I don’t want to get too Crash Davis in Bull Durham on everyone here, but I thought it made sense to put a few things on the table and let you guys know where I am coming from in terms of how I view football, team-building and franchises. We all carry certain predilections, things we espouse and believe in, which tend to inform our football worldview, if you will. Some of these beliefs could be challenged by profound statistical review, and all are certainly open for debate, and in time they may change (and in this case, none of them are particularly earth-shattering). I tend to feel like certain tenets of the game hold up over time, however, these included.
So, with that said, I believe …
The best franchises covet the draft above all else: Without a doubt, a combination of success both in the draft and free agency is required to sustain a winning franchise over time, but the ability to get the best young players (remember how quickly this sport ages those who play it) at a bargain price (excluding the first round) is paramount. You can groom them from the get-go in your system and philosophies; you can surround them with your veterans; you can establish a sense of professional identity immediately tied to your franchise. It’s no coincidence that teams like New England, Philadelphia and Baltimore have accrued so many compensatory picks this decade — knowing when to go out with the old and knowing which draft-eligible players to bring in ensures stability and helps manage the salary cap.
Winning teams are built in the trenches: Give me a deep and relatively youthful offensive and defensive line and a strong tactical coach, and I think I can find ways to be competitive. I’m not saying this alone will get you to the Super Bowl, but it’s the place to start. The football might not be pretty, but style points don’t matter anyway. I want to stockpile assets in the trenches, at “independent positions,” because these big uglies are the people charged with making the guys at the “dependent positions” like receiver and quarterback successful. You won’t find many, if any, quality organizations that aren’t constantly investing draft picks along the lines. Once you have a solid nucleus in place there, the glamor positions will follow. So, saying all of that …
QBs drive this league: Look at the top 10 teams in the NFL in terms of victories per dollar spent on players costs (I will have a few charts with raw dollars spent on the blog this week), and they all have something in common: a stud QB. Over the last five years, the following six franchises have been most cost efficient: New England, Indianapolis, San Diego, Pittsburgh, Denver and the New York Giants. They all have something going for them under center (remember, this is from 2004-2008, so that explains the short-lived Jay Cutler era with the Broncos). The other thing they have in common is that, short of the Colts, where Peyton Manning is getting megabucks, the other teams on this list also have their QBs in manageable contracts (Tom Brady did a team-friendly deal with the Pats, if you recall). And for much of the past five years, Denver, Pittsburgh, San Diego and the Giants all had young starting quarterbacks still on their rookie contracts. It’s that second contract, as the Chargers and Giants well know, that’s gonna move guys like Philip Rivers and Eli Manning to the upper echelons of all-time paydays. If you want to be a perpetual contender, build the lines and get yourself an elite QB (easier said than done, right?).
Free agency is a crutch that is easily snapped: A player here and a player there, sprinkled judiciously at certain positions while harvesting draft picks for the spring, makes a lot of sense. But relying on older players, many of whom are getting big money for the first time, is dangerous. Their bodies in many cases are beginning to feel the crush of years of accumulated pounding. They are out of their comfort zones, adjusting to new ideas, schedules, systems, teammates and coaches (don’t forget how much, in large part, that these guys are creatures of habit). Many have to adapt to new roles. It takes time, and in a game where turnover among coaches, players and front-office types is so high, time is a luxury not afforded to all.
I have one other truism to share, non-football related, that cuts to the core of who I am:
Please forgive me, for at times I am an idiot: You will discover that, on occasion, I end up sparring with technology before I actually get the hang of it. To that end, as I am getting accustomed to the blog template here at NFL.com, I just now realized that I haven’t been clicking the little box on the posting screen that allows readers to comment on the blog. So naturally, I feel like a fool, after writing an intro post seeking reader input, and then failing to trigger the very mechanism that allows it to take place. Duh. So from here on out, I will be sure not to repeat that mistake and I very much look forward to reading and responding to comments. Sorry about that. I’d love to promise you that this is the last time I’ll make a rookie mistake, but I know myself far too well to vouch for that. And for anyone with the desire to comment on the earlier posts, Frank Tadych, the editor here with the arduous charge of trying to get me up to speed on the software, has made it possible to now comment on the prior missive. All thanks to Frank.
Randoms: Been out in La-La Land all week, just went to the cafeteria to grab a Diet Dew and, whodathunk it, it’s actually cloudy and overcast outside. I thought 78 and sunny was a mandate out here. Bummer. … Trying to get some of my new bosses turned on to The Wire. I fully admit my natural bias to the show, as it was filmed in my hometown (for any Wire fans, Prop Joe’s “office” was a storefront about six blocks from the house I grew up in, where my parents still live). But even putting that aside, I think it was the pinnacle of modern American television. The depth of the characters, the intricacies of the plotlines and the seeming ease with which David Simon captured and projected the realties and complexities of modern urban decay was stunning and moving. …
Is The Hangover as funny as Rich Eisen and Marshall Faulk are saying it is? We don’t get to the movies much anymore, but my wife was down with Old School, so I’m thinking she could hang with this flick if we manage to get a sitter when I get home next week. Are those who have seen it willing to put it up there with the pantheon of guy comedies — Caddyshack and Slap Shot? I’m willing to be convinced (and I promise that I won’t be making this many movie references in a blog post for quite some time, if ever). … It’s still early, and as I am learning, things can change in an instant with live TV, but it looks like on Total Access, we’ll be talking some Julius Peppers, Plaxico Burress and I might even get to touch on my man Ryan Clark as well, one of the truly good people I have come across in my 15-odd years covering pro sports. Gotta run to a meeting, but I will share some of my thoughts on the Peppers signing later this afternoon. Cheers.
— Jason La Canfora