Much of the intrigue of free agency is behind us, the NFL Draft remains a month away and the league meetings are over. This might be a rare, dare I say it, respite, in the NFL offseason news cycle. If not for all of the quarterback intrigue swirling this week at The Ritz in Orlando, where the meetings were taking place, that is.
There was chatter about quarterback trades just completed, and potential deals that might never come to fruition (hello, Philadelphia). There were teams naming their starting quarterback, coaches proclaiming open competition for their most important starting spot, and the never-ending projections about where the top quarterbacks in next month's draft will end up.
If you needed any further evidence that this is a quarterback-driven league, it was on display in Orlando. There were teams present with no readily identifiable future quarterback on the roster to speak of (Buffalo, St. Louis), teams with apparently too many passers -- not that it is really possible -- like Philadelphia and San Diego (pre-Charlie Whitehurst trade), and teams jockeying for potential draft picks and trades. Heck, there were even quarterbacks roaming the halls, like free-agent Daunte Culpepper (who acts as his own agent), not to mention broadcaster and Hall of Famer Troy Aikman.
So, what's the deal?
The quarterback shuffle was in full force.
Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh explained how he would not be shocked if a team came calling for one of his young backups (Troy Smith and John Beck), musing that perhaps "an opportunity we can't pass up" might come along. Bills coach Chan Gailey, ostensibly, could be one to call, with his quarterback situation entirely up in the air, and Smith or Dolphins backup Tyler Thigpen both making sense in the spread attack Gailey ran (Thigpen started for him in Kansas City in 2008). Gailey and Oakland coach Tom Cable both said they plan to split first-team reps with their quarterbacks at this point in an old-school, wide-open competition, with no clear leader in the group.
The Miami Dolphins, of course, recently re-signed Chad Pennington, which could make Thigpen more expendable. Coach Tony Sparano said that Pennington's recovery from surgery is going well. Pennington was given a contract not just to be a leader and teacher, but because they still feel like if needed to rush into service, Pennington "could come into a football game and win that game for you."
The Seattle Seahawks dealt for Whitehurst last week, with coach Pete Carroll among those in that organization who believe Whitehurst could be a starting quarterback despite never throwing a regular-season pass in four NFL seasons with San Diego. "The physical skills are there," said Chargers coach Norv Turner, who compared Whitehurst's journey to that of Trent Green, Matt Cassel or Matt Hasselbeck, "so now it's what he does with the opportunity."
With Whitehurst in the fold, the Seahawks don't have to reach or stretch to take a quarterback in the draft, but that hasn't stopped them from scheduling private meetings with Tim Tebow, who I still can't see getting outside the second round (especially not with New England clinging to three picks in that round).
The St. Louis Rams still have Marc Bulger on the roster, but the closer we get to the draft the harder time I have seeing someone other than Oklahoma QB Sam Bradford being their pick at first overall. Redskins coach Mike Shanahan professed his support of Jason Campbell, but said he hopes Rex Grossman pushes Campbell for the starting job. Everyone in the league is wondering if the Redskins will end up taking a quarterback fourth overall in the draft (Jimmy Clausen, in particular).
Cleveland Browns president Mike Holmgren said he wishes he liked Clausen more, as the Browns need a young quarterback and hold a top-10 pick. With the Browns possessing 12 picks in this draft, you can't rule out them moving up to take one of the top passers as well (Tebow does not appear to be a good fit in Cleveland). And all Holmgren has done since arriving in Cleveland is cut one struggling former Pro Bowl passer (Derek Anderson), trade a former first-round pick (Brady Quinn) and sign a quarterback not that far removed from a Super Bowl appearance (Jake Delhomme). Broncos coach Josh McDaniels, who acquired Quinn, wanted no part of a quarterback competition, saying, "Kyle Orton is our quarterback."
Yeah, midseason, postseason or offseason, it's pretty much always all about the quarterbacks. "In this league, I think that's very true," Cable said (I have a hard time seeing JaMarcus Russell beating out Bruce Gradkowski if it is indeed an open competition in Oakland come August, as an aside).
Whoops, and almost forgot to mention that Eagles coach Andy Reid faced a barrage of questions about his quarterback trifecta -- Donovan McNabb, Kevin Kolb and Michael Vick. Reid parced out his semantics as closely as possible amid the inquisition and reiterated his expectation that all three will be on the team come training camp, with McNabb still the starter.
The bottom line is that there is a lot more movement still to come at this position, and no area will generate as much continued gossip and guessing as the draft approaches.
Best coaches will adapt to new OT rule
Count me among those in favor of the new overtime format for the playoffs, and, like many of the 28 teams that voted in favor of the new rule, I'd just as soon see it implemented across the board for all games before the 2010 season kicks off.
It's more equitable, it forces more intense decision making and strategy, it provides clear-cut incentives for teams to chase touchdowns rather than field goals, and does not detract from the sudden-death element, either.
I can sympathize with the trepidation expressed by some coaches, to some degree, but ultimately this is the best game in the world being played at the highest level possible, and those coaches who can adapt, think quickly and best assess the situation should be rewarded. The league should prod the game in that direction and those coaches who are the most creative, the quickest-thinking, should be rewarded (think Sean Payton's onside kick to start the second-half in the Super Bowl).
True, if adopted in the playoffs only, it would be somewhat uncharted territory, but it's just as likely that even if adopted in the regular season, a coach still might not experience this new rule for the first time until there's a conference or Super Bowl championship on the line. Study the rules, analyze your opponents and see which philosophies and strategies best fit your roster and talent. That's part of what makes football so compelling. It will put coaches under even more scrutiny, for certain, but I can tell you with certainty that Titans coach Jeff Fisher -- co-chair of the Competition Committee -- isn't running scared or bellyaching.
It makes good sense for the league, and the overwhelming majority of owners voted that way.
Is trade in the works between Ravens and Redskins?
Washington badly needs starting tackles (yes, plural), especially if the club starts zeroing in on a quarterback at the fourth overall pick. The Redskins regretted letting Maryland tackle Jared Gaither get away from them in the supplemental draft a few years back, when the Ravens plucked the starting left tackle in the fifth round. The Ravens will not give Gaither a contract extension this year, according to a league source, and he currently has a first-round tender.
However, the Redskins' second-round pick (37th overall), is plenty close enough to the first round for the Ravens, according to sources, and if you throw in a fifth- or sixth-round pick as added incentive, that's a deal folks. Gaither is represented by Drew Rosenhaus, who has a very strong relationship with Redskins owner Daniel Snyder. He could play left or right tackle, and would be a massive upgrade over anything on Washington's roster.
The Ravens are hesitant to give Gaither a long-term deal because he isn't always ultra-competitive and he tends to get hurt. They like him as a person, but he inspires some hesitation as a player. If he stayed in Baltimore and had a heck of a season and eased some of those concerns, he would get rewarded, but I have a strong sense it won't come to that.
Maybe a team such as Dallas parts with its late first-round pick for Gaither -- though it's not as likely -- but the Redskins make a lot of sense here for many reasons. Any team with a high second-round pick in need of tackle help (the Lions, certainly), would have potential, and the Ravens will be ready to wheel and deal if interest picks up closer to the draft, as I suspect it will.
Big pay days for defensive tackles
This has been a rough offseason for a lot of players and their representatives, but that can't be said of agent Kennard McGuire, who had a considerable haul at the defensive tackle position alone (and one of the least glamorous in the game, no less).
McGuire landed long-term extensions for Vince Wilfork (New England) and Ryan Pickett (Green Bay), who had been given the franchise tag, then had Cory Redding signed by Baltimore. The max value of those three contracts is $74 million, with roughly half of that guaranteed. Not too shabby at all. Those three big men can eat well for a long time, and well deserved.