|Gregory Bull/Associated Press|
|Mike McCoy's biggest challenge as San Diego Chargers coach is getting the struggling offense back on track.|
PHOENIX -- This week, the NFL's power brokers descended upon the Arizona Biltmore for the league's annual meeting. In the four-day span, several significant rule changes were passed for the 2013 season, the future of the Pro Bowl came into focus, and Commissioner Roger Goodell provided updates on several facets of the game.
In addition, it was a time to pick the brains of those who run the game, with coaches and general managers weighing in on their own teams and others. Want some food for thought? Here we go:
1) Mike McCoy explains the process of fixing Philip Rivers
The mission for the new coach of the San Diego Chargers is clear: Fix Philip Rivers. It was a mandate during the coaching search, as the Bolts settled on what they were seeking: a quarterback guru who likes to teach. That fits Mike McCoy to a T.
It's McCoy who is charged with helping Rivers return to the form of 2008 to 2010, rather than the player we saw the past two years. If Rivers is to continue as a starter in this league, he'll have to overcome seasons in 2011 and '12 that saw him set career-highs in interceptions (20 in 2011) and sacks (49 in 2012).
McCoy is clear the entire offense needs to play better, not just Rivers. He recalled a time when he was offensive coordinator in Denver, and the Broncos rallied from a 24-0 deficit to beat the Chargers. "Everyone said, 'If we all just play better, what can we do?' "
"[Rivers has] to hold up his end of the bargain," McCoy told me. "[Interceptions] happen sometimes because you're getting hit too many times. You're throwing off your back foot. Maybe you're down, trying to make too many plays, try to force the ball in because you're down two scores."
What McCoy would like is not just for Rivers to embrace the past, but also the future. Starting on April 1, Rivers can begin to learn McCoy's new system. As McCoy said, "Really, right there, that's going to change him. Everything is different now."
New terminology. New way of calling plays. And some new teammates. While people focused on Peyton Manning's arm last offseason, he honed in on his new schemes with McCoy. It's the same thing Rivers will be doing.
"(Rivers) wants to know every answer to everything," McCoy said. "And so that's going to get him out of the mindset of doing how he did things in the past. It's (not) just 'Drop back there and go through the same progression on the same play you've called 1,000 times.' That'll be different for him."
2) Backup quarterbacks are making it rain
During another free agency period that features a mostly flat salary cap, it seems few teams really have money. Veterans like Brian Urlacher find themselves jobless, while players like Wes Welker switch teams for monetary reasons. And yet, one crop of players is swimming in money: backup quarterbacks.
The Minnesota Vikings gave Matt Cassel $3.7 million to back up Christian Ponder. The Indianapolis Colts gave Matt Hasselbeck a contract that pays him $5 million in Year 1 to hold Andrew Luck's clipboard. And Ryan Fitzpatrick is set to make $6.5 million over two years in Tennessee.
Meanwhile, veteran linebackers and safeties won't make as much. What gives?
One NFC general manager explained that it all goes back to 2011, when Caleb Hanie took over for injured Jay Cutler and led the Chicago Bears into the tank. Four games, four losses. And Hanie was Chicago's best option.
"No GM wants to have to tell their owner, 'The season is over,' in November," the GM said. "No one wants to say, 'We have no answer at quarterback with the starter out.' You can't let yourself be in that situation at that position."
And if it costs a little more, that's money well spent.
3) The argument to keep running the read option
The storyline seems like a simple one. Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III was injured during the regular season and again in the playoffs, a warning sign for a league that has fallen in love with running quarterbacks. Thus, teams should be a little more careful when running the read option.
Not according to Mike Shanahan. The Redskins coach, of course, sees ways Griffin can protect himself. They'll watch film together and Shanahan will point out when RG3 should have thrown it away or when he should have slid. "He'll learn," Shanahan said, noting that both injuries occurred on drop-back passes.
But what Shanahan will not do is stop running the option. The argument is that it puts the quarterback at risk. I'd argue you're safer when you can see the would-be tacklers than when you are dropping back and leaving your blind side exposed. Shanahan takes it further.
"The option will help a QB stay healthy," Shanahan said. "It stops a defensive line from rushing. You take a look at pass protection, you take a look at the play-action game. You compare the QBs, the chances are if you do have the ability to run the option, these defensive linemen will be neutralized, and the QB will get less hits. We study it each week, that's what we do."
4) Understanding the rebuilding process in Oakland
It's been 10 seasons since the Oakland Raiders had a winning one. Oh, and in the past two drafts, they haven't had a first-rounder. In 2012, they didn't have a second-rounder, either.
Let's not forget they are fighting an uphill battle against the salary cap, one that meant watching top free agents like Desmond Bryant walk. And the sheer fact that quarterback Carson Palmer has a $13 million base salary puts him at risk to be cut.
All of this is the backdrop for coach Dennis Allen's second season. He wants to win, knowing that's what matters; it's the reality of how coaches are judged. But when I asked Allen about life in charge of a rebuilding team still midway through GM Reggie McKenzie's project, he immediately shook his head. He has perspective.
"I know there's a philosophy and way of doing things that succeeds in this league," Allen told me in Arizona. "It's a process of making good decision after good decision. I'm in it for the long term. I'm not in it for a one-year wonder, quick fix, microwave society. That's what I want to do. I want this team to have sustained success, not to win one year."
As for examples of teams who have done it right, Allen pointed to the New England Patriots, San Francisco 49ers, Green Bay Packers and Baltimore Ravens. At some point, those teams needed to make proper decisions, and then do it again and again. It's what Allen wants, speaking like a coach who knows he has some wiggle room even if things look grim in 2013.
"If you want sustained success and want to be a relevant organization for the long term, there's a certain way of doing things," Allen said. "And that's how we're trying to do it."
5) Brian Urlacher, Ed Reed situations hammer home reality
If you're emotional, you are bound to get hurt. That's the reality of the NFL. The Bears and Brian Urlacher tried to work out one final deal, and they were so far apart on his value that Chicago announced in a press release they couldn't reach an agreement. The Ravens have never been shy about expressing their appreciation for Ed Reed as a player and leader. But they set his value at less than $4 million per year; the Texans did not. Goodbye, Baltimore; hello, Houston.
Ed Reed through the yearsTake a look back at Ed Reed's career.
Perhaps Ravens coach John Harbaugh summed it up best: "I'm probably more the sentimental guy. Maybe (GM) Ozzie (Newsome) and (negotiator) Pat (Moriarty), they can be a little more business-oriented. But in the end, you have to do what's best for the team going forward."
That's the secret: Divorce yourself from the emotional part, as hard as that is. In reality, Urlacher should not be playing for the Bears this year. They are going younger in Marc Trestman's new regime -- that needs to start with their own players, with as clean a break from the past as possible. Plus, as accomplished as the future Hall of Famer is, he is not a full-time player anymore. As for Reed, the Ravens can't allow sentimentality to take them away from their long-term ascension. Paying a lot for a veteran at a position where Reed could stunt the growth of young players doesn't make sense.
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