Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

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» Varsity Numbers: Honing in

Bill Connelly again looks at which college football teams the F/+ ratings are sure about, and which teams remain a mystery (led by Appalachian State).

18 Apr 2011

Walkthrough: The Waiting

by Mike Tanier

Things to do while waiting for the metaphorical skies to part:

Go to a Show

The Eagles hosted a "Chalk Talk" event for season ticket holders on April 11th. I am not a season ticket holder, but I know someone who is, so I headed to the NovaCare Complex in South Philadelphia for a tour of the Eagles practice facility, a roast beef dinner, and presentations by defensive line coach Jim Washburn and safeties coach Mike Zordich.

Washburn is new to the staff after spending 14 seasons with the Titans. He said that the Eagles defensive line would attack upfield more and read-and-react less this season. I have been covering football for a decade and following it for over 30 years, and I have never heard a defensive coach say that he is going to attack less and read-and-react more. Therefore, I take statements like that with a grain of salt.

Washburn also said that the defensive ends would line up wider than they have in previous years, particularly on first down (Figure 1). I checked the Titans game tape after the event, and sure enough, the Titans did split their defensive ends wider than the Eagles on early downs. Most notably, left end Jason Babin usually lined up off the tight end's outside shoulder, whereas Eagles right ends often lined up head-up on the tight end. Babin had 12.5 sacks last season and did a fine job turning out blocking tight ends like Heath Miller in the game tape I watched, so the wide splits paid off for him.

Figure 1: Eagles defensive ends wide

Washburn also talked about some of the defensive linemen available in the Draft. He compared Nick Fairley to Trevor Pryce. He joked that Phil Taylor needs some motivation -- the term "axe handle" was used -- but noted that he would like to be the one to motivate him. (Remember, this guy got the most out of Albert Haynesworth). Washburn compared Ryan Kerrigan to Kyle Vanden Bosch and got very excited when talking about him. Everybody loves Kerrigan, which is why I stuck him in the Eagles front four above, even though Washburn didn't.

Zordich diagrammed a full Eagles defensive play from last season, Echo Titan Roll, which resulted in an interception against the Redskins. "Echo" stands for the 3-3-5 personnel grouping, "Titan" for the blitz package, and "Roll" for the coverage. As shown, Joselio Hanson (21) and Quintin Mikell (27) blitz from opposite sides of the formation. The free safety rolls his coverage to the three-receiver side. Asante Samuel (22) covers Santana Moss (89) man-to-man, though Ernie Sims (50) buzzes underneath to take away any quick slants. The Eagles get so much pressure on this third-and-6 play that Donovan McNabb does not see his slot receiver get open, and that receiver doesn't turn for the football, anyway. McNabb forces a pass to Anthony Armstrong, and Dimitri Patterson jumps the route for a 40-yard touchdown.

Figure 2: Echo Titan Roll

It was interesting to hear Zordich describe the play to laymen. Sometimes, he lapsed into heavy-duty jargon, talking about "nasty" splits by receivers (tight splits, basically). Other times, he asked if everyone knew what terms like "audible" meant. After drawing the play on the white board, he showed the All-11 game tape, clicking and rewinding the way coaches do, and the season ticket holders were fascinated. It wasn't until the 10th or 11th rewind that he pointed to the open slot receiver, drawing "ooohs" from the crowd.

The NFL needs to offer more of this kind of analysis to fans. Shows like Playbook could be much more in depth. Highlights of old games could be jazzed up with detailed explanations of the play call, the assignments, and so on. Fans do not realize how cool things like All-11 film are until they get a taste for it, and ... I'm preaching to the choir. Never mind.

Scout a Prospect

Mikel LeShoure rushed for more than 1,600 yards for Illinois last season, and I had him penciled in as a big-bodied committee back, the kind who gets picked anywhere from the late second round to the early fourth round. Charley Casserly said that LeShoure may be rising into the first round on the NFL Network the other night, so I searched my LeShoure materials for a re-evaluation.

LeShoure is a solid inside runner. He leans forward, finishes well, and usually stuffs his nose into the hole instead of bouncing outside, which is a great habit for a big guy. He waits for his blockers on off-tackle runs and squares his shoulders quickly. He moves the pile sometimes. He isn't very fast, and I saw almost nothing from him as a receiver. He can get tripped up at the line at times, which is a bad sign for a guy who is supposed to power through tackles. He doesn't have the elite leg drive out of the gates that the great inside rushers have. He gets good grades in pass protection from others.

Rashard Mendenhall attended Illinois and posted numbers eerily similar to LeShoure's. Mendenhall was a bruiser like LeShoure, though he was a little smaller, quicker, and more experienced as a receiver. The Steelers took Mendenhall 23rd overall in 2008, and it worked out well for them, but there aren't many teams who value power runners enough to make that kind of investment. The Dolphins or Giants may like LeShoure, but I don't see him going in the teens. I could see the Giants taking him in the second round. I thought of him as a mid-round guy who fit with the Ravens as a Ray Rice change-up before, but that is probably a little low.

It's a matter of style and need, not performance -- 30 years ago, a player with LeShoure's profile was a first-round pick.

Set Up Future Work

I'm scouting other prospects than LeShoure, of course. Check the Extra Points section for other articles in which I talk about players like Vincent Brown and Anthony Gaitor. And look for me on The New York Times Fifth Down blog come Draft night. I will be doing my pick-by-pick thing straight from the Big Apple. I will Tweet links because, well, you know, so look for me @FO_MTanier.

Read a Book or Two

At the turn of the century, football was an incredibly dangerous game. Some experts worked to prevent serious injuries, while others strove to cover them up and downplay them. Coaches and innovators tinkered with strategies they hoped would prevent injuries, and they did their best to stop players from committing violent fouls. But nothing short of presidential intervention could alleviate the problem or assuage public's concerns.

To clarify, I am talking about the turn of the 20th century, when on-field deaths were so common in college and high school games that prominent citizens like Harvard president Charles Eliot wanted the game outlawed and newspapers railed against the sport as one of society's evils. Football was in danger of going "underground" -- banned from college campuses and relegated to the back lots. Eventually, one of the game's biggest supporters and fans stepped in to save it. He was President Theodore Roosevelt.

John J. Miller's The Big Scrum: How Teddy Roosevelt Saved Football takes us back to an era when team captains met before major college games to discuss such basic rules as how many players could take the field at once and how many points a touchdown was worth. Despite the fact that basic rules, strategies, and scoring systems changed wildly at the end of the 19th century, the game became incredibly popular, not to mention incredibly violent. As the sport's popularity soared on Ivy League campuses, Roosevelt grew from a severely asthmatic youngster to a dedicated outdoorsman and rising political star. Football violence became impossible to ignore once the "flying wedge" formation led to a series of on-field deaths. Harvard's Eliot and his supporters wanted the game banned, while Yale's Walter Camp tried to make the sport safer by imposing new rules, like the seven-man offensive line that eliminated "wedge" tactics. Football violence reached a crisis point during Roosevelt's presidency, and Roosevelt ordered representatives of Harvard, Yale, and Princeton to establish rules to make the game safer. The results of that White House summit included the forward pass, the creation of the NCAA, and a presidential blessing that saved the sport from extinction.

Robert Lyons' On Any Given Sunday: The Life of Bert Bell picks up just about where Miller's book left off. Young DeBenneville Bell, the son of old Philadelphia money, enrolls at University of Pennsylvania in 1914 with a love of football and a chip on his shoulder. He wins a starting quarterback job as a freshman, starting a football career that would span the better part of five decades. His playing career is interrupted by a stint in World War I, but after finishing his studies (not graduating), he becomes an assistant coach for the Quakers. Bell moves from Penn to Temple, then purchases the Frankford Yellowjackets, changing their name to the Philadelphia Eagles and bringing them through the Depression. Bell's Eagles are always one step away from bankruptcy, but fellow owners George Halas and Art Rooney help Bell through the lean years. Bell develops the idea of an "amateur draft" and sells his fellow owners on it, trades franchises with Rooney, and eventually works his way up to the commissioner's office. Along the way, he woos Broadway beauty Frances Upton, promotes prizefights, and keeps company with a who's-who of colorful characters.

Baseball historians have long held the patent on using their sport as a focal point for exploring larger social issues. Miller's book puts football at the center of major social and philosophical movements of the 19th century. "Muscular Christianity," a movement that mixed spirituality with physical vigor, influenced Roosevelt, Eliot, and Camp, while providing the philosophical impetus behind the very idea of physical education for young men. Eliot, while backward in his attitudes about athletic competition, helped created the modern American university system, with its focus on research and elective studies for students. Football's popularity and violence place it in the crosshairs of Progressive politics and make it fair game for muckraking journalists. In Lyons' book, the World Wars, the Depression, and Broadway's Golden Age form a backdrop for a more personal and local story. Bell, like Roosevelt, "saved" football, but Roosevelt is a figure of international significance who fixed a broken sport as a career footnote. Bell, on the other hand, could easily have entered politics (his father was a Pennsylvania Attorney General) but risked his fortune and reputation on football instead.

There is plenty of on-field detail in both books. Miller opens with an account of a Harvard-Yale game so primitive that touchdowns do not even count on the scoreboard -- it's the extra point that really matters. He shows the sport slowly emerging, with Camp's help, from a disorganized riot with rugby-like rules into something resembling the modern game. Lyons introduces us to Bell as an Ivy League quarterback in an era when punting and fielding punts is far more important than passing. The game is a back-and-forth kicking battle, and the two-way player's ability to cleanly field a punt and run with it is a major topic of discussion. Later, Lyons provides accounts of owners giving each other $5,000 no-questions-asked loans, players volunteering to forgo their salary after bad games, and meetings over cigars and whiskey that don't require federal mediators. It's enough to make you cry.

Miller's book spends a little too much time on the early Roosevelt -- we don't really need to establish that the guy was into fitness. But Eliot comes off as a fascinating character, and stories of 19th century football "hysteria," like the never-ending quest for a safer game, remind us how little has changed in 100 years. Lyons' Bell story loses a little steam when Bell's history merges with mainstream NFL history. Once he is commissioner and the league is no longer two rainy Sundays away from bankruptcy, it feels like it's time to move on to Pete Rozelle and the next chapter. Both books take readers back to a "simpler" time that wasn't simple at all, making them fine antidotes to endless Twitter feeds of mediation speculation.

Watch Human Planet

I could never be a documentary cameraman. At one point in Sunday's episode of Human Planet (a BBC/Discovery Channel production in the Planet Earth vein) a father takes his two children on a five-day hike along the frozen Zanskar River in Northern India so they can attend a boarding school. The river slowly melts during their journey. At one point, the 11-year-old daughter must crawl along a tiny, cracking ice ledge over the rushing, freezing waters.

This would be me, as cameraman:

"Hey sweetie, you know what? I got to your little village by helicopter, and there's no reason my friends at Discovery Channel cannot swoop down here and get you and your brother to school in about an hour. Your dad and I can have some tea, then I will send him home to your mother. Heck, I can even put him up in a Best Western somewhere and make it look like he made the five-day trek with you. All you have to do is crawl about six inches onto the ledge so I can get the shot ... that's it. Look helpless and scared for the close-up. Good work. Here, have a power bar!"

With the poor girl's luck, the school she risked her life to attend just adopted the Everyday Math curriculum, making the whole trip worthless.

Human Planet also speaks to the universality of stupid fatherly advice. While his daughter clamors along the rocky walls beside the roaring Zanskar, the father offers suggestions like "Hold on tight!" In another episode, a 15-year-old Kazakhstani boy must capture a baby eagle by scaling down a cliff face and snatching it from its nest. Nearby, dad offers helpful advice like, "Don't step on the chicks!" The editors took out the part where the teenager turns to dad and says "Really? I could have sworn I was supposed to grind my boots into these baby eagles' heads and kill them both, bringing starvation upon our tribe! Thank you so much for reminding me to stay focused, because the jagged rocks 100 feet below and the angry mother eagle circling my head just weren't doing it for me."

It is good to know that fathers everywhere offer useless and obvious advice while children attempt difficult and life-changing tasks. I wonder what the Kazakh translation of "keep your eye on the ball" is? For that matter, I wonder if the translators are just lying. What the fathers might really be saying is "I wish the damn cameraman would give me a power bar."

Thumb-Wrestling with a Four-Year-Old

If football is a little scarce, you may as well make time for priceless interactions like these:

Me: (clasping his hand) One, two, three, four, I declare a Thumb War!

Mikey: (waving thumb around chaotically) DIE! DIE! DIE! DIE! DIE! DIE! DIE! DIE! DIE! DIE! DIE! DIE! DIE! DIE! DIE! DIE! DIE! DIE! DIE! DIE!

Quarterback Top Fives

It's time for another set of all-time franchise quarterback rankings! This week, the two NFC North teams we didn't get to before the NFC Championship game.

Detroit Lions

1. Bobby Layne. A great quarterback and a hell raiser. Whenever I watch Mad Men (or Bewitched), I am amazed at how boozed up everyone seemed to be all the time in my father's generation. Read about the great quarterbacks of the 1950s and early 1960s, and you will discover that they either loved the night life or that their temperance was something noteworthy. If I were a quarterback nowadays, I would be afraid to be seen holding a beer in public.

2. Greg Landry. Had a couple of good seasons in the early 1970s and then hung around Detroit forever, losing his job to Bill Munson, then getting back when Munson got hurt or slumped. Landry started his career as a swashbuckling scrambler but was an immobile mailbox for the last five or six years of his career.

3. Gary Danielson. The post-Layne Lions can be characterized as a half-century long quarterback controversy. It was always Landry and Munson, Danielson and Eric Hipple, Erik Kramer and Rodney Peete, Matthew Stafford and Drew Stanton. Like Landry, Danielson had a few good seasons, then hung around for years battling with a younger quarterback the organization liked a little better.

4. Scott Mitchell. Before I tape a segment of NFL's Top 10, I get a list of topics and questions so I can prepare my remarks. When I saw that the producers ranked Mitchell 10th among left-handed quarterbacks (with every other left-handed quarterback who ever played ranked ninth), I laughed out loud, then spent a few hours rebuilding my memories of Mitchell.

Mitchell wasn't that bad. He fit the Lions' run 'n' shoot offense very well, and he also helped the Lions reach the playoffs under Bobby Ross, who switched to a more conventional offense. He ran pretty well for a big, lumpy guy, though the stats don't bear it out. He played horribly in two postseason games, and I think that colored some people's perception of him as a gimmick passer who only put up big numbers because of the system. That turned him into a punch line, just like another passer we will meet in a few minutes.

In the end, I smiled and told the NFL Films guys that Mitchell had to be "better than the field," and they used that as a bump on the show, so it all turned out OK for me.

5. Bill Munson. The Lions drafted Landry in the first round in 1968, then traded their first-round pick in 1969 to acquire Munson, a 27-year-old backup for the Rams. Shockingly, the Lions spent the next decade switching back and forth between Landry and Munson. The team was not terrible during this era, but they were stuck on a .500 treadmill. In the early years, Munson started the season, then either got hurt or slumped, giving Landry a chance. Later, the roles reversed. The Lions were satisfied enough with the situation that they didn't draft another quarterback higher than the sixth round until Hipple in 1979. Danielson, a free agent, arrived in 1978 and appeared to solve the problem, but really perpetuated it.

Joey Harrington, Rodney Peete, and Eric Hipple were all in serious danger of making this list, which is a reason to move on if ever there was one.

Minnesota Vikings

1. Fran Tarkenton. It's ironic that Tarkenton appears to hate Favre, because he was a Favre-like character -- a scrambler and gambler who played forever, retired with most of the league's passing records, and cultivated a good ole boy persona that served him well as a spokesperson and television host. Tarkenton went 0-3 in Super Bowls, but fans and writers weren't as hung up on "winning the big one" as the absolute validator of a quarterback's existence back then, and with no blogosphere in the late 1970s, we didn't get fatigued quite so quickly by all of the "gunslinger" talk.

Tarkenton hung up his spikes when he reached roughly the point Favre reached in 2005 or 2006. He had lost his mobility and was throwing far too many interceptions, his team was in decline and grooming a replacement, and ABC television was calling. If only someone revived That's Incredible five years ago, we could have saved ourselves several seasons of false retirements.

Tarkenton has embarked on a third career as a curmudgeon-doofus. Can't imagine Favre doing that.

2. Daunte Culpepper: It's been seven years since Culpepper had a great season, and he spent so long traveling the league with a "Will Quarterback for Food" sign that it is easy to forget how good he was from 2000-05. Culpepper led some truly dysfunctional teams, sharing the huddle with Randy Moss and Onterrio Smith while taking orders from a coach who thought ticket scalping was one of his fringe benefits. Once in a while, everyone would go out on a boat and raise hell. The Vikings typically started the season 6-0 or 5-1, then faded suddenly, as if half the team had something else on its mind.

When Culpepper passed for 4,717 yards in 2004, his leading receivers were Nate Burleson and Jermaine Wiggins, because Randy Moss missed most of five games with a hamstring injury. The Vikings lost two 34-31 games that year, plus a 31-28 game, but they still made the playoffs with an 8-8 record and won a postseason game. That was a Sonny Jurgensen-type season, and the 2000 and 2003 seasons were very good. But because so many Culpepper teams finished around .500, his peak was short, and he played with some all-time great receivers, I fear his intangibles are going to get criticized. He's going to get written off as a system guy/stat compiler/choke artist. The truth is much more complicated.

3. Tommy Kramer. The Vikings of the 1970s threw more short passes and passes to backs than most other teams. Tarkenton had a lot to do with that -- he didn't have a great arm and loved to dump the ball to guys like Chuck Foreman. Even when he was in New York, Tarkenton threw dozens of passes to his backs. Kramer also threw tons of passes to guys like Foreman and Ted Brown, so his stats for seasons like 1980 (3,582 yards, 57.8 percent complete) look like early West Coast Offense figures.

Kramer took over for Tarkenton in 1979 and was stuck leading the last-gasp charge of the Purple People Eaters. Jim Marshall (at age 42) was still on the team and the secondary still included Paul Krausse (37) and Bobby Bryant (35). Kramer led the team through a long transition period in which the Vikings were always around .500 and Bud Grant tried and failed to groom his own replacement. Kramer seemed to figure it all out in 1986, then suffered a neck injury in 1987 training camp, ceding the starting job to longtime backup Wade Wilson. Like Culpepper -- heck, like a lot of these guys – he put up some amazing numbers for teams stuck forever at about 9-7.

4. Brad Johnson. Johnson, Wade Wilson, and Rich Gannon were all late-round picks the Vikings stashed on their bench for a few years, gave starting jobs with various degrees of reluctance, then sent off to have long careers elsewhere. Gannon was the best quarterback of the three, but in Minnesota he was just a sidearm-throwing scrambler who never quite wrested the job from Wilson (just as Wilson needed seven years to fully supplant Kramer). Wilson was an adequate starter during his peak but spent most of his career as a gutsy backup in various spots. Johnson joined the roster while Gannon was still active, backed up Warren Moon for a few years, and played two solid seasons before hurting his neck in Week 2 of the 1998 season. Randall Cunningham replaced him, and soon Johnson was in Tampa, where we will rejoin him in about 1,500 words.

Interestingly, after the Kramer-Wilson-Gannon "groom a passer" era, the Vikings embarked on a "grab a geezer" era, in which they lurched from Moon to Cunningham to Jim McMahon. Culpepper interrupted that trend, but when Johnson replaced him at age 37 in 2005, it was a de-facto continuation of the team's fascination with over-the-hill passers. We all know where it eventually led. Maybe Tarkenton is just mad that he never got a call.

5. Joe Kapp. One of the first Latin American quarterbacks, and probably the last player ever traded between the CFL and the NFL. He was high-strung and hard-nosed and led a power-oriented offense and took the Vikings to a Super Bowl.

Gannon or Wilson could make cases for the fifth spot, though Gannon's case is really weak if you stick strictly to the Vikings. Moon, Cunningham, and Favre can all point to signature seasons with the Vikings, as can Jeff George; the fact that all of them had similar seasons in the same time period suggests that the system had a lot to do with their success. Tarkenton played for so long that there just aren't many old-timer choices to muddy the waters.

Posted by: Mike Tanier on 18 Apr 2011

51 comments, Last at 25 Apr 2011, 11:09am by The Other Ben Johnson

Comments

1
by Michael LaRocca (not verified) :: Mon, 04/18/2011 - 11:05am

The NFL cannot lockout the Walkthrough

2
by Dean :: Mon, 04/18/2011 - 11:14am

"Tarkenton has embarked on a third career as a curmudgeon-doofus. Can't imagine Favre doing that."

I think you forgot to include "not" as the third-to-last word here.

8
by wr (not verified) :: Mon, 04/18/2011 - 12:42pm

Or it was deliberate sarcasm.

9
by JonFrum :: Mon, 04/18/2011 - 1:06pm

My first thought: Favre would never become a curmudgeon. And he's already a doofus.

3
by MilkmanDanimal :: Mon, 04/18/2011 - 11:31am

I'm not vaguely a Lions fan and I live 700 miles from Detroit and, even at that distance, I am profoundly depressed by reading your QB list. You have ruined my Monday, Tanier.

4
by Independent George :: Mon, 04/18/2011 - 11:54am

Bravo, Mr. Tanier, for mocking Everyday Math. I just hope you don't get excommunicated from your day job for it.

25
by Kevin from Philly :: Mon, 04/18/2011 - 4:22pm

Pretty sure he already quit the day job. Just as well, as NJ Governor Ralph Kramden would have taken care of that by now.

38
by Independent George :: Mon, 04/18/2011 - 9:22pm

Prime Directive territory?

5
by andrew :: Mon, 04/18/2011 - 12:01pm

What, no Spergon Wynn?

There's not much else in the back pages of Viking QBs to choose from as noted. You had George Shaw who started for one quarter before Tarkenton took over... you had the guys they thought were better than Kapp when they traded Kapp to the Patriots (Cuozzo, Lee), and you had a few other spot fill-ins like Steve Dils.

Kapp was just about everything you want in a Quarterback if throwing were somehow not part of the equation. A fiery leader, a team guy, willing to do anything for his guys, able to unite everyone and carry them on his back, able to knock over (and knock out) linebackers when running... but man, those passes sure made people wince. He still threw for seven TDs that one game versus Baltimore. But it seemed more like he was willing his guys to get to where he could put the ball rather than throwing it to them. Once he got into the contract dispute and they dealt him to the Patriots... and put him on a miserable team that he hadn't won over... he was just godawful. If he had stayed on the Vikings I think they'd at least have made one more trip to the Superbowl before Tark came back. That defense in '70 and '71 was arguably better than the '69 season, but that offense was just so punchless... especially when things got tougher in the playoffs (they lost in the first round each of those years) they missed his leadership sorely.

edit - just read up on his contract thing with the vikings, he wasn't exactly dealt, it was far more complicated than that (too mcuh to go into into here where it isn't really relevant)

10
by JonFrum :: Mon, 04/18/2011 - 1:14pm

I was a young Patriots fan when we got Joe Kapp. I think many people confused him with Al Kapp, and expected to see Li'l Abner on the field.

22
by andrew :: Mon, 04/18/2011 - 3:59pm

After reading about how he ended up with the Patriots, I would have been quite upset if I were a Patriots fan.

The short version is this: After his contract expired before the 1969 season the Vikings exercised an option on his contract to end it. The Vikings then didn't offer him a contract but played him anyway the entire 1969 season. Mind you this was a season in which he was voted the team MVP (and then turned it down) and lead the team to an NFL title and a superbowl appearance...

After finishing the season he was basically a free agent by NFL rules. However there was still this kind of unwritten rule that teams would not sign other team's players, basically the idea of a "free agent" was highly discouraged. He pursued other teams and got no takers willing to violate this system until late (September) of 1970 when the Patriots, coming off a miserable 4-10 season lead by Mike Taliaferro, who despite completing 48% of his passes with 19 TDs and 18 INTs was an AFL all-star.

The Patriots I guess desperate to improve signed Kapp to a contract that made him the NFL's highest paid player. Being signed in September didn't really give him any time to work with the team or anything.

But that wasn't all. Pete Rozelle, in what I can only imagine was a punitive mission to make sure no one ever thought about violating anyone else's rights or the idea of a free agent again.... stepped in and awarded the Vikings two first-round draft picks from the Patriots.

Then, having come into camp so late on a team that was not very good to begin with they went 2-12, throwing only 3 TDs and 17 INTs. Rozelle wasn't done yet, as he insisted that Kapp sign a standard player contract, which I guess his 4-year deal wasn't. Kapp refused to do so. In the 1971 draft the Patriots drafted Jim Plunkett, and then barred Kapp from training camp. He never played again.

Those two first round draft picks? one was in 1972, and wound up being Jeff Siemon, who played for 11 seasons with the Vikings and went to four pro bowls.

I can't really determine when the other pick was or if they kept it. The following season the Patriots did have a very early first round pick and used it to select John Hannah, who worked out pretty well for them.

23
by Aaron Brooks' Good Twin (not verified) :: Mon, 04/18/2011 - 4:07pm

And the Rozelle Rule is why the NFL lost the player's lawsuit in the late 1980s, and a large part of why they're doing it now.

39
by Jay Z (not verified) :: Mon, 04/18/2011 - 9:36pm

I have researched the free agency of that time quite a bit.

Kapp played out his option in 1969. There was nothing unusual about this at the time. The standard player's contract at the time had an option year. Kapp signed a contract for 1968 that had an option year for 1969. If a team and a player couldn't agree on a contract for the next season, the player could choose to play out his option for that season, after which he would become a free agent on May 1st. His salary for the option year was usually 90% of his last contract.

A couple of things could happen before May 1st. The player and team could come to terms, in which case the new contract replaced the 90% option year. The team could trade the free-agent-to-be to a new team, who would then be on the hook for signing the player. The Bears did this with Mike Ditka in 1967, trading him to the Eagles shortly before he was due to become a free agent. Or the player could play his option year and become a free agent on May 1st.

Once he became a free agent, he was free to negotiate with all other teams, as well as his current team. The catch being that his former team was due compensation. The "Rozelle Rule" only came into play if the two teams could not agree on compensation, which was not normally the case. The Rozelle Rule was not used in the Kapp case, because the Vikings and Patriots agreed on compensation of the Patriots 1972 #1 draft choice and John Charles.

There were definitely hoops to jump through at the time, but if a player wanted to be a free agent, he could do it. R.C. Owens, Ron Kramer, Jim Taylor, Dave Parks, and Pat Fischer had all used the system, and Marv Fleming would do the same in 1970. Kapp's problem seems to have been that he didn't really approach the idea of going to another team until August. There was a player's strike in training camp in 1970, which probably made it even more unlikely that some other team was going to go after Kapp under those circumstances. Kapp just wasn't good enough to warrant a good team ditching their existing quarterback for him.

The one player I know of who had his career hurt by playing out his option was Dick Gordon of the Bears, where Halas wouldn't agree on compensation. Gordon didn't sign with the Rams until midseason of 1972 and never got his career back on track.

42
by andrew :: Tue, 04/19/2011 - 12:08am

Wow, interesting, good to know. I know Kapp's contract was the highest in the NFL at that point, but even so he only saw one year of that. I'm not sure what it was that he wouldn't sign for the following year with the Patriots that resulted in him being locked out of training camp (after drafting Plunkett). Or if it was just his lousy seasons.

The other odd thing about him that I read was on the hoops they had to jump through to pull of that "trade" from the CFL to the NFL. It involved an NFL player who was canadian who wanted to return to Canada, and Kapp, who wanted to return to the U.S. But in order to pull it off since there was no mechanism to do so both technically had to be waived by each team and clear waivers, then be signed. So not only did the teams have to work out their exchange, they had to make sure no other team would pick them up during the waiver process which they would have had every right to do. The Saints apparently wanted the other player and took some convincing to let it slide.

45
by JonFrum :: Tue, 04/19/2011 - 2:19pm

Don't get a Patriots's fan going on Jim Plunkett. Plunkett is the classic example of "he went somewhere else and succeeded, so he must have been good all along" syndrome. As someone who watched all his games, let me correct this failure of logic. While the team wasn't very good, I watched Plunkett time and again send receivers on short routes over the middle, and throw the ball at their feet. You can argue that he was bad because he was shell-shocked, but you can't argue that he wasn't bad. With a completion percentage in the high 40s and more INTs than TDs, the guy just wasn't a good QB. Traded to San Francisco, he failed there as well. Finally, he goes to the Raiders and somehow pulls a rabbit out of his hat and wins Super Bowls. WTF? Now Patriots' fans have to hear how good Plunkett is, and it was all the Patriot's fault that he didn't win sooner. Argggh!

6
by Randy Hedberg (not verified) :: Mon, 04/18/2011 - 12:24pm

Mike, did you happen to see Mikel Leshoure in this past season's Illinois-Michigan game? Granted, Michigan played defense worse than most high schools, but Leshoure caught 27- and 25-yard TDs in that game, both on downfield throws.

Also worth mentioning for the Vikings' grab-a-geezer stage: before Culpepper ever started a game, they made a pass at 39-year-old Dan Marino, but Marino declined.
http://www.nytimes.com/2000/03/06/sports/plus-pro-football-minnesota-mar...

15
by Mike Tanier :: Mon, 04/18/2011 - 2:29pm

I did see that, plus a game against Northwestern (I think) where he almost made a game-saving catch on 4th down but was an inch out of bounds.

Most games, he's a non-factor on anything but those little checkdown bench routes, and as soon as he catches them, the defense closes and brings him down because he is real slow to make that first move upfield after the catch.

7
by Travis :: Mon, 04/18/2011 - 12:37pm

I have been covering football for a decade and following it for over 30 years, and I have never heard a defensive coach say that he is going to attack less and read-and-react more.

Not even Rod Rust?

46
by JonFrum :: Tue, 04/19/2011 - 2:20pm

More Patriots' pain. Next up, Phil Bengston.

11
by Jimmy :: Mon, 04/18/2011 - 1:18pm

Can any Lions fans help me, wasn't the OC when Mitchell was QB Tom Moore? Only that Messrs Moore and Sanders probably account for most of Mitchell's production with Herman Moore supplying the rest.

12
by justanothersteve :: Mon, 04/18/2011 - 1:53pm

When going through the 90's Lions skill positions, it's like the Sesame Street challenge of one of these is not like the others: Mitchell, Sanders, H Moore, and Morton/Perriman. The Lions offense was good despite Mitchell and Wayne Fontes, not because of them.

17
by Aaron Brooks' Good Twin (not verified) :: Mon, 04/18/2011 - 2:43pm

The early-90s Lions were basically the forerunners of the Martz Rams. They had a big-armed QB who would stand in the pocket until someone came open, a HoF running back who could flourish in a rushing-deficient system (let's face it, with the Lions offensive line, every run is functionally a draw play), and a bunch of really talented receivers. Occasionally, they had something they called a defense. (In practice, they had good linebackers, an intermittently good line, and a defensive backfield that varied from tolerable to high-school level)

On years when the defense was decent, they lost in the first round of the playoffs. In 1991, when the DBs actually didn't suck, they made the NFL Championship Game, and ran into the 17-2 Redskins.

29
by tuluse :: Mon, 04/18/2011 - 6:30pm

The Lion's line wasn't that bad most of the time.

49
by zlionsfan :: Sun, 04/24/2011 - 2:13pm

Jimmy, yes, Moore was the OC from 1994 through 1996, so he was there when Mitchell had his one really good season.

The Lions' OL was actually pretty solid before they lost Utley and Andolsek. After that, it was good enough, but even in '91, their success was limited: they made the most of their fourth-place schedule, and getting blown out by Washington and San Francisco was more reflective of their overall quality than their 12-4 record and division title were. (Even the title was questionable: had the Bills not clinched home-field and rested their players for their Week 17 battle with Detroit, they'd probably have won that game and given Chicago the division. I watched that game on TV at my girlfriend's parents' house in Naperville, and there were several people in the room who were vehemently expressing that opinion at the time.)

The playoff win over Dallas was great - hey, when you get one win every 50 years or so, it has to be, right? - but the combination of system and talent just wasn't good enough to get consistently excellent results. It was better than any other era save the '50s, but it wasn't great.

And yes, that list pretty much explains the problem. When you've had basically one great QB in your history, it's really difficult to do anything of note.

13
by justanothersteve :: Mon, 04/18/2011 - 1:56pm

The Lions have been around for about 80 years. The Vikings about 50. Yet, the Vikings 2-5 QBs are arguably better than any Lions QB besides Layne. Which has a lot to do with why the Lions have sucked for most of the last 50 years.

14
by MilkmanDanimal :: Mon, 04/18/2011 - 2:06pm

The Lions' failings are widespread enough that I'm not sure a QB matters all that much. I've been watching football for 25-30 years or so, and I started thinking about really quality Lions players that spring to mind when I think about the team. You know what came up when I thought about the Lions? In this order:

Barry Sanders, Herman Moore, Jason Hanson.

When the third player I think about in your franchise's last 25 years is a kicker, I think it's safe to say you have some pretty massive issues. I actually sat back and tried to think of an impact defender the Lions have had. I went through PFR's draft listing for about 30 years, and Robert Porcher springs up? Shaun Rogers, before he left?

16
by Chappy (not verified) :: Mon, 04/18/2011 - 2:37pm

Well, I'd throw Lomas Brown, Chris Spielman, Billy Sims and Eddie Murray (another kicker!?) in there, but I get your point. I'm a Lions fan, so I know these guys, but I think you'd be hard pressed to fill every position on an all star team from guys that have played in the last 30 years. You'd pretty much have solid running game and a great back-up kicker, but nothing else.

18
by Aaron Brooks' Good Twin (not verified) :: Mon, 04/18/2011 - 2:54pm

The last 30 years are basically the story of every constituent team:

1. Very good skill players (Multiple All-Pros might not make the cut)
1a. Very good kicking game (even if Murray was a choke artist)
2. Pretty good defensive line (All things considered, the defensive line is usually pretty good -- Shaun Rogers, Porcher, Donkey Kong, Jerry Ball, etc -- Pro Bowl to All-pro level)
3. Decent linebackers (a weakness lately, but the 90s teams had solid linebacking -- occasional Pro Bowl)
4. Functional offensive line (we miss you, Lomas)
5. Quarterbacks (The good ones were never healthy; the healthy ones were never good -- Andre Ware at least managed to be injury-prone as well)
6. Putrid DBs. Sadly, Louis Delmas might be the best Lions DB in my lifetime.

If this were the 1960s, the Lions would be juggernauts. I'm not sure anyone ever told Bill Ford about Don Coryell.

50
by zlionsfan :: Sun, 04/24/2011 - 2:23pm

Outstanding kicking game. The Lions needed only two kickers in a 31-year span. (I doubt Hanson has much left, even if he does come back at 100%.) Punting was another matter, of course. Murray's missed field goals are as much the fault of an average offense as his own. A better team wouldn't have to settle for FGs.

I've said it before here, but the death of Andolsek and the injury to Utley wrecked that line. They had really good potential, and the '90s could have been so different ...

Ware should never have held out. He needed the training camp experience. Terrible advice from his agent, even if he never would have become anything special.

The real problem has always been Ford. He's never had a clue - anything good that happened really occurred despite him rather than because of him - and if the lockout doesn't destroy the nucleus of this team, it'll be no coincidence that the Lion revival came as he stepped away to let his son take over. A man who accepts mediocrity has no reason to try for anything more: nearly every other franchise in Detroit since that time (and I mean every other one: Panthers, Shock, Drive ...) has been able to win a championship, and yet the Lions are no closer now than they were in 1958.

19
by DisplacedPackerFan :: Mon, 04/18/2011 - 2:59pm

Which is part of why I think they may have actually turned a corner. Suh is a beast and if they can hold onto him can put a name on the other side of the ball for once. Kyle Vanden Bosch still has enough seasons ahead of him to put a stamp out there too. Calvin Johnson has already made a name for himself and I would put him on that list right after Sanders and Moore. Pettigrew has a chance to be a memorable TE. They could snag Amukamara in the draft and he could turn into a top corner. I've not given up on Stafford yet, but I am hard pressed to find a QB that turned into even a serviceable starter after so many early injuries.

Anything can happen of course, but you can actually look at this team and see talent that could transcend just Detroit as far as people knowing who they are. As a Packers fan I'm starting to get worried about them because they seem to be on a path that could translate into long term success and not just a couple of fluke years.

21
by Shattenjager :: Mon, 04/18/2011 - 3:36pm

I think Phil Simms would count as a QB who turned into at least a serviceable starter (and Simms was considerably better than that, though he is decidedly below replacement level as an announcer) after early injuries.

Dan Fouts didn't have a lot of games early on, but when he played his numbers were also downright awful. I don't know if he was injury-prone and ineffective or just so ineffective that he was getting benched.

Brad Johnson had at least a couple of major injuries early in his career and became a pretty good starter.

I don't think it's very common to have success following a series of major early-career injuries like that, but there are at least a few examples.

26
by DisplacedPackerFan :: Mon, 04/18/2011 - 4:42pm

I kind of forgot about Simms, partly because I try to forget about him because of his announcing, and partly because I always thought his injuries were more mid career. It was his 4th season where he missed pretty much the whole year, and while he missed games in his first 3, they weren't all from season ending type injuries like Stafford. Johnson seemed kind of the same way. He wasn't a starter the first couple of years as a back up to Moon, and the 96 season I seem to recall the start split with Moon wasn't because of Johnson injuries.

There is Jim McMahon too, but I've never known how to classify him. He stuck around for awhile, won a Super Bowl, but never started a full season of games.

But yeah there are some more examples out there that I missed and as mentioned I haven't given up on Stafford being an above average QB, not that, as a fan of the Packers, I want him to be. :)

Of course I also don't recall NFL history as well as I think I do sometimes either. :)

30
by tuluse :: Mon, 04/18/2011 - 6:32pm

McMahon never properly did off season training to get his body ready for the regular season.

32
by Shattenjager :: Mon, 04/18/2011 - 7:08pm

Well, here's Simms' early injury history:
1979: Healthy
1980: Healthy
1981: Season ended after 10 games due to dislocated shoulder
1982: Torn knee ligament in preseason, missed entire year.
1983: At the start of the year, he was the backup. However, when he did get on the field in week 6, he dislocated his thumb and missed the rest of the season.
After that, he would also suffer season-ending injuries in 1990 and 1993.
It's true that he was healthy his first two seasons, but he did suffer season-ending injuries three straight seasons in his third, fourth, and fifth years in the league. I don't know if the two healthy seasons at the beginning are enough to say that his injury history was markedly different than Stafford's.

Brad Johnson suffered a season-ending injury in 1997 after 13 games and then broke his leg in week 2 of 1998 and didn't start again that year. (Apparently he was able to play late in the season, but Dennis Green decided to stick with Cunningham. I remembered it as a season-ending injury.) He was definitely older when he had the injuries and it's really only two injuries, so you may be right that he's simply a different case.

Jim McMahon technically won two Super Bowls--he was the backup for the 1996 Packers (which adds to that being the single most unlikeable team in the history of professional sports), but that's purely a trivia fact.
I think it's fair to say that he never really was a serviceable starter because the injuries continued. He started for the Bears 1982-1988 and averaged playing 9.4 games per season (if you take out the strike years in 1982 and 1987, he averaged 9.6 games per season). He seems to have stayed healthy after that except for missing 4 games in 1993 with the Vikings, but he also wasn't a regular starter (benched in San Diego in 1989, a backup in Philadelphia for three years who started most of one season in place of an injured Randall Cunningham, one year as a starter in Minnesota, one year as a backup in Arizona, and two years as a backup in Green Bay).

33
by tuluse :: Mon, 04/18/2011 - 7:16pm

I think it's fair to say that he never really was a serviceable starter because the injuries continued.

I have to disagree with that. Well at least for a team like those Bears who could survive losing him for some regular season games if they had him for the playoffs.

35
by Shattenjager :: Mon, 04/18/2011 - 7:20pm

That's fair to say as well.

41
by justanothersteve :: Mon, 04/18/2011 - 11:11pm

As a Packers fan, Lynn Dickey should be the first name that comes to mind.

71-Healthy
72-Broke hip. Missed season.
73-Healthy back up to Dan Pastorini
74-Healthy back up to Dan Pastorini
75-Healthy back up to Dan Pastorini
76-Separated shoulder in game 10. Missed rest of season
77-Broken leg in game 9.
78-Missed all season from previous season's broken leg.
79-Missed first half of season with rehab on leg except for a few plays. Returned full time in November after missing most of 33 games.

Not surprisingly, he got hurt in the weight room in 1985 just after the Tampa Bay "Snow Bowl" game and never played again.

20
by mrh :: Mon, 04/18/2011 - 3:24pm

The Vikings of the 1970s threw more short passes and passes to backs than most other teams.

The Vikings of the '70s threw more passes to their RBs than any team of that decade by a large margin - 1137. The Colts were 2nd with 1053; the Chiefs were 3rd with 1004. The bottom 3 in RB receptions (not including the expansion teams): OAK (615), MIA (590), PIT (574). The RBs of an average (non-expansion) franchise had 797.

For comparison, in the '00s: GB (1049), PHI (1043), and DET (1015) were the top 3. The bottom 3 were TEN (618), DEN (600), and PIT 551). The average (not including expansion HOU) was 807.

Remembering that the 70s franchises had fewer games than the 00s due to the 14-game schedule '70-'77, and that it was a much less pass-happy era, a greater share of the total catches were by RBs then than now. My guess is this was due to (1) the presence of 2 rbs on the field in most formations in the '70s; and (2) the pre-78 downfield muggings of wrs, which made throwing to the rbs more attractive then than now. Interesting that PIT is at the bottom of both eras lists, I suspect that would be true in the 80s-90s too.

24
by The Ninjalectual :: Mon, 04/18/2011 - 4:22pm

I remember watching the Vikings beat the Redskins circa 1998 and thinking, "I wish my team had a good QB like Brad Johnson!" A couple of years later, they did!

27
by Karl Cuba :: Mon, 04/18/2011 - 5:36pm

Brad Johnson's name made me think that right now the NFL should regret pulling the plug on NFL Europe. The other day I was trying to work out how many quarterbacks there were in the league that I'd be happy with in the medium term. I came up with about 16 names. That isn't really enough. Back in the final days of NFLE there were quite a few qbs that had played on the right side of the atlantic: Kurt Warner, Jake Delhomme, Brad Johnson, John Kitna. I might be forgetting a few, the NFL could really use more quality quarterback play and there just isn't a way for a back-up to get the much needed playing time to hone his craft. NFLE used to cost about $32 million to run (i.e. $1 million per team), how much would another four good quarterbacks add in value to the NFL's product on the field? They should certainly think of finding some way of developing more passers.

40
by Mr Shush :: Mon, 04/18/2011 - 10:55pm

I think I count 19 (last year's DYAR 1-15 plus Romo, Cutler, Bradford and Kolb) and 7 maybes (Stafford, Alex Smith, McNabb, Sanchez, Henne, Stanton, Young). That's 26 players across 24 franchises who at least could conceivably be a decent solution on an ongoing basis. That leaves 6-8 teams without a player on the roster who even realistically might turn into a competent starting quarterback. That's not good for anyone.

28
by Kibbles :: Mon, 04/18/2011 - 5:56pm

What is the deal with the Vikings? Last season was just their 7th losing season since 1968 (and only twice during that span have they been truly awful, finishing 5-11 or worse). They have 9 NFCCG appearances and 4 SB appearances, and their all-time winning percentage is 55.1% (point of comparison- Steelers are at 52.0%, Broncos are at 52.2%, and 49ers are at 54.7%, just to name three other historically successful franchises). Looking at their "All-time QB" list, their 10th best QB would likely earn himself a spot among most franchises' top 5 QBs. Their last two coaches are generally considered among the worst of the last decade, and yet those two gentlemen went a combined 71-68 for the Vikes. Despite all of this, if you mention the Vikings among the historically great franchises, most people will immediately scoff. Hell, before I took a closer look at their history, *I* would have scoffed. I had this impression that they somehow had a losing record as a franchise instead of what I believe stands as the 4th best franchise winning percentage (behind the Dolphins, Cowboys, and Pack). What gives? Why are the Vikings such an invisible franchise? Is it the lack of SB titles? Is it the lack of recent SB appearances?

Whatever the cause, I think they're pretty clearly the most underappreciated franchise in the league.

31
by tuluse :: Mon, 04/18/2011 - 7:07pm

I think it's 2 things.

1) No Super Bowl wins. These things do matter.

2) Outside of the Purple People eaters, they haven't had a real dominate team identity. (Well maybe you could include the Moss bomb it out years). You can't really look back and remember that the Vikings were good at. They won games, but were just kind of good not great.

They've also had a lot of off the field drama recently which obscured their on field production.

34
by Shattenjager :: Mon, 04/18/2011 - 7:17pm

I agree with your first and third points.

The second I'm not sure about. They definitely had an identity throughout the '70s with the Purple People Eaters and their short passing offense and throughout Dennis Green's tenure with the high-flying pass offense. Is that really a low percentage of the time with an identifiable identity?

36
by Theo :: Mon, 04/18/2011 - 8:32pm

Vikes had some real serious offense with Culpepper, Moss, Carter in '99 and the early '00s.
And then they had Frerotte:
MIN SFO W 35-7 16 21 76.2% 267 4 0 157.2

And yes he was also once signed by the Lions.

43
by Jerry :: Tue, 04/19/2011 - 12:37am

That Steelers record includes their awful first 39 years. If you take it from 1972, or the simpler post-1970 merger, or even since 1960 when the Vikings came into the league, their record is more impressive.

Speaking of the early Steelers, Mike has a couple of details wrong. Art Rooney sold the Steelers to a guy named Alexis Thompson in 1941, then bought half of Bert Bell's Eagles and traded franchises with Thompson. (According to Dan Rooney's autobiography, Thompson was going to move the Steelers to Boston and the Eagles would become the "Keystoners", splitting games between Pittsburgh and Philly. The other owners wouldn't go for this, though, so the franchises were traded and Rooney and Bell co-owned the Steelers until Bell became commissioner.)

37
by phillyangst :: Mon, 04/18/2011 - 9:20pm

Figure 1. 94. Ricky Sapp? First down? Starter?
OR
Figure 1. 94. Jason Babin. Signed one second after CBA ink dries. Ricky Sapp. Released.

"DVOA loves Philadelphia!"

44
by Spielman :: Tue, 04/19/2011 - 1:30pm

Scott Mitchell could have been a fine QB if he'd given a shit.

47
by Dave in Tucson (not verified) :: Tue, 04/19/2011 - 3:34pm

There's a word that's missing from your section on Culpepper: fumbles. According to pfr (link), he had 102 fumbles, one for each start with 2 left over. The dude was a fumbling machine.

48
by eagler7 :: Tue, 04/19/2011 - 4:30pm

I went to an eagles chalk talk event too recently, but it must've been a different date as OL coach Howard Mudd and Duce Staley were the coaches. They really give some great insight at these chalk talk events.

51
by The Other Ben Johnson (not verified) :: Mon, 04/25/2011 - 11:09am

That's what happens when you declare a thumb WAR.