Friday, January 23, 2015

"Deflategate" Simply Stems from Football Fan Mentality

Just when you thought things might settle down in the NFL, here we go again with another controversy -- a controversy that evidently strikes at the very core of American values, if you believe some of the things you've been reading about.

It goes like this: Footballs that the New England Patriots used in the AFC championship game were inflated below regulation and, once again, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady have conspired to pull the wool over everyone's eyes, thus their dynasty is a fraud and a sham.

Let's get a few things out of the way. First of all, yes, the footballs used did not comply with NFL requirements, and were very likely altered after they had been inspected by NFL officials. Second, Brady was among the quarterbacks who lobbied the NFL to change the rules regarding how footballs are prepared for games. (The summed-up version: It used to be the home team supplied the footballs, but it changed to each team supplying their own.) Third, it's not the first time the Patriots have been accused of, and found responsible for, violating NFL rules. And fourth, yes, I absolutely believe Brady knew what was happening, and it's likely Belichick knew what was going on as well.

With all this said, why are so many people acting like it's the end of the world as we know it, that the Patriots cheated and our way of American life happens to be at stake?

Oh, sure, if you want to make jokes about "deflated balls" and laugh at how you have another reason to hate Tom Brady, I can get that. One of the traits every sports fan shares is the pleasure of making jokes about athletes, teams and events, particularly if we don't like those who are involved.
But reading some of the articles written about this situation, makes it sound like a staple of Americana hangs in the balance, and with it, America itself.

Here's a newsflash for everyone: Integrity often means little in professional sports. Owners expect cities that host franchises to pay for new stadiums every time they ask, or they'll pack their bags and leave town. Coaches look for new methods and approaches to the game, often figuring out what rules they can bend, circumvent, or creatively interpret to their advantage. Players follow suit on the field -- all you have to do is watch a wide receiver and a defensive back jostling with each other on a pass play, with each one expecting the official favor him over the other guy, no matter what. Oh, and they also like to seek out any performance enhancer, legal or illegal, that they think can help them gain a competitive advantage.

And what's a big reason why coaches and players keep looking for advantages? Answer: Because we, the fans, have made demands upon them that force them down that path.

The typical football fan expects his or her favorite team to WIN NOW, because they see guys like Chuck Pagano and Bruce Arians turning things around in just one season, even if they are the exception. The typical football fan expects each player drafted in the seven rounds to make an instant impact, or they will be immediately written off as a bust, because just look at all these guys who were drafted in different rounds and were immediate sensations (did someone mention Brady?). The typical football fan especially expects a quarterback to be a winner right away, touting Andrew Luck as the example of how easy it is for a QB to achieve instant success, while forgetting that most quarterbacks are like Johnny Manziel, in that they stink up the joint in their first NFL starts.

And yes, it doesn't help that Manziel got hyped to death, but that's yet another problem with the typical football fan. The typical football fan sees Manziel excite everyone in college, expects that to immediately happen in the NFL, gets impatient when he doesn't start right away, and when he finally starts and looks terrible, they immediately declare it's all over for the guy.

On top of that, when the media starts feeding narratives to typical fans, these fans are more likely to eat them up rather than reject them. So you have Brady, watching how everyone calls Peyton Manning a playoff choker, how Tony Romo can't win when it counts, and how Seattle has the BEST DEFENSE EVAH, and then you act surprised that Brady might choose to employ questionable methods so he can avoid the likely narrative known as "Is it all over for Tom Brady?"

The fact is, football is a complex sport in which the outcome of games can't be boiled down to one or two factors, as much as people try to make it out to be that way. More importantly, football is not something that is supposed to represent American values, as much as some might want it to be that way.

If football were to disappear from the face of the earth, America would not perish. There are far more areas one can look to, to understand what American values are truly all about, rather than a sport in which the general mindset is to "win now or else," and where said mindset often leads to unscrupulous undertakings by owners, coaches and players, all trying to see what they might get away with, in the quest of winning.

(Actually, it's not too different from how most Americans are. We're constantly told we have to be "number one" in everything, and if we are anything short of that, then we must DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT. And then we act surprised when somebody tries to circumvent rules in place to ensure they get the "number one" result that Americans demand. Maybe it's time we start being fine with "always do your best, no matter the outcome" rather than getting up in arms about how America has been ruined because we aren't "number one" for whatever the reason may be.)

By all means, hold those who violate the rules accountable. But stop acting like the way of life of Americans is threatened by Belichick, Brady, and footballs that aren't regulation -- and most of all, stop acting so surprised that coaches and players would bend the rules as far as they can in the pursuit of winning.

After all, when you insist that one "win now or else," the next logical step for one to take is "win at all costs, rules be damned."

Friday, January 16, 2015

Is Gary Kubiak Really An Upgrade Over John Fox?

Earlier in the week, Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak turned down interview requests with the Chicago Bears and New York Jets.

Then along came the Denver Broncos, who parted ways with John Fox, and suddenly Kubiak is interested.

Translation: Kubiak is about to become the next head coach of the Denver Broncos.

Broncos fans will no doubt have fond memories of Kubiak, as the backup quarterback who could fill in for short periods, developed a close bond with John Elway, ran the offense under Mike Shanahan during the two Super Bowl wins, then continued to run it effectively when the likes of Brian Griese, Gus Frerotte and Jake Plummer were at QB.

We all know that Kubiak can do a masterful job of running an offense. But does that make him the right guy to be the head coach?

Let's take a look at what happened when Kubiak coached the Texans, and how it compares to when Fox was the coach of the Panthers.

Regarding quarterbacks, we know the story with Fox. For most of his seasons, his quarterback was the average-to-good Jake Delhomme. Other QBs who had to take the helm for Carolina were Rodney Peete, Vinny Testaverde, Matt Moore and Jimmy Clausen. Meanwhile, Kubiak spent most of his season with Matt Schaub, but others who played for him were David Carr, T.J. Yates and Case Keenum.

There is, of course, the argument that since Fox's expertise is defense, he didn't really have much to do with getting results out of the quarterback. But then the flipside must be considered, that if Kubiak's expertise is offense, then he really shouldn't get credit for how the defense performs.

Thus, a better measurement would be to consider how good Fox was at finding offensive coordinators, versus how good Kubiak was at finding defensive coordinators. Fox's first offensive coordinator was Dan Henning (2001-2006), whose best ranking achieved was eighth in points scored in 2005. With that said, the offense ranked 22nd in yards, which would suggest it benefited from great field position. Considering that Carolina's defense ranked fifth in points allowed and third in yards allowed, that would certainly suggest the defense was more responsible for Carolina's success (the Panthers finished 11-5 and reached the conference championship).

Jeff Davidson took over in 2007, and in 2008, finished seventh in points and 10th in yards in 2008. The defense ranked in the middle that season (12th in points allowed, 18th in yards allowed), so it is fair to say the offense played a larger part in the 12-4 finish. Otherwise, Davidson's offense never ranked higher than 19th in yards or 21st in points. Therefore, it may be fair to say that one of Fox's issues was not finding the right offensive coordinator.

But this means that, because Kubiak's specialty is offense, that he needs to find the right defensive coordinator. Looking at those who served under Kubiak, you have Richard Smith (2006-2008), Frank Bush (2009-2010) and Wade Phillips (2011-2013). Phillips had the best results, as his defenses were top 10 in yards allowed (second, seventh and seventh) and top 10 his first two years in points allowed (fourth and ninth). In his third year, the defense finished 24th in points allowed, but that can probably be blamed in part on a pedestrian offense that was ranked 11th in yards, but 31st in points.

The other two defensive coordinators, however, did not have much to show for themselves. Smith's units were terrible, never breaking even the top 20 in yards and points allowed. Bush got the team into the top 20 in his first season (17th in points, 13th in yards), then the unit went right back downhill his second season (29th in points, 30th in yards).

If I am a Broncos fan, I would be very concerned about Kubiak's ability to find the right defensive coordinator. While he deserves credit for bringing in Phillips, by that point, it was becoming too late for his offense, as Schaub had exited his prime, as had top wide receiver Andre Johnson.

If Kubiak takes over in Denver, and Peyton Manning does return, he will have a QB that, while better than Schaub at any stage of his career, is still one who is no longer in his prime. Although the top wide receiver (Demaryius Thomas) is in his prime, he will be a free agent.

Are we truly fine with bringing in an offensive mastermind, whether it's to work with Peyton for a couple more years or develop Brock Osweiler, if it means things start falling apart on the defensive side of the ball, because you let the coach hire the wrong defensive coordinator?

We must also consider one of the complaints about Fox: his propensity for conservative coaching. The thought is that Kubiak will be more aggressive in decisions to go for it on fourth down or to drive in the final seconds of a game for a touchdown or field goal, rather than settle for overtime.

Yet consider these writings from the Battle Red Blog, one which tried to dispel the notion that he was a conservative coach, yet found it was the case, and one indicating that while he was solid at clock management, he was far from being one of the best. Needless to say, some of the details presented don't reflect this idea that Kubiak is going to be far more aggressive every time he makes coaching decisions. It might mean it's a little more likely Kubiak will be aggressive than Fox in these areas, but perhaps not enough to satisfy those who believe in going for in on fourth down more often and using time outs as wisely as possible.

There is also the issue of how well the Texans played under Kubiak when facing teams with the reputation of being the best in the NFL -- for example, the New England Patriots. In 2012 -- a season in which the Texans finished 12-4 overall -- they lost to the Patriots 42-14 (giving up 21 points in the first half). They met again in the playoffs, losing 41-28, in which they trailed 17-13 at halftime, only for the Patriots to score 21 unanswered points, before Houston scored again with 11:42 left in the fourth quarter.

In 2013, they lost to the Patriots, but to their credit, it was a 34-31 outcome. But this was a game in which the Texans led the Patriots 17-7 at halftime, and 24-21 entering the fourth quarter, but couldn't put New England away. Perhaps that can be attributed to injuries, though, but it's worth noting that Kubiak lost his job the following week after a 27-20 loss to Jacksonville.

The Texans did beat the Patriots 34-27 in 2010, benefitting from two early New England turnovers, then rallying in the fourth quarter to overcome a 27-13 deficit. (The Texans were 9-7 and missed the playoffs that season.) In 2006, they lost to New England 40-7, but perhaps that can be attributed to being Kubiak's first year, in which he tried to resurrect David Carr's career. But overall, Kubiak is a whopping 1-5 against Bill Belichick's Patriots, so it's not like he's had more success against Belichick than Fox.

What about other playoff contenders? Let's stick with 2012, in which the Texans lost to the Green Bay Packers 42-24 (thanks in part to three turnovers), and to the Indianapolis Colts, in which the Texans led 16-14, then allowed Deji Karim to return a kickoff 101 yards for a touchdown, then a 70-yard pass from Andrew Luck to T.Y. Hilton, and lost 28-16. In the Colts game, Schaub threw two interceptions, although it's hard to blame him for the two big plays that gave the Colts a double-digit lead. But this begs the question: If we blamed Fox for not rallying the troops after an opponent gets two big plays for touchdowns, should Kubiak not be blamed in a similar situation?

I believe if Kubiak does become the new Denver Broncos head coach, that the areas we wish Fox had been better at, aren't going to be improved as much as we think they are. The main difference between Fox and Kubiak is their area of expertise. Otherwise, they share similar characteristics: They need the right coordinators to run the area they aren't as familiar with, they tend to be conservative with coaching decisions more often than not (with merely a slight difference between the two), and they can have their problems against some of the better teams in the NFL.

Sure, one can argue that Kubiak can't be judged on just one coaching tenure. And it's fine to say the Broncos needed to move on from Fox. But while it can be argued that Fox needed to be replaced, that doesn't mean that Kubiak will automatically be the better coach. Fans who are pulling for Kubiak are more likely doing so not because he's an upgrade over Fox, but for this reason: Because former Denver Bronco.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Fox, Peyton, Elway And Avoiding the Impatience Trap

So it will happen: The Denver Broncos will enter the 2015 season with a very different coaching staff. Head coach John Fox "mutually parted ways" with the team, defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio is expected to be named the head coach of the Raiders, and all signs point to offensive coordinator Adam Gase becoming the head coach of the 49ers. Meanwhile, the question remains as to whether or not Peyton Manning will be back as the Broncos' quarterback.

Briefly touching upon Del Rio and Gase, I don't believe both of them would have been back next year, even if Fox had returned. It is not surprising that Del Rio would want another chance to be a head coach, and I believe Gase was simply ready to give head coaching a shot. With that out of the way, let's get to Fox.

I already wrote that I believed that parting ways with Fox would be a mistake, given that he just got a two-year extension this past summer. Had there been legitimate concerns about whether or not Fox could get the Broncos back to the Super Bowl again, and whether or not the Broncos would have shown more fire, then a one-year extension would have made more sense.

There are those who will argue that Elway could not have possibly foreseen what would happen this season, with the Broncos having subpar performances against the likes of New England, St. Louis, and Cincinnati during the regular season, and then against Indianapolis in the playoffs. Some would include the loss to Seattle, which would amount to the perception that the Broncos didn't put up much of a fight in every game they lost. Thus, one might argue, Elway had no choice in the matter.

On the other hand, there's good reason to believe that Peyton Manning was not healthy for many of the Broncos games. Most of us chalked up Peyton's passing issues to his skills declining, and while that may play a part, the quad injury he had played just as much of a role.

We all like to think that injuries that QBs receive from the waist down simply affect mobility, but then we forget that mobility is more than about buying time in the pocket, and is as much about how one sets his feet and goes through his motion when dropping back. This post at It's All Over Fat Man does a good job explaining what Peyton Manning might have been doing to compensate for his neck surgery, and how it was ultimately going to affect the rest of his body.

This brings us back to Peyton and how Fox might have been perceiving his quarterback's health, versus Elway's desire to be more aggressive with coaching approaches. It's not clear how much Peyton let on about the extent of his quad injury, and how much Fox or Elway actually knew.

What is apparent, though, is that given that Elway likely wanted more aggressive coaching, that Fox knew that meant he was expected to pursue the best possible playoff seeding, and that Peyton Manning gave the Broncos the best chance for the No. 1 seed. And if it is true that Peyton didn't share all the details with Fox about the extent of his injury, then it's possible Fox took Peyton's word and allowed him to play, knowing that if Peyton said he could play, then Peyton gave the Broncos the best chance to win.

(I will touch briefly upon one point: I find the notion that Fox and his coaching staff didn't trust Brock Osweiler hard to believe. When Fox opted for Peyton over Osweiler, it is more likely he thought that, while the Broncos could win with Osweiler, their chances of winning were improved with Peyton, particularly the chance to get the No. 1 seed. In other words, it's not a knock on Osweiler, but a strong belief in Peyton and what he brings to the table.)

I don't believe we'll ever know the full extent of what went down between Fox and Elway, or exactly what Fox or Elway did or didn't know about Peyton's health. I will say, though, that while Fox deserves some blame for conservative coaching decisions, and for players not coming out fired up for games, the Broncos' struggles at times can't be placed entirely at his feet.

This brings me to Peyton Manning, who doesn't deserve all the blame, but does deserve his share. If he had a torn quad, he should not have tried to play through it. If he did keep details to himself, then it's on him, even if the head coach is supposed to know what's happening with a player's health.

One thing to remember is that coaches want to put some trust in their quarterbacks, and if there is ever a trust issue between the coach and the QB, the team will have problems. And if Peyton did keep details to himself, I don't think it's because he didn't trust Fox, but because he allowed his competitiveness to get in the way. It's no different from other players, regardless of position, who want to "gut it out" when they get injured.

And this brings me to Elway. I have no idea what Elway might have been observing with regards to Peyton, but the way he talked during his press conference, he seemed to indicate he would trust Peyton to know whether or not his body would allow him to play. Again, this goes back to the trust issue, in which Elway, in his position, wants to show that he trusts Peyton to be honest.

But the lesson that Elway may need to learn from this, is that sometimes it's a good idea to carefully watch his players, and ask himself if a player is truly healthy enough to play. Sure, it's understandable he wants the Broncos to win another Super Bowl. But that doesn't mean claiming the No. 1 seed is a must. That's the short-term picture -- the Super Bowl is the long term. Sacrificing a player's health for that short-term picture can cost you the long-term picture if you aren't careful.

The other issue is that Elway needs to be careful in how he communicates how the team will approach this offseason and what the expectations. Again, we all know he wants a Super Bowl win, but it's also important that he ensure the Broncos remain a perennial playoff contender. Let's not forget that teams such as the Patriots, Ravens, Packers and Seahawks are among teams that want Super Bowl wins, but are primarily built to go to the playoffs each year. Every team has fans who can get impatient if a Super Bowl contender doesn't deliver the Vince Lombardi Trophy in multiple seasons, but the franchises are careful not to bend over backwards for those fans.

That's the battle ahead for Elway. Impatient fans are the ones that scream for coaching changes the loudest, and some observers now have the impression that four straight playoff trips and one Super Bowl appearance isn't enough. That's exactly the impression they have regarding the Niners parting way with Jim Harbaugh (even though the Niners didn't make the playoffs this year). And even though, in the Niners' case, it appears more to be impatience by the owner than by fans, giving into impatience can do more harm than good to a franchise.

It's fine that Elway tells people he wants to win a Super Bowl. He just needs to be clear that it's not the be-all, end-all for any coach. I think he did as best he could in communicating that in his last presser, in which he talked more about how he perceived that the Broncos didn't go down swinging in their final playoff game the past two seasons.

But he needs to continue emphasizing this, because it's the only way he'll fend off the impression that he's getting impatient. Whether or not Peyton returns next year, the message to be sent is that the main thing the Broncos want is to go to the playoffs each year, and to find a way to get the Vince Lombardi Trophy. Fans may expect a juggernaut when certain moves get heavily hyped, but that's a trap Elway cannot afford to fall into.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Your Broncos Season-Ending Dose of Perspective

It was certainly a frustrating day for Denver Broncos fans. The Broncos were coming off a season in which Peyton Manning set new records despite playing with a high ankle sprain for most of the season, and even though the Broncos were blown out in the Super Bowl, several offseason moves that happened gave fans hope that this season might be different.

It was not to be, though, as the Broncos lost to the Indianapolis Colts 24-13 in the divisional round of the AFC playoffs. The Broncos scored on their opening drive, but then the offense stalled on most drives after that. The Denver defense had its moments, but gave up some big plays. Perhaps the most frustrating part is the Broncos, on paper, had the better roster, but the Colts were able to find ways to disrupt the Broncos on both sides of the ball.

The first thing the Colts did was take away with the short routes underneath that Peyton Manning likes to throw to get himself into a rhythm. This is not exclusive to Peyton, as Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers all like to do this as well. With Peyton, the Colts were daring him to beat them with downfield throws. Peyton was able to do this on the opening drive when he connected with Julius Thomas, but on the next drive, failed twice to connect with Emmanuel Sanders and he never recovered after that. It wasn't until the final desperation drive that the Colts switched things up, because they knew Peyton was going to attack downfield and toward the sidelines, so they wouldn't allow any such passes. (I will add it didn't help that left tackle Ryan Clady struggled, which has been the case for him much of the season.)

On defense, the problems really didn't start with the lack of a pass rush, as the Broncos were able to generate some pressure. What was the bigger issue was the early decision by the Broncos to put Aqib Talib on T.Y. Hilton. This proved to be a mismatch, as every time Talib defended Hilton, it was Hilton who won the matchup (aside from one down on which Talib got away with tugging on Hilton's jersey). I'm perplexed as to why the Broncos didn't assign Chris Harris to him the entire game, as Harris contained Hilton in the Broncos' season opener against Indy. It is true that Hilton has improved, but so has Harris, who was coming offseason surgery for a partially torn ACL when he opened the season. Allowing Hilton to dictate policy is exactly what you don't do, as Andrew Luck will find Hilton if he gets open.

It didn't help that the Broncos had to limit the snaps for linebacker Brandon Marshall, who was still not fully recovered from an ankle sprain. The Broncos' injury issues at linebacker, at which they lost Nate Irving and Danny Trevathan, hurt the team's rotation and became a bigger issue as the season progressed. Linebacker has been an issue for the Broncos, and just when it seemed they might be on their way to solving it, the injury bug hit and the Broncos didn't have many options to compensate.

The Broncos now enter the offseason with plenty of questions that fans will be asking -- mostly the fans who are insistent that anything short of a Super Bowl win is cause for cleaning house. These fans need to keep some perspective, as it wasn't that long ago that the Broncos stumbled through three mediocre seasons under Mike Shanahan, as he continued to reload when he really needed to rebuild, then Josh McDaniels failed to prove that he could get the team back on track, and in his first season, John Fox found himself stuck with either Kyle Orton or Tim Tebow as his QB options, yet managed to put together a respectable season. In other words, Broncos fans need to admit that they have been a spoiled bunch and to step away from the ledge, even if they expected to go back to the Super Bowl this season.

Allow me to give some perspective on how certain situations need to be treated as the Broncos enter the offseason.

Coaching: John Fox has tended to be conservative with his coaching decisions, but in today's game, those decisions really weren't the issue. The first time he was faced with fourth and one, he wisely chose to go for it, and that was still the right call even if CJ Anderson hadn't made the extra effort to get the first down. Later, it was fourth and four and the Broncos down by eight, when Fox opted for a 44-yard field goal. I would have leaned toward going for it, but I don't believe it's a clear-cut decision to do so. On fourth and nine as the Broncos were fighting for that last gasp, Fox was obviously correct to go for it, and Peyton likely chose the throw he made because nothing else was available. Fox's challenge on the failed conversion came out of desperation, but I can't fault him for it, because it was either try the challenge or let the Colts get the ball without showing he was trying to put up a fight.

There are, of course, other games in which Fox made questionable coaching decisions, particularly when it came to whether or not to convert on fourth down or when to use challenges. It is correct to call him a good, but not a great, coach. And, like with most coaches, there are legitimate criticisms regarding how he approaches the game, and it's fair to ask if he's truly willing to adjust and try different things. But it still wouldn't be a good decision to fire him right now and look elsewhere.

The Broncos gave Fox an extension through 2016 this past summer, so dismissing him means they have to pay him for two years to sit at home (unless he were to take another coaching job). It may be what some fans want, but it would be a panic move designed simply to pacify the fanbase. Pat Bowlen might have been doing that when he brought Elway into the front office, but since Elway arrived, he has mostly made smart moves and needs to continue keeping a level head. Fox should return for 2015, then Elway can re-evaluate after that season. Obviously, if the Broncos don't make the playoffs next year, Fox should be fired. If they do make the playoffs, they can then judge based on how deep the team goes in the playoffs. If they did decide to part ways after 2015, they only have to pay him for one year. Additionally, it would show Elway is being more meticulous with his decision making, rather than giving the impression that he is getting desperate to get Peyton (and everyone else) a ring, and allowing the whims of spoiled Broncos fans to dictate decisions.

Besides, if they do opt for a change, what guarantee do they have that they'll get the coach they want? Todd Bowles might get hired quickly, given that several teams have interviewed him and might not want to wait for the Seahawks to finish their run and then be able to pursue Dan Quinn. Rex Ryan is already out of the equation. Neither Mike Shanahan nor Josh McDaniels is going to come back (nor should they). I'm not certain if they really want to try luring Gary Kubiak -- it may pacify Broncos fans who love him, but Kubiak had mixed results when he was with the Texans. (UPDATE: Kubiak has already announced he will return to the Ravens next season, so he's no longer an option.) And does it really sound like that Doug Marrone is a better option?

At the coordinator positions, I suspect Jack Del Rio will be the next head coach of the Raiders. That would allow the Broncos to bring back Dennis Allen, who had a very good season with the Broncos as defensive coordinator in 2011. Adam Gase could go either way, although the divisional playoff game might make interested teams reconsider. If he's not hired elsewhere, I'm fine with him returning. Perhaps some changes could be made with other coaching positions, but care should be taken to evaluate each of them, and not base it solely on what fans watch on the field, because what is obvious to a fan is only part of the equation as to what any issues with a team really are.

Peyton Manning: Get ready for all the questions about whether or not it's time for Peyton to hang it up. On one hand, Peyton's play is declining, and he's not able to attack downfield effectively and thus teams can more easily limit what he does best, because they don't have to worry as much about those downfield throws. Also, he may be concerned about whether or not his body can take it any more. On the other hand, there are certain passing records within Peyton's grasp and he probably doesn't want to go out after having a subpar playoff outing.

I suspect Peyton will return next season, but I also believe it will be his last season. He will likely believe he can use the offseason to get back to full strength, then see what moves the Broncos make to get the final pieces in place, and give it one last shot. But regardless of what happens in 2015, I just don't see any reason that Peyton would want to stick around beyond that season. Another year without a Super Bowl is certainly not what he wants, but if he sticks around too long, he'll start looking desperate for that second ring.

In the meantime, the Broncos do need to carefully evaluate Brock Osweiler's progress, to determine if he can be the guy who can take over whenever Peyton decides to retire. If they don't think he's the answer, they may need to consider drafting a QB. With that said, it shouldn't be done simply to appease Broncos fans. I'm sure there a few Broncos fans who would love to see CSU quarterback Garrett Grayson become part of Denver's franchise. But bear in mind that, with the slim first-round pickings at the QB position, many other teams will be eyeing Grayson as well, and a move up the draft board might do the Broncos more harm than good.

Offseason gameplan: The Broncos will have to approach free agency differently this time around, because their priority will now be focused on re-signing key players. They were wise to get Chris Harris extended, but Demaryius Thomas, Orlando Franklin, and Terrance Knighton remain top priorities. They should also extend Julius Thomas, but be careful not to overpay him. Will Montgomery and Rahim Moore are worth bringing back at the right price. Virgil Green will likely get a deal done quickly, since he won't command much money. The good news is that extending their own players will address most offseason needs, and then they can focus on the draft.

The Broncos do need to figure out what they will do with the offensive line. Ryan Clady had a down year, but if Peyton returns, letting Clady go isn't an option. He will very likely be asked to restructure his deal, though. The Broncos really do need to retain Franklin and decide whether he will play left guard or right tackle. If the former, then the Broncos can try Michael Schofield at right tackle, but make sure they find a veteran who can push him (unless they think they can get one in the draft and he can hold up as a rookie). If they move Franklin back to tackle, they can try Ben Garland at guard or find a low-price veteran, although they would definitely need to draft at that position.

And regardless of what the Broncos do with Moore, they need to address depth at the safety position. They will also need depth at the linebacker position, particularly if they do not re-sign Nate Irving. Linebacker is likely to be a focus in the draft this time around.

Meanwhile, the Broncos need to continue doing a wise job of structuring contracts to be cap friendly, so they can get out of the deals quickly if some signings don't work out as expected. Keep in mind that the deals for DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib and T.J. Ward are all, for practical purposes, deals in which they get two years worth of money and then "we'll see." Doing the same with the other players they need to extend is a wise move and will allow them flexibility for future seasons -- or as Elway puts it, ensuring the Broncos are built to "win now and in the future."

A dose of perspective: Most of all, Broncos fans need to keep in mind that most teams, and their fans, would happily trade places with Denver if it meant multiple playoff trips. Just ask yourself what it must feel like to be a fan of the Browns (who always seem to frustrate their fanbase), the Jets (who are often the butt of jokes), the Dolphins (who have been teasing the fans with possible playoff trips, but keep coming up short), the Bears (who certainly expected playoff trips and aren't getting them), the Washington franchise (which has underachieved nearly every season since Dan Snyder bought the team), and the division rival Raiders (every Broncos fan knows the story here).

I can personally guarantee that the fans of those teams mentioned are saying, "I would love to have a team that wins four division titles in a row and goes to a Super Bowl." And there are plenty of fans of other teams who would feel the same way. It may be frustrating for Broncos fans to build expectations sky high and then not see the expected results, and you always want to do better when you don't reach the Super Bowl.

But if you think it couldn't get any worse, just take a look at other teams around the NFL and you'll know that it can be worse, and that you know very well you wouldn't trade the past four seasons for multiple years of genuine frustration. Remember, you already experienced that from 2006 to 2010.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Determining Who Really Belongs in the Pro Football HOF

I will link to a post I wrote on my LiveJournal several years ago about what I believe is a better method for determining who belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Thought it was worth revisiting now that the finalists have been named for the Class of 2015.

I won't re-post everything, but will direct you to that page, while listing the questions to consider, questions that I based off Bill James' criteria for the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Here's the link to the full post. The questions I think should be considered:

1. Was the player ever regarded as the best player in football?
2. Was he regarded as the best player on his team? On his team’s offense? On his team’s defense?
3. Was he the best player at his position? Did he do anything that helped define the position?
4. Did he have an impact on a number of playoff runs?
5. Was he a good enough player that he could continue to play regularly after passing his prime?
6. Is he truly the best player in the history of football who is not in the Hall of Fame?
7. Is he truly the best player at his position who is eligible to be in the Hall of Fame but is not in?
8. Is there any evidence to suggest that the player was significantly better or worse than is suggested by his statistics?
9. How many MVP-type seasons did he have? Did he ever win an MVP award? If not, how many times was he close?
10. Did the player elevate the play of his teammates and make them better?
11. If this player were the best player on his team, would it be likely that his team could get to the playoffs and make a deep run?
12. What impact did the player have on football history? Did he change the game in any way?
13. Did the player uphold the standards of character and sportsmanship that should be considered for Hall of Fame conclusion?