Commentary

Falcons, Leftwich a match made out of necessity

The Falcons might be desperate enough to take a chance on Byron Leftwich, writes Jeffri Chadiha in his latest Three and Out column.

Originally Published: September 18, 2007
By Jeffri Chadiha | ESPN.com

It shouldn't be surprising that former Jacksonville quarterback Byron Leftwich had to wait so long for a suitor to emerge. The Atlanta Falcons, who signed him on Tuesday, were the only team willing to bring him in right now. It's not that Leftwich can't play. Certain factors caused him to stay on the unemployment line longer than expected after the Jaguars released him nearly three weeks ago.

First of all, money was a big issue. Because he is entering his fifth year in the NFL, he has enough veteran experience that any team that signed him before Week 1 would've had to guarantee his salary for the entire year. His ego is also a factor. After posting a 24-20 record as a starter in Jacksonville, Leftwich certainly wasn't eager to be a backup.

"You're talking about a guy who is a former first-round pick," said one AFC defensive coordinator. "He's not going to jump at the first team that offers him $750,000."

The Falcons initially weren't willing to jump at Leftwich, even though former starter Michael Vick is likely going to jail after pleading guilty to federal dogfighting chargers, and current starter Joey Harrington isn't producing.

"We were worried about the possibility of him becoming a distraction," said one team source. "We could imagine the fans calling for him if our quarterback wasn't playing well early." After an 0-2 start, however, that's a risk the Falcons are now willing to take.

The major question is whether Leftwich will fit in with the Falcons. He'll join the team as its third-string quarterback -- a job that would mean he'd basically be running scout teams. Leftwich also doesn't have the mobility head coach Bobby Petrino prefers in his quarterbacks.

But here's the bottom line: The Falcons have quarterback issues and Leftwich needed a job. It was a match that fit for both sides. Where it goes from there, we'll have to wait and see.

Now for this week's edition of Three and Out:

1. What has A.J. Smith done to the San Diego Chargers?

I've said this from the moment San Diego hired Norv Turner as its head coach, and I'll repeat it often this season: General manager A.J. Smith must be held responsible for a team that looks like it's going to underachieve. It's already clear these aren't the same San Diego Chargers as last season. They were manhandled by the New England Patriots in a 38-14 loss on Sunday and have found no way to get LaDainian Tomlinson going (the 2006 NFL MVP has 68 yards on 35 carries). And please don't talk to me about teams loading up at the line of scrimmage to stop Tomlinson; opponents have been doing that throughout his career and it hasn't slowed him in the past.

What's really concerning about the Chargers is their offense has lost some of its toughness. This was never an issue with Marty Schottenheimer in charge. With Turner running the team, the Chargers are taking on a more passive, laid back personality. Of course, this is probably why Smith liked Turner in the first place. Smith openly squabbled with Schottenheimer, but he now has a personable coach with no interest in confrontations. It will make for a nice working relationship in San Diego. What it won't do is get the Chargers to the Super Bowl.

2. What's happened to New Orleans?

The Saints are proving once again you can't trust teams who thrive during emotional seasons. They were the feel-good story of 2006 when they inspired a city that had been ravaged by Hurricane Katrina. Now they have a great shot of being the most disappointing team of 2007. Without the same motivation as last season -- and facing a tougher schedule -- the Saints now look like the franchise that has never won division titles in consecutive seasons.

Here's the good news, though: If they start giving the ball to Deuce McAllister more often (he has only 20 carries in two games), they might get their offense going. Unlike Reggie Bush, McAllister is capable of wearing out defenses. That power running might just help make life easier for a suspect defense. McAllister's lack of opportunities is partially due to the Saints falling behind in both games. But if the Saints want to stay in the race for the NFC South, they must make sure he is a bigger part of their game plan.

3. Warning signs in Detroit

The Detroit Lions should be extremely concerned about the concussion starting quarterback Jon Kitna suffered in Sunday's win over Minnesota. Even though he returned to the game after being knocked out for nearly two quarters, he's going to get hit more in that offense. Offensive coordinator Mike Martz demands that quarterbacks in his system be willing to hang in the pocket as long as possible for receivers to break open. That means quarterbacks have to be willing to take a lot of shots. And a player with a history of concussions such as Kitna -- he's had three in his career to date -- needs to be mindful of that.

Jeffri Chadiha is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

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