Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

13 Feb 2008

Four Downs: AFC South

by Vince Verhei

Houston Texans

For Whom The Bell Tolls

Last March, the Texans gave the Falcons a king's ransom in draft picks for Matt Schaub, then gave a king's ransom in money ($48 million) to Schaub himself. The move was supposed to upgrade the quarterback position and stabilize it for the next five years. While the position was upgraded the moment David Carr left town, the quarterback seat in Houston is still not stable.

Schaub started the season in fine form, completing more than 70 percent of his passes in his first two games, both Houston wins. But then the team lost wide receiver Andre Johnson to injury, and Schaub immediately went into a tailspin. In his next six starts, all without Johnson, Schaub threw just two touchdowns to go with six interceptions, and the Texans lost five times until Schaub joined Johnson on the injured list.

Enter Sage Rosenfels. The former Iowa State Cyclone had attempted only 148 passes in 17 career games for the Dolphins and Texans, but he threw 240 passes in 2007. Rosenfels saw plenty of action early in the year when Schaub had trouble finishing games; there were actually four games last year in which Schaub and Rosenfels each threw at least five passes. Schaub finally went down for the count a Week 13 game against Tennessee, and Rosenfels took over from there.

When the season was done, the two had received nearly equal playing time (Schaub finished with 289 attempts to Rosenfels' 240), and it was very unclear which quarterback had played better. Each led the team in passing eight times, and the team went 4-4 with each guy as their leading passer. Schaub was 4-7 as a starter, while Rosenfels was 4-1. Their basic statistics were nearly identical: Schaub completed 66.4 percent of his passes with a passer rating of 87.2; Rosenfels completed 64.2 percent, with a rating of 84.8. The FO advanced stats say that Schaub was better on a pass-for-pass basis (Schaub had the higher VOA, 13.9% to 6.6%). However, when you account for the fact that Rosenfels faced a much tougher slate of action (of the eight games in which Rosenfels played more than Schaub, five came against teams ranked in the top five in pass defense DVOA), they say Rosenfels was the better player (21.7% DVOA to Schaub's 14.2%).

The team will go into camp with Schaub as the starter and Rosenfels the backup. Nobody is ready to declare Rosenfels to be an NFL starter based on what amounts to an eight-game hot streak. But if Schaub gets off to a slow start, the bell may indeed toll for Sage come save the day again.

Who Could Leave?

Ron Dayne led the Texans in rushing in 2007, but he is Ron Dayne and likely won't be re-signed. One of the league's top playmakers, Andre' Davis returned three kickoffs for touchdowns in 2007, and also finished third in the league with 17.7 yards per reception. His low catch rate of 55 percent is primarily a product of the deep routes he runs, but he's not a top deep threat by any means (0.2% DVOA). He's bounced around his whole career, and it is easy to see Davis lining up somewhere else next year. Jerome Mathis also returned a kickoff for a touchdown last year, but he too is a free agent. The only other impending free agent of note is linebacker Danny Clark, who started eight games in 2007. In those eight games, he notched no sacks, one stuff and one interception, so it's not like the team is losing Derrick Brooks or anything. Oh, and a total of seven defensive backs on the roster are entering free agency, but given the way the defensive backfield played in 2007, that is a good thing.

Whom Should They Sign?

(Current Cap Room: $22.9 million)

This team needs defensive backs very, very badly. If Asante Samuel, Marcus Trufant, or Nnamdi Asomugha can escape the franchise tag, they can all expect to get generous offers from the Texans. The pickings at safety for free agency are fairly slim, so look for Houston to address that position in the draft.

Indianapolis Colts

Master of Puppets

With 12 years as an NFL head coach for the Buccaneers and Colts, Tony Dungy strongly considered retirement after San Diego knocked Indianapolis out of the playoffs. He even went so far as to move his family out of Indiana and back to Tampa Bay. After further thought, consultation and prayer with his family and former players, Dungy decided he still had the competitive fire necessary to make it through another NFL season, and the door is still open for 2009 and beyond.

"This isn't a victory-lap tour for Tony," said Colts owner Jim Irsay at the press conference announcing Dungy's return. "This isn't just definitely one year or something like that."

Though Dungy showed typical humility at the press conference ("Much ado about nothing" were his exact words), by any measure, he has been one of the most successful coaches of his era. Since he first became a head coach in 1996, he has won 127 games with Tampa Bay and Indianapolis, the most in the NFL for any coach in that timeframe. For his career, he has won 62 more games than he has lost; no active coach can match that number. In his 12 seasons, he has led his team to the playoffs 10 times, and despite the unfair reputation his teams have of failing in the postseason, he's actually gone .500 in the playoffs, matching nine wins with nine losses. Like any coach, Dungy is dependent on his players to win games for him, and he has coached plenty of greats, likely half a dozen future Hall-of-Famers. They can join Dungy in Canton, where the coach is likely to find his own bust when he finally decides to retire.

Whenever Dungy finally decides to move on to the next stage in his life, the Colts will be in good hands: The team has already announced that Assistant Head Coach Jim Caldwell will be the team's next head coach. Caldwell has been with the team since being named quarterbacks coach since 2002. So the Colts' next leader will be the man who has worked most closely with Peyton Manning for the peak years of his career. That's good for the Colts, bad for the rest of the league.

Who Could Leave?

Remarkably, the Colts have four tight ends entering free agency, though only two of them -- TINO (Tight end In Name Only) Dallas Clark and Ben Utecht -- really mean anything. The team may not be able to retain both, and Clark obviously isn't going anywhere, so Utecht may end up hitting the road. Both starting guards -- Ryan Lilja and Jake Scott -- are also entering free agency. The Colts are probably smart enough to recognize the importance of continuity to an offensive line, and thus will make every effort to keep those two around. While those are the only impending free agents on the Colts roster, they may be forced to cut a few more veterans to get under the salary cap.

Whom Should They Sign?

(Current Cap Room: $8.49 million)

The Colts don't figure to be major players in free agency –- they already made their big free agent signing when they inked safety Bob Sanders to a long-term deal in December. They don't have a ton of cap room to spend, and most of what they do have will go to Clark, Lilja and Scott. If they do find a few extra dollars, they're most likely to sign an interior defender to boost the run defense –- maybe a tackle like Seattle's Chuck Darby or Carolina's Kindal Moorehead.

Jacksonville Jaguars

One

People can interpret the term "Most Valuable Player" in several different ways, and those interpretations will determine which player should receive the award. If you think the MVP was simply the guy who made the most good plays, then the award probably goes to Tom Brady or Randy Moss. If you think the award should go to the guy whose absence caused the biggest drop-off in team performance, you might vote for Albert Haynesworth. But if you want the award to go to the player who was most singularly responsible for his team's success, then the 2007 MVP award should have gone to David Garrard. Hands-down.

The Jaguars won 11 games in 2007, as many or more than four of the league's eight division winners. They defeated four teams that would go on to make the playoffs. They lost twice to the Colts though, and finished as the AFC's top wild card team. They traveled to Pittsburgh, won an (admittedly ugly) playoff game, then gave the undefeated Patriots all they could handle before finally succumbing.

Any team that accomplishes that much in a season will usually be strong in several areas and sport a few notable weaknesses. The Jaguars, however, were average or worse at almost everything. According to Football Outsiders stats, they were 19th in special teams, and were not a top 10 team in any aspect of the kicking game. Despite their reputation, the run defense was subpar, ranking 22nd overall in rush defense, 24th in Adusted Line Yards. The pass defense was above average (eighth overall, 10th in Adjusted Sack Rate), but not good enough to carry a team to 11 wins.

Which brings us to the offense. The offensive line was almost the definition of mediocre, ranking 18th in run blocking, 16th in pass protection. While the team didn't have great blocking, they did have great runners. Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew carried the team to a No. 6 ranking in rush offense, but both guys were boom-and-bust backs: Taylor was 34th in Success Rate, Jones-Drew was 28th. So when they weren't getting big plays, they were leaving the team in lots of third-and-longs.

Despite that, David Garrard ranked fifth in the league in DPAR, and second in DVOA behind Tom Brady. Of the top ten quarterbacks in DPAR, eight had the benefit of throwing to a top-12 wide receiver. The other two: Jay Cutler and Garrard, whose top wide receiver was Reggie Williams, who ranked 32nd in the league. Twenty-two teams had at least one wide receiver ranked higher than Williams; New England had three.

And it's not as if Jacksonville had elite targets in other positions. Marcedes Lewis was the 19th ranked tight end. Jones-Drew was the No. 2 running back in receiving value, but if you think his 55 targets (less than four per game) were the driving force behind the Jags' aerial assault, think again.

On a team that needed its offense to win games, David Garrard, dropping back behind a mediocre offensive line and throwing to a receiving corps that could charitably be described as subpar, finished as the second ranked passer in the league. And on top of that, he also led all quarterbacks in rushing value, despite missing four games. No player meant more to the Jaguars' success. No player meant more to ANY team's success.

Now imagine what he could do with a top-shelf receiver.

Who Could Leave?

The biggest blow to the offense would be losing guard Maurice Williams, who has missed only two games in the last five years. Backup quarterback Quinn Gray played effectively when forced into duty for Garrard last season. The Jaguars would love to keep him, but they may be outbid for his services. Ernest Wilford led the team in receptions last year. It would be a blow to lose him -- unless his spot can be filled by a true elite receiver, in which case, see ya, dude. The only defensive starter entering free agency is strong safety Sammy Knight. Knight led the team in tackles in 2007, but he's also 32. The team may opt to let him go and get younger.

Whom Should They Sign?

(Current Cap Room: $32.7 million)

The fairy tale for the Jaguars would be the signing of Randy Moss, making them the favorites in the AFC while simultaneously taking away the top team's most dangerous weapon. The Patriots will most likely slap the franchise tag on Moss and put a stop to all that. Plan B would be Chad Johnson, who has been looking to get out of Cincinnati, according to our top-secret sources. (These sources also inform us Roger Clemens may be appearing before Congress soon and the Phoenix Suns are considering a trade for Shaquille O'Neal.) Those are far and away the top wide receivers available. If they can't pull off either of those moves, the Jaguars may sign D.J. Hackett away from the Seahawks. They may also look within their own division, stealing Justin Gage from the Titans or Andre' Davis from the Texans, but those two players aren't particularly better than what the Jaguars have now. (Gage had a good 2007, but it is out of line with the rest of his career; when they were in Cleveland, Davis and Dennis Northcutt were basically interchangeable.)

Tennessee Titans

Sad But True

On the surface, the Tennessee Titans' 2007 season seems like a huge success. In just the first full season with Vince Young as quarterback, the team won 10 games in the league's toughest division and returned to the playoffs for the first time since 2003. At a casual glance, the team looks like a young and improving offense bolstered by a sturdy defense.

Upon closer inspection, though, the cracks in the team begin to show. The defense, which began the season at a historically great level, collapsed when tackle Albert Haynesworth was injured in midseason. Things picked up when Haynesworth returned, but neither he nor the team were able to return to their dominant status. When all was said and done, defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz's unit led the league in DVOA, but that speaks more to the offensive tone of the league as a whole than it does to the quality of this unit. Schwartz's blitzing schemes were tremendously effective against opposing pass attacks -– tops in the NFL, in fact –- but left the team vulnerable to long runs. The team finished 18th against the run overall, and 21st in yards allowed on long runs.

If the Tennessee defense looks beatable, the offense looks downright beaten. It's difficult to find anything the team did well outside of run blocking (ninth in the league), and even there, the team's runners weren't able to do much with the running lanes; the team ranked 23rd in big runs and finished just 14th in overall rushing.

Most distressing was the regression of Young. Young's passing DVOA dropped from 27th as a rookie to 31st as a sophomore, and even his vaunted rushing ability abandoned him. Specifically, his instincts seemed to disappear; he looked hesitant and indecisive, as if he didn't know what to do, often standing there in panic as angry pass rushers closed in. For the season, Young actually finished with negative rushing value, with more fumbles (four) than touchdowns (three).

At the end of the season, offensive coordinator Norm Chow took the fall for the struggles of Young and the offense. He was surprisingly fired , replaced with former Broncos assistant Mike Heimerdinger. It's doubtful that a switch in coaches was necessary though; the team really needs a switch in players. Worse, the players most likely to be switched include some of the best players on the team. Out of the NFL's 12 playoff teams in 2007, it's hard to find one with a bleaker future than the Tennessee Titans.

Who Could Leave?

Almost everyone of value. Let's start with the team's best player, Albert Haynesworth. If the Titans can't come to a contract agreement with Haynesworth, they'll likely assign him the franchise tag, but that short-term solution could be a long-term disaster. Haynesworth has hinted that if he is franchised, he will not sign a long-term contract and will opt for free agency in 2009. The Titans find themselves in a contractual tug-of-war with a player who before this year was best known for stepping on a helpless opponent's head. And if Haynesworth is retained, the team may not have cash to retain starting end Atwan Odom, or backup Travis LaBoy, a pass-rushing specialist. Haynesworth, Odom, and LaBoy combined for 20 sacks in 2007, and while the numbers aren't all in yet, it looks like Odom will finish near the top of the league in both QB hits and QB hurries. All three players could be elsewhere in 2008. The offense may be in worse shape. The leading wide receiver (Gage) is a free agent. The top running back, based on DPAR (Chris Brown), is also a free agent; his departure would leave the Titans only with LenDale White and his 3.7 yards per carry. Finally, guard Jacob Bell could sign with another team, and take the stability of Tennessee's only strength (offensive line) with him.

Whom Should They Sign?

(Current Cap Room: $40.9 million)

The bulk of the Titans' considerable cap room will likely go to signing their own free agents. If they do try to bring in a big name, they're likely to be pursuers for the top free agent runners, Marion Barber III or Michael Turner. If they're unable to keep their top defensive ends, they may try to upgrade the position with Jared Allen of the Chiefs. The team could also use a new tight end; Ben Utecht is probably the best available.

*All projected cap numbers courtesy of www.askthecommish.com. These numbers are "ballpark" and are subject to change. The intention is to give an approximate idea of each team's available resources before free agency and the draft begin.

Posted by: Vince Verhei on 13 Feb 2008

57 comments, Last at 18 Feb 2008, 11:55pm by Parker W.

Comments

1
by David (not verified) :: Wed, 02/13/2008 - 4:56pm

Each quarterback won four games as a starter, but Schaub lost 11 times, while Rosenfels lost only once.

Wait, does that mean the Texans played 20 games this year?

2
by pete (not verified) :: Wed, 02/13/2008 - 5:10pm

i think it means that rosenfels came in 3 times for Schaub, led the team in passing, yet the team still lost. The best example would be the crazy game vs Tennessee in week 7

3
by Bobman (not verified) :: Wed, 02/13/2008 - 5:19pm

I still don't agree with it, but love the name TINO Clark. Jeez, if he played in the NY metropolitan area, he could trade in his old name right now. "Yo, Teen-ooooo!"

4
by Jon (not verified) :: Wed, 02/13/2008 - 5:36pm

The Colts typically let their guards leave in free agency. They're one of the best in the league at realizing when to cut the cord at all positions, and likely already have quality replacements in place that the general public isn't really familiar with.

5
by Vince Verhei :: Wed, 02/13/2008 - 5:39pm

1: Sorry, it's been fixed. To clarify: Schaub started 11 games, with a record of 4-7. Rosenfels started 5 games, with a record of 4-1.

6
by Scott (not verified) :: Wed, 02/13/2008 - 5:58pm

Re: David Garrard and "On a team that needed its offense to win games"

In 9 of the Jag's 11 wins they gave up 17 pts or less. I've been studying this and typically I find any time a good QB gets a defensive effort of under 20 pts on the board, they should win almost every single time. I really don't see them as a team that needed their offense to win games. And one of the two higher scoring games they won (24-23 over Tampa Bay) saw Quinn Gray go the distance at QB. Garrard had a very good season and looks legit now, but this article is really pushing his value.

7
by thestar5 (not verified) :: Wed, 02/13/2008 - 6:07pm

I have to agree with Scott as I think you are way overstating his value here. I don't know, I wouldn't be at all surprised if he regressed next year. He's on a team where everyone plays the run, and he plays in a very conservative offense. I would guess he's only an above average quarterback, maybe around tenth best. But maybe I'm looking at it wrong. I'm guessing you seeing him keeping this performance up Vince?

8
by Confessor (not verified) :: Wed, 02/13/2008 - 6:22pm

Maybe I am not looking hard enough, but can anyone direct me to info relating to what ever happened with Marvin Harrison? He had that fumble against San Diego, then didn't return for the rest of the game even as they were driving for the win in the closing minutes. I have been unable to find anything about why he was taken out, what happened to him and what his current status/outlook is for next year...

9
by MDZ (not verified) :: Wed, 02/13/2008 - 6:25pm

From watching the Jaguars, I'd have to disagree with 6 and 7, even though they have made sensible posts. David Garrard is an excellent quarterback. He's got a pretty quick release, is accurate and has the arm strength to make any throw. David Garrard also makes very good decisions on where to throw the ball and is a valuable runner.

10
by Yaguar (not verified) :: Wed, 02/13/2008 - 6:40pm

I think the article correctly points out that the Titans are probably going to struggle next season. The Texans are a secondary and a healthy Andre Johnson away from overtaking them. (A running back wouldn't hurt, either.)

As for the two good teams in the division, I think that the Jags have been allowed to develop an astonishing wealth of talent, and nobody notices because every year the Colts manage to relegate them to 12-4 or 10-6 and second in the division. Nobody ever tries to steal good players from the Jags, so they just continually accumulate them. At this point, if they were able to take Randy Moss from the Patriots, they would probably be the better team. On another note, I think you went a little bit overboard on the Garrard love. He's a great guy and a good quarterback, but you don't have to have a gigantic section on extolling his virtues.

As for the Colts, they're going to be the same team we've always seen. Clark will be back in 2008 come hell or high water, and they'll try to keep at least one of the guards. (If I had to take my pick, it would be Lilja without a moment's hesitation.) Utecht seems to me like the sort of player that the Colts like more than other teams do, and he might not be all that interested in leaving. If he does, though, Bryan Fletcher has pretty much the same skillset, except he's not quite as tough over the middle.

In any event, it will be basically the same team as we've seen since the beginning of the Superbowl XLI playoff run: a mortal lock to win 12+ games, and solid but beatable playoff performance.

11
by lionsbob (not verified) :: Wed, 02/13/2008 - 6:43pm

Maurice Williams only missed 2 games in his career? Is this the same Maurice Williams who missed 11 games in 2002 because of a leg injury? And was probably going to not start at all in 2007 until an injury to Chris Naeole?

Asante Samuel will escape the franchise tag, because the Patriots cannot tag him.

It will be interesting if the Titans go after Barber III, he is a RFA, who is going to get a high tender, but he is definitely an impressive RB to me.

Is Corey Simon's contract still on the Colts cap?

12
by Eric J (not verified) :: Wed, 02/13/2008 - 6:44pm

Re 6/7, points allowed are not only a function of defensive play. They also depend on the field position given to the defense. In particular, an offense that rarely turns the ball over (like this year's Jags) will see its defense allow less points than it would otherwise. So, Garrard is responsible in some part for the low points allowed totals by the defense.

13
by Tom D (not verified) :: Wed, 02/13/2008 - 6:54pm

Re 9:

According to KC Joyner, Garrad wasn't making good decisions, he was just getting lucky.

14
by Karl Cuba (not verified) :: Wed, 02/13/2008 - 6:55pm

I really don't think that things are quite so bleak for the Titans. No mention of Pacman Jones either, though he probably won't be reinstated by Goodall.

15
by Yaguar (not verified) :: Wed, 02/13/2008 - 7:10pm

13: I'm always under that suspicion as well. Remember that "mistake-free" Jake Plummer from 2005?

When a quarterback throws interceptions at lower than his usual rate for a little while, it's highly likely that he's just getting lucky.

16
by Vince Verhei :: Wed, 02/13/2008 - 7:13pm

Maurice Williams only missed 2 games in his career? Is this the same Maurice Williams who missed 11 games in 2002 because of a leg injury?

Gah. On his ESPN page, under "Games," there's just a column of 16s, with a 14 last year. I didn't realize until now that 2002 is missing entirely from that list.

His NFL.com page lists his with, as you noted, 5 games in 2002. Story's been fixed.

17
by Carlos (not verified) :: Wed, 02/13/2008 - 7:43pm

super article. glad to have some offseason readin'.

The Colts are probably smart enough to recognize the importance of continuity to an offensive line, and thus will make every effort to keep those two around.

I'd say the over/under is 1.5 on whether they'll both be resigned by the colts, and I'll take the under.

we've seen an absolute explosion in OL (includig guard) free agent pay, and I just don't see how the colts can afford to resign both, in addition to Clark.

Yes, teams can seemingly always find room w/ the cap, and yes, they may take a discount to stay w/ Peyton and have a shot of going to the SB every year, but there are so many teams out there so much farther below the cap that I think at least one will bolt for (pun intended) greener pastures.

That said, I don't follow the colts particularly closely, so I'm just guessing from afar.

18
by Scott (not verified) :: Wed, 02/13/2008 - 7:47pm

Indy's right side has always seemed to be pretty weak, so I'm guessing they'll let Jake Scott go with little concern. They can always draft a guard in the 3rd/5th rounds.

19
by Carlos (not verified) :: Wed, 02/13/2008 - 7:53pm

Re Garrard.

At the risk of repeating what I've posted previously, I think his 2007 was a fluke, produced mostly by "INT luck."

I want to see KC Joyner's #s for how many bad passes Garrard threw.

Garrard's a good QB, don't get me wrong, but he is certainly not the 2d best QB in the league (as DVOA had him in '07) or even the 5th best (per DPAR). I suspect 2008 will bear that out.

No player meant more to ANY team’s success

Peyton, Brady, Peterson, Roethlisberger, Westbrook and some others might beg to differ.

20
by Parker W. (not verified) :: Wed, 02/13/2008 - 8:07pm

Why is it that every year non-Titans fans determine a new player to be the best on the team? Bulluck, Pacman, Haynesworth.... The fact is each year people finally heard about these guys and gave them some recognition. I'm calling it now, next January everyone will declare Michael Griffin the "Best Titan" and act as though the guy came out of nowhere.

Also, the Titans would ge sorely mistaken to give Haynesworth his contract now. Franchise him and make him earn it another year. He is the personification of the type of guy you do that sort of thing to. First round pick. Always had "amazing potential". Called lazy. Then in a contract year he becomes arguably the best DT in the NFL, at least for one year. And if you watch, he was still lazy late in games this year (see: Chargers 4th quarter drive, week 14).

Our site is one initially inspired by the theories outlined in "Moneyball". The book shed light on a very common mistake: the best way to judge future performance is not by looking at the last performance. It is best to look at a player's accomplishments throughout their career to determine what kind of player they really are and thus how they are likely to perform "next" time.

Fat Albert is not just a funny nickname.

21
by Purds (not verified) :: Wed, 02/13/2008 - 8:11pm

I have a question about the Jags prying Moss away from New England: Can Jacksonville create a poison-pill contract for Moss, as New England created initially a poison-pill offer for Welker last year, in effect forcing New England to let him go? I don't really understand the poison-pill thing, but I was wondering.

As to the others, the Colts should let Jake Scott go if he asks for anything over a modest raise. He's not that good. I have never been impressed with the Colts' stable of tight ends, other than TINO!, and so I really don't care if they let them all go -- any time they catch a pass, I hold my breath until they hit the ground; I always expect them to fumble.

22
by DZ (not verified) :: Wed, 02/13/2008 - 8:15pm

With three good young DTs on the roster, there is no way the Colts go after another. They are clearly thin at DE. Charlie Johnson, who was awful at both LT and RT, will probably be a starter at guard (where he's is solid) next year. The Colts just don't resign guards, linebackers or corners.

23
by Carlos (not verified) :: Wed, 02/13/2008 - 8:17pm

It’s doubtful that a switch in coaches was necessary though; the team really needs a switch in players

Assuming you mean getting rid of Vince Young. Don't you think it's a little early to write the guy off?

Out of the NFL’s 12 playoff teams in 2007, it’s hard to find one with a bleaker future than the Tennessee Titans.

Why so bleak relative to the competition? They have tons of cap room to resign their guys, they're getting their best player PacMan Jones back next year, they managed to keep their defensive coordinator and didn't have worse than average and certainly not the worst overall coaching changes, their roster is slighter younger than the median for 2007 playoff teams (I'd love to see average starter age, but couldn't find it online, only found roster age).

Is their future really more bleak than Washington's (ridiculous coaching situation, playing in just as tough a division as Tenn)? Or Tampa's (no QB, only one "skill position" player who can be expected to be above average in '08, still a lot of geezers on D)?

24
by Bobman (not verified) :: Wed, 02/13/2008 - 8:18pm

19 Yup, agreed. Having been under the impression that P Manning was a "Career 10-INT" guy over the past few years (since he put together a string of 3 seasons like that), and having that impression blown up this year due to OL and WR injuries (egads! Peyton is human!), I am wondering about OL and WR stability in Jax.

Not so much that those position players on the Jags are great, but so long as Garrard knows what to expect and isn't playing from a supine position, it's easier to avoid INTs. Take away his LT or primary receiver, and see what happens....

Actually, the Jags are the anti-Colts in so many ways and have been here for some time. They always seem to have super high FO ratings, but never quite get over the hump (i.e. under-perform their pythag projection) while the Colts are the opposite. They used to be all-D all-the-time when the Colts were the opposite; now the tide is turning. Used to be run the ball/stop the run team, etc. It's great having a tough division rival like it used to be for a few years with Tenn--even better if their QB is not the liability most other AFCS QBs have been since McNair (and Eddie George) got old. But I don't see Garrard in the same class as Peyton, Brady, and Ben in the AFC. Reminds me of Derek Anderson; I'd put them both in with Rivers and Cutler--could be the next big thing, but maybe not. Let's give them another full year in the spotlight before we crown their asses (to paraphrase Denny G).

25
by Bobman (not verified) :: Wed, 02/13/2008 - 8:42pm

DZ speaks the truth about Colts DTs. Unless they want an inside-pressure pass rush specialist, as the Giants showed how useful that can be against a QB with downfield threats. They need depth at the Sprinter/DE slot.

Purds, a crude poison pill is created like this for a restricted FA: Team A offers a RFA a contract that includes something outlandish, like he'll be the highest paid player on the team or the DL or whatever, or he mill get X dollars but will earn 50% of his salary in the state of Minnesota (I think that's what Minn used against Seattle a couple eyars back) which the home team just cannot match for whatever reason. It's not the dollars, it's the surrounding circumstances that the home team cannot match without really f-ing up their roster/chemistry/cap structure. In my understanding, at least.

26
by Carlos (not verified) :: Wed, 02/13/2008 - 9:08pm

24 - interesting but I was going after an even simpler notion of INT Luck -- lousy throws that in the aggregate should have resulted in a higher INT total. Granted I saw (IIRC) only 3 Jags regular season games w/ Garrard (plus 1 w/ Gray!), but in each of those games I recall thinking Garrard was lucky to avoid a couple of picks.

I think my favorite thing about Garrard, aside from his awesome 3rd and 4th down scrambles at the end of the year, was his interview prior to the Pats playoff game when he said the key to his amazing INT total was luck! 90% chance that was just Bull Durham-esque false modesty, but I like the 10% chance that it was an honest assessment.

Maybe he's read Fooled By Randomness?

27
by dedkrikit (not verified) :: Wed, 02/13/2008 - 9:11pm

love me some 'tallica.

28
by MJK (not verified) :: Wed, 02/13/2008 - 9:21pm

Purds,

As to whether the Jags could "poison pill" Moss away from the Pats, yes, it's possible, but improbable, because "Poison Pilling" is easy to prevent if you fear it might be used against you.

Note that the following applies to any unrestricted free agent, not just Moss.

Currently, Moss is an unrestricted free agent. If the Pats don't tag him, they don't own him and a poison pill is not necessary.

If the Pats tag him as an "Exclusive Franchise Player", he is not free to negotiate with other teams, and he can't be "Poison Pilled". (The cost is offering the average of the top 5 salaries of players at his position (WR) as of April 15 (or so...) of THIS year).

If they tag him as a "Non-Exclusive Franchise Player", he can talk to other clubs, but if he does and gets an offer, the Pats can match and keep him. Here is where he could be "Poison Pilled" away (if they offer a contract that the Pats could not match, like guaranteeing $50 Million if he plays more than four games in a year in Massachusetts), but then the Pats get two first round draft picks. This makes poison pilling unlikely. (The cost of this tag is offering the average of the top five salaries LAST year).

Or he could be tagged as a "transition player", meaning that the Pats get a chance to match any offer, but get nothing in return if they choose not to match. (The cost of this tag is offering the average of the top ten salaries LAST year). In this case, poison pilling is quite likely.

Note that the player has to accept the offer before the poison pill comes into effect...if Moss wanted to stay in New England regardless, he doesn't have to sign the poison pill offer, and then the Pats do not have to match.

So a team can make poison pilling very unlikely by using the franchise tag instead of the transition tag (because successfull poison pilling then costs two first round picks), for the marginal cost increase of the average of the top ten salaries to the top five of last year. Or it can make poison pilling impossible for the marginal cost increase of the average of the top five salaries last year to this year.

Welker was a completely different case because he was a restricted free agent. Unlike UFA's, RFA's can be tendered at much lower levels for much cheaper, which Welker was. Because Miami put such a low tender on him, trying to save something like $500 k of salary or maybe even less, he was poison pillable, and succeeding would have only cost New England a 2nd rounder.

29
by MJK (not verified) :: Wed, 02/13/2008 - 9:24pm

Sorry, the point of that very long explanation was that, as long as you're not cheap, you can prevent someone from poison pilling you. Welker was subject to poison pilling because Miami was cheap.

Preventing an UFA from being poison pilled is expensive, but no all that much more expensive that using the franchise tag in the first place. So if you fear the poison pill, just don't be cheap, and use the exclusive franchise tag, or at least the non-exclusive tag so you get two first rounders if someone does poison pill you.

30
by jbrown (not verified) :: Wed, 02/13/2008 - 10:19pm

On the Texans QB situation-

One thing that gets overlooked when comparing the two QB's is that Sage had quite a bit more time with a healthy Andre Johnson, and a fairly productive/lucky Andre Davis. Schaub basically got the first 2 games with AJ before he got hurt (along with Ahman Green). From that point on he had an ugly mess of Kevin Walter and Jacoby Jones to throw to, plus the occasional fumble/interception due to Owen Daniels. They really didn't start playing Andre Davis more until closer to midseason when Jacoby Jones got a little hurt and wasn't very productive. By the time Andre Johnson came back, Schaub got one game with him before getting hurt himself. Sage started the rest of the games from then on and had a very healthy AJ.

Normally I wouldn't put so much weight on one player impacting the QB's stats, but until the very end AJ had more YPG than anyone in the league including Moss. Having someone that productive could only help boost your stats.

Aside from that, I don't think too many serious people here in Houston see it as that much of a QB controversy. Sage has had years to prove himself and hasn't, and at 27 there isn't likely to be a lot of growth. On the other hand, this was Schaub's first year as a starter and he took some nasty hits (including the cheapest shot of the year by Drayton Florence, please watch if you haven't seen already), so you would expect him to still have plenty of growth potential.

31
by Duff Soviet Union (not verified) :: Wed, 02/13/2008 - 10:40pm

I agree with Carlos and others that Garrard is going to regress next year due to an inability to keep up a near historically low int rate and will prove himself to be about average next year. With that said, he really did have a hell of a year this year without a lot of weapons at his disposal. I also agree that Tennessee doesn't have a bleaker future than Washington or Tampa Bay.

"and while the numbers aren’t all in yet, it looks like Odom will finish near the top of the league in both QB hits and QB hurries." Didn't Odom's play drop off markedly when Phat Albert wasn't around? Was it Aaron who referred to the phenomenon of the D-Line player who puts up great numbers because one of his teammates is the focus of the offenses gameplan as the "Antwan Odom effect" (I always thought it was the "Clyde Simmons effect")?

32
by Purds (not verified) :: Wed, 02/13/2008 - 11:18pm

MKJ, Bobman:

Thanks for the explanations. I'll ask more about what NE plans to do with Moss (or anyone else they'd like to tag) when the AFC East article comes out.

As for Gerrard, I think one impressive thing about him is how humble he is. Now, I know that doesn't usually mean squat on the field, and it's not like he won a Super Bowl, but he may be a Brady-type in that as he grows into the position, he'll keep working hard because of his humility. I don't get that impression from some QB's (and other players) who have early success.

33
by Tom D (not verified) :: Thu, 02/14/2008 - 12:39am

Another thing to consider is that a lot of GMs don't believe in using poison pills. I know Jerry Angelo stated that he won't use them. Also, the Seattle GM seemed very upset about what the Vikings did, and it seems like he will only use them in retaliation. I don't know much about the Jaguars GM, but there is a chance he won't use poison pills.

34
by Purds (not verified) :: Thu, 02/14/2008 - 12:43am

Tom D:

That's a good point, and while NE didn't do it to Jax (or technically Miami as they ended up doing a trade), I wonder if anyone would worry about the morality of doing it to NE (or any team that's used the strategy inn the past). I can understand trying to limit the use, but if a team's done it, I would guess they expect it is just business, nothing personal...

35
by langsty (not verified) :: Thu, 02/14/2008 - 12:52am

Good article. Can I just say that I sorta prefer FO during the offseason, when the discussions around here become a lot less shrill? Great to see Four Downs again, at any rate.

It's tough not to root for Garrard after coming out of left field like he did this year, and I hope he can continue to play at a high level. He's a good example of a how a not-overly-gifted football player with plenty of smarts can help you win; he didn't have a lot to work with in terms of receivers (to say the least), but at the same time the Jags did a very good job at maximizing what they did have by giving him more manageable situations to work with. I think Jacksonville's run-blocking is a bit better than the metrics indicate, and from what I can tell they were (succesfully) running against 8-man fronts all year. They're not very good in pass-pro and honestly I'm not sure they could become an explosive passing team even with the addition of a Chad Johnson* type player.

*additionally, I think it might be a little bit misleading to list CJ among the "top wide receivers available" this offseason. IIRC the Bengals retain his very large cap hit this upcoming year even if they trade him, which gives them very little incentive to trade one of their all-around best players, esp considering they probably won't get very good value for him.

36
by lobolafcadio (not verified) :: Thu, 02/14/2008 - 6:43am

Not a word about the most urgent need in Jax : a true pass-rusher ?

And the jags resigned Greg Jones.

And I agree Garrard was lucky this year with his low number of interceptions, but lucky doesn't mean not good. And it's quite good to be lucky sometime, just ask Eli and David...

37
by Theo, Holland (not verified) :: Thu, 02/14/2008 - 8:02am

The Texans need a St Anger in the backfield who can Ride the Lightning to Kill em All.

38
by Jimmy (not verified) :: Thu, 02/14/2008 - 11:53am

The situation with Moss and the Patriots is a little more complicated than normal. Moss signed with the Pats following the draft day trade at the end of April. League rules state that he can't sign a new deal with them until one year has expired, that doesn't mean they can't come to a verbal agreement with them. They will probably have conducted verbal negotiations already.

Moss' agent will already know what he could get from other teams and the Pats will be very aware of this. The question comes down to whether it is any use putting the franchise tag on him. A pissed off Randy is no good, he just wouldn't play properly. I suspect that if the Pats tried to tag and trade him that wouldn't go down too well with Moss either as he would see it as diminishing his value. It may also be that the Pats agreed not to tag him, having agreed to a reduced salary last year in order to demonstrate his value to a team I can't see him being happy to miss free agency this year.

Moss didn't agree to play for less last year because he wanted to win or because he wasnted to play with Brady, he wanted to put up big numbers so he could cash in one last time. He put up the numbers and wants his due, the question is whether the Pats have already agreed to give it to him.

39
by dryheat (not verified) :: Thu, 02/14/2008 - 11:58am

Dammit...I has hoping for a Hemingway-themed Four Downs....

Another thing to consider is that a lot of GMs don’t believe in using poison pills. I know Jerry Angelo stated that he won’t use them. Also, the Seattle GM seemed very upset about what the Vikings did, and it seems like he will only use them in retaliation. I don’t know much about the Jaguars GM, but there is a chance he won’t use poison pills.

While this is true, Florio has been driving the bus that failure to use "poison pills" until such a time as they're outlawed is tantamount to collusion. While I don't agree it is (and he's the lawyer, not me), Upshaw might take that ball and run with it this Spring.

40
by Tom D (not verified) :: Thu, 02/14/2008 - 2:05pm

I don't see why the players would want poison pills, it doesn't get them more money, it just makes it harder for other teams to resign him.

41
by Ben (not verified) :: Thu, 02/14/2008 - 3:19pm

re: 25 I think upgrading the pass rush is certainly something Polian wants to do. He mentioned it on his radio show as a big problem in the San Diego loss, and specifically contrasted it to the Giants that week. I can imagine that the Super Bowl only added to that conviction.

Certainly getting Freeney back will help, but while Johnson played fairly well at the point of attack at DT, and some of the other young DTs were solid rotation guys, the Colts still don't really have that disruptive, penetrating DT yet. I think they hoped that Brock would be that guy when they converted him from DE, but that hasn't really panned out. I don't think the Colts have the money to go find one though, and those kinds of DTs usually don't drop very far in the draft, so I'm not sure how Polian is going to be able to improve the pass rush.

42
by NewsToTom (not verified) :: Thu, 02/14/2008 - 3:21pm

Re #23
Have you seen the non-VY skill position players? LenDale White is almost as good as Ron Dayne, Chris Brown's career is basically over, Chris Henry still looks like his only skill is running forward, Bo Scaife is a bad TE, Ben Troupe's a UFA and didn't do much, Ben Hartsock's a useful blocker but not a threat, Justin Gage and Eric Moulds are UFA, who knows if David Givens will do be able to do anything next year, and I could go on. There's not a single guy at RB, WR, or TE you could reasonably peg as being likely to be above average next year.

Plus, the OL is potentially in even worse shape than Vince says. LG Jacob Bell will get more money from another team, RG Benji Olson will probably retire, C Kevin Mawae has started to slip and backup Amano was probably better but will have to play OG. At least LT Michael Roos is under contract for next year and RT David Stewart is an RFA so they'll have an opportunity to match.

Then again, I said they'd go 6-10 in 07 and they went 10-6, so who knows. I have a lot easier time constructing doomsday scenarios than great ones, though.

43
by Carlos (not verified) :: Thu, 02/14/2008 - 3:42pm

I don’t see why the players would want poison pills, it doesn’t get them more money,

Well, you're probably wrong in that second clause.

Presumably the "poison pill" offer is at a higher amount than current competing offers. The value proposition/pitch to the player is perhaps something like:

"We think the best offer you've got today is $10MM. We really want you, but we don't want to be tied up in a drawn out process with you, only to lose you to another team or only to have your current team match, because then we'll have lost you and probably our second choice player as well. So we'll offer you $11MM right now on the condition that you let us include the poison pill, b/c that eliminates the risk that your current team will match and on the 2d condition that you sign within __ days. We really want you, but we've got to move quickly to build the roster we want going in to next year."

44
by Tom D (not verified) :: Thu, 02/14/2008 - 3:52pm

I don't know. If poison pills weren't allowed, then the team might offer 12 or 13 million to convince him to sign quickly. I mean training camp doesn't start until months after free agency starts, the only urgency is competition from other teams which should drive up the contract, not lower it.

45
by Carlos (not verified) :: Thu, 02/14/2008 - 3:58pm

42: I don't really understand your point.

Are you saying that Titans stink on offense? How does that relate to Vince's argument that they face a "bleaker" offseason than any other playoff team, primarily because they are committed to a terrible QB and have too many free agents. I was arguing that there are at least two other teams whose future is probably equally or more bleak: Washington's because of their coaching mess and TB because of their roster mess. Vince is making a comparative argument, so simply asserting the challenges the Titans face is not sufficient to prove the point.

You seem to be arguing a different point, which might be paraphrased as: the Titans were worse than any other playoff team. Perhaps, at least one metric (DVOA) says WAS and NYG were worse.

We might have some fun looking at two year DVOA rankings. I wonder if there's any predictive value? Let's agree to agree that the top 6 playoff teams last year were truly outstanding and are likely to be again next year: NE, IND, DAL, JAC, GB and SD (that's not to say they will all make the playoffs, just that they looked last year and look to be well positioned going in to next year).

How about the other six? What are their 2 year DVOA rankings?

Team, 2007 DVOA rank, 2006 rank
TB, 7, 31
PIT, 8, 12
SEA, 9, 25
TEN, 10, 24
WAS, 12, 23
NYG, 16, 8

The 4 volatile teams are TB, TEN, SEA and WAS. Seattle gets to continue to play in the minor league west, so things can't look bleak for them. The NYG peaked in time to win the SB, with Eli apparently putting it all together and a number of young players stepping up, so things aren't bleak for them.

That leaves TB, TEN and WAS as three teams that came out of terrible 2006s to make the playoffs in 2007. And going in to 2008, all three have some big question marks. So, again, in the comparative evaluation of who has the bleakest future, I think you need to make the comparative case about TEN's vs. TB's vs. WAS's.

46
by Carlos (not verified) :: Thu, 02/14/2008 - 4:00pm

If poison pills weren’t allowed, then the team might offer 12 or 13 million to convince him to sign quickly.

You're completely losing me. No one is FORCING a player to sign a contract with a poison pill. It's negotiated. REDUCING the degrees of contractual freedom available to a player is unlikely to INCREASE his market value.

47
by dryheat (not verified) :: Thu, 02/14/2008 - 5:19pm

Yeah....I don't see any way Adam Jones is a Titan next year...even if he's re-instated by Goodell. Fisher doesn't want him back.

48
by Todd S. (not verified) :: Thu, 02/14/2008 - 5:37pm

I just want to point out something about Garrard and QB play in general. While surely all of the regular FO readers already know this, let's keep in mind that even if Garrard regresses to average QB play, he'll be valuable. There are probably at least 8 teams in the NFL that would love to get average QB play (Bears fans say, "Hello!").

49
by stravinsky (not verified) :: Thu, 02/14/2008 - 6:23pm

48: Good point. Matt Schaub may not be in the same class as Manning/Brady but after 5 years of the David Carr Soulja-Boy Dance Show he was a huge improvement.

50
by bowman (not verified) :: Thu, 02/14/2008 - 6:29pm

47.

As a Jaguar fan, I also don't want Adam Jones back with the Titans.

The Jaguars need far more help with their D than their O. DE, DT, and safety are larger concerns than WR. However, the best free agencts left will likely be WRs.

If the Jags can't get a DL, than I'm hoping they snag a corner and move one of their current corners out to safety.

Finally, Garrard was lucky more than once last year. However, I hope those people who think his great season occured because he faced 8-9 man fronts are not the same people who argued that Maroney's value was not inflated due to the Patriot's historic passing game.

51
by Carlos (not verified) :: Thu, 02/14/2008 - 8:09pm

to all those arguing Garrard is good, hey, read the comments b/c there's no one on the other side of that argument.

52
by NewsToTom (not verified) :: Thu, 02/14/2008 - 9:09pm

Re #45
I was trying to address the first half of your comment in #23, which was in reaction to Vince's comment that improvement from the Titans on offense would come from getting better players, not Mike Heimerdinger replacing Norm Chow as OC.

As to which playoff team from 07 faces the biggest questions, I'm not trying to dispute that both TB and WAS face probably bigger problems than TEN. TEN has a whole boatload of cap room and a lot of needs for a playoff team, both in terms of keeping together strengths and in fixing weaknesses. If they use that money wisely, then they should be back in the playoffs. If not, then it's probably another long season.

53
by Carlos (not verified) :: Thu, 02/14/2008 - 9:43pm

52: Oh, duh, now I get it!

Right, I agree with you that the O needs better players. I honestly couldn't figure out if Vince meant just switching out Vince Young or (as you're saying) many more players than that.

54
by Herm? (not verified) :: Fri, 02/15/2008 - 12:51pm

20
I'm not so sure we'll be ready to declare for Michael Griffin. I'll defer to a Titan's fan's opinion, but I watched a lot of Titans this year, and when Haynesworth and Vanden Bosch were in the games lined up next to each other, there was a lot of medieval pinball whoopins going on, with giants knocking little people around. They controlled the line of scrimmage at will.
...It would be sad if "contract year" applies to Haynesworth.
(off topic:I don't recall Moneyball covering the "contract year" phenomenon...I mostly remember the Billy Beane mini-biography and the mini-history of Bill James' publications and the numbers he covered)

55
by Mr Shush (not verified) :: Sat, 02/16/2008 - 11:55pm

As I've said elsewhere, I watched most of the Texans' games this season and my subjective opinion is that Schaub is better than Rosenfels. In particular, he is considerably more accurate, and does a much better job of hitting receivers in stride. Unfortunately, he appears to be fragile, and while his pocket awareness is light-years ahead of Carr's, it is not as good as Rosenfels'. FO's numbers for Rosenfels also need a bit of an asterisk: 28 of his 240 passes (12%) came during or after the final drive of the third quarter against the Titans in week 7. That is not an arbitrarily chosen cut-off point; it is the stage of the game at which the Titans switched to prevent. DVOA sees a game's worth of passes at fantastic efficiency against the league's best pass defense, when the reality was very different. I'd be interested to know what Rosenfels' DVOA would be with those plays removed.

And jbrown is right to point out that Rosenfels benefited from a superior supporting cast, on average, to Schaub, particularly in regards to Andre Johnson, who I submit is the second best receiver in football when healthy. If you think that sounds ludicrous, try pro-rating his stats (traditional and advanced) from last year to a full season. He would have an all-time top 5 receiving DPAR.

At corner, Bennett had a nice rookie season, especially for a fourth rounder, and he and Robinson are already the best CB pairing the team has had since Glenn left (which is not saying much). Unfortunately, nickel back is not a pretty situation, and Robinson may well not be healthy for the start of the upcoming season. As for free safety . . .

I'd like to see the team make a run at Madieu Williams in free agency.

As for running back, don't expect to see a major addition. Green will return (though it's clear he should never have been signed) and Dayne may too - he's been reasonably effective when healthy. The third (and conceivably fourth) spots will be contested by Chris Taylor, Darius Walker, and possibly a late round or undrafted rookie. Taylor and Walker have both impressed in limited regular season action, but Taylor is returning from a year on IR and has a fumbling problem which will need fixing, and Walker may be (or be seen as) too small to carry the load. Personally, I'd like to see him get a crack at the starting job, but it won't happen.

A further key issue is the status of 2006 3rd round pick Charles Spencer, who started two games as a rookie and looked very good but then suffered a horrific broken leg and has not played since. If he is able to make a full recovery, he could well be a long term solution at left tackle. If not, it's possible that the man drafted one pick later, Eric Winston, will slide across. Winston was the team's best lineman last year at RT, but he may not have the quickness to man the blind side.

56
by iapetus (not verified) :: Mon, 02/18/2008 - 12:57pm

36/50: I'm glad someone finally got round to saying it. DE is the single biggest need for the Jaguars, and WR is a long way down there.

Not that I wouldn't like to see an improvement there, obviously. But it's a secondary requirement. Should be interesting to see whether Mike Walker lives up to expectations after a year on IR, too.

57
by Parker W. (not verified) :: Mon, 02/18/2008 - 11:55pm

54 (Herm?)
The idea I posed (poached?) from Moneyball was not covered in the book in regards to contract years. It was just the assertion that a player's future production should not be projected based on his most recent accomplishments (probably a bad word) but the patterns he has demonstrated throughout a career.

Like Steve Beurlein after the '99 season. He'd proven his entire career to be a solid, valuable backup. Then in '99 he throws for 36 TDs. If he were a free agent after that season, how should you value him on the market? Career backup or Pro Bowl QB?