Commentary

Labor woes hindering QB-needy teams

Originally Published: February 21, 2011
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

Kevin Kolb could be had for a first-round choice and something else. A second-round pick could net Broncos quarterback Kyle Orton. Carson Palmer continues to campaign for a trade that isn't being considered by Bengals ownership.

At some point, Donovan McNabb will be released or traded by the Washington Redskins.

The quarterback trade market could be hot and heavy, but all those plans are on hold until owners and players see whether they can hash out a labor agreement. No agreement means no trades, so, for now, teams have to take a close look at the quarterbacks in the draft, starting at the scouting combine this week.

For the eight to 10 teams needing quarterbacks, the job is tough. With Peyton Manning and Michael Vick franchised, the only true free-agent option is Seattle's Matt Hasselbeck, but, until March 3, only the Seahawks can sign him.

You get the feeling that teams such as Arizona, San Francisco, Miami, Minnesota and others would prefer to go for a veteran quarterback. New 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh is seriously considering re-signing Alex Smith because options are so slim at the moment.

What will be interesting is seeing how the teams in need of quarterbacks react to the ones available in the draft. Cam Newton and Blaine Gabbert head into the combine as the top quarterbacks, but neither is considered the sure top pick Sam Bradford was last season. If there is a lengthy lockout, quarterback-needy teams might have to inflate the ratings of the quarterbacks in this draft.

On the surface, this draft looks deep on quarterback prospects, but it's questionable whether a team can secure that potential elite quarterback of the future. It's not the 2004 class of Eli Manning, Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger. It's not the 2008 class that produced Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco and Josh Freeman.

For the moment, though, the stage is set for the draft choices.

From the inbox

Q: Do you think that the Seahawks would have any interest in Matt Leinart? They could probably get him for very little. I'm not sold on Charlie Whitehurst as a backup because he just seems way too comfortable being just that. I think Pete Carroll could reach Leinart, and I've seen flashes of potential.

Ron in Renton, Wash.

A: A free agent, Leinart would be an option because Carroll knows him, and you're right, he probably would come cheap. Carroll's first mission is to re-sign Matt Hasselbeck. Then, at least he has a starting quarterback. Leinart, a backup with the Texans last season, is considered a flawed quarterback and can't be counted on to be a starter. If Hasselbeck is signed, Carroll could decide whether Leinart is a better option than Whitehurst and his $4 million salary. The Seahawks also could draft a quarterback in the first round and use him as a backup.

Q: What will be the status of rookies in the event of a lockout? Are they part of the union, given that they have never signed an NFL contract? Is it possible for the owners to sign them and have them start practicing before the lockout ends?

Parker in Seattle

A: Rookies aren't part of the union until they sign their first contract. If there is a lockout, no one will be able to sign a contract until a collective bargaining agreement is complete. There will be no minicamps for them to attend in event of a lockout. They will be in limbo like everyone else if no labor deal is struck.

Q: It seems that quarterbacks are constantly judged by their win-loss records, specifically if they have won a Super Bowl, but coaches seem to get off the hook sometimes. Jeff Fisher is a case in point. He had six winning seasons out of 16. How does someone with this type of record coach for 16 seasons, and why is he considered a hot candidate for other teams?

Tony in Lackawanna, N.Y.

A: Numbers don't lie, but sometimes they don't tell the whole story. Perception plays a big role. Fisher, who coached the Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans from 1994 to 2010, took over a franchise down on talent. The move out of Houston pulled down the franchise, but Fisher kept the players disciplined and playing well. Once the move to Nashville was secure, his coaching created a winning environment that fans and players believed in. Losing franchises have trouble selling tickets. Fisher won over the fans with his coaching and the style of play of his team. Owners around the NFL saw what he did with the Titans, and that's why he will be a hot coaching candidate next year.

Q: Can you please explain the difference in franchise tag salaries between Peyton Manning ($23 million) and Michael Vick ($16 million). How/why can the top-five average salaries benefit Manning more than Vick?

Josh in Washington, D.C.

A: Very simple. Under the franchise tag, a player gets 120 percent of his previous season cap number or the average of the top-five cap numbers from the previous year, whichever is greater. Manning had a cap number in the $19 million range. The 120 percent increase took him to $23 million. Vick got the top-five average, which was $16 million.

Q: How [do] the NFL's TV contracts figure in to the CBA negotiations? Does the NFL still get paid by the networks if there are no games due to a lockout?

Joe in Everett, Wash.

A: The networks fronted the NFL about $4 billion in case there is a lockout in 2011. It's not a gift. It's a loan. Ultimately, the networks will get every game they paid for, but the $4 billion loan was granted to give the owners leverage in the collective bargaining negotiations. It will be a disaster to the networks and all involved if there is a lockout that carries into the regular season and affects the games. This is high-stakes, big-money poker. The networks gave the owners a huge deck of cards.

Q: I thought Cortez Kennedy would've been a first-ballot Hall of Fame no-brainer. He was a dominant D-lineman in his time, so I was surprised to not see him in the final five. Is there still hope?

Craig in Los Angeles

A: The current backlog of great players makes it hard for any great player to be a no-brainer. It took former Bears defensive lineman Richard Dent nine years of eligibility to make it. I believe Kennedy, who starred with Seattle from 1990 to 2000, will make it next year. He was a dominant player and one of the greatest defensive tackles in NFL history. Like Hall of Famer Andre Tippett of the Patriots, Kennedy was a standout, but often for losing teams. Great players on consistent winners have an easier chance of making the Hall of Fame. Ultimately, all the great ones get in, and Kennedy will be wearing the yellow jacket.

Q: I have heard a lot about the "Super Bowl Loser Curse." Well, correct me if I am wrong, but hasn't the Super Bowl winner lost its first playoff game every year since the Patriots in 2006? Why has this happened, and will it happen to the Packers?

Josh in Dallas

A: The Super Bowl curse is a reality. It could affect the Packers in 2011. Because the Super Bowl goes into February, injured players have less time to heal their injuries than those on non-Super Bowl teams. Contract problems flare up. Coaches on other teams study the Super Bowl teams more than others and figure out ways to stop them.

John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

John Clayton

NFL senior writer