What Impact Will Darrelle Revis Have On Tampa Bay’s Pass Defense?

The answer to the post’s question, of course, is “a positive one” (assuming he’s at all healthy next season). The Buccaneers have ranked second-to-last in Net Yards per Attempt Allowed the past two years to begin with and adding a cornerback who was almost unanimously perceived as the best in the game in the three years prior to his ACL injury in the third game of last season should help further an expected regression towards the mean for Tampa Bay’s pass defense. The bigger question is the degree to which the soon-to-be 28-year-old Revis improves the Buccaneers’ secondary. Does his presence, along with the signing of Dashon Goldson and the expected improvement from highly regarded second-year safety Mark Barron, push the Buccaneers’ defense into the “good” or even “great” category? Or will the sum of the parts not equal the whole and leave Tampa Bay once again lingering as a below-average defensive unit?

We’re five months away from beginning to answer those questions, but here’s a list of other All-Pro cornerbacks since the merger who switched teams in their primes and an account of the impact their presence had on their new team the year after (as measured by Net Yards per Attempt and Predictive Yards per Play).

Aeneas Williams, 2001, St. Louis Rams, age 33:
Net Yards per Attempt Difference: +1.20 (2000: 6.5, 2001: 5.3)
Predictive Yards per Play Difference: +1.40 (2000: 5.32, 2001: 3.92)

There’s a variety of reasons why the Rams’ defense bounced back from being one of the worst in the league in 2000 to one of the best in 2001, including Lovie Smith’s ascendance to the defensive coordinator position and simple regression towards the mean, but Williams’ third All-Pro selection (and first since coming over from Arizona) has to be one of the biggest.

Champ Bailey, 2004, Denver Broncos, age 26:
Net Yards per Attempt Difference: -0.30 (2003: 5.3, 2004: 5.6)
Predictive Yards per Play Difference: +0.04 (2003: 3.75, 2004: 3.71)

The Broncos shaved offer four tenths of a yard off their rushing average defensively, which explains the improvement in Predictive Yards per Play but the decline in Net Yards per Attempt with Champ’s arrival in Denver. Still, this is probably Tampa Bay’s best-case scenario for the Revis deal: Bailey was first-team All-Pro his first three years in Denver and has made the Pro Bowl every season he’s played more than nine games in a Broncos uniform.

Deion Sanders, 1994, San Francisco 49ers, age 27: 
Net Yards per Attempt Difference: -0.30 (1993: 5.3, 1994: 5.6)
Predictive Yards per Play Difference: +0.30 (1993: 4.34, 1994: 4.04)

San Francisco’s Net Yards per Pass Attempt figure dropped from 3rd to 6th in ’94, but they allowed eight fewer touchdown passes and intercepted four more passes (Deion picked off six passes himself, taking three of them back to the house).

Deion Sanders, 1995, Dallas Cowboys, age 28:
Net Yards per Attempt Difference: -1.10 (1994: 4.8, 1995: 5.9)
Predictive Yards per Play Difference: -0.66 (1994: 3.76, 1995: 4.42)

For the second year in a row, Deion hopped on the Super Bowl-winning team’s bandwagon, but Dallas’s defense strangely fell back to the middle of the pack – partly because Deion only played in nine games and partly because their pass rush recorded eleven fewer sacks than 1994.

Mark Haynes, 1986, Denver Broncos, age 28:

Net Yards per Attempt Difference: -0.1 (1985: 5.4, 1986: 5.5)
Predictive Yards per Play Difference: +0.25 (1985: 3.76, 1986: 3.51)

Haynes made three Pro Bowls in a row with the Giants from 1982-84, picking up two All-Pro selections along the way before suffering an injury in 1985 and getting shipped off to Denver before 1986. The Broncos’ defense improved from the year before, but it was hardly due to anything Haynes did: he only played in eleven games all season and wasn’t even in the lineup by the time the Broncos were facing off against his old team in the Super Bowl. 

Mike Haynes, 1983, Los Angeles Raiders, age 30:
Net Yards per Attempt Difference: +0.10 (1982: 5.5, 1983: 5.4)
Predictive Yards per Play Difference: +0.33 (1982: 3.75, 1983: 3.42)

Haynes only played in five games in his first season after coming over from New England, so the Raiders’ defensive improvement in 1983 can’t really be attributed to him, although he did record an interception in the Super Bowl against Washington.

Nnamdi Asomugha, 2011, Philadelphia Eagles, age 30:
Net Yards per Attempt Difference: (2010: 6.0, 2011: 6.0)
Predictive Yards per Play Difference: -0.12 (2010: 4.70, 2011: 4.82)

I think we all remember how this went down, right?

Rod Woodson, 1997, San Francisco 49ers, age 32:
Net Yards per Attempt Difference: +0.50 (1996: 5.2, 1997: 4.7)
Predictive Yards per Play Difference: -0.03 (1996: 3.69, 1997: 3.72)

San Francisco’s defense superficially looked better with the five-time All-Pro Woodson in its secondary, but that was mainly due to an easy schedule; in reality, they were very good in both ’96 and ’97 with little to distinguish between the quality of the two.

Ty Law, 2005, New York Jets, age 31:
Net Yards per Attempt Difference: +0.6 (2004: 6.2, 2005: 5.6)
Predictive Yards per Play Difference: -0.16 (2004: 4.00, 2005: 4.16)

The Jets went 4-12 in Law’s first season away from New England, but it was hardly his fault: he led the league in interceptions with ten and the Jets’ pass defense improved from 2004 (the PY/P drop was due to the run defense’s decline from 3.6 yards per carry in 2004 to 3.9 in 2005).

So, on average, these All-Pro cornerbacks improved their new teams’ Net Yards per Attempt average by .07 yards per attempt and their Predictive Yards per Play figure by .15 yards per play. Of course, some of the players on this list didn’t have much of an impact at all on their new teams while others played at peak performance but didn’t noticeably improve their team’s overall defense. Perhaps the biggest thing to note from this entire exercise is that Revis, while undeniably great when he’s healthy, accounts for just 9% of the total defense on the field when he’s in the lineup. If Tampa Bay really wants to turn into a top-flight defense, they should try to improve a pass rush that’s only put the quarterback on the ground fifty times combined over the past two years.


What in the World Are the Bills Doing?

The title of this post could apply to just about any Bills offseason in the past ten years. Outside of 2004, when the team caught fire late in the season only to blow a wild-card spot on the final day of the season to a Steelers team resting its starters, Buffalo hasn’t been in serious playoff contention in December since Saddam Hussein was still alive and the unquestioned dictator of Iraq. The biggest reason, obviously, has been the failure to groom a long-term starting quarterback since Jim Kelly retired in 1996. Doug Flutie and Drew Bledsoe both had one-year renaissances with the team, but couldn’t parlay those memorable years into anything substantial. Trent Edwards looked promising once upon a time…until he inherited the Captain Checkdown title from John Joseph Harrington. J.P. Losman was…well, he was J.P. Losman, let’s not mince words and say there was ever any hope for that guy. And for the past two and a half seasons, the Bills backed their way into Ryan Fitzpatrick, who turned a hot start in 2011 into a $62 million contract extension – a pretty high price to pay for a guy with Brett Favre’s propensity for throwing into traffic with approximately one-tenth the arm strength. Chan Gailey was able to massage a functional offense around Fitzpatrick’s limitations, largely through screens to the Bills’ talented running backs (Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller), but it was readily apparent that Fitzpatrick was not the long-term answer at quarterback for Buffalo. His release earlier this offseason gave the Bills a chance to start fresh and actually make a bold and progressive move at quarterback.

Which is why they signed Kevin Kolb to a two-year deal possibly worth up to $13 million on Easter Sunday to (presumably) be the team’s starter for the 2013 season. I…I just…I can’t possibly find a rationale for this deal that makes any sense. I mean, the Bills HAVE seen Kevin Kolb play over the past three seasons, right? When he’s healthy, he’s a very hit-or-miss quarterback who comes up with big plays on occasion but has inconsistent accuracy and takes way too many sacks. And that’s when he’s actually able to be on the field, which is generally 35-55% of a team’s season. He separated his shoulder last season trying to give Larry Fitzgerald a high five after practice. WHAT POTENTIAL EXACTLY ARE YOU SEEING HERE, BUDDY NIX? Look, any question whose answer turns out to be “Tarvaris Jackson, starting quarterback” is a deeply, DEEPLY flawed one, but Tarvaris is able to produce almost exactly what Kolb gives with his arm (plus much improved mobility) for a fraction of that price. If your plan was to take a flyer on a veteran quarterback while grooming a quarterback of the future in the middle rounds of the draft, wouldn’t you want to take the chance on the guy who has both – A): more natural talent and B): a friendlier contract to deal with?

I swear I’m not trying to be a Debbie Downer, Bills fans, but my goodness. How could you POSSIBLY get excited about this team’s chances in 2013 given their offseason moves? Firing Chan Gailey, a senile old man who yet somehow turned a collection of offensive spare parts into an above-average unit, and replacing him with a coach who had a .500 record at a local university (Doug Marrone) undoubtedly strikes fear in the heart of Bill Belichick. Letting talented guard Andy Levitre walk in free agency tears a big hole in the teams’ biggest strength: the screen play in the passing game. And now here comes big, bad Kevin Kolb to putz around behind center for six games and hold onto the ball for an eternity waiting for Larry Fitzgerald or DeSean Jackson to come open deep down the field, only to realize that neither of those guys play on his team anymore and subsequently turtle for a six-second sack. Happy forthcoming 5-11 record, Bills fans! My deepest condolences are extended, as always.

Random Mid-Week Headlines

I’m hurting for post ideas today, so I’m going to take the easy way out and post links to news stories from the past couple days and provide my own “insight” on each item as a way to justify the complete link dump. As someone whose main experience playing football has come via two-hand touch games in a church gym, obviously I am over-qualified to dole out my expertise. TO THE LINKS.

  • The Seahawks are shopping Matt Flynn pretty heavily, according to CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora and the Jaguars, Bills, and Raiders are all currently in the mix to secure Mr. Flynn’s services. If Flynn is an above-average NFL starting quarterback (and I think he is), then this is one of the most important subplots of the offseason. The AFC is in the midst of a terrible downturn – only the four division winners (New England, Baltimore, Houston and Denver) rated as above-average teams in the year-end Predictive Yards per Play rankings, largely because those four teams (plus Buffalo) were the only ones in the conference to finish above-average on offense. With a few important exceptions, ALL THE GOOD QUARTERBACKS right now belong to the NFC. That’s why finding even an okay starter at quarterback (which Flynn can absolutely be) could turn a downtrodden AFC laughingstock into a 2013 playoff team. Yes, even the Jaguars. Personally, I was hoping that the Chiefs would have held out a little longer in their quarterback search to wait to get into the Flynn Sweepstakes because his accuracy and anticipation seems like they would be perfect fits for Andy Reid’s offense. And even should the Jaguars, Bills or Raiders land Flynn, all three teams have glaring issues defensively that could offset any potential improvement in the passing game. Still, keep an open eye out for wherever Flynn winds up.
  • Dez Bryant thinks that a 2,000 yard and 20 touchdown year receiving “can potentially happen” for him this year and that he’s just “scratching the surface” of his potential. The second part of his statement is undoubtedly true and I’d give him more of a shot to prove the first part true as well if it weren’t for two things – 1): The NFL schedule isn’t 18 games yet and 2): he suffered a back injury at the end of last season that’s kept him from running any routes this offseason and might keep him from participating in OTA’s. Also, there’s the fact that 85% of Tony Romo’s passes are six-yard stop routes to Jason Witten. WHERE WILL DEZ’S NECESSARY PASS TARGETS COME FROM? Also also, Dez is a knucklehead who might get suspended for injecting himself with purple drank or something. So there’s that, too.
  • The Chargers decided that taking a $6 million cap hit was preferable to watching Jared Gaither bumble around at left tackle again next year, so they cut him and proceeded to burn six million one dollar bills in a symbolic gesture at the team’s practice facility. Let’s face it: when Norv Turner is throwing you under the bus, there’s probably not a whole lot of other avenues of employment for you in football. Maybe the 6’9” Gaither can try massively underachieving at basketball?
  • And, finally, this isn’t football news, but it’s the best news I’ve heard in a very, VERY long time, so I’m sharing it with you, anyway: Tim McCarver’s retiring from broadcasting after this season. Now I’m not one to get overdramatic or deliriously happy very often, but…YES! YESSSSS!!!! YEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! We’re gonna be free, everyone! We’re finally going to be free from the worst announcer still gathering a paycheck! No longer will we be subject to the occasional Dick Stockton-Tim McCarver MLB on FOX broadcast, which always threatens to choke the life out of our very souls. In 2014, Joe Buck will begin overselling the terrible jokes of another unqualified former major leaguer. And I couldn’t be happier.

NFL Free Agency Week One Recap

I was on vacation for most of last week and had actually written all of my posts the week before – hence the “Which NBA Players Would Make the Best NFL Team?” article on the opening day of the new league year. DID I MISS ANYTHING? Other than the Ravens losing half their defensive starters from the Super Bowl, Mike Wallace and Greg Jennings signing massive deals to catch passes from vastly inferior quarterbacks and Wes Welker signing a reasonable deal to catch passes from another Hall of Fame quarterback, no, I did not miss anything. It’s highly unlikely your team dramatically improved one way or another last week – three or four new free agents won’t automatically shift your team from last place to first – but because I’m feeling rash and juuuuuusssst a bit judgmental this morning, I’ll run down my list of teams that either probably got better or probably got worse…or stayed about the same because the jury’s still out. How’s that for conclusive analysis?! Let’s begin.

Teams that probably got better:

Seattle Seahawks. I’m not a huge fan of sending 1st and 3rd round picks to another team for the right to sign an oft-injured player to a six-year, $67 million contract. But there’s no doubt that Percy Harvin’s legitimately one of the most electric players in the league when he’s healthy and, given the incredible amount of young talent the Seahawks already have on the roster, not having a low first-round pick for one season won’t end up killing the talent pool. The two unequivocal wins Seattle had last week, however, were signing Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett both to modest deals and further fortifying their already excellent pass rush. Does the combination of an Avril-Bennett-Bruce Irvin-Chris Clemons (if he’s healthy) pass rush and a Richard Sherman-Brandon Browner-Earl Thomas secondary sound appetizing to throw on? I THINK NOT.

Kansas City Chiefs. The big improvement happened a few weeks ago when the Chiefs traded for Alex Smith, giving their offense a legitimate league-average starting quarterback (and, yes, league-average is a big step up over Matt Cassel). Kansas City also shored up a huge weakness from last season, however, by signing cornerbacks Sean Smith and Dunta Robinson; Robinson probably hurts as much as he helps in the final analysis, but Smith is an above-average corner who should fill the void Brandon Carr’s departure last offseason created and, along with Brandon Flowers, once again give the Chiefs one of the better starting cornerback duos in the league. Receiver Donnie Avery could also be a difference-maker if he stays healthy.

Detroit Lions. The Lions lost their two starting defensive ends in Avril and Kyle Vanden Bosch, but those two only combined for 12.5 sacks last year and with arguably two of the best three pass rushing defensive tackles in the league lining up next to one another (Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley), Detroit shouldn’t have to look too hard to make up that production. More importantly, the Lions shored up two huge, glaring weaknesses by signing safety Glover Quin and running back Reggie Bush. Bush gives the pass-happy Lions the receiving threat out of the backfield that consistently get them into shorter down-and-distances and, unlike whoever they trotted last year, Quin is an actual starting-level safety in the NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE. Remember: they still also have the fifth overall pick in the draft this April to look forward to as well.

Teams that probably got worse:

Baltimore Ravens. Remember that little game called the Super Bowl the Ravens just played in six weeks ago? Here’s a list of all the starters from that game who won’t be wearing a Ravens uniform next year: Ray Lewis. Matt Birk. Dannell Ellerbe. Anquan Boldin. Paul Kruger. Bernard Pollard. Cary Williams. And Ed Reed’s probably going to join that list pretty soon, too. Good luck, Joe!

Pittsburgh Steelers. Their salary cap woes led to the forced departures of Mike Wallace, James Harrison, Rashard Mendenhall, Willie Colon, and Keenan Lewis; so far, their biggest moves to counteract those defections have been to sign William Gay, Bruce Gradkowski, and Matt Spaeth. As much as I like the sound of Bruce Gradkowski taking snaps at 3-4 rush linebacker, I just don’t know if that’s an adequate replacement for James Harrison.

New England Patriots. Disclaimer: if Danny Amendola and (more importantly) Gronk and Aaron Hernandez stay healthy, then the Patriots won’t miss Wes Welker at all and they’ll keep scoring 30 points a game like it’s nothing. Actually, they’ll probably still do that anyway. But the chances of Amendola and Gronk staying healthy for a full 16 games seem pretty remote and if(/when) they go down, Welker won’t be around to keep piling up yards after the catch. I normally agree with Darth Hoodie’s mantra of phasing out older, more expensive players for younger players who essentially do the same thing at a fraction of the cost. But at this point, Tom Brady’s going to be 36 when the season starts – there aren’t going to be THAT many more Super Bowl runs with this current core. Why not go all out during these last few years of Brady’s prime and bring his favorite receiver back?

The jury’s still out:

Miami Dolphins. The Dolphins probably made the splashiest signings on the first day of free agency by signing Mike Wallace and Dannell Ellerbe, but I’m skeptical either of those moves are going to bring the Dolphins within striking distance of the Patriots in the AFC East. Ellerbe and fellow free-agent signee Phillip Wheeler probably represent upgrades over the departed Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett, but not significant enough to push the Dolphins’ above-average defense to another level. And Wallace was one of the most efficient receivers in the league in 2010 and 2011, but he’s not a possession receiver at all and is likely to find that Ryan Tannehill isn’t quite as accurate on deep bombs down the field as Ben Roethlisberger was.

Chicago Bears. Seven months ago, Martellus Bennett was one of the biggest jokes in the league, a supremely talented player whose poor work ethic left him riding the pine in Dallas and committing boneheaded mistakes when he did enter the game. Now that he’s parlayed one starter-level season in New York into a huge long-term deal, let’s just say the bust potential is high for ‘ol Martellus. On the other hand, the Bears’ signing of Jermon Bushrod gives them their first starting-level left tackle in six years. In a vacuum, Bushrod isn’t worth $36 million ($22 million of it guaranteed) over five years; on the Bears, he might be worth double that.

Denver Broncos. Signing WELKAHHHHH was a near-genius move that arguably gives Peyton Manning the best group of wide receivers in the league AND damages their biggest AFC rival in the process. On the other hand, the whole fax machine snafu with Elvis Dumervil costs Denver one of the best pass-rushing duos in the league; Von Miller’s going to pick up double-digit sacks every year for the next seven or eight, but will a four-levels-beyond-washed-up Dwight Freeney or whoever winds up replacing Dumervil be able to pick up eight or nine sacks on the other side? The lesson, as always: agents are the worst.

Your 2013 Franchise Tag Rundown

Monday’s deadline for teams to slap one-year franchise tags on an outgoing free agent of their choice came and went with eight teams choosing to exercise that option. The following players will all spend 2013 being paid an average of the top-five salaries at their position over the past five years (unless they come to a long-term agreement before the season starts). Below each player, I’ll give my expert opinion on whether their teams used their tags in a judicious manner or if they perhaps should have been inclined to let the player test the free agent waters.

Jairus Byrd: Safety, Buffalo Bills

One-Year Tender: $6.92 million

Worth It?: At first glance, if you judged this solely by Buffalo’s team defensive ratings over the past three years, you would say NO WAY NO WAY NO WAY WHAT IN MARV LEVY’S NAME ARE YOU DOING, BUFFALO? But according to Advanced NFL Stats’ Expected Points Added metric, Byrd was the fifth-best safety in the league last year and the ninth-best in 2011 – I’m not sure that those metrics are predictive at all for defenders, but it’s fair to say that Byrd has been one of the lone bright spots on the Bills defense the past couple of years. Plus, the cap hit of $6.92 million isn’t particularly steep and if the Bills’ defense looked THAT BAD even with a top-ten safety on the back end, just think how bad they’d look in 2013 with the likes of Madieu Williams back there. So I’m going to say this is an unqualified Worth It franchising.

Henry Melton: Defensive Tackle, Chicago Bears

One-Year Tender: $8.45 million

Worth It?: In the strictest sense of the term, no, Melton is not currently worth that much money. He has thirteen sacks over the past two seasons and can be a disruptive force in the run game but can also get gouged at the point of attack and probably shouldn’t have made the Pro Bowl last year. However, 26-year-old defensive tackles with excellent pass rush ability don’t hit the open market very often and if the Bears didn’t slap Melton with the franchise tag, another team would have doled out a long-term contract offering just as much money per year. In addition, the pass-rushing defensive tackle has perhaps more importance in the Bears’ defensive scheme than any other scheme in the league and, excepting the times Julius Peppers moves inside to play D-tackle, Melton is far and away the only inside lineman on the Bears’ roster who fits that bill. So, given Melton’s potential and his importance within the Bears’ defense, I’m going to give this a qualified Worth It grade as well.

Michael Johnson: Defensive End, Cincinnati Bengals

One-Year Tender: $11.175 million

Worth It?: If you’re just going by last year, oh yeah! Johnson had 11.5 sacks, ranked ninth among defensive ends in quarterback hits with nineteen and tied for fifth in tackles for loss with fourteen. Plus, he just turned 26 in February and conceivably could have his best years ahead of him. On the other hand, Johnson had just 11.5 sacks total in the three seasons prior to 2012 and had nowhere near the same impact in any of those first three years. Given the steep cap hit that franchised defensive ends bring, this would have been a pretty tough call to make for a franchise that didn’t have approximately $55 million in cap space this offseason. Since that’s the amount of money the Bengals do have to spend, however, it’s a worthwhile one-year gamble for them to see if Johnson replicates that same 2012 level of performance this year.

Anthony Spencer: Outside Linebacker, Dallas Cowboys

One-Year Tender: $10.627 million

Worth It?: This is the second year in a row that Spencer’s been franchised and, unlike last year, in a vacuum he’s actually worthy of the tag. He posted a career high in sacks with eleven while maintaining his usual excellence in run defense and, frankly, outperformed DeMarcus Ware. But the Cowboys are in salary cap hell right now and handing out $10 million to a player who has been slightly above-average in every year of his career except 2012 seems pretty foolish – particularly when you’ve got $78 million tied up in the outside linebacker lined up on the opposite side of the field. This earns a No Bueno grade from me.

Ryan Clady: Offensive Tackle, Denver Broncos

One-Year Tender: $9.828 million

Worth It?: This one’s easy. He’s one of the three or four best tackles in the league and the second most important player on the Denver offense behind Forehead. Worth it, worth it, a thousand times worth it.

Pat McAfee: Punter, Indianapolis Colts

One-Year Tender: $2.977 million

Worth It?: You laugh, but McAfee might secretly have been the Colts’ MVP in 2012 – the only thing that was above-average with them last year was the field position they earned due to good kickoff and punt coverage. Perhaps Mr. McAfee had a lot to do with that? On the other hand, though, McAfee WAS the guy who swam drunk in an Indianapolis canal back in 2010. Also, franchising punters is stupid. So this ain’t worth it.

Brandon Albert: Offensive Tackle, Kansas City Chiefs

One-Year Tender: $9.828 million

Worth It?: Albert comes in with a good rep and would have been snatched up in a second by another team in a second in the open market. But would that have been such a bad thing? Here are the Chiefs’ sack rates on offense the past three years: 7.8% (2012), 6.4% (2011), 6.3% (2010). All those rates are below league-average and while Matt Cassel and the litany of backup Chiefs quarterbacks that have seen action the past three years deserve their fair share of blame for those numbers, doesn’t the blindside protector Albert deserve some blame as well? With the qualification that I know absolutely nothing about offensive line play, I’m giving this a No Bueno rating.

Randy Starks: Defensive Tackle, Miami Dolphins

One-Year Tender: $8.450 million

Worth It?: Starks’ stat line will never show very much since his role is to be the run-stuffing defensive tackle in the Ted Washington role in a 3-4 defense, but he’s been the anchor of a Dolphins’ run defense that ranked in the top ten in Yards per Carry Allowed each of the past three years and he added 4.5 sacks last year to boot. For a team with $45 million in cap space, allocating $8.5 million of that to a guy you know is going to lock down the other team’s rushing attack isn’t the worst plan in the world. Randy, you’ve earned a qualified Worth It in my book.

On Second Glance, Turns Out The New Joe Flacco Deal Isn’t as Horrendous as We All Thought

Did anybody else throw up in their mouth a little when the news broke late last week of Joe Flacco’s new six-year, $120 million deal to remain the streaky, slightly-above-average-in-the-long-run quarterback of the Baltimore Ravens? I mean, if Joe Flacco is worth $120 million, then Matt Ryan is worth $200 million and Aaron Rodgers is probably in the neighborhood of a billion. Of course, as we all know, there’s no real issue that arises for a team after they hideously overpay someone – other than the fact that it completely hamstrings their salary cap situation for the near-to-intermediate future and you’re forced to start department store cashiers in your secondary (if you’re the Patriots, anyway). If the quarterback you’re paying all that money to is actually worth it (let’s use Peyton Manning and Tom Brady as the exemplars here), then you’ll still win ten-to-thirteen games a season thanks to transcendent quarterback play before having all the other holes in your franchise exposed in the postseason.

But what if you’re handing Oprah sums of money to guys who AREN’T worth it? Eli Manning’s a good quarterback, but the Giants have only made the playoffs once in the four seasons since he signed his $100 million contract before the ’09 season (no, I don’t remember what they did in the playoffs the one time they made it). In slightly different situations, the Lions and Rams are still in salary restructuring hell thanks to the massive rookie contracts of Matthew Stafford and Sam Bradford. Frankly, I was ready to write my post this morning as a devil’s advocate suggesting that the Ravens would have been better off letting Flacco walk and watching the Cardinals or whoever sign him to an obscene amount of money and just trying to find the next Flacco (i.e. an above-average and REASONABLY PRICED quarterback) through the draft. The Ravens obviously couldn’t actually do that – the backlash from Baltimore fans would near Johnny U. levels of incredulity – but on paper that would have been preferable to having ONE-SIXTH of your available cap space devoted to the 10th or 11th-best quarterback in the league.

And then Albert Breer got an actual looksy at the contract and discovered something interesting:

As Breer pointed out on Monday’s “NFL AM,” Flacco’s deal “in essence” is for three years. That’s because he’s due $29 million in the fourth year, which “will not be workable” unless the salary cap explodes once money from national television contracts kick in. Breer added that Flacco’s 2013 salary cap number is less than half of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady‘s. “He certainly did the Ravens a favor,” Breer said… Flacco’s salary-cap number in 2013 is $6.8 million. This is obviously a team-friendly figure that will give the Ravens much more flexibility this offseason than previously thought.

Hey! That’s looking pretty good and fairly reasonable! I knew Ozzie Newsome wasn’t a complete moron! Let’s look at some other particulars from the deal:

In 2013, Flacco will get a fully-guaranteed $29 million signing bonus and a $1 million base salary. In 2014, he’s due a $15 million option bonus (guaranteed for injury) and a $6 million base salary. In 2015, it’s a $7 million option bonus (guaranteed for injury) and a $4 million base salary. In 2016, he will earn an $18.2 million base salary. In 2017, the base salary increases to $20.6 million, and in 2018, it’s a $20 million base.

Translation: AIN’T NO WAY IN HELL THAT CONTRACT IS MAKING IT TO THAT FOURTH YEAR. According to Spotrac, Flacco’s salary cap hit will jump to $16.5 million in 2014, then back down to $14.5 million in 2015 before going crazy in 2016-18 ($28.7 million, $31.1 million, and $24.7 million in succession). So in other words, Joe WILL be overpaid in 2014 and 2015 but not horribly – his 2014 cap hit projects as only the eighth-largest among quarterbacks and his 2015 cap hit doesn’t even register among the top ten yet. And, frankly, there’s a decent shot he actually turns into a consistent top-ten quarterback by then (let’s not talk about top-five just yet).

So as long as the Ravens restructure this thing by 2016 (and they will), they’ll actually have re-signed Flacco at a very comfortable figure that allows them to make a pass at re-signing Ed Reed and/or Anquan Boldin if their heart so desires. And Flacco’s getting $52 million guaranteed out of the whole thing, which seems like a pretty fair trade-off for just having one of the ten best postseasons of all time. So…everybody wins? Crap, that’s not nearly as exciting as “FLACCO HOLDS RAVENS HOSTAGE AND FORCES THEM TO GIVE HIM A QUARTER OF A MILLION DOLLARS AT GUNPOINT.” Then again, when has anything non-football-related ever been exciting with Joe Flacco?

WhatIfSports Duel to the Death Season: Week 4 (Part 1)

Before we get to the first half of this week’s Greatest of All Time simulations, there was an actual league transaction of some importance yesterday as the 49ers traded Alex Smith to the Chiefs for a 2nd-round pick this year and a conditional draft pick (probably a 3rd-rounder, though it supposedly could rise to another 2nd-rounder) in 2014.

Now in the short term, this is a big upgrade at quarterback for Kansas City. Smith isn’t going to have anywhere near the type of talent surrounding him that he had in San Francisco, but the coaching dropoff from Jim Harbaugh to Andy Reid isn’t particularly steep (last year notwithstanding) and Smith certainly comes in with a stronger pedigree than Matt Cassel did when the Chiefs made a similar trade in 2009. If Smith performs as the league-average starter he seems to have become next year – and, more importantly, if the Chiefs’ defense has a strong bounce-back year – then it’s not hard to talk yourself into Kansas City becoming 2013’s out-of-nowhere team that rides an easy schedule to nine or ten wins and a playoff spot.

Long-term, however, San Francisco won this deal handily. The pick they’re receiving this year from the Chiefs is the 34th overall in the draft and they now own five of the top 100 picks in the draft. They can now stockpile even more young talent or, as SI’s Chris Burke terrifyingly notes, use those picks as the foundation for a deal to acquire Darrelle Revis or Percy Harvin. Let me just be the first to say that if Darrelle Revis gets traded to the 49ers next season, there will be no point in having a season, other than seeing if the 49ers could potentially be the greatest team of all time. Lord knows they don’t need any more help.

This deal could also hurt Kansas City in the long-term because even after two above-average years in San Francisco, Smith’s ceiling still doesn’t look any higher than “Superbly Accomplished Game Manager.” Having that type of guy at quarterback is a good way to get your team stuck in NFL purgatory, sticking within seven-to-ten wins every year and never having a real shot at a Super Bowl. Isn’t there a decent chance the Chiefs could have gotten the same type of production they’re likely to get from Smith by just choosing a quarterback with that 34th overall pick – and at a much cheaper price?

Those are questions that will start being answered six short months from now. The question of who will emerge victoriously from this week’s WhatIfSports simulations of the Greatest of All Time season, however, will be answered momentarily! This week brings our first byes into action, as the 2006 Colts, 2000 Titans, 1960 Eagles and 2009 Saints are all resting up their virtual hamstrings. The rest of the league springs into action below, starting with…

1992 Dallas Cowboys (3-1) 21, 1989 San Francisco 49ers (1-2-1) 16

One of the more anticipated games of the season finds the 49ers gaining seventy more yards and 7 more first downs than the Cowboys yet falling short due to a number of big plays generated by the Dallas offense. Foremost among them, Kelvin Martin caught a 68-yard touchdown pass from Troy Aikman in the second quarter and Emmitt Smith ran for a 31-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter to stake the Cowboys to an ultimately insurmountable lead. Aikman finished 13-of-21 for 206 yards, 2 touchdowns and an interception and Smith finished with 116 combined rushing and receiving yards. Joe Montana went 21-of-29 for 238 yards – 117 of those going to Jerry Rice – but a late 4th-and-2 screen pass from Montana to Tom Rathman was halt for a three-yard loss, ending San Francisco’s final threat.

2012 Atlanta Falcons (1-3) 19, 1999 Jacksonville Jaguars (2-2) 14

Michael Turner scored on a two-yard touchdown run with 59 seconds remaining and the Falcons won their first game of the year, primarily thanks to an outstanding performance from Matt Ryan (18-of-24, 291 yards, 1 TD). Mark Brunell threw three costly interceptions for the Jaguars, including one to Dominique Franks with 37 seconds left that essentially ended the game.

1981 Cincinnati Bengals (2-2) 20, 1975 Pittsburgh Steelers (2-2) 10

Cris Collinsworth caught a go-ahead 58-yard touchdown pass from Ken Anderson with 10:11 remaining in the game and the Bengals put up over 430 yards of offense on the Steel Curtain at Riverfront Stadium. Collinsworth finished with six catches for 163 yards and a whole lot of pleas for “heheh pass the corn chips, Ken.” And pass those corn chips he did: Anderson ended up 18-of-32 for 292 yards and two touchdowns. Franco Harris finished with 155 yards on just 15 carries and scored on a 38-yard run early in the fourth quarter to briefly tie the game, but the Steelers couldn’t overcome a subpar performance from both their defense and Terry Bradshaw (11-of-25, 129 yards).

1979 San Diego Chargers (3-1) 17, 1968 New York Jets (2-2) 10

Dan Fouts threw for 299 yards and Clarence Williams scored both touchdowns for the Chargers, as they improved to 3-1 with a road victory at Shea Stadium. The Jets scored on their third play from scrimmage on a 54-yard touchdown throw from Joe Namath to George Sauer but wouldn’t find the end zone the rest of the day. Two Fouts interceptions kept San Diego from building an insurmountable lead, however, despite 130 more yards of offense and the Chargers had to sweat out a Hail Mary attempt on the final play of the game before claiming victory.

1985 Chicago Bears (2-2) 23, 1952 Detroit Lions (1-3) 6

The Bears shrugged off two consecutive home losses and held the Lions to 24 passing yards in a blowout win at Tiger Stadium. Neither team could muster 200 total yards of offense: Walter Payton was held to 46 yards rushing on 21 attempts but did score both Bears touchdowns. Bobby Layne had an even rougher time when he was on the field: he was sacked five times (twice by Otis Wilson) and when he did get to throw, he could only rack up seven completions, 60 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions on 19 attempts.

2007 New England Patriots (4-0) 26, 1990 Buffalo Bills (3-1) 23

In the unquestioned Game of the Year so far, Laurence Maroney caught a 48-yard Hail Mary from Tom Brady with no time remaining and the Patriots stunned the Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium in a battle of previously unbeaten AFC East foes. The Bills had just retaken the lead with 32 seconds left when Jim Kelly capped a nine play, 95-yard drive with a 17-yard touchdown pass to James Lofton. After the kickoff gave the Patriots the ball at their own 29-yard line, Brady hit Sammy Morris with a 23-yard pass and then threw three straight incompletions before striking gold on the final play of the game. The two teams combined for 34 points in the fourth quarter – a Thurman Thomas touchdown run gave the Bills a 16-6 lead with a little over twelve minutes remaining, but a 67-yard touchdown pass from Brady to Randy Moss and a 53-yard interception return for a touchdown by Randall Gay gave the Patriots a 20-16 lead, setting up those classic last two minutes. Brady finished 14-of-25 for 299 yards and three touchdowns.

1962 Green Bay Packers (4-0) 41, 1973 Minnesota Vikings (1-3) 14

The Packers rushed for 272 yards and destroyed the Vikings at Metropolitan Stadium to run their record to 4-0. Jim Taylor rushed for 145 yards and two touchdowns on 22 attempts and Paul Hornung added 87 yards on only six carries as the Packers took a 31-7 lead into halftime and were in complete command the entire way. Fran Tarkenton performed fairly well given the circumstances, going 14-of-26 for 220 yards and two touchdowns, but the Purple People Eaters had no answers for the Packer Sweep or Bart Starr (8-of-18, 151 yards, two touchdowns).

Tomorrow: The ’91 Redskins meet the ’86 Giants in the Meadowlands; the ’02 Buccaneers try to improve to 4-0 against the ’05 Panthers; and the ’72 Dolphins make a quarterback switch in an attempt to get their first win of the season at the hands of the ’58 Colts.

The NFL Coaching Carousel, 2013: Are You Going To Cry About It? Or Are You Going To Take The Other Piece of Pizza?

Why is there a two-week break in between the Conference Championships and the Super Bowl? Is there anyone out there reading this with the suitable credentials to answer that question? I’m sure if league spokesman Greg Aiello were here with us, he would say the extra week is necessary to make travel plans smoother for the participating teams and that it also gives both squads a chance to rest and nurse injuries and that Roger has looked into the studies for this and he’s determined that this is the safest option for all parties involved because the only thing Roger cares about is player safety and not rolling around naked in Jerry Jones’ hot tub with a wad of hundred dollar bills.

Astute as those perceptions may be, there are countless other pieces of evidence that suggest the extra week off, in fact, blows huge chunks. Namely, the week off with no meaningful football wastes much of the buzz and excitement that the conference championships create and begins to lead people into a death spiral of depression, anxiety and Big Ten basketball viewing. If one or both of the participating teams in the Super Bowl already had a bye in the first round of the postseason – like the 49ers this year – then this week of just players bumming around their team facility, picking their noses and waiting for Bill Callahan to install a gameplan that will be abandoned at the last second is their second such week of inactivity in a month, after having just one bye in the first seventeen weeks of the season. You can’t just monkey around with the timing and routine of these privileged millionaires in such a manner! And, finally and perhaps most importantly…the Pro Bowl is terrible and any reason to delay it by another week is fine by my watch.

Alas, despite all my protestations, the wait for Super Bowl XLVII remains at eleven days. And as exciting as the news that the Harbaugh brothers will probably only just text each other over the next few weeks has been, it may be good for everyone’s sanity to avoid those storylines for the time being. So here’s a quick primer on all the coaching changes that went on while RGIII tore up his knee and Rahim Moore forgot how to play safety. Because more than enough time has passed and my position as an unpaid blogger naturally makes me eminently qualified to do so, I’ll also be handing out grades for each team’s hire, an educated guess at when each coach will be fired, and a direct quote that I feel best sums up each coach’s football philosophy. Let’s begin.

Arizona Cardinals
Out: Ken Whisenhunt (2007-2012)
In: Bruce Arians (Offensive Coordinator/Interim Head Coach, Indianapolis Colts
Chances He Will Suck Less Than Previous Coach: Solid. Whisenhunt proved himself to be more than capable when Kurt Warner fell into his lap and the NFC West was the equivalent of the Sun Belt Conference. But since then, he somehow thought that he could win games with Derek Anderson, Max Hall, Richard Bartel, John Skelton, Ryan Lindley, and an often-concussed Kevin Kolb as his quarterbacks. No dice. Arians at least has a good track record: he was Peyton Manning’s first quarterbacks coach, he was the Browns’ offensive coordinator the only year they made the playoffs since returning to the NFL, Ben Roethlisberger and Andrew Luck love him, and he’s going to win Coach of the Year for what he did with the Colts while Chuck Pagano was treated for leukemia. Problem is, every other team in the NFC West now looks like they’ll be young and tough squads for the foreseeable future. Also, Kevin Kolb, John Skelton, Ryan Lindley, and Brian Hoyer are currently his quarterbacks. Good luck, Bruce!
Hiring Grade: B+

Year He Will Be Fired: 2016

Buffalo Bills
Out: Chan Gailey (2010-2012)
In: Doug Marrone (head coach, Syracuse University)
Chances He Will Suck Less Than Previous Coach: Poor. The Bills were a laughingstock three years ago for hiring the approximately 140-year-old Gailey, but given the talent on the roster, didn’t it seem like Gailey did a pretty good job? He completely tailored his offense around the only area of strength they had (running backs) and made everyone believe that Ryan Fitzpatrick was a viable NFL starter for a while. That’s no small feat. Marrone comes with the endorsement of Sean Payton, which means something, but the fact of the matter is he went 25-25 at Syracuse in his four years there. If the point of the search was to get a mediocre college coach who also was a coordinator for the Saints at one point, maybe they should have gone for Ron Zook? I hear he’s available. Also, Doug Marrone sounds like someone who’d play a long-lost cousin of Ray Romano on Everybody Loves Raymond, so we have to include some demerits for that.
Hiring Grade: D

Year He Will Be Fired: 2014

Chicago Bears
Out: Lovie Smith (2004-2012)
In: Marc Trestman (head coach, Montreal Alouettes)
Chances He Will Suck Less Than Previous Coach: Not great. That’s more because, for all his faults and “We Like Our Team” memes, Lovie was actually a reliably above-average coach. Well, when he wasn’t sticking his horribly unqualified buddies at defensive coordinator, anyway. Trestman appears to be Lovie’s exact opposite: very gifted offensively, nearly clueless defensively. Urlacher, Tillman, Peppers, and Briggs and Co. will be able to hear Lovie’s words in their sleep until they die, but once they move on will the Bears’ vaunted defense begin to slide into oblivion? That’s a question only Trestman’s maple syrup flask can answer.
Trestman’s Personal Coaching Philosophy: I can’t wait to get my hands on (Jay Cutler).”
Hiring Grade: C+

Year He Will Be Fired: 2016

Cleveland Browns
Out: Pat Shurmur (2011-2012)
In: Rob Chudzinski (offensive coordinator, Carolina Panthers)
Chances He Will Suck Less Than Previous Coach: OUTSTANDING. It would have been tough to find someone worse than Shurmur, whose main claim to fame as an offensive genius was leading the Browns to 302 points last season (that’s almost 19 a game!) and having much the same trouble that his mentor, Andy Reid, had in Philadelphia. He will not be missed. Chudzinski is the guy principally responsible for bringing the read option to the NFL as a way of making the most of Cam Newton’s talents and was also the offensive coordinator of the Browns the year Derek Anderson made the Pro Bowl. In other words, this guy might know how to coach! Let’s all just hope that naming Norv as his offensive coordinator doesn’t bring any residual bad luck along with it.
Hiring Grade: A-

Year He Will Be Fired: 2019

Jacksonville Jaguars
Out: Mike Mularkey (2012)
In: Gus Bradley (defensive coordinator, Jacksonville Jaguars)
Chances He Will Suck Less Than Previous Coach: Decent. Mularkey obviously got a raw deal for only being given one year to turn around a sinking ship with Blaine Gabbert as his captain (when you describe it in those terms, doesn’t that sound like the greatest TV show or movie of all-time? “Jaguars of the Caribbean: The Ship Gets Raided by a Rowboat”). On the other hand, with a name like Mularkey, you’re probably never headed for true greatness. Bradley gets bonus points for helping Pete Carroll turn the Seahawks’ defense into one of the most fearsome in the league AND for being one of the greatest North Dakota State Bison of all time. He’ll probably need more than a year to turn this operation into a winner, though.
Bradley’s Personal Coaching Philosophy: I love coaching football!”
Hiring Grade: A-

Year He Will Be Fired: 2019

Kansas City Chiefs
Out: Romeo Crennel (2011-2012)
In: Andy Reid (former head coach, Philadelphia Eagles)
Chances He Will Suck Less Than Previous Coach: Astronomical. This is the one known quantity out of an otherwise quixotic group of hires. Andy Reid is excellent at drawing up gameplans, developing quarterbacks, building organizations, eating cheesesteaks (he may have to switch to barbecue now), and growing walrus mustaches. He is not so excellent at red zone offense, clock management, or knowing when he should challenge a play. However, compared to Romeo Crennel, who is excellent at coordinating a defense and not so excellent at every other function of head coaching, Reid’s Vince Lombardi. Who else is excited for the Chiefs-Eagles game in Philadelphia next year?
Reid’s Personal Coaching Philosophy: I need to find the next Len Dawson.”
Hiring Grade: B+

Year He Will Be Fired: 2017

Philadelphia Eagles
Out: Andy Reid (1999-2012)
In: Chip Kelly (head coach, University of Oregon)
Chances He Will Suck Less Than Previous Coach: Questionable. Because, again, as we explained above, Reid is ultimately still a very good coach despite his faults and it’s going to be close to impossible for Kelly or anyone for that matter to replicate the success Reid had in Philadelphia in the first decade of his tenure. With that said, THIS is the college coach you should have wanted to hire, Buffalo. Kelly’s well-known for thinking outside the box while retaining classic, sound football principles and there’s every chance he could wind up being the next Bill Belichick. Of course, there’s also every chance he could wind up being the next Steve Spurrier. But let’s just leave that cheery thought for another day, shall we?
Hiring Grade: A

Year He Will Be Fired: 2016

San Diego Chargers
Out: Norv Turner (2007-2012)
In: Mike McCoy (offensive coordinator, Denver Broncos)
Chances He Will Suck Less Than Previous Coach: Um, he’s replacing Norv, do we really need to answer that question? McCoy’s gotten a lot of credit around the league for making Kyle Orton look like an above-average quarterback, Tim Tebow like something resembling a functional quarterback, and Peyton Manning like Peyton Manning. Is it true that the Broncos’ offense really only took off this year once they abandoned McCoy’s passing ideas and started running Peyton’s old Colts routes exclusively? Perhaps! But grabbing a coordinator from a division rival is never a bad idea and whenever you get a chance to grab someone from the Josh McDaniels coaching tree, you just do it. No questions asked.
McCoy’s Personal Coaching Philosophy: Hey, I’d be an idiot if I didn’t listen to (Peyton Manning).”
Hiring Grade: B-

Year He Will Be Fired: 2015