Sunday, August 31, 2008

Great QB's in the Playoffs at Home and on the Road

Ever wonder how much home-field advantage in the playoffs means to a great quarterback? (You don't? What's wrong with you?). Wonder no more. Here's a list of the NFL's greatest post-merger QB's and their playoff home and road won-loss records, plus their won-loss records in the Super Bowl (played on neutral sites of course). Subsequent posts will analyze some of the fascinating info to be found in this table:


Friday, August 22, 2008

The Tuna's Approach

The Washington Post’s Mark Maske wonders “What is Parcells’ Approach in Miami?” The Dolphins and Parcells’ two biggest post-draft personnel moves have been the trade of star DE Jason Taylor and the signing of former Jets QB Chad Pennington, who now looks to be Miami’s starter for 2008. To Maske, these moves contradict each other--the Taylor trade seemingly exhibiting the desire to rebuild with youth while the more recent signing of Pennington, a veteran QB well past him prime, showing exactly the opposite. Yet to me what Parcells has done makes perfect sense--there's nothing confusing about it. Maske makes the mistake of looking at what Taylor and Pennington have in common, their age, while ignoring the things they don’t have in common, their trade value and the positions they play.

Concerning trade value, simply put Taylor has it and Pennington obviously doesn't. Taylor could start for any NFL franchise right now while Miami, with the worst QB situation this side of Chicago, might be the only place where Pennington has a shot at starting. Miami received a second-round pick for Taylor and, since Taylor likely plays two more years tops, if Miami hits on the pick they come out way ahead. Meanwhile, Pennington, a waiver-wire casualty of the Favre deal, costs the Dolphins virtually nothing. He comes cheap salary-wise plus he’s a clear upgrade over McCown as the starter. From every angle Parcells’ moves were coldly logical.

Now Maske admits Miami “at least got something” for Taylor but he implies the trade only became necessary because Parcells “alienated” Taylor. Now clearly Parcells wasn’t crazy about Taylor’s decision to dance with stars instead of reporting to camp but it was just as clear that Taylor wanted out of Miami badly, maybe even more than Parcells wanted him gone (for the right price). Taylor knows he’s near the end of his career and why would he, or anyone, want to spend one more minute playing for one of the worst teams of all-time? Plus Parcells already had cut loose his best friend on the team, Zach Thomas. As for Parcells, sure he could have said some nice things about Taylor but any long-time football fan ought to be familiar with Parcells’ mind games by now. The man loves messing with player’s heads but there’s always a method to the Tuna’s seeming madness. In this case, Parcells got to take a hard line with Taylor and more importantly sent a message to the rest of the team that no one’s expendable. Everyone knows who’s in charge now. If that alienated Taylor so what? Parcells held all the cards with Taylor under contract to Miami. If no team offered Parcells what he wanted for Taylor then no amount of bitterness between Taylor and Parcells was going to make Taylor sit out and forfeit millions of dollars in salary. In the end everybody won. Taylor wanted one more shot at the playoffs; Parcells wanted a high draft pick for Taylor. Parcells got his second-round pick and Taylor landed on a playoff contender. Well, everybody won except for Dolphin fans who’ve rooted for Jason Taylor his whole career. It’s tough to say goodbye to arguably the finest defensive player in Dolphins history but we all know the team has to be rebuilt from the ground up. The trade was necessary although I disagree with the snotty tone HERE. Taylor deserves more after all the years of tremendous effort he put forth. The man could play some ball. Nobody did anything wrong here. Taylor acted in his own best interests and Parcells acted in the long-term best interests of the team.

Maske says the team would be better off to “choose one of the team's young quarterbacks, John Beck or Chad Henne, to be the starter and give him a chance to develop in hopes that he'd be a capable quarterback by the time the club around him was ready to be a playoff contender” instead of bringing in “a 32-year-old quarterback with a history of arm troubles”. It sure looks to me like Miami is going to give Henne a chance to develop. He'll be taking over soon enough, that much is obvious. But quarterback isn’t like any other position. There's a huge learning curve and promising talents have been destroyed by being thrust into the starting lineup too soon, especially when surrounded by less than stellar talent (See: David Carr). Have you checked out Miami’s receiving corps lately? Even Dan Marino didn’t start until the 6th game of his rookie season and Henne probably isn’t going to be another Dan Marino. We all know the injury-prone noodle-armed Pennington will only start for one year at the most, but a has-been like Pennington is still an upgrade over a never-was like McCown (Josh or Luke). Rushing Henne into the lineup before he's ready could easily be counterproductive to his development. Letting him watch Pennington from the bench for awhile doesn't demonstrate a lack of commitment to rebuilding. It shows intelligence. Parcells will make the move to Henne when the time is right just like he pulled the trigger on the Taylor deal.

Maybe Parcells' moves will work and maybe they won’t, but you can’t say they don’t make sense. For the first time in years the team finally has someone in charge with a straightforward clearheaded approach. It's been awhile.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The Miami Dolphins and their Quarterbacks, Part Four

Since he already had Dan Marino, Jimmy Johnson didn't do much when it came to the quarterback position. But Dave Wannstedt didn't have Dan Marino. Marino retired. All Miami had left was Damon Huard and Wannstedt didn't see Huard as part of the team's future. So to address this desperate situation Wannstedt turned three decades of team history on its head. Previously, when the team needed a starting quarterback they used a number one pick to draft one. Wannstedt eschewed doing that in 2000. Miami didn’t do it in 2001 either. Or 2002. Or 2003. Or 2004. Or 2005. They didn’t spend any second-round picks on a QB either. Or any third-rounders. Or fourths. The team used just one draft pick on a QB from 2000 through 2005: a sixth-rounder on Josh Heupel, a never-was, in 2001. Rather than draft a QB, Wannstedt went the free-agent route. Now in previous years it was not uncommon for Miami to bring in free agents. Those free agent QB’s usually had two things in common: they were experienced older QB’s, brought in to back up the entrenched starter. (see Morrall, Jaworski, Kosar). By contrast, Wannstedt brought an INEXPERIENCED older QB, and he brought him in to START. Fiedler was 29 but he’d hardly ever played. As a group quarterbacks being to decline by age 32 so the move to Fiedler definitely went against the book. I don’t mean to rip Jay Fiedler here. I thought he handled the unenviable job of following Dan Marino rather well. And Fiedler wasn’t a bad quarterback (especially considering the garbage the team’s had since he left). He had an occasional flair for the dramatic, he was willing to sacrifice his body to make a play, and he worked hard. He just wasn’t accurate enough.

In case Fiedler proved not to be the answer, Miami brought in some other QB’s. As we’ve already seen, Miami used to bring in two kinds of QB’s to back up their Hall-of-Fame starters: (1) the aforementioned experienced older free agent QB’s; and (2) young draftees who could be groomed as the team’s QB of the future. Again, Miami jettisoned that strategy and used free agency and trades to obtain QB’s who were inexperienced and had already been rejected by other franchises as QB-of-the-future material. Ray Lucas, Sage Rosenfels, Brian Griese, and A.J. Feely were all brought in to back up Fiedler at various times. None of them had been top draft picks and none of them impressed (to say the least) when given their opportunity in Miami. Only Griese could remotely be said to have had some success prior to his Dolphins tenure yet Denver’s willingness to part with him while he was still in his prime was certainly a warning sign not to expect much. Griese's since become the very definition of a journeyman quarterback. Feeley was a far bigger debacle as he was not only terrible, but the Dolphins actually parted with a second-round pick to get him. (That was Rick Spielman’s brainstorm by the way). I admit to a soft spot for Ray Lucas though. I don’t know that in all my years watching professional football that I’ve ever seen a QB play as badly as Lucas did in his first three Dolphins starts. Just comically inept.

Even after Wannstedt’s departure and Nick Saban’s arrival, the organization continued to ignore what had once worked and instead kept following the same quick fix QB strategy that had repeatedly failed since Marino's retirement. Yet another failed QB, Gus Frerotte, was brought into start in 2005 and the team traded for the aptly named Cleo Lemon as well. Frerotte wasn’t half bad actually but clearly wasn’t the answer either. Still refusing to draft a QB, Saban at least recognized an upgrade was necessary and shopped for a star free agent to take over. He chose poorly. Duante Culpepper put up great number for Minnesota prior to his horrific knee injury but, post-injury and sans Randy Moss, Culpepper played just as badly as the other free agent bums Miami brought in after Dan Marino’s retirement and he was gone a year later. 2007 brought a new coaching change in Cam Cameron and he and Randy Mueller actually executed a partial return to the team’s old successful ways. Miami at last expended a high pick on a QB, a second-rounder for John Beck, the highest the team had taken a QB since, believe it or not, Marino in 1983. Still, Bob Griese and Dan Marino were blue-chip first rounders and Miami had a chance to take one in 2007, but they passed on Brady Quinn. Only time will tell if that was wise but I have to admit that from what we've seen so far I don’t have a good feeling about it. Camerson and Mueller did head down the free-agent route again for a short-term starter, and Trent Green had once been a very good QB, but his concussion problem reared its ugly head in scary fashion and after the injury he was lost to the team for the season.

As the 2008 season begins, the Miami Dolphins again turn to a new regime, this one headed by Bill Parcells, a man who certainly knows football and has a track record of success. For the second straight year the team spent a second-rounder on a quarterback, former Michigan star Chad Henne. Are either he or Beck the team’s future? Who knows? But given the team’s history, relying on one of them or spending a future top choice on a top quarterback prospect has to be preferable to relying yet again on another team’s castoffs to lead the team back to a Super Bowl.