bowl win, 2 MVPs, 2 passer rating crowns, 2 TD passes crowns, 1 passing yards crown.

 8- Donovan McNabb  (29k passing yards), Drew Brees (26k passing yards), Steve McNair (31k passing yards) This is a pretty significant drop from the level before, because the remaining Super Bowl champions weren’t long-term impact guys, and the main statistical stars didn’t win big. McNabb has been a first-tier starter for 10 years now, and Brees is the new Dan Fouts — a big-time stat compiler who hasn’t won big-time in the postseason. McNair led several top teams even though he was never a huge stat guy.
In the era:
Brees: 1 TD passes crown, 2 passing yards crowns, 1 offensive player of the year award.
McNair: 1 MVP, 1 passer rating crown.

 7- Randall Cunningham (29k passing yards), Drew Bledsoe (44k passing yards), Rich Gannon (28k passing yards), Daunte Culpepper (23k passing yards). All of these guys had years when they were among the best in the league, but they didn’t sustain that excellence that long. Still, at their best they were elite quarterbacks.
In the era:
Cunningham: 1 passer rating crown.
Culpepper: 1 TD passes crown, 1 passing yards crown.
Gannon: 1 MVP, 1 passing yards crown.

6- Mark Brunell (31k passing yards), Vinny Testaverde (46k passing yards), Kerry Collins (37k passing yards), Brad Johnson (29k passing yards). Testaverde’s career stats land him here, and in this era he played for some quality Jets teams. Collins led good teams in Carolina, New York, and Tennessee. Johnson put up big numbers in Minnesota and then won a title in Tampa Bay. Brunell was a top-8 quarterback in Jacksonville for several years.
In the era:
Brunell: 1 passing yards crown.
Johnson: 1 Super Bown win.

5- Trent Dilfer (20k passing yards), Trent Green (28k passing yards), Jeff Garcia (25k passing yards), Matt Hasselbeck (23k passing yards).  The fact that Dilfer won a Super Bowl means he can’t go lower than this. Imagine what his career standing would be if the Ravens had given him a chance to stay and he had won a second title. Green was a solid starter for several years in Kansas City; Hasselbeck was a consistent winner with good Seahawks teams; and Garcia was a good starter in San Francisco and Tampa Bay, along with a good run as a backup in Philadelphia.
In the era:
Dilfer: 1 Super Bowl win

4- Chris Chandler (28k passing yards), Jake Plummer (29k passing yards). Chandler led a Falcons Super Bowl trip and was a solid starter for several years. Plummer led both the Broncos and the Cardinals to the playoffs.

3- Steve Beuerlein (24k passing yards), Jeff George (27k passing yards), Jeff Blake (21k passing yards), Marc Bulger (21k passing yards). Beuerlein had a few huge years in Carolina but was otherwise a backup. Bulger and Blake both had brief stops as triggermen in very dangerous offenses. George put up some big numbers but wasn’t a guy you could construct a franchise around.
In the era:
Beuerlein: 1 passing yards crown.
George: 1 passing yards crown.

2- Jon Kitna (27k passing yards), Jim Harbaugh (26k passing yards), Neil O’Donnell (21k passing yards). O’Donnell and Harbaugh played into this era but had their best runs before it. Kitna never was respected as a starter, but he produced numbers in Seattle, Cincinnati, and Detroit.

1- Gus Frerotte (21k passing yards), Aaron Brooks (20k passing yards). Brooks had a few good years in New Orleans, but he flamed out incredibly quickly. Frerotte was mostly a backup.

Active quarterbacks who are not included because they have not yet thrown for 20,000 yards: Brian Griese, Jake Delhomme, Chad Pennington, Carson Palmer, Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, David Carr, Philip Rivers, Tony Romo.

Quarterbacks whose careers ended in this era and who had 20,000+ passing yards, but who are not included in this poll because the most significant parts of their careers happened before this era began: Dan Marino, Warren Moon, Dave Kreig, Boomer Esiason, Jim Kelly, Jim Everett, Steve DeBerg, Bernie Kosar, Bobby Hebert.

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