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Two NFC teams were hit hardest by injuries last year. One already set the AGL record in 2016, while the other has a coach with the worst AGL since 2002. Also: the Rams' incredible bill of health in L.A., and Tampa Bay's questionable injury reporting.

20 Feb 2006

Four Downs: AFC West

by Mike Tanier

Denver Broncos

A Heimerdinger Plummer Jamboree

Gary Kubiak worked for the Broncos in some capacity (backup quarterback, Elway's golf caddie, offensive coordinator) for over 20 years. He and Mike Shanahan grew to be pretty tight. When one of them belched, the other thought it was Coltrane. So it made sense that when Kubiak finally struck out on his own, Shanahan would hire another good buddy to replace him: Mike Heimerdinger, who roomed with Shanahan in college.

Technically, Rick Dennison is replacing Kubiak as offensive coordinator; Heimerdinger will be the assistant head coach. It's not clear what the exact separation of duties will be, but rest assured that Heimerdinger will be Shanahan's chief advisor and top confidante.

Heimerdinger gets a mulligan for last year's debacle in New York. His Titans offenses usually finished in the top 10 in the NFL in our advanced DVOA metric while he was with Tennessee. (That's Defense-adjusted Value Over Average, explained here.) He favored multi-receiver sets and timing routes to receivers and tight ends. Jake Plummer has the arm and mobility to execute such a system, but look for Heimerdinger to introduce wrinkles, not whole concepts, to the Broncos system. A receivers coach for the Broncos during their mid-1990's Super Bowl run, Heimerdinger was hired to provide stability, not change.

One player who is happy to see Heimerdinger return is WR Rod Smith. Smith got a chance to work with his former position coach at the Pro Bowl. "It's good to have (Heimerdinger) back in the locker room," Smith said. "I know his role was always to stay on me and make sure I kept my level of play up, and I'm glad to have that."

Of course, if the rumors about a certain receiver are true, Smith has another reason to stay on his toes.

Too good T.O. be true

To shed almost no light on the Terrell Owens story, Four Downs has enlisted the help of sometime contributors Captain Obvious and his sidekick Blatant Boy.

Captain Obvious: The Broncos and Chiefs are the frontrunners in the T.O. sweepstakes. The team that signs him will get an incredibly talented receiver. But he comes with a lot of baggage.

Blatant Boy: Holy understatements, Captain! That was so painfully obvious that I think my front teeth just abscessed.

CO: That's why I'm the captain, little chum. But Four Downs readers want more information. This isn't like every other column on the internet.

BB: Well, Cap, we can point out that both Herm Edwards and Mike Shanahan have said positive things about T.O., as have several Chiefs and Broncos players, and that both coaches have good records when dealing with problem players. Meanwhile, John Elway and Brian Dawkins have stated that T.O. isn't worth the trouble.

CO: Good observations, little chum, but also obvious. Few coaches will go on record saying bad things about a player, and few players will say something bad about a potential teammate. And every successful coach can point to success stories with cocky athletes; a coach who can't handle egomaniacs wouldn't last long in the NFL.

BB: Holy simple reasoning, Cap, you are right! And while Edwards and Shanahan are relatively established coaches, both will be working with new offensive coordinators this year. T.O. went out of his way to undermine Tobias Funke in Philadelphia and could very well do the same to Heimerdinger or Mike Solari.

CO: I think the former Eagles offensive coordinator is named Brad Childress, but I see your point, little chum. The problem right now is that we know as much about this situation as the average fan. No one knows what T.O. expects to earn in 2006. No one outside of the front offices in Denver and Kansas City knows what the teams are willing to pay.

BB: Well we have to help Tanier somehow, Cap. How about a bold prediction: where will T.O. end up?

CO: Denver. They are closer to the Super Bowl and will be able to clear more cap room. And Chiefs GM Carl Peterson is a cantankerous son of a gun who won't take any crap during negotiations. Of course, word out of both Kansas City and Denver suggests that there is still more smoke than fire in this story. Both front offices have stated that there haven't been any formal discussions with T.O. or agent Drew Rosenhaus. The field is wide open for another team to jump in.

Mike Tanier: Thanks, guys. Stop by anytime.

Free agent preview

The Broncos began the offseason about $26 million over the salary cap, but they have already taken steps to improve their cap status. Center Tom Nalen and safety Sam Brandon signed new deals in early February, and the team is currently negotiating with left tackle Matt Lepsis and defensive tackle Gerald Warren. Reserve defensive end John Engleberger will have a new deal by the time you read this.

Even if Lepsis and Warren sign cap-friendly deals, the Broncos will still have to do some financial housecleaning. The team faces some tough decisions on the defensive line. Trevor Pryce's cap figure is over $10 million; he will have to negotiate an extension or face the waiver wire. Courtney Brown is due to make over $3 million but is likely to sign an extension.

Shanahan made it clear that re-signing the team's free agents is his top priority, and T.O. talk notwithstanding, it will be difficult for the Broncos to clear enough cap space to go shopping. That didn't stop linebacker Al Wilson from trying to convince Edgerrin James to head for the Rockies come the start of free agency. "I went up to Edge and talked to him for a minute about little things (Wednesday)," Wilson told the Denver Post after a Pro Bowl practice in Hawaii. "I told him the mountains are beautiful, man.... I told him our running system is something else. Little things like that."

Unfortunately for the Broncos, Edge's salary demands will include several million little things.

Kansas City Chiefs

Cover-2, and Cover, too

New coach Herm Edwards is bringing his conservative Cover-2 defensive philosophy to Kansas City. That means the end of Gunther Cunningham's aggressive, blitz-happy system. Right?

Not so fast. Cunningham was retained as defensive coordinator. And he was quick to tell reporters in late January that he was calling two-deep defensive plays back long before "Cover-2" became football's Cliche of the Decade.

There's a big difference between hot buzzwords and actual defensive playbooks. Cunningham's system called for two safeties in deep zones on certain occasions, and Edwards' system includes plenty of blitzes and man coverage. Edwards may keep his safeties deep more often than Cunningham, but the two coaches aren't that far apart philosophically.

An increased emphasis on deep support can only help the Chiefs. After giving up a league-high 72 passing plays of 20 or more yards in 2004, they surrendered just 46 such plays in 2005. It was a vast improvement, but the Chiefs were still tied for the eighth highest total of 20+ yard receptions in the league. Edwards' Jets surrendered just 33 passes of 20 or more yards, including a league-low two passes of 40+ yards.

As is often the case, schemes are less important than personnel. Edwards' defense only works when the defensive front four applies pressure with minimal blitzing. Cunningham emphasized the blitz because the Chiefs only have one pass rush threat on the defensive line (Jared Allen). If Edwards and Cunningham can get more out of their defensive line, they will be able to call whatever coverage schemes they want.

Old Folks Boogie

Things to do in Kansas City when football season is over: 1) Perfect that dry rub recipe (cayenne pepper, ground sage, oh yeah!) 2) Learn to spell "Grudzielanek" and "Mientkiewicz" (two words that roughly translate as "fourth place, AL Central") 3) Wait for Willie Roaf and Will Shields to make up their minds about retirement, again.

This year, the wait may not be very long. Roaf sat out the Pro Bowl but plans to be back. Shields told Jason Whitlock that he will make his decision in the next few weeks, but Whitlock indicated that the Pro Bowl guard wants to play another season. With Brian Waters signed to a new deal and former line coach Mike Solari now at offensive coordinator, the Chiefs can once again boast about stability and experience on the offensive line, even if the Willies are a little long in the tooth.

Priest Holmes is another Kansas City All Pro who spends a lot of time mulling over his 401K plan. It's clear that Larry Johnson is now the featured back, but Holmes can end his career the way he began it: as a change-up back.

Will he accept the role? Holmes is one of the NFL's more inscrutable characters, and it is hard to predict how he will react to reduced playing time, especially if he is asked to take a pay cut. One thing is certain: the Chiefs will not waive him. Because of prorated bonuses and other factors, it would be more expensive to cut Holmes than to keep him.

Free agent preview

The good news for the Chiefs: all of their key players are under contract for next season. The bad news: they are about $25 million over the salary cap.

The Kansas City Star recently outlined the Chiefs cap situation in detail. If you don't feel like clicking the link, here are the highlights: Carl Peterson isn't worried, Tony Gonzalez and others will have to restructure their contracts, and underachievers like Kendrell Bell and Eric Warfield are history. Rest assured that if either Holmes or Shields retires, he'll be asked to pull a Rich Gannon, restructuring his contract on the way out the door.

As in Denver, the dire financial situation hasn't kept observers from dreaming of a free agent splurge. Whitlock spent early February in Hawaii wooing former Patriots and Jets CB Ty Law. As Whitlock tells it, he enjoyed a celebratory Grey Goose toast with Law and Otis Smith (Smith and toasts go hand in hand), then outlined the Chiefs' predicament. "I told him the Chiefs need one playmaker to go along with Jared Allen. If Law signs for a reasonable price, the Chiefs could address their other shortcomings."

Unfortunately, Law's reasonable price is in the $10 million range, according to Whitlock. At least the vodka was good.

Oakland Raiders

Shell game

No owner in the NFL conducts a search for a new head coach the way Al Davis does it.

Most execs round up a list of usual suspects -- college hotshots, successful coordinators, former coaches in broadcast booth exile -- conduct a few interviews, and make a decision by mid-January. It's all too mundane for Davis, who likes to spend a month or two spinning webs of intrigue before announcing his plans.

In the past, Davis has spread misinformation and disinformation to throw other teams off the scent of prize coaching talent. He usually interviews a top coordinator or two from within the AFC West, perhaps to ferret out organizational secrets, perhaps to rankle Lamar Hunt or Pat Bowlen. By the time the white smoke puffs from the chimney at Raiders headquarters, Davis has usually overturned every possible stone and played every conceivable angle.

It's no surprise, then, that a man who loves shell games so much keeps hiring Art Shell.

Davis' Machiavellian schemes have been getting the better of him over the past few hiring cycles, and it looks like he outsmarted himself this year. Shell isn't a terrible hire -- he was relatively successful in his first term with the Raiders -- but better candidates rolled through Oakland on their way to better jobs, and Davis was too busy channeling Ernst Blofeld to make them serious offers.

First came Al Saunders, the obligatory "ruffle Hunt's feathers" candidate. Saunders met with Davis and assistant Michael Lombardi on January 11, but the well-regarded offensive coordinator came away from the interview feeling like he was a token candidate. Davis never followed up on the interview, and Saunders landed in Washington a few weeks later.

While Saunders dangled, Davis and Lombardi flirted with Fresno State head coach Pat Hill. The team never formally interviewed Hill, but his rumored candidacy for the Raiders job began taking a toll on Hill's recruiting class. Hill imposed a 10-day limit on NFL offers as a promise to his college recruits; when that deadline passed without a call from Davis, Hill stayed in beautiful Fresno.

Names like Ron Rivera, Rod Marinelli, and James Lofton surfaced in connection with the Raiders job, but team interest appeared to be lukewarm (Marinelli and Lofton were interviewed). Davis suggested that he could be in the market for a hot young coordinator when he spoke to the media in early January. "I hired a lot of people who a lot of other people wouldn't have hired in a million years,'' the Raiders' owner said. "Didn't know who they were.'' Davis' speech was a marvel of revisionist history that would make Daniel Brown proud; he took credit for "discovering" Mike Shanahan. But while Davis hinted that he wanted to play Pygmalion, the coordinator pool was drying.

When Saunders left the picture, Davis turned to the man he said he would not consider in January: Mike Martz. Martz met with Davis and Lombardi on January 25th in what Lombardi called a "get to know you" meeting. Martz' offensive philosophy seemed like a perfect fit in Oakland, but like Saunders, Martz left without a commitment. Three days later, he withdrew his name from consideration, and he soon joined Marinelli in Detroit. Art Shell then met with Davis in what was described as a "courtesy" interview (notice the spookily polite euphemisms).

It became clear that Davis' ultimate prize was Steelers coordinator Ken Whisenhunt. Or maybe it was just that Whisenhunt was the last big-name coordinator left. Whisenhunt flew from Pittsburgh to Oakland just after the Steelers' Super Bowl parade and met with Davis for several hours on February 8th. Just one day after the interview, Whisenhunt removed his name from consideration. At some point in early February, Davis also offered a job to Louisville coach Bobby Petrino, although it is not clear if Petrino even formally interviewed. Petrino turned the Raiders down. Jim Fassell was briefly touted as the top candidate, but by February 10th, Shell was back as the Raiders head coach.

Shell and Davis have made the most of the hiring, playing the whole "Commitment to Excellence" card for all it's worth, but it's obvious that Shell was the fourth or fifth option, and several of the other options spurned Davis before he had a chance to spurn them. Davis wanted to throw deep with a splashy hire, then had to check down to his secondary targets. In desperation, he dumped the ball in the flat to the tackle eligible.

Seeking swagger

But wait, Shell brings something very important to the Raiders. You guessed it: swagger.

"We spent a lot of time on ... getting that Raiders' swagger, that Raider toughness, back," Davis told the Oakland Tribune. "Art will help bring some of the swagger back. It will be like old times," added former Raiders safety Jack Tatum.

All of the old Raiders agreed that Shell would bring back the toughness and intensity that made the team notorious in the 1970s. Only a pessimist would suggest that the Raiders have already spent too much time, money, and energy trying to bring back halcyon days that ended over 20 years ago. After all, swagger and a "bad boy image" are great, but wasn't Warren Sapp supposed to provide swagger? Randy Moss? Haven't we been down this road a few dozen times?

In fairness to Shell, every new coach must be allowed to give a tough-guy speech at the beginning of his tenure: players, reporters, and fans all want to hear that the new skipper will "instill a winning attitude" and get guys to "play physical." And yes, effort and discipline are important, especially in the wake of the paycheck atmosphere that reigned during Norv Turner's tenure.

But a wise man once said that seeking intangible qualities usually yields intangible results. The Raiders need a good player development program, good offensive and defensive schemes, and a sound fiscal plan. If they can take care of these problems, then "swagger" will take care of itself.

Free agent preview

Shell's first duty will be to negotiate a salary cap landmine: the Raiders are about $30 million over the cap, and there are few easy cuts on the roster.

Ronald Curry, a talented receiver who hurts his Achilles tendon every year and has a cap figure near $5 million, is as good as gone. Ditto veteran guard Ron Stone, who costs the team about $3 million but plays a position where talent is abundant.

But what about Sapp? He was playing well before he got hurt in mid-November. The team would take a cap hit of about $6 million if it released him. Kerry Collins, Bobby Hamilton, Barry Sims, Derrick Gibson and Denard Walker all have cap figures that are far greater than their actual value. The Raiders will strike new deals with some (probably Sapp, Collins and Hamilton) while axing others (see ya', Gibson and Walker), and they'll still have to cut corners to sign their draft picks.

So while rumors abound that the Raiders covet Daunte Culpepper, it's hard to imagine how they could fit him into their current cap situation. Veteran cornerback Charles Woodson is almost certain to move on. Shell has inherited a lot of headaches, and some coaches would take their cap medicine in their first year by cutting players like Sapp and Sims, suffering through a dead money year, and then starting over. Davis won't allow that to happen in Oakland.

San Diego Chargers

Drew Brees or not Drew Brees

There is a good chance that Drew Brees will be on the free agent market at the beginning of March.

Chargers GM A.J. Smith made an initial contract offer to Brees on February 6th. Two weeks of media silence followed. At the beginning of the month, Smith imposed a February 23rd limit on negotiations: if no deal was struck by then, Smith was expected to use the franchise or transition tag on his quarterback.

But what seemed like a cut-'n'-dry situation became murky. First, the status of Brees' surgically repaired shoulder came into question. A report in the San Diego Union Tribune in late January stated that Brees was three weeks ahead of schedule in rehabbing his torn labrum. But Smith clearly doesn't want to be caught in a Chad Pennington situation with a quarterback who won't be ready to throw a football until after the draft. Smith hedged his bets by signing third stringer A.J. Feeley to a new deal, and he planned to use the transition tag to offer Brees a non-guaranteed one-year deal.

Smith's plans may be thwarted by vague language in the collective bargaining agreement. Here's the phrase in question, as quoted in the Union-Tribune: "the Required Tenders of a one year Player Contract for at least 120% of the Franchise Player's or Transition Player's Prior Year Salaries shall in addition to the 120% Salary also include all other terms of the player's Prior Year contract, including any guarantees." The "any guarantees" would appear to include Brees' guaranteed money as a 2004 franchise player. Smith doesn't want to challenge the language of the CBA (he would lose; vague language is always interpreted in favor of labor), and he doesn't want to guarantee nearly $10 million to a quarterback who may have a bum wing.

As of Sunday, Smith was still talking to Brees' agent. It's not clear how far apart they are at this point. But it's very possible that Philip Rivers will be under center for the Chargers in 2006, with Brees helming the Dolphins, Saints, or some other quarterback-hungry team.

Hot Mauck

Carl Mauck only coached the offensive line for one year in his recent stint with the team. The Chargers finished ninth in the league in Adjusted Line Yards under Mauck after finishing 16th in 2004. (ALY breaks down runs depending on length to separate blocking from longer runs dependent only on the RB's performance.) Injuries to Roman Oben, Nick Hardwick and others forced Mauck to keep shuffling his starting lineup, but the team avoided a blocking meltdown. Mauck, who also coached the line during the team's 1994 Super Bowl run, was rewarded for an apparent job well done with a pink slip. Jack Henry will replace him as offensive line coach.

Mauck was angry at the dismissal, and felt that he was stabbed in the back by Marty Schottenheimer, who gave his line coach a good grade in a postseason press conference. "He stood up before you guys and said I did a good job,'' Mauck told the North County Times. "Then two weeks later all of a sudden I didn't do a good job and he just fired me. All of a sudden I went from being all right to not being all right.''

There are two related theories about Mauck's dismissal. The first, posited by the Times, is that offensive coordinator Cam Cameron wanted to get rid of Mauck. The second theory suggests that Mauck's confrontational coaching style didn't sit well with Schottenheimer's businesslike approach. Chargers players were accustomed to the paternal style of former coach Hudson Houck and may not have responded well to periodic cuss-outs.

According to Mauck, Schottenheimer said he dismissed him because "some of the linemen had digressed." Mauck is clearly quite a communicator. Henry, a 36-year coaching vet who also replaced Mauck in 1996, is known as a developer of young talent. "First and foremost, Jack is an excellent teacher," Schottenheimer said of Henry at a press conference. As the Saints line coach, Henry coached units that finished 21st, 18th, and 27th in Adjusted Line Yards and were generally near the middle of the pack in sacks allowed per pass play.

Free agent preview

Unlike their competitors in the AFC West, the Chargers are in great cap shape, and they are likely to do a little spending in March.

GM A.J. Smith was busy re-signing role players in February. In addition to Feeley, defensive end Jacque Cesaire, safety Clinton Hart, and special teams ace Kassim Osgood all signed long-term deals. Prudent re-signings like these keep the Chargers on sound financial footing, but backup safeties and kick gunners don't win Super Bowls. Smith will hit the market in search of help at wide receiver, in the secondary, and possibly on the offensive line.

Smith has kept the team fiscally healthy by avoiding spending sprees, so don't look for the Chargers to chase big names like Charles Woodson. But the team is likely to let Keenan McCardell test the free agent market while shopping for a younger alternative like Nate Burleson or Kevin Curtis. In the secondary, Nate Clements will command top dollar, but he would allow Quentin Jammer to move into a more natural role as a #2 cornerback. An offensive lineman like Steve Hutchinson might be too good for the Chargers to pass up, but Smith may wait to see if Henry and better health can improve the line that's in place.

And if Brees does walk, Smith may seek a cheap veteran insurance policy to play behind Rivers and Feeley.

Friday: AFC South by Ned Macey

Posted by: Mike Tanier on 20 Feb 2006

58 comments, Last at 29 Mar 2006, 4:24am by Ryan


by DP (not verified) :: Mon, 02/20/2006 - 4:59pm

Pat Hill coaches at Fresno St., not San Jose St.

by Chris (not verified) :: Mon, 02/20/2006 - 5:04pm

Fourth Place Royals? The AL Central has five teams.

by JonL (not verified) :: Mon, 02/20/2006 - 5:35pm

Maybe he thinks Detroit is going to fall hard this year.

This is more of a health-related question, but could Ronald Curry's achilles problems arise from his lack of full-time football playing/training in college? In a previous Black and Blue, Will Carroll described the causes as "perhaps genetic or from some other cause such as gait, strength deficit, or similar." Could some of that "strength deficit, or similar" come from training his muscles to do different things than running routes and coming quick off the line, or are they truly genetic?

I know there have been other "two-sport" players, but they either played baseball (Bo Jackson, Deion Sanders) or don't have to make quick cuts (Julius Peppers).

by slu49er (not verified) :: Mon, 02/20/2006 - 5:36pm

Pat Hill coaches at Fresno St. not San Jose St.

by admin :: Mon, 02/20/2006 - 5:43pm

I love when people fix our mistakes. Did the guy who wrote comment 4 just not see comment 1?

by slu49er (not verified) :: Mon, 02/20/2006 - 5:44pm

it didn't show any other comments when i posted mine, dunno why

by Clod (not verified) :: Mon, 02/20/2006 - 5:50pm

Man Aaron was it a long season? you've seemed testy lately.

by Clod (not verified) :: Mon, 02/20/2006 - 5:53pm

But if you really do love it here's one.

And he was quick to tell reporters in late January that he was calling two-deep defensive plays back long belong “Cover-2″ became football’s Cliche of the Decade.


by GaryS (not verified) :: Mon, 02/20/2006 - 6:09pm

SD is in a tough spot at QB. I don't see how they can let Brees walk and hand the job to Rivers, who has yet to show anything. I imagine the last thing Smith wanted in game 16 was to trot Rivers out there to show how much he still has to learn. Perhaps he can sign Brees to a contract with a clause giving them an out if the shoulder is not healed. If he goes with Rivers and he flops, the veterans on the team will quit on Marty in a heartbeat.

Besides QB, SD also needs to address its secondary. Ever year they seem to draft a DB in round 1 or 2, only to see him fall short of expectations. Jammer, Fletcher, Davis, Keil and Florence have all been taken in the last 5 years and none can be considered above average.

KC is getting old, fast, especially along the OL with no young replacements on hand. They were probably fortunate to get through last season with as few injuries along the line as they did. TO is probably the best fit here, since all they lack on offence is a big play receiver. TO has a half life of one year, however, before he starts to implode and bring the team with him.

What the Chiefs really need is defensive help, most of which needs to come from the draft, given their lack of success with Free Agents on defense. If you were KC and could sign one big Free Agent, would you sign TO or Ty Law?

Denver played a lot better than most expected last year. Their OL is solid and their RBs seem to be good enough. A quality TE would help Plummer more than TO, I think, but Shannahan probably sees TO as the last piece in the puzzle.

On defense, I was surprised how the Browns castoffs did. I question whether they can do it again, and with Pryce on the way out, DL could be a position to address in the draft. LBs are solid, and the secondary was much improved by last year's draft, so I would look for the Broncos to improve the DL, especially the pass rush, in the draft.

Davis is running a clown show in Oakland. The game has long passed him by, and his ego is such that even when he lucks into finding a good coach, he will run him off because of jealousy (see, John Gruden, Mike Shannahan). They have no proven QB, Moss plays only when he wants, which is 2-3 games a year, they have no TE and the OL they draft don't appear to have panned out (Grove, Walker, Gallery).

The defense is even worse. There are plenty of high draft picks on the roster, but little production. The LB are bad, the DL is old and bad, and in the secondary, the players he has drafted are underachivers (Woodson) or busts (Ashomuga, Washington, Gibson, Schweigert.

If they resign Brees and he is healthy, I would think SD looks to be in the best shape. And the winner of the TO derby between Denver and KC would also be a strong contender. The Raiders are brain dead.

by Bobman (not verified) :: Mon, 02/20/2006 - 6:27pm

Tobias Funke: Outstanding "Arrested Development" reference! Jeez, I miss that show already and haven't even finished the back-DVDs from the first two seasons. I think Tobias would have been a great booth-mate for Theisman. Might go something like this:

TF: "Joe, what you are saying is that you had dinner with Brad Childress last night, but what I hear is that you need a hug. Is that the case, Joe? If so, and I think I have some special insight into this, if I may say so, then, if I may, I can offer you a hug, the love--if you will, Joe--that your father denied you in your formnative years."

JT: "What I should have said was that I had dinner with *your wife* last night. And breakfast this morning. Would that have shut you up, yappy?"

TF: "Joe, Joe, Joe, causing others pain just to make yourself feel better... a classic cry for help. I am not being judgmental, Joe, I am just here to help. And to mention that the visitors just scored."

by Sophandros (not verified) :: Mon, 02/20/2006 - 7:03pm

The Pat Hill mistake was understandable, as San Jose State's coach before Dick Tomey was Fitz Hill.

by Mike Tanier :: Mon, 02/20/2006 - 7:30pm

I am not sure how I made the Fresno State/San Jose State mistake. Usually, I get San Jose State mixed up with San Diego State.

by Theo (not verified) :: Mon, 02/20/2006 - 7:54pm

He favored multi-receiver sets and timing routes to receivers and tight ends. Jake Plummer has the arm and mobility to execute such a system

Uhm... Mike Tanier?!
He has mobility and arm for multi receiver sets and timing routes??
Mobility has nothing to do with timing routes... and arm is LESS important when MORE receivers. (and MORE with LESS receivers)
This statement comes as vague as it gets.

by jim's apple pie (not verified) :: Mon, 02/20/2006 - 8:16pm

The problem in SD is that A.J. Smith still believes that Rivers will be a better QB than Brees. This clouds his judgment, and has been causing friction with Marty because Marty backs Brees. I think A.J. is secretly happy that Brees got hurt because it gives him the perfect excuse to lowball Brees and go with Rivers. It's too bad that they didn't just go with Rivers last year and let him go through his growing pains, considering that they missed the playoffs anyway.

I haven't really seen anything in Rivers yet but considering the limited playing time, that's not surprising. From what I've heard from people on forums that have attended Charger's practices, however, gives me hope. Supposedly, his arm strength is comparable to Brees, for all that everyone seems to decry his lack of zip (although Brees isn't known for great arm strength, he's shown that it is enough). His quirky delivery concerns me, but at least his release is quick and he' s very accurate. He's tall, so he shouldn't have some of the field vision problems that Brees has. That quirky delivery negates some of his height, though, so we'll probably see just as many balls blocked at the line as with Brees.

Most people have San Diego addressing the secondary with their first pick. Huff and Williams would be taken if they fall that far, but they won't. Ko Simpson is a name I've heard a lot, but he seems fairly similar to the personnel that they already have. What they need is a fantastic coverage guy, not necessarily a run supporter (that Minnesota free agent -- Chavous?). Jammer is pretty good but when he messes up, he messes up BIG. Kiel is good in run support but usually has trouble covering even decent tight ends, let alone covering ground to make plays on balls thrown to receivers. Davis and Florence are nothing more than nickelbacks.

I think the Chargers badly want to have Jon Scott fall to them in the second round.

by jim's apple pie (not verified) :: Mon, 02/20/2006 - 8:25pm

Press conference today: Brees is an unrestricted free agent. Doesn't mean he won't be back, but it's looking more likely. Probably depends on the offers that come his way, and how conditional they are.

by Stevie (not verified) :: Mon, 02/20/2006 - 9:10pm

Letting Brees go for nothing is a catastrophic mistake. This is a team on the verge of Superbowl contention going with an unknown, a virtual rookie. SD has the cap room pay Brees his 10mil and if he really is shot, fine let him walk after the season. If he returns to top 10 caliber QB play and I think he will it will be a bargain. AJ has a massive ego and its going to kill this team if he rams his chosen guy into the lineup

by Sean D. (not verified) :: Mon, 02/20/2006 - 10:56pm

I have to point out an error. Unless the Chargers release McCardell he will not be able to test the free agent waters. Unlike the Buccanneers the Chargers followed through on their promise to extend Keenan's contract and he is signed through 2007.
McCardell Extension

by admin :: Mon, 02/20/2006 - 11:03pm

I feel responsible for Drew Brees becoming a free agent. Clearly, by making Brees one of the last players removed from the Free Agent Contest, I jinxed A.J. Smith's brain.

by Pat (not verified) :: Tue, 02/21/2006 - 12:13am

I really can't believe that San Diego is letting Brees walk. At least 33% of the teams in the league don't even have a viable quarterback, much less a good one.

Given the amount of cap space they had, it's just ridiculous that they didn't franchise tag him. $10M for one year to see if his shoulder is really healed is not a big deal. If it isn't, hey, you haven't hurt yourself for the future, and if it is, you freaking sign him to a long term contract, and that $10M is no big deal.

by Basilicus (not verified) :: Tue, 02/21/2006 - 12:42am

Worst off-season decision to let Brees go. I don't think it'll be topped.

by Terry (not verified) :: Tue, 02/21/2006 - 4:12am

According to Mauck, Schottenheimer said he dismissed him because “some of the linemen had digressed.�
Schotty's English mistake, or Mike's? I'm assuming it's supposed to be regressed.

by Kal (not verified) :: Tue, 02/21/2006 - 5:25am

I'm hoping that's what Marty said. Even further, I'm hoping that's what they did. I'd love that a coach got fired because his linemen went off on tangents and wacky anecdotes during meetings.

by tunesmith (not verified) :: Tue, 02/21/2006 - 7:12am

I'd like to see Denver with a more downfield passing game. So another deep threat and a better tight end game to fill in the middle could really open things up even more for their running game. Awesome.

I still don't know what they need to do to improve their defense. What Pittsburgh did to them was scary. Maybe it really was just as simple as Denver's cornerback chickening out and playing off too much. What's the best defense against quick timing routes like Pittsburgh had? Zone?

by mawbrew (not verified) :: Tue, 02/21/2006 - 10:00am

Re: 16&19

I'm with you guys. If SD has the cap space why not give Brees the franchise $$? The only reason not to (IMO) is if you are convinced the injury is serious enough that he will never regain his previous form.

by mawbrew (not verified) :: Tue, 02/21/2006 - 10:08am

Overall, Denver still looks like a pretty safe bet in this division at this point. Given their salary cap situation, not sure how they resign some of the guys (Warren, Brown) that were pretty cheap last year. But I suspect they will figure out a way.

SD looks very suspect at QB (assuming Brees is gone).

Kansas City just seems a year older.

The Raiders look like a mess. What happened to their O-line? That was supposed to be one of the best in the league.

by MikeT (not verified) :: Tue, 02/21/2006 - 10:13am

I am under the impression that Mauck made the mistake. I am also under the impression, based on everything I read and heard, that Mauck is a moron. Either way, it was too good a quote to pass up!

by Sam B (not verified) :: Tue, 02/21/2006 - 10:59am

re 23. What’s the best defense against quick timing routes like Pittsburgh had? Zone?

Man I would have thought, with safeties playing a deep zone incase someone breaks one on a slant?

by Stereochemistry (not verified) :: Tue, 02/21/2006 - 12:02pm

"The Raiders look like a mess. What happened to their O-line? That was supposed to be one of the best in the league."

It might just be coincidental, but their previous O-line coach Aaron Kromer came to work for the Bucs last season. He's still an "assistant coach" that helps Bill Muir out with O-line duties though.

by Fnor (not verified) :: Tue, 02/21/2006 - 12:56pm

re: 23,27
Linebackers in short zones and complicated coverages to throw off the opposing QB and break up the timing routes. If quick routes aren't there, then the main option the QB looks for is the guy in man downfield, or a crease in the zones. However, an extra safety screws up the former and it takes a skilled QB to diagnose/exploit the defence (though if the QB does it well it's devastatingly effective).

So the way to beat the PIT offence from the DEN game is... uh... PIT's defence. Heh.

by Dman (not verified) :: Tue, 02/21/2006 - 1:14pm

This whole brees thing stinks of a guy who will never get healthy and is looking for a handout. SD probably lowballed him and he probably realized that this was his last chance to make some real coin. Some poor sap is going to pay brees and get burned when his already weak arm starts throwing ducks. I just pray that it isn't the lions.

by Theo (not verified) :: Tue, 02/21/2006 - 1:30pm

Re 23, 27, 29
What’s the best defense against quick timing routes like Pittsburgh had? Zone?
Bump 'n run.
Bump receivers at the LOS, play man, play 1 or 2 safeties over.
Note: this tactic will suck vs a heavy run. There I said it.

by Fnor (not verified) :: Tue, 02/21/2006 - 2:39pm

Theo: A hard count can also screw up bumping in a quieter stadium, because that extra half-second puts the CB on his heels. It's a risky strategy.

by Green Bay for Life (not verified) :: Tue, 02/21/2006 - 5:04pm

Davis is running a clown show in Oakland. The game has long passed him by, and his ego is such that even when he lucks into finding a good coach, he will run him off because of jealousy (see, John Gruden, Mike Shannahan).

You guys just figured this out? All of us here out in California realized that when he did get rid of Gruden. With the headache that is thier salary cap pain, lack of playing from the "Stars" of the team, a me first and you second attitude, and the general crap product that has been the raiders for the past 3-4 years I think that they will stink until Al Davis gives in a sells the team and walks away from football entirely.

As far as where T.O. goes if KC and DEN are in over thier head as well for cap room, then I will not look for him there. I just don't think they can clear up enough cap space to sign him. I have no idea where he will go to, maybe a place that needs a headache more than they need a reciever like Detroit.

Worst off-season decision to let Brees go. I don’t think it’ll be topped.

Oh yeah? how about whoever picks up Arron Brooks from NO/San Antonio/Los Angeles?

by mawbrew (not verified) :: Tue, 02/21/2006 - 5:36pm

Regardless of the reality, it's obvious that Oakland is considered head coach suicide by folks in the business. When you have to work that hard to find somebody willing to take one of the 32 most prestigious jobs in the 'industry', something is terribly wrong.

by NF (not verified) :: Tue, 02/21/2006 - 5:50pm

Get this, if Brees leaves, and if Phillip Rivers is an absolute disaster, there is a possibility the starting QB for the Chargers becomes AJ Feeley.

by Green Bay for Life (not verified) :: Tue, 02/21/2006 - 7:21pm

When you have to work that hard to find somebody willing to take one of the 32 most prestigious jobs in the industry, something is terribly wrong.

Yes it is called Al Davis. I know someone must have told him that this is a new milennia right? Or did he just forget? I mean come on you have a possible dead year on your hands and you only have 2 maybe 3 big names in Sapp, Moss, and Woodson? what the heck have the spent the other millions of dollars on? or are they still in cap trouble because or retirements? or police fines?

Personally I would have been insulted if I were Art Shell, and I would have told AL Davis to stick it where the sun does not shine. Either you interview for real and get the job or to heck with it and move on.

by CaffeineMan (not verified) :: Tue, 02/21/2006 - 11:00pm

Linebackers in short zones and complicated coverages to throw off the opposing QB and break up the timing routes....So the way to beat the PIT offence from the DEN game is… uh… PIT’s defence. Heh.

Or the Pats' defense. :D When Bruschi and the DB's are healthy, that is.

by CaffeineMan (not verified) :: Tue, 02/21/2006 - 11:21pm

Oops, 37 got totally mangled. The quoted part should also have contained:

the timing routes...So the way to beat the PIT offence from the DEN game is... uh... PIT's defence. Heh.

Jim's Apple Pie that's an interesting comment about AJ versus Marty. I had SD figured as a team that would compete for a while, but if I were a veteran there, I'd be unhappy about the Rivers thing and the short term prospects for a Super Bowl run. I understand fiscal responsibility, but Rivers better be IT and/or Brees' shoulder better be toast if they let Brees walk.

by CaffeineMan (not verified) :: Tue, 02/21/2006 - 11:21pm

Alright, now 37 looks fine. Maybe my browser is sick. Sorry, people...

by Green Bay for Life (not verified) :: Wed, 02/22/2006 - 2:16pm

RE 37-39

I will give you that WHEN Bruschi is healthy. I just do not know though I remember that some one came up with a way to figure out an Injury Index and the Pats had one of the highest (was that you PAT). anyway what I think about the patriots is of no consequence. I still remence (sp?) about the fact that we beat them in superbowl XXXI. sorry I had to put that out that there was at one time a team better than the Patriots.

But back to what I was trying to say...

Every year players will go down because of an injury that is a given. but to be a real good team you have to rely on the fact that it is the Ownership,GM, and Head coach who make all of the offseason moves. in order to be sucessful beyond the injuries you have to find those key replacemnet guys that can and will step up and fit into the scheme that you are trying to run. To me that is why the scouting combine, the interviews and reviewing tape of a posible free agent is so bloody important for a team to make it to the post season. everyone talks about how this player or that player might be a good fit for this team, but we as casual to hardcore football fans only at the most have a TiVO (c) that allows us to look at the game over and over again. these guys get miles upon miles of game tape from just about evry angle to anyalze and disect every play on the filed so they get a good idea on how a player might or might not fit into thier system. this is why I give kudos to BB, Bill Cowher, Holmgren, and Shanahan as being outstanding coaches becuase they have taken people from other teams that may not have had spectacular years with thier previous franchise, but they FIT into the scheme and style of thier new franchise.

by Kibbles (not verified) :: Wed, 02/22/2006 - 5:56pm

Re #23: I’d like to see Denver with a more downfield passing game. So another deep threat and a better tight end game to fill in the middle could really open things up even more for their running game. Awesome.

Denver actually did have more of a downfield passing game. In 2004. Jake Plummer finished with one of the best ypas in the league, but also had 20 INTs. So they reigned him in, and he had one of the best INT totals in the league, but mediocre ypa. If you look at DVOA, he was ranked pretty much the same in both seasons. Still, Ashley Lelie was among the league leaders in ypc both seasons, and every game had at least one or two "naked bootleg left, throw to Ashley 40 yards downfield" play called.

That said, I think Heimerdinger will bring back the downfield game, more. I remember what he did to McNair's ypa in his MVP season. I also remember that crazy game where McNair had 400 yards in only 20 attempts (or was it 20 completions? Either way, it was ridiculous).

Re #25: Overall, Denver still looks like a pretty safe bet in this division at this point. Given their salary cap situation, not sure how they resign some of the guys (Warren, Brown) that were pretty cheap last year. But I suspect they will figure out a way.
Courtney Brown is not a free agent, although he's not nearly as cheap as he was last season. I suspect Denver is going to try to get him to take a pay cut, since he didn't play nearly as well last season as the whole "The Cleveland Browncos were great!" thing would lead you to believe. It was really more like "Gerard Warren was unbelievable and the rest of the guys were solid, if unspectacular". Courtney Brown's contract was, due to his injury history, structured so that it could be dumped this offseason with minimal penalties. I wouldn't be too surprised to see Denver let him walk if he doesn't renegotiate, and since Denver has already resigned John Engelberger and still has Ekuban, they're deep enough at DE that I don't think it'd be a huge problem. I hope Brown renegotiates, though, because I still think he has the potential to be awesome.

Right now, the only UFAs that I can remember are Matt Lepsis and Gerard Warren, Monsanto Pope, Ron Dayne, Patrick Chuckwurah, and Keith Burns. Chuckwurah and Burns are minimum-salary special teamers (although Chucky has some potential as a situational rusher, and Burns is the ST captain). Pope barely saw any playing time with the depth at DL that Denver had. Dayne would be nice to resign, but I doubt anyone really worries about Denver's running game. The only UFAs that would have a reasonably large impact on Denver if they left are Lepsis and Warren.

Re #33:As far as where T.O. goes if KC and DEN are in over thier head as well for cap room, then I will not look for him there. I just don’t think they can clear up enough cap space to sign him. I have no idea where he will go to, maybe a place that needs a headache more than they need a reciever like Detroit.
Denver's not that far in over its head, as far as cap room goes. They currently have $120 million on the books... but a "significant chunk" of that is dollars from contracts that have already voided, and thus will not count (I haven't been able to find out how significant a chunk). Factor in, as well, that Trevor Pryce alone counts $10 million against the cap, and that Carswell, Lynch, and Engelberger have all just re-signed and restructured (reducing Denver's cap value between $3-5 mil), and it looks entirely possible that Denver could get under the cap with a single cut (Pryce), albeit a cut they really want to avoid if possible.

I've actually been really happy with Denver's offseason. Absolutely phenominal so far. They signed Nalen to an extension, they signed Lynch to an extension, they resigned Brandon, they resigned Engelberger, they restructured Carswell, and they also extended Ted Sundquist (their GM's) contract in between. They're the only team so far that's taken 3 or more UFAs off the market with a new contract. It seems like every couple of days there's new news out of Denver, and all of it's positive.

by Jon Coit (not verified) :: Thu, 02/23/2006 - 2:34pm

re: 30

I don't get this. Even the team has only said they have "concerns" publicly; if the team were going to franchise/transition Brees to trade him, fine, discount the lack of good news as BS. But if anything, the team would prefer the rest of the league to think Brees' shoulder looks like Culpepper's knee. The Brees situation is much more about AJ Smith being a big brown ahole..and about my beloved team's decades-long passionate embrace of mediocrity. ACH! Any team would be lucky to get Brees...

by Green Bay for Life (not verified) :: Thu, 02/23/2006 - 2:42pm

Any team would be lucky to get Brees…

we shall see young grasshopper we shall see....

by James (not verified) :: Thu, 02/23/2006 - 4:51pm

I trust AJ Smith as a (so far) smart drafter, signer, and business man. I think Rivers is the guy for the future. Brees got lucky last year, and returned to more of his norm this year. Brees has to be surrounded with fantastic talent in order to succeed. I believe Rivers is a better quarterback. No way I pay Brees 10 mil on a "maybe" chance. Do you really believe Brees is going to come back and be stronger than he was in 2004? We didn't make it to the Super Bowl in either 2004 or 2005, and I think Brees is part of the problem. Marty is too, but not much I can do about that, he hasn't done enough to get himself fired.

Other than leaving his 9.7 million dollar quarterback in on the last game that MEANS NOTHING. Marty always sticks with his "veterans" and his good ole boys that he knows. Rivers should have been playing every snap in 2005 that didn't matter. Brees is not, and never will be the future of the Chargers.*

* I reserve the right to retract this statement pending future evaluation of Brees career. :)

by James (not verified) :: Thu, 02/23/2006 - 4:54pm

The San Diego Union-Tribune is also not a very good source to judge the public's response to AJ Smith. They hate him because he won't let the coordinators speak to the media. The reporters for the U-T found a way to mention this in 90% of the articles they wrote on the Chargers last year. Shut up already.

by Jon Coit (not verified) :: Thu, 02/23/2006 - 6:53pm

James--I am actually interested in why you think Brees is part of the problem, and why Rivers should have played in 2005, no snark intended.

As far as AJ goes, he was quite clear that even before the injury (in my memory) that Brees' status with the team was far more uncertain than Rivers'--at a time when most established sources (UT, ESPN etc.) were speculating Rivers would be traded in the off-season. So to me at least, the idea that Brees' shoulder injury dramatically changed his contract calculations (which is the way it's getting reported in the mainstream press; and note the word "dramatically") is BS. I hope you are right and that AJ's right about Rivers.

The UT reporters have bitched for years about lack of media access, going back to Dean Spanos' decision not to allow them to come to practices etc., but it's my understanding that Marty was the guy who refused to let reporters speak to coordinators; but more sources than the UT guys are calling the Brees contract situation in the way I described (profootballtalk.com had stuff on this literally a week before Canepa, Sullivan et. al. wrote on it I think).

In any event, whether or not someone being an egotistical ahole is a great business tactic (see Antonio Gates), it still in my book is spot on to call an ahole an ahole. And if I think (and obviously you disagree) that an egotistical ahole's ego is behind a decision to cashier an excellent player, then being an egotistical ahole stops being a great tactic and becomes a flaw.

by Tom (not verified) :: Thu, 02/23/2006 - 9:11pm

Regardless of whether AJ Smith is an a-hole or not you can't argue that he's hasn't been very successful. Probably the most talent in the division with a payroll over $30m less than the rest of the teams. The main thing is that Rivers is the QB that Smith thinks is the future of the franchise so why would you spend $10m+ for a guy that may be worse and may not be healthy? Personally I would have liked them to slap the franchise tag on Brees and then trade him to another team but I guess Smith thinks that the likelihood of getting stuck with him is too great. And with his track record who can blame him? Now if they use the money saved on Brees to sign someone like Ty Law how could you complain?

by Tim Gerheim :: Fri, 02/24/2006 - 2:53am

My inclination is to give Smith and the Chargers the benefit of the doubt on this one and say that Philip Rivers is the Chargers' Carson Palmer. And I love Drew Brees. There's so much that we outsiders have no idea about, particularly concerning players who don't have any game experience. They've watched a lot of Rivers in practice, so at the very least they know a hell of a lot more about him than any of us do.

by Pat (not verified) :: Fri, 02/24/2006 - 11:58am

Tim: The problem with that is that Drew Brees isn't Jon Kitna - he's better. And when the Bengals let Palmer start, they didn't get rid of Kitna.

Starting Palmer with Kitna as backup is a lot different than starting Rivers with A.J. Feeley as backup.

The injury does muddy the water a bit, but that's why I would've just sucked up the $10M and franchised him. If his shoulder ends up not being perfect, you let him go next year, no harm, no foul.

The Chargers are very, very close to being a Super Bowl team, and they're significantly under the cap. If they end up losing Brees, they just put a question mark at their most important position.

by Tom Kelso (not verified) :: Fri, 02/24/2006 - 1:26pm

Giving Tim his due, Pat; IIRC, the Bengals didn't have to make a cap decision with Kitna the way the Chargers did with an injured Brees.

Given those two factors, could you honestly say that the (being polite) excessively FRUGAL Bengals would have kept Kitna? Marvin Lewis made a great decision; he didn't have to make this one.

by Jon Coit (not verified) :: Fri, 02/24/2006 - 4:47pm

Interesting discussion about the Bolts, so thanks...

re: Pat's point about the Chargers being contenders:

The severity of Brees' injury aside, they have big holes in the secondary (still have vivid mental images of Jammer's face looking at Hines Ward and his hips pointed at...what? something offscreen? Charger Girls maybe?) and question marks at WR (i.e. good but not great) and OL (inconsistent). Maybe in Smith's view the team doesn't have the talent in place to truly contend next year; and if they are not, as Pat says, "very, very close," I can see the logic some more. It's true that I've only seen Rivers practice once (I get to SD usually sometime during training camp and can go) and wasn't impressed, but I am a history prof, not a skilled QB coach like, oh, say, Ryan Leaf. :)

by James (not verified) :: Fri, 02/24/2006 - 7:50pm

I simply don't believe that Drew Brees' arm is enough to take the Chargers to the Super Bowl or the AFC Championship game. Part of the Chargers' problems are the result of bad coaching decisions (again, leaving Brees in on the last game THAT DOESN'T MATTER) and partly because our quarterback is average. I do not believe that Drew Brees is above average or Pro Bowl quality. He had one good year: boosted by an average to above-average receiving corps, an outstanding tight-end, and outstanding running back, and solid offensive line. The running back and offensive line situation degraded slightly due to injury and look what happens in 2005. Brees couldn't make the plays required to carry the team. I'm not saying that a quarterback should be expected to carry a team (see Brady, Tom), but the Chargers are not good enough as a whole to pick up Drew Brees and carry him. The 10 million spent on a "maybe" situation with Brees is better used elsewhere to upgrade a poor secondary and average offensive line. Help in the receiving corps is needed also, all moreso than paying Brees one more year.

I'm perfectly willing to take a chance on Brees for a year with a heavily-performance based contract, but not a long-term contract. Brees is not the future anyway you cut it, Rivers was drafted for a reason. What happens if Brees does sign and performs only average? You've pushed back the Philip Rivers experiment another year, and you can't keep franchising Brees.

Thanks for your comments Jon, and I do believe you are correct on the whole media/Marty thing now that I remember it. I just wish they would shut up about it.

by Pat (not verified) :: Fri, 02/24/2006 - 11:16pm

He had one good year:

Er? Two. 3300 yards, 24 TDs to 14 INTs is a pretty freaking good year as well. Statistically it's pretty much the same as 2004.

If he'd been average in 2005, I would've said sure, let him go. But he wasn't average. He was well above it.

by Bill Moore (not verified) :: Sun, 02/26/2006 - 6:54pm

A little late to the party, but ...

"Smith and toasts go hand in hand"

That's excellent.

by Sid (not verified) :: Tue, 02/28/2006 - 9:28pm

A quality TE would help Plummer more than TO, I think, but Shannahan probably sees TO as the last piece in the puzzle.

Putzier is a solid receiving TE. TO would definitely help more than a TE on the field (unless the TE is Antonio Gates or something).

by Pat (not verified) :: Wed, 03/01/2006 - 7:27pm

And... Putzier's gone. Pryce and Anderson, too. Pryce and Anderson I could've seen coming, but Putzier? That's weird. I imagine he'll stay unsigned for oh, all of a day or two.

by underthebus (not verified) :: Fri, 03/03/2006 - 3:37pm

I always thought Brad Childress looked like the guy from Jurassic Park III, Mr Udesky. Click on my name.

by Ryan (not verified) :: Wed, 03/29/2006 - 4:24am

You all dog the Raiders and their moves. Who was the last team to make it to the Show in the AFC west? And they did after Jon Gruden, and if you say that was his team that got the Raiders there. Well then Tony Dungy's team beat Gruden's team. I mean really the colts have been a little bit succesful and the bucs, not so much. So give away Brees, miss out on Owens, and watch Brooks and Moss light it up.