AFC East: Bill Polian

The Miami Dolphins invested $3 million this season in tailback Knowshon Moreno to boost their 26th-ranked running game. Due to his production last season and experience, Moreno is projected to be the Week 1 starter in Miami.

Moreno
But former longtime Indianapolis Colts general manager and ESPN analyst Bill Polian is not impressed with the signing. Polian graded Moreno as a “C” free agent.

Here were Polian’s comments on ESPN.com’s free-agent tracker:
“Solid contributor, but not a No. 1 back. I think most of his success from 2013 was a function of the system. His acceleration to the hole is the reason for the speed minus. The rest of his game is good, he just doesn't hit the big plays you need from a No. 1 RB.”

As Polian mentioned, many believe Moreno was a product of Denver Broncos’ system. He was a former first-round bust until future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning arrived in Denver. Those same large running lanes will not be there in Miami.

The Dolphins are expecting Moreno to be their No. 1 option to help third-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas could not get the job done last season. Miami is hoping at least one of those two players will improve their game in a complimentary role.

It was a tough free-agent market for running backs. Moreno is coming off a career year where he rushed for 1,038 yards and 10 touchdowns. But Moreno said he only talked to the Dolphins before signing a one-year contract last week.
The Miami Dolphins invested $3 million this season in tailback Knowshon Moreno to boost their 26th-ranked running game. Due to his production last season and experience, Moreno is projected to be the Week 1 starter in Miami.

Moreno
But former longtime Indianapolis Colts general manager and ESPN analyst Bill Polian is not impressed with the signing. Polian graded Moreno as a “C” free agent.

Here were Polian’s comments on ESPN.com’s free-agent tracker:
“Solid contributor, but not a No. 1 back. I think most of his success from 2013 was a function of the system. His acceleration to the hole is the reason for the speed minus. The rest of his game is good, he just doesn't hit the big plays you need from a No. 1 RB.”

As Polian mentioned, many believe Moreno was a product of Denver Broncos’ system. He was a former first-round bust until future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning arrived in Denver. Those same large running lanes will not be there in Miami.

The Dolphins are expecting Moreno to be their No. 1 option to help third-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas could not get the job done last season. Miami is hoping at least one of those two players will improve their game in a complimentary role.

It was a tough free-agent market for running backs. Moreno is coming off a career year where he rushed for 1,038 yards and 10 touchdowns. But Moreno said he only talked to the Dolphins before signing a one-year contract last week.
The Miami Dolphins made an under-the-radar acquisition this week when they signed free-agent Earl Mitchell to a four-year, $16 million contract. The former Houston Texans defensive tackle is not a household name to many NFL fans. But it was evident the Dolphins had Mitchell high on their wish list.

Another person who is high on Mitchell is former Indianapolis Colts general manager and ESPN NFL analyst Bill Polian. Mitchell was one of just six free agents who received an "A" grade from the veteran talent evaluator.

Here was Polian’s take on Mitchell:
"Mitchell has become a real inside force and one of the most productive penetrators in the NFL at generating consistent inside pressure. He is a much better athlete than most guys who play his position, and his effort is outstanding. He is a one-gap penetrator with good quickness and really works to finish the play. He is young and will only get better."

Mitchell explained Wednesday that he is happy to come to Miami and play in a 4-3 defense. He was a 3-4 nose tackle with the Texans, where he didn’t get an opportunity to rush the passer. Mitchell had just 1.5 sacks in 2013.

Mitchell believes he is capable of putting up bigger numbers in 2014. He will get more opportunities to be disruptive, collapse the pocket and get to the quarterback in Miami’s system under defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle.
Former longtime general manager Bill Polian, in his current role as an ESPN analyst, provides his insight into the offseason with a free-agency tracker Insider. He evaluates and grades every free agent, using a specific grading method:

A: $6+ million AAV (annual average value), 3+ years guaranteed money

B: $2 million-$6 million AAV, 2 years or fewer guaranteed money

C: $2 million or less AAV, 2 years or fewer guaranteed money

D: Minimum salary, 1 year contract

Cumberland
Polian isn't particularly bullish on the New York Jets' free agents, with the exception of tight end Jeff Cumberland, whom he gave a B grade. Based on Polian's rating system, the Jets got a great deal for Cumberland, who re-signed for $3.7 million over three years. Essentially, he got paid like a No. 2 tight end. Polian's take on Cumberland:

A former college wide receiver, Cumberland has filled out his frame enough to become a move tight end who can be flexed out and detached from the line of scrimmage. He has good straight-line speed to stretch the seam and extend the field vertically. He is a work in progress as a blocker who can be a useful No. 2 tight end who can improve the passing attack in the red zone with his good catch radius. He's not an ideal starter, but he also won't be a detriment to an offense. An improving player.

Only two free agents are worthy of a C, according to Polian -- kicker Nick Folk and right tackle Austin Howard. The Jets overpaid for Folk, per the rating system, and they could be on the verge of doing the same for Howard. Polian's take on Folk, who received the franchise tag ($3.6 million):

After clinging to his job for each of his first three seasons in New York, Folk broke out with the best season of his career in 2013. He showed exceptional accuracy and leg strength, hitting a 54-yard field goal during the season. A starting-level kicker who has connected on over 80 percent of his career kicks.

Polian on Howard, who will land a deal in the coming days (whether it's with the Jets or another team) that will pay him twice as much as the 'C' grade:

Howard made strides during the 2013 regular season, improving as a full-time starter for the Jets as a right tackle. He has a massive frame and wingspan, as he entered the NFL at nearly 350 pounds (he has since trimmed down). Howard can struggle with quickness from opposing edge rushers but is sufficient as a space player and can be a starting right tackle. He should continue to improve.
ESPN NFL analyst Bill Polian put together multiple playoff teams and a Super Bowl winner with the Indianapolis Colts. This year, Polian put together a free-agent tracker Insider for ESPN.com that rates the top players.

Polian had some interesting thoughts on pending free agents for the Miami Dolphins. Here are several that stood out:

Clemons
Player/position: Chris Clemons, safety

Polian's grade: B

Polian's comment: "Though Clemons often aligned to the strong side for the Dolphins' defense, he is a capable free and strong safety who has been highly productive against the run. He has good production as a deep-field pass defender and has the ball skills and route recognition to handle the middle of the field. A sufficient man-to-man coverage player who also adds special-teams value, Clemons is a starting-level safety."

Walker’s thoughts: I believe Polian overrated Clemons. It also was curious that Polian had Clemons rated higher than Pro Bowl cornerback Brent Grimes (B-), who had a career year in 2013. Clemons is a sure-tackler and good in run support, but he often struggles defending tight ends and slot receivers over the middle. Clemons is Miami's top-rated free agent this year, which I disagree with.

Starks
Player/position: Randy Starks, defensive tackle

Polian’s grade: B-

Polian’s comment: "A veteran coming off a year in which he played with the franchise tag, Starks is a starting defensive tackle who can play on three downs with his ability to defend the run and rush the passer. He has good interior quickness to be a one-gap shooter and disrupt plays in the backfield."

Walker’s thoughts: Polian is spot on with Starks, who at 30 is still a productive player. Starks should get interest in the open market with his ability to rush the passer. He has 36.5 career sacks, which is solid for an interior defensive lineman. There’s a chance Starks and the Dolphins are heading for a mutual parting of ways.

Soliai
Player/position: Paul Soliai, defensive tackle

Polian’s grade: C

Polian’s comment: "A rugged, stout run-defender, Soliai stands tall and wide at 6-foot-4 and 340 pounds. He has a fire-hydrant build and is difficult to move at the line of scrimmage. He can handle double teams and help to build a wall in run defense."

Walker’s thoughts: I would put Soliai in the same grade range as Starks, despite both being different players. Soliai is a specialist; he stuffs the run and is difficult to move. I assume Polian's low grade was the result of his lack of pass rush and often coming off the field on obvious passing downs.
ESPN NFL analyst Bill Polian held a media conference call on Wednesday previewing free agency. As part of the conference call, Polian identified his top free agents in an ESPN.com Insider pieceInsider. Polian also has a free-agent trackerInsider.

A few highlights from Wednesday's call, with a Patriots-based twist:

Impact of the rising salary cap: With the salary cap rising by $10 million, and projected to grow even more in the next few years, Polian opined that it could mean better deals for players in the so-called “middle class.” He used defensive end Cliff Avril as an example from 2013, as Avril settled on a short-term deal at “relatively mediocre money.” For the Patriots, my thought was that it could most help receiver Julian Edelman and possibly linebacker Brandon Spikes if that’s the way it unfolds.

Valuing free agents at a price: Polian was complimentary of the Ravens for their work in free agency, specifically how they value their own players at a certain price and don’t budge when the market moves to a level they aren’t comfortable going. One could say New England takes a similar approach. “Free agency, in and of itself, is an over-payment situation,” said Polian, who typically wasn’t a big player in the market when he was with the Colts.

Keeping free agency in perspective: One point kept coming up in the call, with Polian stressing “system fit” and how one player might look good with one team but can have a tough time transitioning to a new scheme/team. Polian also touched on how the best free-agent decisions can be a club retaining its own players. “Free agency is not free. It costs two things you never get back -- time and money,” he said. “When you have a good team and you have a good personnel department that drafts well, it behooves you to be restrained in free agency.” When this topic came up, it sparked the thought that the Patriots haven’t received as much bang for their buck in free agency in recent years.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Caught up with former general manager-turned-ESPN analyst Bill Polian, who provided his State of the New York Jets:

“The good news is that Rex (Ryan) is always going to have a defense that’s not only competitive, but pretty damn good -- if not dominant, pretty damn good. I thought they made tremendous improvement on the offensive line. Some of that was personnel, but I think the scheme fit them pretty well. The fact that they went 8-8, with as few quality receivers as they had, speaks to how good the defense was and how good the running game was.

"They wanted to come out and bludgeon you, like they did to the Patriots in New England (Week 3). They made the Patriots say, 'Uncle,' and that was before all the (New England) injuries. The quarterback (Geno Smith) goes and throws it away. That's what rookie quarterbacks do; they break your heart. But they did the same thing to the Dolphins with all the money on the line in Miami.

“Overall, the Jets are a very competitive, if not dominant team on defense and they run the ball well. If the quarterback can play efficiently ... part of that is giving him some weapons he can count on. If they can do that, I think they can jump to the next level.”

AFC East links: Sanchez gets Namath vote

May, 16, 2012
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Buffalo Bills

The experience of head coach Chain Gailey and quarterbacks coach David Lee helped sell new addition Vince Young on the Bills, he told Chris Brown.

Leo Roth of the Democrat and Chronicle throws Bill Polian's name out there as a possibility as the Bills' next general manager.

Miami Dolphins

Quarterback David Garrard is a fan of the fast-paced offense Miami's new coaching staff is installing, he tells the team's official site. "We’re going to be snap that ball at 33 seconds every time," Garrard said. "It’s going to be non-stop, and defenses will be tired because they won’t even get to put their hand on the ground."

Omar Kelly answers some of the questions he posed earlier about how good the Dolphins could be in 2012.

New England Patriots

Julian Edelman was pleased to hear that fellow receiver Wes Welker had signed his franchise tender. "He’s one of our better players on our team and he’s only going to make us better," Edelman told ESPN Boston. "I think that's great." Defensive back Devin McCourty, meanwhile, expects business as usual from Matt Patricia following his elevation to defensive coordinator.

Back with the Patriots after serving jail time for manslaughter and on the heels of lackluster seasons in Baltimore and Washington, receiver Donte' Stallworth says he's a changed man. "I’m in a better place, mentally, physically," Stallworth told the Boston Herald.

New York Jets

Mark Sanchez definitely has the edge on Tim Tebow in the quarterbacking department, Joe Namath told ESPN New York. The legendary signal-caller also said he gets bad vibes whenever he crosses paths with Jets owner Woody Johnson.

A day after signing running back Terrance Ganaway, the Jets added one of Ganaway's former Baylor teammates, guard Robert Griffin. Griffin, who blocked for Ganaway and the "other" Robert Griffin, Heisman winner and first-round pick Robert Griffin III, was taken one pick after Ganaway in the sixth round of April's draft.
Here are the latest happenings Tuesday evening in the AFC East:

Flash Points: Franchise-turning events

May, 26, 2011
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Examining the most crucial event in the history of every team in the division.

[+] EnlargeTom Brady
Elsa/Getty ImagesIn 11 seasons with the Patriots Tom Brady has thrown 261 touchdowns and amassed close to 35,000 passing yards with a 95.2 passer rating.
Who made who?

That was the question readers had to answer to determine the key event that shaped the New England Patriots. Is Bill Belichick the reason for their success, or was it Tom Brady who turned his head coach into a genius, or was it Robert Kraft's decision to hire Belichick in the first place that made all of the above possible?

Among the AFC East clubs in ESPN.com's "Flash Points" series, the Patriots' poll generated the most votes and the closest race.

Readers went with Brady, claiming the Patriots' decision to select him 199th in the 2000 draft was the moment that most impacted the franchise's fortunes.

But Brady was the only AFC East winner not to collect a majority of the votes. He received 46 percent of the nearly 60,000 cast. The decision to hire Belichick was second at 34 percent.

Kraft's purchase of the team received 10 percent, and the 1993 combo of hiring Bill Parcells as head coach and drafting Drew Bledsoe first overall got 8 percent.

Sportsguy1236 reasoned: "Whats more important to a team? Best QB in the league or best coach in the league? I think Kraft and Belichick make a close tie for second behind Brady. Reason being, I think Brady would have been successful anywhere, but Belichick and Kraft rely on each other. Belichick wants full control and Kraft gives it to him."

InStint733 disagreed: "OK, Brady being drafted is not a flash point. Drew getting hurt and Tom coming in to take over is a flash point. Tom Brady's story is a great one, but I have to give Belichick more of the success pie than Brady. I'm a big believer that defense wins championships and Belichick always has a good top 10 D no matter who plays."

JETS: Namath chooses AFL over NFL

We go from the AFC East's closest poll to the most lopsided. Of all the candidates for the most seminal New York Jets moment, readers overwhelmingly went with Joe Namath's decision to spurn the NFL monolith and join the upstart AFL.

[+] EnlargeJoe Namath
AP PhotoJoe Namath changed the course of Jets history when he chose to play in the AFL. Here Namath signs his contract with coach Weeb Ewbank (left) and owner Sonny Werblin in 1965.
That received 69 percent of the vote, and rightfully so. The St. Louis Cardinals drafted Namath 12th overall in 1964. But the Jets made him the top choice and gave him a mammoth contract he couldn't refuse.

It was the first flutter of a remarkable butterfly effect. Without that moment, Namath doesn't make the guarantee, the Jets don't win their only Super Bowl and Namath probably doesn't become a cultural icon. Nothing else in Jets history can compare to what Namath did for the organization.

A distant second was the 2008 hiring of Rex Ryan as head coach at 19 percent, followed by the 1997 hiring of Parcells at 7 percent and the formation of the New York Sack Exchange at 2 percent.

Bbarkz took exception with the choices in the poll: "I'm a big Jet fan, but if you were going to say defining moment for the franchise, the only possible option is the guarantee. It's not only the Jets defining moment, but you could argue it was the defining moment for the NFL as we know it."

That's true, but if Namath goes to the NFL, then the guarantee doesn't happen.

Eric5741 summed up the Ryan hire finishing second in the poll: "The team has been so bad for so long that Jets fans can't help but brag about two AFC Championship losses. ... So just give them a break. It's not their fault that their team has done nothing since most of them have been alive."

DOLPHINS: Undefeated in 1972

The Miami Dolphins generated the fewest votes among the AFC East polls, but readers were generally convinced their undefeated 1972 campaign was the most influential moment in franchise history.

[+] EnlargeDon Shula
AP PhotoIt's hard to imagine Miami going undefeated during the 1972 season had the team not hired Don Shula.
I disagree with that verdict, but let's break down the percentages first.

The 1972 season collected 56 percent of the votes. The team's decision to hire head coach Don Shula away from the Baltimore Colts in 1970 came in second at 21 percent. Drafting quarterback Dan Marino in 1983 was third at 20 percent. The dramatic turnaround from a one-win team to division champs in 2008 took the other 3 percent.

The 1972 season is symbolic and keeps the Dolphins a topic of conversation every season a team can get off to a hot start. The comparisons will not go away until another team manages to win every game, including the Super Bowl.

The unbeaten feat makes Miami special. So I understand why readers chose it.

But my pick would be Shula's hiring. Without him as head coach two years earlier, can we assume the Dolphins would have run the table in 1972 and won back-to-back championships? No, we could not.

The initial exchange in the comments section under the poll ...

Gofins7933 wrote: "Everybody knows us for our perfect season in '72. That has to be the most defining moment for us."

Marek13brave replied: "Without the signing of Shula there is no perfect season in '72."

Gofins7933 countered: "Even my mom knows about the Fins perfect season. She doesn't know who Shula is."

BILLS: Norwood's kick sails wide

The Buffalo Bills went to four consecutive Super Bowls. Their best chance to win one and avoid the misery of being a perennial bridesmaid came at the end of their first appearance.

[+] EnlargeScott Norwood
AP Photo/Chris O'MearaScott Norwood's missed field goal in the closing seconds of the 1991 Super Bowl would have brought joy to one Giants fan in particular.
With eight seconds left in Super Bowl XXV and the Bills trailing by a point, Norwood lined up for a 47-yard field goal. We all know what happened next. The Bills still are looking for that first NFL championship.

In the "Flash Points" poll, 59 percent of readers voted for Norwood's miss. Then came Jim Kelly finally being forced to sign with the Bills after the USFL collapsed, followed by the 1985 promotion of Bill Polian to general manager at 8 percent, and linebacker Mike Stratton's "hit heard 'round the world" on San Diego Chargers running back Keith Lincoln in the 1964 AFL Championship Game at 6 percent.

Reader mdavila07 wrote: "It's definitely the Norwood miss. The Bills' legacy would be completely different if they won a Super Bowl. Not to mention, if you tell anyone you're a Bills fan, what do they bring up? Wide right and four straight Super Bowl losses. That is what the Bills are known for, their defining moment."

Dan_Daoust suggested another option: "Doesn't it have to be the Music City Miracle? The Bills had a Super Bowl-caliber team (or at least defense) that year, they got knocked out, and they've been a league doormat ever since. Wide right is an obvious choice, but it wasn't really a fortune-defining moment. The Bills made three more Super Bowls right after that, after all. The MCM, on the other hand almost seems to have had the effect of kicking the team in the groin and then standing on its neck."

I agreed with MattRichWarren's take: "It's going to be Wide Right, but that team doesn't exist without Polian's vision and drafting skill. I went with Polian because it's the right answer."

Flash Points: Bills' defining moment

May, 11, 2011
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What key event significantly changed the fortunes of the Bills -- for better or worse? Give us your take and we'll give you our definitive moment on May 26.

The Buffalo Bills are synonymous with heartbreak, but some pivotal moments have brought their fans joy.

Buffalo's options for this project include the signature moment of the club's early years, "The Hit Heard Round the World." With the Bills a heavy underdog in the 1964 AFL title game, linebacker Mike Stratton set the tone by detonating Chargers star running back Keith Lincoln. Stratton broke Lincoln's ribs. The Bills won that game and successfully defended their title the next season.

A pivotal moment of the Bills' glory years was promoting ace scout Bill Polian to general manager in 1985. Polian's drafts propelled the Bills to four straight Super Bowls in the 1990s.

But would that team have come together without Jim Kelly? The Bills drafted him 14th overall in 1983, but he avoided the team as long as the USFL was in business. Even when the USFL was in its death throes and the Houston Gamblers went out of business, Kelly tried to cling with the New Jersey Generals, but the league disintegrated, forcing him to Buffalo.

Then there was Scott Norwood's missed 47-yard field goal in Super Bowl XXV. The moment turned out to be Buffalo's best chance to win a Super Bowl, but the kick went wide right.

Submit your vote with the SportsNation poll. If you vote Other, please give us your suggestion in the comments area below this article.

Polian bangs drum for more Bills in Canton

February, 4, 2011
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Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas, and Andre ReedGetty ImagesJim Kelly, Thurman Thomas and Andre Reed were key cogs in four Bills Super Bowl teams put together by former Bills GM Bill Polian.
Can a team put too many players into the Pro Football Hall of Fame?

Bill Polian doesn't think so.

Polian assembled the Buffalo Bills teams that went to four straight Super Bowls. Five members of those teams already have bronze busts in Canton: quarterback Jim Kelly, running back Thurman Thomas, receiver James Lofton, defensive end Bruce Smith and head coach Marv Levy. Bills owner Ralph Wilson has been enshrined, too.

"It seems like every second or third year somebody gets inducted into the Hall of Fame and we have a reunion and get to reflect on it," Polian told me Thursday night. "It's a big family that has stuck together and still stays in touch.

"It's a blessing. To be associated with guys like that? It's a special, special group."

Polian insisted more Bills belong in the Hall of Fame and is bothered that wide receiver Andre Reed hasn't gotten in yet. Reed could get the Canton call Saturday. He is among the 15 finalists who will be evaluated by the selection committee for five openings on the 2011 class.

"It's shocking to me that he's not viewed as a shoo-in Hall of Famer," Polian said. "Andre Reed was our biggest big-play player on a team that went to four Super Bowls. How he could not be included in the Hall of Fame when he's one of two guys who dominated is beyond me.

"Go with the facts. Don't go with perception. Go with reality because if you go with reality, you have to say Andre Reed belongs, without question. To me, it's just baffling."

That would give the Bills five Hall of Famers who played or coached all four Super Bowl teams. Lofton played on only three of them. Bills owner Ralph Wilson also has been inducted.

Put that group up against the New England Patriots, who won three Super Bowls in four years.

"The teams are comparable," Polian said.

There aren't that many slam-dunks from all three of New England's championship rosters.

Head coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady are surefire Hall of Famers. Beyond that, Adam Vinatieri has a strong case for his heroics, but there are no guarantees for kickers. Jan Stenerud is the only Hall of Fame kicker or punter. Maybe defensive end Richard Seymour or cornerback Ty Law will be considered.

Beyond that, much of the Patriots' roster was comprised of semi-stars such as linebackers Tedy Bruschi and Mike Vrabel, who went to one Pro Bowl apiece, and transients.

That the 1990s Bills will send more players to Canton than the 2000s Patriots is fascinating to me. It shows how incredible the Patriots have been at navigating free agency and the draft to maintain a consistent winner with a fluctuating roster -- and how truly magnificent that collection of talent was for Buffalo.

"That'll never happen again," Reed told me last week. "You won't see an assemblage of players like that -- at least not in Buffalo. I know that."

Bill Polian
Al Messerschmidt/Getty ImagesFormer Bills GM Bill Polian thinks seven players from Buffalo's 1990s Super Bowl teams should be Hall-of-Famers.
Those Bills teams also featured offensive linemen Kent Hull and Jim Ritcher, linebackers Cornelius Bennett, Shane Conlan and Darryl Talley and special-teams star Steve Tasker.

Polian is an advocate of Tasker's induction into Canton, too.

"Steve Tasker was, pound-for-pound, the greatest special-teams player ever to play," Polian said. "If you value special teams, then Steve Tasker belongs in the Hall of Fame. I am also an unabashed Ray Guy fan.

"I've seen every player that's played in this game since 1977, and I can tell you Ray Guy literally changed the game -- as did Steve Tasker."

So that would make at least seven Hall of Famers from the 1990s Bills if Polian had his way.

When you consider how much talent Polian gathered with the Bills -- and his success with the Carolina Panthers and Indianapolis Colts since then -- there's no way you can't consider Polian himself.

But for now, Andre Reed is on deck.

"Andre is clearly, clearly, clearly deserving to be inducted," Polian said. "By any measure in the era he played, Andre Reed is a Hall of Famer."

Double Coverage: Pats vs. Colts in 2015

November, 18, 2010
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Colts and PatriotsESPN.com IllustrationPeyton Manning and Tom Brady have been at the center of arguably the best rivalry of the past decade. Who will carry it on when they step away from the game?
The annual AFC showdown is upon us, and with it come the recurring storylines.

That's right, the Indianapolis Colts will meet the New England Patriots on Sunday for an eighth straight season. The NFL's greatest ongoing interdivisional rivalry showcases two of the great organizations of this generation and renews the discussion about Peyton Manning's stats versus Tom Brady's championships.

We've decided to rekindle the debate, but before you throw your head back and groan in anticipation of the clichés, hold your horseshoes.

The purpose of this debate is to eliminate Manning and Brady and look into the future.

Which team has the better long-range outlook once Manning and Brady move on?

For the purpose of this discussion, we've set the target for 2015 -- one year beyond the length of Brady's latest contract extension -- to examine which team has the better infrastructure to cope with life minus its iconic quarterback.

Tim Graham: Time to get after it, Paul. But no weapons this time, please. I've just recently completed the physical therapy from our last debate.

Paul Kuharsky: Well, this back-and-forth will be less physically taxing, and since there is so much forecasting, you may actually be able to put your Jedi training to use.

Graham: Get this debate started we shall, hmmm?

Kuharsky: So what do the Colts and Patriots have now that's going to be a big factor for them in five years?

Jerry Hughes
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesWill 2010 first-round pick Jerry Hughes develop into a cornerstone on the Colts' defense?
I count eight guys who are in their first, second or third year with the franchise who I expect will still be prime contributors in 2015. But only three of the eight fit into the framework of the four most important positions on the field -- quarterback, left tackle, defensive end and cornerback. Those players would be corners Jerraud Powers and Jacob Lacey and defensive end Jerry Hughes.

Hughes is still unproven, but it's early and Colts president Bill Polian saw the potential for him to ultimately replace a Dwight Freeney or a Robert Mathis.

Others who may still be staples when Manning is gone: receiver Austin Collie, linebacker Pat Angerer, tight end Jacob Tamme, tight end Brody Eldridge and punter Pat McAfee. Can that group be the core of a team that continues to win? I wish I could offer a solid yes or no instead of a tepid maybe.

Beyond that, we've got five drafts to consider, right? And Polian regularly finds undrafted gems. I don't doubt the Colts will have talent. But they'll need new Freeney-, Dallas Clark- and Reggie Wayne-caliber stars, plus the replacement quarterback.

Graham: Patriots overlord Bill Belichick has drawn deserved criticism for his draft failures. He has swung and missed at his share of Terrence Wheatleys and Kevin O'Connells and Chad Jacksons in the early rounds.

But when you accumulate as many picks as the Patriots have and have elite football minds evaluating the talent, those bad decisions are going to even out eventually. The Patriots appear to be warming up when it comes to successful drafting.

[+] EnlargeAaron Hernandez
AP Photo/Paul Spinelli Rookie tight end Aaron Hernandez ranks second on the Patriots in catches and receiving yards.
The Patriots went into Heinz Field and manhandled the Pittsburgh Steelers with four rookies in their starting defensive lineup (defensive end Brandon Deaderick, outside linebacker Jermaine Cunningham, inside linebacker Brandon Spikes and left cornerback Devin McCourty) and a rookie tight end (Rob Gronkowski), who caught three touchdowns. Another rookie tight end (Aaron Hernandez) ranks second on the team in catches and receiving yards. Their punter is a rookie.

They don't have as many second- and third-year contributors, but inside linebacker Jerod Mayo was defensive rookie of the year in 2008. Among the sophomores are starting right tackle Sebastian Vollmer and receivers Brandon Tate and Julian Edelman, who also handle return duties.

Without question, there will be a drop-off at quarterback when Brady retires, but the Patriots are loaded with core youth.

Kuharsky: The Colts may draft better, but they also draft less. Polian's not the draft pick wheeler-and-dealer Belichick is. Are those the guys who will be lining up the Manning and Brady successors?

It's a quarterback-driven league, and teams minus Manning and Brady will have major voids. We've got to talk about the replacements for the iconic quarterbacks, but it's hard to offer much conjecture on what kind of guy that will be without talking about who will be finding him.

Polian is 67 years old, and the last time I asked him about any sort of plan for retirement he gave me a head tilt and an uncomfortable expression.

Graham: I've noticed a lot of people do that around you.

Kuharsky: If things are neat and tidy, the suspicion is he and Manning -- the guy he hit the jackpot with when he picked him over Ryan Leaf -- will exit together. The next generation is waiting in the wings. Chris Polian is Indianapolis' vice president and general manager.

Chris Polian
AP PhotoCurrent Colts VP Chris Polian is likely play a key role in finding Peyton Manning's successor.
I'd expect Bill Polian will have a strong hand in selecting the Colts' quarterback of the future. But it will ultimately be Chris Polian who's connected to that signal-caller the way Bill Polian is connected to Manning. The younger Polian has a good reputation and good football genes, but it's hard to know how much of his father's personnel judgment he's inherited and how much he's learned. And having to replace a guy many will argue is the greatest quarterback of all time will be an awfully difficult assignment.

Graham: I don't know how long Belichick plans to coach, but even if he were to get tired of the week-to-week grind of getting his boys ready to play, it's fathomable he'll stick around to run the operation, handpicking his successor and overseeing football operations.

It would be silly to give Belichick more than a smidgen of credit for drafting Brady in the sixth round a decade ago. If Belichick truly knew what Brady was capable of, the Patriots wouldn't have passed on him until the 199th pick. So it's not like Belichick will simply wait until Brady's on the verge of retirement and automatically snag a replacement.

Kuharsky: True. But they knew more than everybody else when they finally did take him.

Graham: Belichick trusted his scout, and they unearthed a gem.

I believe Belichick's support staff is stronger than Polian's. Senior adviser Floyd Reese oversaw the Houston Oilers and Tennessee Titans' drafts when they picked Steve McNair and Vince Young. Player personnel director Nick Caserio, like a lot of Belichick's sidekicks over the years, will develop the tools to run his own show someday.

Kuharsky: I don't know that Belichick's got better support. It's just more well known and visible support.

Graham: And a high-profile owner who is willing to trust his front office, will spend money and doesn't dare meddle. That's another key component to New England's success over the past decade.

Kuharsky: Moving onto the replacement quarterback himself, Curtis Painter is Manning's current backup. But based on his work in a couple of regular-season games the team didn't care about winning at the end of last season and some preseason work, most people aren't forecasting anything special from him. And that would amount to quite a lengthy apprenticeship anyway.

Graham: You wouldn't think the Patriots have Brady's successor on the roster either. Brian Hoyer is an undrafted sophomore with virtually no experience so far. But you never can tell how these guys will develop while working alongside Brady for a few years. This is the team that identified Matt Cassel, a seventh-round draft choice who hadn't started a game since high school, as its top backup for 2008. He ended up going 11-5 when Brady blew out his knee.

Kuharsky: The Colts will need a guy for a super-tough replacement job. It would be awfully difficult for them to land in a Aaron Rodgers for Brett Favre or Michael Vick for Donovan McNabb replacement situation.

After hitting a grand slam with the No. 1 pick in 1998, odds would suggest that it will be tough for them to line up with the right guy at the right pick at the right time. The way they build, odds are Manning's heir will be a guy who plays a full college career. So he's a college freshman or a high-school senior right now, depending on their plan for easing him in.

Graham: The Colts and Patriots finish too high in the standings every year and don't get to pick until the 20s. That will make it nearly impossible to snag some golden-armed top prospect in their assigned draft positions. But the Patriots frequently go into drafts with other teams' picks -- and an abundance of them. They often have copious draft assets to move up if they want to. Or maybe the Patriots will obtain that big-ticket pick waaaaay in advance. A year ago, Belichick traded Richard Seymour to the Oakland Raiders for their 2011 first-round selection. That's the kind of creative investing that could pay off with a high-quality quarterback prospect down the road.

Kuharsky: It will definitely be more difficult for the Colts to get to the top of a draft to get a premier guy. And there may need to be a post-Manning down-cycle for the team to get up there and find the guy. Scribes in Indianapolis often wonder aloud what happens to the Colts' crazed support if they turn into a 5-11 rebuilding project. The rest of the AFC South certainly hopes that's how it works, and that the division is a lot more wide open once Manning's not in it.

And while we're forecasting five years out, I have two questions: Will Manning still be a deadpanning TV commercial superstar? And will Brady have had a haircut?

Graham: There's one unwavering prediction I can make about hair, Paul, but it's not about Brady's.

AFC East GMs don't rate on Forbes list

August, 26, 2010
8/26/10
5:38
PM ET
As part of its annual package on NFL team valuations, Forbes magazine rated the top 10 general managers.

The AFC East has no representatives, but three were spawned from the division. Buffalo Bills fans should be frustrated to see that two among the top five were run out of the organization.

Indianapolis Colts president Bill Polian topped the Forbes list. San Diego Chargers general manager A.J. Smith was fifth. First-year Bills GM Buddy Nix worked under Smith -- and former Bills GM John Butler -- in San Diego.

Second on the list is former New England Patriots personnel executive Scott Pioli, now of the Kansas City Chiefs.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick should be on the Forbes list because he's the overlord of football operations, but he doesn't hold the title. Miami Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland will be overshadowed as long as Bill Parcells remains his boss.

New York Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum has been one of the NFL's most daring executives and has helped mold the Jets into a Super Bowl contender this year. But the Jets have gone 32-32 with him in the role.

Forbes explained its methodology:
Won-lost record vs. payroll rank over the past three seasons, with bonus points awarded for playoff appearances, Super Bowl appearances and championships. With NFL payroll disparities somewhat limited by salary cap rules, the formula tends to place more weight on winning than on payroll.

Forbes added a caveat, however, to account for the high rate of turnover. For teams that have brought in a new GM within the past three years, that executive's role at his previous stop was considered.

1. Bill Polian Colts

2. Jerry Reese, Giants

3. Scott Piloi, Chiefs

4. Kevin Colbert, Steelers

5. A.J. Smith, Chargers

6. Ted Thompson, Packers

7. Jerry Jones, Cowboys

8. Mike Reinfeldt, Titans

9. Mickey Loomis, Saints

10. Rob Brzezinski, Vikings

Pro Bowl Watch: Yeremiah Bell

January, 29, 2010
1/29/10
1:00
PM ET
Pro Bowl Watch: AFC » East | West | North | South  NFC » East | West | North | South

Regardless of what fans or players or Bill Polian think about this year's bastardized Pro Bowl, it's no less meaningful to Miami Dolphins safety Yeremiah Bell.

Bell
Steve Mitchell/US PresswireYeremiah Getting to the Pro Bowl was easier for Yeremiah Bell than getting to the NFL.
Bell was added to the AFC roster because of two injuries and a Super Bowl participant not being able to play. Still, Bell acknowledges that the words "Pro Bowler" will appear in the first sentence of his obituary.

"For me to be where I'm at today and playing in the Pro Bowl," Bell said, "it's something I'm very proud of."

If you think Bell shouldn't be in the Pro Bowl, you're right. The fact he's in the NFL at all is astonishing.

"I often reflect on my past just for motivation," Bell said. "It could've gone wrong for me so many times."

Bell didn't receive a single scholarship offer out of high school and didn't have enough money to enroll in college and walk on a team. He went to work at a Kentucky steel mill for $6.50 an hour. He heaved slabs of steel that weighed nearly 100 pounds.

Football was a dream he lived out through some friends who played at Eastern Kentucky. He would tune in to "The Roy Kidd Show" every Sunday to see if his buddies made the highlights or the coach would talk about them.

Bell said the same thoughts ran through his head every time he watched: "I could do this. I could go back out there. I can play football. What am I going to do with the rest of my life but work?"

Two years removed from high school, Bell enrolled at Eastern Kentucky and became a star. But his career nearly was derailed twice.

On the second day of two-a-day practices his sophomore season, he experienced full body cramps that landed him in the hospital for three days. Scared and confused, he called Kidd and informed him he was quitting. Kidd tried to talk him out of it but couldn't. Kidd told Bell he would give him a week to reconsider.

"Luckily, I did change my mind and he left that door open for me," Bell said. "He could've let me go, and that would have been the end of it."

Bell seemed like he was jockeying for draft position heading into his senior season. Scouts had noticed a gem. He was a first-team All-American and led the Ohio Valley Conference in interceptions as a junior. In a game against Eastern Illinois and future Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, Bell recorded 10 tackles, two interceptions, a sack, a forced fumble and a recovery.

Before Bell's senior season, he hurt his knee while playing a pickup basketball game. The injury dashed his final year and rendered him a draft-day question mark.

"It could've went so many ways, so many different times," Bell said.

The Dolphins drafted him in the sixth round in 2003. Four months later, they waived him. Nobody picked him up. The Dolphins signed him to their practice squad and four games into the season was placed on injured reserve.

By 2006, Bell had fought his way into the lineup. He started 11 games and recorded 65 tackles with a pair of sacks. Then another setback: He blew out his Achilles in the 2007 opener.

Bell has been the Dolphins' leading tackler the past two seasons. He owns the franchise record with 7.5 career sacks by a defensive back.

And whether somebody wants to list the provisions of his honor and name the players who backed out (Buffalo Bills safety Jairus Byrd and Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu are hurt and Antoine Bethea is in the Super Bowl), Bell will forever be known as a Pro Bowl safety.

"I think guys like the old format, where you play it a week after the Super Bowl," Bell said. "I think that's the way it should be. But I don't look at it as 'Oh, I got in because somebody else.' I just look at it as a great opportunity to enjoy the whole experience.

"I'm a Pro Bowler."

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