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Monday, December 13, 2004
The franchise tag

Page 2 staff

You have money, you have the new stadium deal, you have the love of the local fans and most importantly -- you have an NFL franchise.

Now what?

Worry about everyone else later, for starters you need to get yourself a quarterback.

All expansion draft rules aside, let's say you have your pick of anyone in the NFL. Who would you want? Tom Brady? Ben Roethlisberger? As always the Snap Judgment QBs have their picks ready to hand to the Commissioner.

Don't worry, our crew isn't too busy building their team to take shots at Tom Coughlin -- East Rutherford Chapter President of the Eli Manning Fan Club -- and everyone else that chucked one on Sunday. Yes, even Randy Moss. Stick to goin' deep buddy.


First down: Tom Brady is a winner. He's left little doubt about that, and proved it again against Cincinnati by controlling the ball and running out the last 3:50 of the clock after the Bengals pulled to within a touchdown. But say you're starting a new expansion team for 2006 and you can pick any current NFL quarterback for your team. Is Brady your pick? Why?

Alan Grant: Most definitely. Brady represents the subtle and focused humility I would need to start a team. Brady may lack the public arrogance to which we have become accustomed in modern athletes and performers. But trust me, any one who wins as much as he has, possesses a certain hubris that is required for any kind of sustained dominance. But perhaps first we should define the word humility. See, often times, while discussing humility as it pertains to team sports, folks don't always have a proper grasp of the term. A guy who says something like "Oh my, I really suck," or "I'm just not as good as Drew Bledsoe and all the other "franchise" quarterbacks," isn't professing humility. That, my friends, is called self-loathing. And it makes for a losing player and a losing team. Humility is taking a good, realistic look at your strengths, and at your enemies weaknesses then saying, with consistency and conviction, "I can't wait to kick his butt." But, and this is key, such declarations are always stated privately -- for friends and teammates. That's the persona I see that shapes Brady and the team he leads. And that's the foundation upon which I'd build my team.

Jeff Merron: I want someone who's young, but experienced. Big, but mobile. Strong and smart and self-possessed. That's Ben Roethlisberger, isn't it?

Aaron Schatz: I'm with Merron on this one. Big Ben doesn't have the track record of winning that Brady has, and he doesn't have quite the ability to make something out of nothing that Vick has. But I think that he combines many of Brady's best "intangible" qualities with many of Vick's best physical qualities, and because he's only 22 years old you know that he'll just be hitting his prime when the rest of your expansion team (The Los Angeles Botox?) is finally built up to compete for the playoffs.

Patrick Hruby: Nope. Granted, I wouldn't mind having Bridget Moynahan hanging around the owner's box. But if we're talking expansion team, then Mike Vick is the only real choice. Vick's freaky, game-breaking athletic ability gives even the crummiest squad a chance to win a few games, while his legs can buy him time behind a presumably porous line. Better still, Mr. Nike sells lots of tickets and jerseys -- good thing, since money agrees with me -- and honestly, how many overpriced expansion draftees can say the same?

Skip Bayless: If I'm starting from scratch in 2006, I'm building around Carson Palmer. He's more of the Aikman-style prototype than Brady, and he throws a little more accurate and catchable deep ball than Troy did. I'd take Brady if you would hand me New England's underrated receiving corps, along with Corey Dillon to keep the defense honest and Charlie Weis to call plays.

But if I'm trying to build quickly, I want Palmer as my centerpiece. He's a little faster and more athletic than Brady and has the kind of arm that can make a defense throw up its arms and say, "Too good." In two years, Palmer would have a better chance of making young talent around him better faster.


AUDIBLES FROM OUR QBS
 
Patrick
Hruby

Alan
Grant

Jeff
Merron

Skip
Bayless
Josh McCown, Luke McCown or Cade McNown? Donovan "Mc"Nabb Josh, of course. Josh. Denny Green shouldn't have benched him in the first place. Cade at UCLA.
Eli Manning: Peyton Manning as ... Less-talented rookie on really lousy team. Michael Penn. (trying to be Sean Penn) Bad as he never was. Peyton as ... a rookie in his fourth preseason start.
Describe Jake Delhomme in 3 words or less: Good, not great Reflection of the league. One. Tough. Cookie. Do not underestimate.
Will Steelers need to pass more in playoffs? Only if they fall behind, big and early Depends on the opponent. No. Only if they're in trouble.
If I were quarterbacking the Browns, I'd ... Be really sore this morning Making more loot than I am now. Be very, very philosophical. Hope I was physically able to play golf in January..
Better than his statistics: Steve McNair Drew Brees Tom Brady. Roethlisberger.
Not as good as his statistics: "Fitness celebrity" John Basedow. Get off my television! Trent Green Jake Plummer. Which ain't saying much. Bulger.
Ken Dorsey: Question or Answer? Ask Gino Torretta. Question Question. Question.


Second down: The Falcons won with Michael Vick rushing just twice. Is this the blueprint they need to follow if they want to win in the playoffs?

Aaron Schatz: Sure, if they are matched up against Oakland.

Alan Grant: Like most things in life, we must place this into its proper context. Yes, Vick ran the ball twice and they won. But the victory came against the lifeless Oakland Raiders. There will be times when just such a formula is what's needed to ensure Falcons victory. But not every week and not against every opponent. There will be times, especially in the playoffs, when Vick, like any other quarterback will be forced to run. But unlike most guys, like say Peyton Manning whose awkward rumblings from the pocket have a certain "geriatric" quality; Vick running with the ball is an opportunity not just for positive yardage, but for back-breaking big plays. Now if the opponent features a defense like the Bucs -- a unit that that matches Vick in terms of quickness, then T.J. Duckett and a legitimate running game shall save the Falcon's souls. And Vick's butt.

Jeff Merron: Taking some of the offensive load off of MV will help in the playoffs -- the more he gives to Duckett and Dunn and Crumpler, the less exposed he is, the less vulnerable to injury, important because the Falcons can't win without Vick. A couple of nice long outside strikes wouldn't hurt, but Peerless Price ... ?

Patrick Hruby: Atlanta's playoff fate rests more with its defense than Vick's rushing attempts (or lack thereof). After all, Vick is the sort of player who could have two carries for 80 yards or 10 for -8. Meanwhile, the Falcons have held opponents to 17 points or less in six of their 10 wins. Conclusion? For Vick, it's not a matter of attempt quantity, but rather quality, broken field scampers versus run-for-your-life sacks. Solid defense makes the Falcons less dependent on the former, less likely to suffer the latter (since they won't be in obvious pass situations) and more likely to advance in January.

Alternately, Atlanta would do well to play the Raiders in the first round, even though they're in different conferences and the only way Oakland makes the postseason is if Al Davis gets his hands on a time-traveling DeLorean. Still, it's worth further investigation. Did anyone else see the Stuart Schweigert's attempt to "tackle" T.J. Duckett? Yipes.

Skip Bayless: If you watched the Falcons-Raiders game, you know the 35-10 score was deceiving. This game had more to do with the Raiders self-destructing than the Falcons flexing their smash-mouth muscles. Meet the new coach, same as the old coach: It's starting to appear the Raiders are giving up on Norv Turner the same way they quit on Bill Callahan. Warren Sapp didn't look like he had any desire to tackle T.J. Duckett.

So no, this was not a playoff blueprint for the Falcons. For them to win in the postseason, Vick must run because Vick is still so lost as a pocket passer. The Falcons are a flawed 10-3 product of the NFC, but they're the NFL's most dangerous "on any given Sunday" threat. If Vick, the game's most dangerous open-field runner, gets loose for two or three long runs ... if he avoids injury ... and if he connects on a couple deep prayers, the Falcons could shock anybody anywhere.


Third down: Is Tom Coughlin arrogant, dumb or just a darn fool for refusing to admit -- four weeks too late -- that Kurt Warner should have remained the quarterback of the Giants?

Aaron Schatz: I think the bigger problem here is not the playoffs but the schedule. Remember back in Week 9 I noted that Warner was about to hit a very rough string of opposing defenses, and I predicted that when this was all over Manning would get his first NFL start. Instead, Coughlin pulled Warner a week later. He was trying to get Manning some experience and maybe give the Giants a shot in the arm that he thought might propel them into the postseason, but instead what he did was expose a rookie so that his confidence could be shot to pieces by a very rough string of opposing defenses. I'm usually a fan of the idea that when the team isn't going anywhere, you play the rookie, but ATL-PHI-WAS-BAL-PIT isn't my idea of a warm introduction to the NFL.

Alan Grant: Obstinence is one of those gifts afforded all men in positions of power. But I think this is a question of Coughlin answering to motive. It's a question of whether or not Coughlin saw this season as a legitimate playoff opportunity, or as a "feeling out" process for the team he was dealt. If it's the former, then Coughlin would have certainly stuck with the veteran Warner for the long haul. But if its the latter, then Eli Manning would have been his choice from the get. That way, they would have sacraficed wins for the advancement of its prized rookie. And ole Eli would have taken his lumps physically and been subjected to life long mental trauma but at least it would have been for, you know, a good cause. But now, who knows what Coughlin's motive is. Perhaps he doesn't know himself. That's why admits to anothing.

Jeff Merron: It seems like the big meme in the NFL these days is "the quarterback of the future." Whatever happened to the present? If I'm a player, I want the proven best to be out there -- not a work-in-progress. I want to win this season, because nobody knows what will happen next year.

The decision proved that Coughlin is stubborn. Giving Manning a start wasn't a bad idea. But compounding it by continuing to throw him out there has (obviously) been a disaster. The Giants had a chance to make the playoffs, but Coughlin gave up on 2004 too early.

Patrick Hruby: Dumb or a darn fool ... hmmm, that's really a question of semantics, isn't it? Too bad I'm not William Safire. I'm also not certain that Coughlin made the wrong decision. Warner appeared increasingly jittery and ineffective before he was benched; more to the point, the Giants looked like a group that wasn't as good as its early-season record (imagine that, an overrated team from New York). To put things another way: the NFC might be bad, but there's a reason the Giants were in position to draft Eli Manning in the first place. They're worse. And since that's the case, why not play for the future and let the rookie take his lumps?

Skip Bayless: The point here is that Eli should have been starting from the first exhibition game -- or he shouldn't have played a down until the Giants were eliminated from the playoffs. Instead, Coughlin's roller-coaster decisions weren't fair to the kid, to Warner and to the veterans.

Clearly, Warner is too battered psychologically and physically to be a year-long starter for a playoff-caliber team. I stick by my guns: Eli would have given this team a better chance -- if he had been given the unquestioned reins from the first day of camp. He needed the exhibition games. He needed to play against some defenses that wouldn't make him feel as if they were taking candy from a baby. Instead, Coughlin threw him into the fire against Philly, Washington, Baltimore and now Pittsburgh. It almost seems as if Coughlin set this up to say to the New York media: "See, I told you he wasn't ready."

Duh.


WEEK 14 RANKINGS:
By Aaron Schatz, footballoutsiders.com

Click here for Aaron's complete rankings for all the QBs.

The QB rankings now include adjustments for the quality of defense faced. (DPAR = Defense-adjusted Points Above Replacement that each QB was responsible for.)

WEEK 14: TOP THREE QUARTERBACKS
Quarterback Skinny DPAR
1. Tom Brady
18/26, 260 yards
2 TDs, 0 INTd
If you are counting at home, that's 13.3 DPAR from his feet and 0.6 DPAR from his tush. 14.4
2. Daunte Culpepper
21/33, 270 yards
1 TD, 0 INTs
I dunno, if I had a quarterback this good, I might want him throwing the ball in the red zone. 13.8
3. Peyton Manning
26/33, 298 yards
2 TDs, 0 INTs
Actually had more value in the second half than the first, even without getting closer to the record. Average second-half drive started deeper in Indianapolis territory and while Manning had no touchdowns, the Colts did score three field goals. 12.3

WEEK 14: BOTTOM THREE QUARTERBACKS
Quarterback Skinny DPAR
28. Eli Manning
4/18, 27 yards
0 TDs, 2 INTs
That game against Atlanta where he looked composed and ready for prime time seems like eons ago. -12.6
29. Vinny Testaverde
14/35, 160 yards
0 TDs, 1 INT
Apparently, we need to retire those "anybody can pass on New Orleans" jokes. -13.6
30. Chris Chandler
16/29, 243 yards
1 TD, 6 INTs
And we have a new champion for worst game of the year! In fact, if you consider the quality of the defense faced, this is worse than any game last year, including Tim Hasselbeck's 6-for-26, 56-yd, 4-INT vs. Dallas. To get a game this bad you have to go back to the last week of 2001 when Aaron Brooks threw four INTs and was sacked three times in a 38-0 loss to SF. -17.8


Fourth down: On one hand, we're blessed with Peyton Manning, Donovan McNabb and Daunte Culpepper, each of whom is having one of the all-time great seasons in NFL history. On the other hand, we're cursed with Ken Dorsey, Brian Griese, Josh McCown, Chris Chandler, Luke McCown, Vinny Testaverde, Chad Hutchinson and others. Assess the current depth at the quarterback position right now. Are there enough quality QBs to go around?

Aaron Schatz: Here's a list of some starting quarterbacks from Week 14 of the 2000 season: Ryan Leaf, Charlie Batch, Doug Johnson, Rob Johnson, Shaun King, Scott Mitchell, Shane Matthews, and the immortal Spurgeon Wynn. That doesn't even count Stoney Case, who played most of the game after Batch was injured early. In other words, what's new?

Oh, and get Brian Griese off that list. He's played very well this year and played very well this week except for a couple of mistakes. He's been a decent NFL quarterback his entire career except for last season in Miami.

Alan Grant: Excellent question. Of course the issue of quality quarterbacks on one team really came into play around the '94 season and the advent of the salary cap. This meant that there was just enough money to employ only the wealthy elite and the young, cheap labor. In other words the franchise quarterback and the rookie. As a result the fifth, sixth, and seventh year veterans -- the "NFL's working middle class" if you will -- were suddenly made expendable. This affected all positions, but most intensely the quarterback. Now, you have a Culpepper, a McNabb, and a Manning as starters. But gone are the Jeff Hostetlers and Steve Youngs of the eighties. These days a team simply can't afford back up quarterbacks who are good enough to be starters.

The depth issue as it pertains to the league a whole is a matter of fundamentals -- or lack thereof. It's fair to say that from high school, to college, to the pros, everyone's in a hurry. Everyone has to win and win right now. As a result, very little teaching is being done these days. If you get a kid who's already pretty good, you throw him out there and hope he keeps winning. But in terms of developing a kid's fundamental skills -- like route running for receivers, tackling for defensive backs, or footwork and ball handling skills for quarterbacks, forget about it. There just isn't time.

Jeff Merron: This type of question reminds me of the old "thin pitching" saw you hear in MLB. Here's the deal: The bell curve doesn't change all that much over time, which means you'll always have a handful of future Hall of Famers, a bucketful of average QBs, and a few true clunkers.The talent pool is as deep as ever -- you left off Vick, Brady, Favre, Pennington, Leftwich, Hasselbeck, Roethlisberger ... excellent QB's all. Take a glance at the history books, and you'll see -- the past wasn't all Unitas, Jurgenson, Bradshaw, Theismann, Montana, Marino, Young, etc. It was also DeBerg, Blake, Sipe, and Spurrier.

Patrick Hruby: There are never enough quality quarterbacks to go around -- otherwise, Testaverde would be enjoying his league pension, Eli Manning would be holding a clipboard, the McCown boys would be playing Arena ball and the NFL would be the Lake Woebegone of pro sports, a magical athletic realm where are the signal callers are above average. As such, I think it's fair to say that quarterbacking in the NFL is as mediocre as always -- except in San Francisco, where it's a lot worse than usual -- with Peyton Manning, McNabb and Culpepper among the dozen or so notable exceptions.

Skip Bayless: There are more quality quarterbacks than there are quality teams with quality offensive linemen and quarterback coaches. Some teams have stockpiled future starters such as Phillip Rivers and J.P. Losman. Jacksonville has David Garrard, and Cleveland's Kelly Holcomb could start for lots of teams. Chicago still has a keeper in the injured Rex Grossman.

But lots of kids with potential -- Chad Hutchinson, Josh McCown, A.J. Feeley -- take such an early psychological beating playing for bad teams that they never quite recover. No protection plus no running game equals no hope for a young quarterback's fragile psyche. This is still the hardest position to play in sports. Circumstances can be as crucial as talent.


Best Throw of The Week:
Some candidates:
  • Tom Brady from his butt, 7 yards to Patrick Pass
  • Jerome Bettis to Jerame Truman for a TD
  • Chris Chandler's scramble and 52-yard pass to Isaac Bruce for an apparent TD (nullified by a holding call).
    Aaron Schatz: The amazing thing about Brady's pass from his tuchus is that it was the kind of play that usually ends up in the hands of a defensive lineman while you scream at the television, "What were you thinking?" But Brady didn't just pass wildly, he saw that he had someone completely open with no Bengals within ten yards. I have no idea how he saw Pass and registered that he was open quickly enough to get a pass off before he was touched down by Cincinnati.

    I had mixed feelings about Drew Brees' 79-yard long bomb to Eric Parker for a touchdown. It was beautiful but I was playing against a guy with Parker in fantasy football this week.

    Alan Grant: Brady.

    Jeff Merron: Brady's butt pass to Pass.

    Patrick Hruby: Byron Leftwich's soft sideline rainbow to Jimmy Smith, who managed to lay out for a touchdown grab despite getting tripped in midair. Great throw, great catch, great play.

    Skip Bayless: This one won't look very special in the play-by-play. Ho hum, another 11-yard completion for Brett Favre. But if you were watching this game, you know how sensationally important this throw was.

    Green Bay 13, Detroit 13 with about two minutes left. A freezing wind was whipping from left to right, making field goals risky business from 40-plus yards. Heck, completed passes were becoming rare. But on third and 8 from the Detroit 28, Favre whipped a spiral that cut through the wind like a power drill. Javon Walker snagged it. Green Bay soon survived, 16-13.


    Worst Throw of The Week:
    Some Candidates:
  • Randy Moss on 1st-and-10 from the 20 with two minutes left. (Intercepted in end zone)
  • Jake Plummer interception thrown to Jay Williams (the fourth time this year Plummer has been intercepted by a defensive lineman).
    Aaron Schatz: While I lauded Griese for his play this season, he did have two really bad interceptions yesterday. How do you throw three feet higher than your receiver on a screen pass? And Kerry Collins had a pass tipped at the line and intercepted that was such a lazy, apathetic toss I thought Collins would just throw up his hands afterwards and tell Norv Turner that he was too bored to play the rest of the season.

    Alan Grant: Moss' errant offering into double coverage was almost exact replica of Jets' RB Lamont Jordan's throw against the Ravens.

    Jeff Merron: Moss's INT. Just because you can throw doesn't mean you should.

    Patrick Hruby: Anything by a Browns quarterback. Of course, it's hard to fashion a tight spiral when you're buried under 300-plus pounds of Sam Adams. Honorable mention to Randy Moss' ill-advised option pass into double coverage, picked off in the end zone to squelch a potential scoring drive. And Eli Manning's crisp out pattern to Kurt Warner -- standing eight yards out of bounds -- was pretty sweet, too. Not in a good way.

    Skip Bayless: I single this one out only because I'm expecting more and more from Carson Palmer. Needing to hold serve against Tom Brady in Foxboro, Palmer faced a 14-7 deficit. Brady had just hit David Patten for a 48-yard touchdown. Cincinnati, first and 10 at its 33.

    And Palmer fired a brainlocked out pass with New England cornerback Asante Samuel lurking. Thirty-four yards later, New England led 21-7. That's the mistake Palmer could not make in this game. That's the mistake he won't make this time next year.