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What’s on Jon’s mind

December 19, 2012

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Quarterback market for 2013: Matt Cassel, Brady Quinn, Blaine Gabbert, Chad Henne, Nick Foles, and Michael Vick. What do they all have in common? They played for one of the 3 worst teams in the NFL this season. It’s no surprise that the 3 worst teams record wise all had mediocre to bad QBs to begin the season and due to injuries they all had to give extensive playing time to the backups of those mediocre to bad quarterbacks. Every year fans wonder why a Ryan Tannehill, Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert, or Christian Ponder is catapulted up into the Top 12 on draft day but it’s an obvious phenomenon to track when you look at the teams drafting at the top of the draft. Almost every team near the top has QB issues either with a QB being hurt (Colts getting the #1 Overall Pick last year when Peyton Manning missed all of 2011) or a QB just not being talented (Jaguars with Gabbert/Henne or Chiefs with Cassel/Quinn in 2012). This offseason quite a few teams will be searching for their newest signal caller and luckily for those teams this offseason could have the deepest pool of quarterbacks I’ve ever seen. Last year Peyton Manning was available in free agency and it garnered all of the headlines yet while this offseason lacks an instant MVP candidate like Peyton it has unprecedented depth and will likely result in quite a lot of movement at the QB position. The draft is weak (Barkley and Geno Smith aren’t elite in my eyes) but free agency is very deep (Vick, Palmer, Kolb, Alex Smith, Fitzpatrick-all five are likely to be cut, and Joe Flacco) and there are trade targets too (Matt Flynn, Colt McCoy, Chad Henne, Ryan Mallett, Tim Tebow, Kyle Orton, Kirk Cousins). None except Flacco or Vick appear capable of a great season but the fact that there are 10-15 viable options is pretty much unheard of in this day and age. The possibilities are endless and quite fun to piece together. Arizona adding Carson Palmer and Jake Long/Ryan Clady at LT in free agency while adding a stud pass rusher via the Top 5 pick in the draft could make that a sleeper team next year. They’re D is very underrated and I still think Ryan Williams can be a top level back if he ever gets healthy. Buffalo, Miami, or Minnesota overpaying for Joe Flacco could boost their chances next season while wrecking Baltimore’s as they would be left scrambling to find a replacement in free agency or the draft as their current #2 QB is Tyrod Taylor and isn’t considered a viable starter at this point in his career. Will Jacksonville try to trade for Tim Tebow and give him a 2nd chance as a full time starter at quarterback? Would Minnesota be willing to pull the plug after 2 years on the Christian Ponder experiment and sign Alex Smith to be the efficient game manager they want in support of MVP candidate Adrian Peterson. Does Philadelphia think Nick Foles is the answer or will they look to the draft/free agency for an upgrade over him? Arizona, Jacksonville, Kansas City, Buffalo, Minnesota, and Oakland all will be looking for new options at quarterback while New York (Jets), Tennessee, Philadelphia, San Diego, and Tampa Bay all will likely consider a change due to the inconsistent play this season from their starters. When franchises make a change at quarterback it’s often seen as a new direction for the team and an all out media blitz is put out there to garner support for the new leader and face of the franchise. The public nature of the position and the lack of appealing alternatives make the quarterback position one of the more stable positions in the NFL as franchises think long and hard before making a change at that spot. Yet this offseason could see unprecedented movement between teams due to the depth out there and don’t be surprise to find a number of current or former starters having to accept a #2 or even #3 quarterback job for a team due to this rare depth.

Mark Sanchez: After his 4 interception game Monday night there is discussion of him being cut next offseason. Sadly this will not be the case and I decided to make an entire paragraph just on him as it’s interesting, complicated, and embarrassing so it deserves more detail than can be had if I just clumped him in with all of the other potential QBs on the market next offseason. Last offseason the Jets went after Peyton Manning. It was an understandable attempt as Sanchez had never been higher than 23rd in the NFL in QB Rating (in a 32 team league that means he’s been in the bottom 25% his entire career) and, despite some impressive playoff wins early in his career, he was always considered the weak link of the team. Yet when Manning rebuffed them they were worried that Sanchez would pout so they rewarded him with a 5 year $58.5 million extension. The deal was shocking as it made him one of the 10 highest paid quarterbacks in the NFL despite never having been to the Pro Bowl or being even in the discussion as a Top 10 QB and it immediately was deemed a mistake. Shortly thereafter they added Tim Tebow via trade, undermining Sanchez and causing him to pout which was the sole reason for giving him the extension (a clear lack of logical decision making when 1 decision undermines a decision made just weeks before), and then watched as Sanchez had his worst season in the NFL. He’s currently 33rd in the NFL in QB Rating and is not only inferior to every starter in the NFL, except for the worthless Matt Cassel, but also worse than backups Chad Henne, Nick Foles, and Matt Hasselbeck. Naturally the vicious media in New York have ripped him to shreds and will want him cut at the end of this season yet the sad thing is that the Jets guaranteed his 2012 AND 2013 base salary so whether they cut him, start him, or have him as the backup quarterback in 2013 (the most likely scenario) they will still pay him the same amount: $8.25 million. It’s the reason why the Jets never replaced Sanchez this season as it would have guaranteed that the GM Mike Tannenbaum would have been fired. Keeping with Sanchez and hoping he improved was the only way he wouldn’t be fired and Rex Ryan displayed impressive loyalty to his GM and his quarterback by staying with Sanchez throughout the season. It did no good in the end as Sanchez played so horribly that they are officially eliminated from playoff contention and Sanchez’s play has now put head coach Rex Ryan’s and offensive coordinator Tony Sporano’s jobs in jeopardy but at least it’s a little more understandable when seen in that light. Whether it was the contract given to Alex Smith or the extension given to Mark Sanchez, the teams that went all in for Peyton Manning this offseason and failed were put in an awkward situation and made the circumstances worse by overpaying for mediocre talent. Both teams will be in cap purgatory in 2013 due to the repercussions of the Manning sweepstakes.

Cowboys’ offseason: Early in the season the offseason priorities looked very different from the way they look now so it wouldn’t be surprising if they change again before the offseason actually gets here. Early in the season Anthony Spencer wasn’t providing pressure, Dez Bryant was a player the team couldn’t count on, and Bruce Carter was a question mark. Spencer now has a career high 8.5 sacks and looks destined to be re-signed long term by the club, Bryant is a Pro Bowl candidate at wideout, and Carter looks like a potential superstar at linebacker who I can’t wait to see next season paired with Sean Lee for a full campaign. Yet some of the issues from earlier in the year have persisted as Doug Free has struggled so much that he no longer is playing full time at right tackle, right guard Mackenzy Bernadeau has been a poor starter throughout the year, and strong safety Danny McCray has been the weak link of the defense. Those three spots (SS, RG, RT) are the 3 biggest offseason priorities but luckily for the Cowboys they also match up well with the strengths of the 2013 NFL Draft. There are 2 viable candidates for 1st round consideration at offensive guard (Jonathan Cooper, Chance Warmack), there are at least a half dozen candidates for 1st round consideration at offensive tackle (Luke Joeckel, Cyrus Kouandjio, Jake Matthews, Taylor Lewan, Eric Fisher, Jordan Pugh, DJ Fluker), and the safety class is deep with numerous candidates for the 1st or 2nd round (Bacarri Rambo, Matt Elam, Eric Reid, Kenny Vacarro, Robert Lester, TJ McDonald). Likely the Cowboys would take the best player available in rounds 1 and 2 from these 3 positions and try and fill the other spot via free agency. With the offensive tackle free agent class being filled with rare talent at the top and depth I could also see them solidify their right tackle spot on the first day of free agency (Jake Long, Ryan Clady, Branden Albert, Sam Baker) or after the first wave of free agents had signed but before the NFL Draft in late April (Sebastian Vollmer and Andre Smith will be available as well but are 2nd tier players). Of course this all could be thrown for a loop if Anthony Spencer bolts via free agency as the Cowboys would then have to put pass rusher as their #1 offseason priority. I personally think offensive guard is a position that can and should be filled by a team later in the draft and would prefer the team drafted an offensive tackle, pass rusher, cornerback or another more valuable position with their #1 Overall Pick. Teams that draft running backs and guards in the 1st round rarely look back on their decisions favorably and sometimes it’s better to draft a less talented player at a more important position than a higher rated player at a lesser position, even if there is a need. Luckily for the Cowboys the perfect fit of value vs. need occurs if they just take the best offensive tackle on their board in round 1 as Doug Free needs to be replaced and in the middle of the 1st round there surely will be at least one tackle left on the board with a 1st round grade. The NFL Draft is 5 months away and a lot can change but at this point in time it looks like it would make a lot of sense to not overthink it and just take the best offensive tackle with their 1st round pick. Two Pro Bowl caliber tackles, joining Tyron Smith, would be a good way to start building a dominant offensive line to keep Romo healthy as he gets older. The Romo spin won’t be effective forever so it’s time the Cowboys built up their offensive line and gave him more time in the pocket.

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