AFC East: Michael Lombardi

Michael Lombardi on Jets, Dolphins

January, 31, 2012
INDIANAPOLIS — Super Bowl XLVI is all about the New England Patriots when it comes to the AFC East. But we're not going to completely ignore the other three teams during the week.

During Super Bowl media day we ran into Mike Lombardi of the NFL Network. He also is a former front-office executive for various teams, including the San Francisco 49ers, Green Bay Packers and Cleveland Browns.

Speaking to several media groups that included the AFC East blog, Lombardi had several thoughts on the division heading into the offseason:

(On how to fix the New York Jets' chaotic locker room)

Lombardi: I think the Jets are tied together by a lot of guaranteed contracts. So I don’t know how you go about fixing it. Santonio [Holmes] is on the team, and I think sometime in March he's guaranteed the next year. So I think whenever you have a locker room controlled by guaranteed money, it's tough to fix. Fear does the work of reason. And if you can't put fear into the players that they can lose their jobs, it's tough to reason with them. So I think it's going to be a very, very tough locker room to get a handle of.

(On Jets' coach Rex Ryan’s approach)

Lombardi: I think you have to be honest with the players, and you have to be honest with yourself. I don't think you can go in front of everybody and say you're the greatest team in America and you just got beat. I think you have to be more critical. I don't think that's a sustainable paradigm.

(On fixing the Jets offense)

Lombardi: If they want Mark Sanchez to be a great quarterback, they need to have a blue-chip running back around him. If they want to be ground and pound, then you can't be ground and pound and [tight end] Dustin Keller can't block anybody. It's tough to be ground and pound when everybody knows the tight end isn't going to block anyone. So now you have to substitute to get the blocking tight end in. And, oh yeah, by the way we're going to run now that [Matthew] Mulligan is in the game. Why don't you just put up a red flag that you're going to run it? I think they need to change their roster to suit that [style]. I don't think Shonn Greene is the guy to be the blue-chip running back.

(On the Miami Dolphins and other teams going after QB Matt Flynn)

Lombardi: I think you better know him. Obviously, [Dolphins head coach] Joe Philbin knows him and knows what to do. I think the most important thing when you take a quarterback is to make sure you know what he can't do. For instance, the Jets had three years of Sanchez. They know what he can't do, so don't let him do that. To me, that's when you get in trouble. [49ers head coach] Jim Harbaugh did a really good job with Alex Smith this year, because he eliminated what he can't do, and he loaded him up on what he could do. ... But if you don't know that, there's a lot of trail and error. So with Matt Flynn, know what he can't do and make sure he doesn't do that. Build the offense around the things that he can do.

(On Flynn's value and if it's a risky investment)

Lombardi: I think it's risky to pay him, but I don't think it's risky to go get him. I think it's risky to pay him $60 million or $20 million over two [years] like Kevin Kolb. I think there's a lot of chances for failure there. But, obviously there's not a lot of quarterbacks available. So you have to figure out a way to solve your problem.

Lombardi: 'Jets no strangers to tampering'

September, 23, 2009

Posted by's Tim Graham

Former NFL executive Michael Lombardi knows about tampering. He has done it. He admits it.

Lombardi, appearing on Wednesday night's episode of Showtime's "Inside the NFL," shared his thoughts about tampering charges the San Francisco 49ers filed against the New York Jets over unsigned rookie receiver Michael Crabtree.

The 49ers have accused the Jets of interfering with their efforts to sign the No. 10 overall draft pick by communicating with his agent, Eugene Parker.

"We know the Jets are no strangers to tampering charges," said Lombardi, a former personnel chief with the Oakland Raiders and Cleveland Browns. "They go back a long way with Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick. They have seen this before."

Parker also represented former Jets running back Curtis Martin, who defected from the New England Patriots in 1998. Parker worked closely with Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum to draw up a contract the Patriots couldn't match. Tannenbaum was director of player contracts at the time. Parcells was head coach.

"There is lineage between the Jets and Parker," Lombardi said. "Now [the 49ers] have charged him.

"One thing we do know is the 49ers have been convicted, if you will, of tampering with Lance Briggs, the Chicago Bears linebacker, when he was a free agent [in 2008]. They were convicted of that charge and had to pay a penalty. So they understand what it takes to prove a tampering charge.

"Now, the league said in a memo in May of 2008 if you file a claim against a team and it turns out to be frivolous, you are at risk."

But Lombardi explained that tampering is more common than you might think and often goes unpunished.

"It’s very difficult to prove," he said. "Trust me, I’ve been a tamperer. I’ve been in the NFL for over 20 years, so I have tampered my fair share of times. It’s hard to prove.

"But I will say this: They have to have specific evidence. If they do, they can convict the Jets. If they don’t, they are in jeopardy."

Unemployed Ellis could find a gig with Patriots

June, 2, 2009
Posted by's Tim Graham

Greg Ellis needs a job.

Greg Ellis

2008 STATS
36 25 0 1 8.0

The New England Patriots need a pass-rusher.

Is this an obvious fit, or what?

"That makes perfect sense," said Michael Lombardi, a former NFL personnel executive and columnist for the National Football Post. "An outside pass-rusher is the one area they haven't really addressed."

The Dallas Cowboys released Ellis on Tuesday. He started every game at outside linebacker last year, recording 55 tackles and eight sacks. Ellis made the Pro Bowl two years ago. In 11 seasons as a Cowboys defensive end and outside linebacker he amassed 77 sacks.

The Patriots traded outside linebacker Mike Vrabel to the Kansas City Chiefs and didn't acquire anybody to replace him. Next in line are Pierre Woods and Tully Banta-Cain.

"I think they would like to add that dimension," Lombardi said. "They might be so good on offense, their outside rushers won't need to worry about the run as much. They have to find a way to improve their nickel pass rush."

Ellis, on the downside of this career, will turn 34 in August. But the Patriots have had success rejuvenating older players. They were interested in signing Jason Taylor, who will be 35 in September and is coming off a lackluster season.

"Based on last year, the Cowboys getting rid of [Ellis] would make me concerned," Lombardi said. "Work him out to see where he is health-wise.

"They're going to explore every available player who can rush the passer. I don't know that for a fact, but I would suspect they have to."

After Brady, what's the Patriots' backup plan?

May, 11, 2009
  Jim Rogash/Getty Images
  The Patriots showed faith in unproven Kevin O'Connell, left, by not pursuing a veteran to be No. 2 behind quarterback Tom Brady.

Posted by's Tim Graham

Three professional pass attempts were all Tom Brady had when he trotted onto the field for Drew Bledsoe and managed the New England Patriots' first championship campaign.

Matt Cassel had 39 attempts over his first three seasons before he assumed control of the offense and helped the Patriots win 11 games.

The folks at recently posted a list of the top jobs that don't require experience. Cruiseline worker, English-as-second-language instructor, medical transcriber ... they forgot Patriots quarterback. I would have slotted that gig at No. 10, just ahead of movie extra.

What's cool about being Patriots quarterback is that you can start off as background filler and turn into the leading man.

If Brady's reconstructed left knee doesn't hold up as Patriot Nation prays it will, then sophomore Kevin O'Connell apparently is next in line. The Patriots have chosen not to reinforce their depth chart with veteran support after trading Cassel to the Kansas City Chiefs.

How risky is that?

Fan logic dictates if an unheralded Brady (sixth-round draft pick) can come off the bench to be a superstar, and an unknown Cassel (seventh-round draft pick) can come off the bench to get within a tiebreaker of the AFC East crown, then O'Connell (third-round draft pick) can come off the bench and run the show, too.

"It's the relative unknown that scares the living hell out of you," former Patriots quarterback Scott Zolak said. "Brett Favre might have had it four or five years ago, where all hopes rest on one guy. Now, maybe you're down to two: Peyton Manning and Tom Brady.

  Scott Boehm/Getty Images
  The Patriots' current No. 3 quarterback is Matt Gutierrez, who didn't even make the team following last year's training camp.

"Your season hinges on that one guy. You hold your breath again because you don't know."

Although the Patriots kicked the tires on Kyle Boller and Patrick Ramsey, they have so far chosen not to acquire a veteran quarterback.

Brady's backups are O'Connell, who threw six passes as a rookie last year, and Matt Gutierrez, who was undrafted in 2007, has thrown one NFL pass and didn't make the team out of training camp last year. The Patriots signed rookie free agent Brian Hoyer two weeks ago.

"Ultimately, I don't think they've reached a conclusion," said former NFL executive Michael Lombardi, who writes for the National Football Post. "They haven't had a preseason to really evaluate their quarterbacks and this is the time, May and June, to see where they need to go.

"The course right now is to develop O'Connell and see where they are in the preseason and then make adjustments."

New England can't expect to keep inserting neophyte quarterbacks into the lineup and get away with it.

"I don't think that can be a recipe you can count on," Scouts Inc. analyst Matt Williamson said. "I do think there's some risk. It would be nice to have a veteran in the fold, but they know what they're doing."

Zolak doesn't see the need for veteran help.

"Last year at this time, I would have thought a veteran would be the way to go," Zolak said. "They've gone that veteran route with Vinny Testaverde and Doug Flutie, but they've never needed to use that guy.

"They went the in-house route with Cassel, developed the guy for four years and that's the route that worked when it was tested."

Zolak and Wlliamson are fans of O'Connell's.

As a sportscaster for "Patriots All-Access," a television show produced by the club, Zolak has seen the 6-foot-5 San Diego State product more than the average reporter.

"Usually, when you see these guys you think Scott Mitchell, and he doesn't move that well," Zolak said. "But the kid has a smoothness to him and is very fluid for his size. He went to his legs a lot his senior year and picked up a lot of yards on the ground."

Said Williamson: "He has all the tools to work with. He's smart. He's big. He's got a nice arm. He moves around real well."

  Stan Liu/Icon SMI
  As a senior at San Diego State, Kevin O'Connell rushed for 408 yards and a school-record 11 touchdowns on the ground.

The Patriots have made enough brilliant personnel moves since Bill Belichick took over in 2000 to earn their fans' trust. The staff has monitored O'Connell for a year. If the coaches are confident he can handle the No. 2 role, then many figure that should be enough.

While the Patriots' front office has been praised rightly for unearthing Brady and Cassel in the late rounds, not all of their quarterbacks have panned out. Lest we forget, they also drafted Rohan Davey and Kliff Kingsbury.

The Patriots also must overcome the departure of offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, the man who called the plays and molded Cassel into an NFL commodity even though Cassel hadn't st
arted a game since high school.

"As long as you have Wes Welker, as long as you have Randy Moss ... they have some weapons," Zolak said. "With Fred Taylor and Kevin Faulk on third down, I don't care who the quarterback coach is. It's hard not to be successful with the type of players they have."

The last time Patriot Nation gave their backup quarterback a second thought was back in the Zolak and Hugh Millen days.

Ever since the Patriots selected Drew Bledsoe with the first pick of the 1993 draft, they have gone into the season without worry about their quarterback's health.

From 1993 through 2000, Bledsoe came off the field enough for his backups to average 39 mop-up attempts per season.

Bledsoe was Gibraltar in the huddle. Nobody bothered to think about his backup beyond the possibility he someday might development into Bledsoe's heir -- when Bledsoe was good and ready to abdicate. Alas, we all know that internal bleeding isn't something you can walk off.

Brady entered Game 2 of the 2001 season and remained the starter for the next 128 games, including 17 in the playoffs, until he crumpled to the turf in last year's season opener. A mangled left knee sidelined him for the rest of the year.

So, for the first time in a decade and a half, the Patriots enter training camp hopeful their quarterback will hold up.

A rebuilt knee -- one that was beset by infections early in the healing process -- offers no guarantees. The only optimism emanates from the aura of the quarterback's credentials. He has won championships, married a supermodel, almost helped Ecuador land the 2010 Winter Olympics, scored 42 points to help the Washington Generals beat the Harlem Globetrotters and almost single-handedly brought back the 8-track.

"I think it's a fluke thing with Brady," Zolak said. "I've talked with enough people who think it's almost like his rookie year again. The kid's hungry again and he's back to the old work ethic he had. That's not to say he has a bad one, but let's face it: The guy has a lot of priorities, and his life has changed since he's won three rings. But he's up and going at full go.

"Tom will be back. As good as Manning was, questions with his knee last year, he didn't really get going until about Week 5, and the guy ended up getting NFL MVP. Donovan McNabb came back from it. So it can be done."

But what if his knee doesn't hold up? As much as he's treated like a god, he is human.

"And if something happens to him, they'll go with one of the in-house guys," Zolak said. "They like the guys they have."

Did Chiefs rob Patriots with 34th pick?

February, 28, 2009
Posted by's Tim Graham


The 34th overall selection in this year's draft sure sounds like a bargain for the Kansas City Chiefs. That's all they gave the New England Patriots to obtain quarterback Matt Cassel and linebacker Mike Vrabel.

Sound a little cheap to you?

About seven weeks ago, I explored Cassel's trade value with a pair of analysts who've been around the NFL block a time or two.

Floyd Reese was one of them. The former Tennessee Titans general manager was working for ESPN at the time.

Now he's senior football adviser with the Patriots, coming aboard when Scott Pioli left to accept the Chiefs' GM job.

Here's what Reese said back then: "It would have to be multiple choices and very high choices to get Cassel. Two first-rounders, or a one and a two and a three ... It'll be something very, very expensive."

Cassel hadn't been franchised yet, but it was common knowledge the tag was coming. So the element of unloading $14.65 million in guaranteed money was considered in the responses.

I also spoke with Michael Lombardi of the National Football Post.

Lombardi has a strong relationship with many in Patriots management, including coach Bill Belichick, from their days together with the Cleveland Browns. Lombardi was the first to report the Patriots were going to place the franchise tag on Cassel.

Lombardi claimed Cassel's starting price -- not including Vrabel -- should be the draft choices the San Diego Chargers received for Eli Manning.

At the 2004 draft, the New York Giants acquired Manning's rights for Philip Rivers' rights along with a third-round pick that year and their first- and fifth-round picks in 2005.

"Whatever the Giants gave up for Eli has to be the market," Lombardi said. "It's got to be a first-rounder, and not the 22nd or 24th pick in the draft. It has to be a substantial one and one that keeps on giving."

Lombardi: Jets need Cassel, but won't land him

February, 6, 2009
Posted by's Tim Graham

Former NFL player personnel executive Michael Lombardi of the National Football Post listed the most likely trade partners for New England Patriots quarterback Matt Cassel.

In the process, Lombardi addressed the possibility the quarterback-needy New York Jets might make a play to acquire Cassel. Lombardi opines the Jets should have drafted Chad Henne, who instead is backing up Chad Pennington for the Miami Dolphins.

Here is Lombardi's passage on the Jets:

Jet fans can forget about Brett Favre coming back. It doesn't look good, or even make sense, for the long-term future of the team. The Jets are in a mess at quarterback, not because they made the Favre trade but because they picked a pass-catching tight end at the bottom of the first round instead of Chad Henne, the quarterback from Michigan who went to Miami. I like [Dustin] Keller as a player, but they needed a quarterback then and they need one now.

However, if you ask anyone inside the building, they all seem to be smoking the Brett Ratliff great-player pipe. Let us face it, even though Eric Mangini is gone as head coach, the Pats and Jets are not doing any deals. The Jets have the 17th pick in the first round but they're going to be tight getting under the cap, and they still have to sign running back Leon Washington. This looks like a good idea on paper, but it probably won't happen.

Lombardi speaks on Jets cap concerns, Cassel

February, 6, 2009
Posted by's Tim Graham

Former NFL executive Michael Lombardi of the National Football Post had an interesting talk Thursday with guest host Ryen Russillo on "The Herd with Colin Cowherd."

Among the topics discussed were Brett Favre's situation and Matt Cassel's franchise tag.

Lombardi reports the New York Jets are $34 million over the salary cap and need to rid themselves of Favre before then.

"The Jets are in real serious cap trouble in terms of managing their cap and being compliant come the first day of the league year, which is Feb. 27," Lombardi said.

Lombardi also brings up the ramifications for Cassel if 2010 becomes an uncapped year.

Cassel trade talk opens with high 1st-rounder

January, 12, 2009
Posted by's Tim Graham

Teams that want Matt Cassel's services must sacrifice to pry him away from the New England Patriots.

  Joel Auerbach/US Presswire
  Matt Cassel piled up 3,693 passing yards and 21 TDs while filling in for Tom Brady.

Two former NFL executives project the asking price for the burgeoning franchise quarterback will open with a high first-round draft choice and include some other picks, too.

The Patriots are expected to put the franchise tag on Cassel, but they would trade him once they're certain Tom Brady's surgically repaired left knee is fine because they can't afford to keep them both.

"It would have to be multiple choices and very high choices to get Cassel," ESPN analyst and former Tennessee Titans general manager Floyd Reese said. "Two first-rounders, or a one and a two and a three ... It'll be something very, very expensive."

Michael Lombardi, who last week was the first to report the Patriots would put the franchise tag on Cassel, said the starting price should be the draft choices the San Diego Chargers received for Eli Manning.

At the 2004 draft, the New York Giants acquired Manning's rights for Philip Rivers' rights along with a third-round pick that year and their first- and fifth-round picks in 2005.

"Whatever the Giants gave up for Eli has to be the market," Lombardi said. "It's got to be a first-rounder, and not the 22nd or 24th pick in the draft. It has to be a substantial one and one that keeps on giving."

Lombardi was an executive with the Cleveland Browns when Bill Belichick was the coach and has worked with the San Francisco 49ers and Oakland Raiders among other clubs.

Lombardi couldn't come up with any corollary trade examples for a quarterback like Cassel.

"All trades have a predetermined value based on past trades," Lombardi said. "But to trade a quarterback as young as Cassel, after watching him do what he did, it doesn't happen."

ESPN's Chris Mortensen confirmed Lombardi's initial report the Patriots will hang the franchise tag on Cassel to prevent him from hitting the free-agent market.

Teams can't franchise their players until Feb. 5, but they can negotiate contracts with them. Lombardi on Thursday said he wouldn't be surprised if the Patriots and Cassel worked out a contract within the next few weeks. Lombardi said a two-year deal worth a total of $20 million sounded reasonable.

If Cassel and the Patriots can't hammer out a deal, then the franchise tag will lock him up for one year with a salary that averages the five highest-paid at his position. In Cassel's case, the salary would be almost $15 million. Brady's salary for next season would be in the same neighborhood.

The benefit of the franchise tag is giving the Patriots time to determine whether Brady's knee will be sufficiently healed for 2009. Once they're satisfied with Brady's recovery, then they would look to unload Cassel.

Reese claimed the Patriots could wait as long as they wanted and still have eager trade partners.

"It's definitely a seller's market," Reese said. "A team like New England can sit back and bide their time.

"If you take the actual number of franchise quarterbacks in the NFL, there's maybe 15. Who's Detroit's starting quarterback? You can go down a long list. All of those teams would be in the bidding.

"You don't have to be in a hurry. There's always teams out there in need of a quarterback, teams who'll think 'We don't like this guy. We can't win with him.'"

Report: Pats will franchise Cassel

December, 31, 2008
Posted by's Tim Graham

Michael Lombardi, a former NFL executive with several teams, reported on this week's edition of Showtime's "Inside the NFL" the New England Patriots will put the franchise tag on Matt Cassel to prevent him from becoming a free agent.

In addressing the New York Jets' precarious quarterback situation, Lombardi was asked if Cassel might be the guy to help them recover from the failed Brett Favre experiment.

"The Patriots are way too smart, and I've talked to people in the organization," said Lombardi, who worked in the Cleveland Browns' front office when Bill Belichick was the coach. "They are going to franchise Matt Cassel. He's an asset and they can control their ability to trade him if they franchise him."

The franchise tag means the Patriots must give Cassel a one-year contract worth an average of the highest five quarterback salaries.

Cassel would make more money than Tom Brady, but the move would provide insurance in case Brady can't rebound from his season-ending left knee injury. Once Brady proves he's fit, the Patriots then could trade Cassel, getting something in return rather than losing him to free agency and coming away empty-handed.

Also on "Inside the NFL," analyst Cris Collinsworth said the curtain has been pulled back on Favre.

"I think [Favre] got discovered," Collinsworth said. "When he was good in Green Bay it was short, quick throws that he got out of his hand quickly. But if he had to, he could go down the field with deep threats at wide receivers.

"The Jets didn't have those same deep threats and Brett didn't have the same arm he had when he was in Green Bay. That combination finally got exposed and it cost them."

Lombardi isn't a big fan of the idea Jets backup Kellen Clemens could step into the role and get them over the hump. The lack of a quarterback is hindering the search for Eric Mangini's replacement.

"The Jets' quarterback of the future is nowhere to be found," Lombardi said. "And that is what makes the Jets job not very attractive for potential coaches. Remember with all these jobs opening, the teams have to recruit the coaches as much as the coaches have to recruit the teams."

NFL starter kit available in Foxborough?

December, 26, 2008
Posted by's Tim Graham

In theory, it sounds about as easy as Sea-Monkeys. Just add water.

Any team in need of a dramatic change might be able to purchase its very own makeover kit, complete with general manager, head coach and starting quarterback all ready to perform.

That's what some see when they look at a New England Patriots trio ready to emerge from the shadows: vice president of player personnel Scott Pioli, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and Matt Cassel.

Pro Football Weekly this week speculated Pioli might be ready to leave the Patriots and call his own shots with another organization because of the success his understudy, Thomas Dimitroff, had in his first year running the Atlanta Falcons with a rookie head coach and a rookie quarterback.

Pioli's aptitude for locating talented depth players has been significant to New England's success despite myriad injuries.

Last week, I spoke to several experienced NFL executives about Cassel's future. Michael Lombardi, who worked with Pioli and Bill Belichick in the Cleveland Browns' front office, thought it would be a fabulous idea for a team to pursue a package deal if it wanted to rebuild.

Among teams that might need new blood in these three positions include the New York Jets, Detroit Lions, Kansas City Chiefs and St. Louis Rams.

"If you put together a package where Josh McDaniels came with [Cassel], you'd feel a lot more comfortable in that decision rather than taking [Cassel] and adapting him to your system," Lombardi said. McDaniels "has done a great job coaching this player, and he knows how to play him within the system extremely well. You want to be very careful to maximize those skills to their fullest advantage."

McDaniels will be a chic head-coaching candidate. He has proven that his offense doesn't need Tom Brady to work. 

McDaniels is only 32, but Lombardi wouldn't be discouraged by his youth. Lombardi noted McDaniels has had two sensational teachers. McDaniels' father, Thom, is head coach of the nationally renowned Massillon Jackson High program.

"I just know that in the National Football League it's hard to find quarterbacks and hard to find guys who can coach quarterbacks as a head coach," Lombardi said. "Any time you're around the greatest head coaches in the game, you learn something.

"His father coached for a long time. He comes from the right pedigree. He certainly has the traits you're looking for in a very good coach."

Free-agent Losman won't be in demand

December, 18, 2008
Posted by's Tim Graham

When making the rounds for my story on Matt Cassel's soaring value, I asked about another AFC East quarterback whose stock is plummeting.

 Evan Pinkus/Getty Images
 J.P. Losman has thrown two touchdown passes and five interceptions this season.

J.P. Losman found himself back on the field when Buffalo Bills starter Trent Edwards aggravated a groin injury in Week 13. Losman's return to the huddle was tantamount to a 31-team tryout because he'll be a free agent after the season.

Losman groused over the Bills' decision to go with Edwards over him. But every time Losman has had a shot this year, he has failed to demonstrate he's worthy of starting in the NFL.

This week he was demoted to third string behind Gibran Hamdan.

"He was a first-round pick, but he wasn't able to perform in this league," former NFL personnel executive Michael Lombardi said. "He's not going to be in a bonanza situation. If he signs somewhere it will be based on experience and not on his production.

"He's at a crossroads. He's going to have to go somewhere and rehabilitate his career rather than accelerate his career. If you're his agent, you need to put him in a situation where he's a backup with good coaching in an offense that fits his style of movement and running around."

Charley Casserly, the former Washington Redskins and Houston Texans general manager, doesn't think Losman is starter material.

"He got beaten out in Buffalo because of inconsistency," Casserly said. "He has raw skills. He has arm strength. He has mobility. But his decision making and accuracy all feeds the inconsistency. I don't know that people are looking at him to fill their starting quarterback needs. He will be on a roster, though."

Losman's stat line while filling in for the frequently injured Edwards:

  • Four games, all losses.
  • 63 completions on 104 attempts (60.6 percent).
  • 584 yards.
  • Two touchdowns.
  • Five interceptions.
  • 15 sacks.
  • Three fumbles, one lost.
  • 12 rushes for 70 yards and a touchdown.
  • 62.3 passer rating.

Given the general malaise of Losman's career, would his options be different had he capitalized on his chances this year?

"It would have piqued people's interest," Lombardi replied. "The quarterback position is the most coveted in the league and when you play well -- like Todd Collins last year -- people are always in search of that answer at quarterback.

"If he would have played well, he would have enhanced his stock. Everybody has a chance to re-invent themselves at quarterback."

Cassel continues to dazzle NFL insiders

December, 18, 2008
 Cary Edmondson/US Presswire
 Patriots quarterback Matt Cassel has turned some heads with his performance this season filling in for Tom Brady.

Posted by's Tim Graham

There might still be some Matt Cassel doubters out there.

Among NFL insiders, however, the New England Patriots quarterback is viewed with a high degree of respect. Their admiration of Cassel has only grown with the way he has carried himself the past 10 days.

"If you loved him before, you love him a little more today," ESPN analyst and former Tennessee Titans general manager Floyd Reese said.

With a heavy heart, Cassel on Sunday threw a career-high four touchdown passes in a 49-26 road victory over the Oakland Raiders. Earlier last week, Cassel's father was found dead. The funeral wasn't held until Tuesday.

"You could see the pain in his eyes," former NFL executive Michael Lombardi said after watching behind-the-scenes NFL Films footage of the Patriots' week. "It's just very, very dramatic."

Sunday might be remembered as the signature performance of Cassel's breakout season.

Cassel briefly left the team and missed an important practice, but -- on the same field Brett Favre famously threw four touchdown passes the day his father died in 2003 -- he was sensational. Cassel would've finished with even more prolific numbers Sunday had the game not been so lopsided.

"To have the wherewithal or ability or gumption or whatever it takes to be able to pull off what he did was indeed special," Reese said. "There's a lot of us in the football world who think we're pretty tough, but when something like that comes along it brings you to your knees. For him to be able to pull it off was a special performance."

(Read full post)

Lombardi: Jauron's call appropriate

December, 17, 2008
Posted by's Tim Graham

Lookie here.

I found somebody willing to defend Buffalo Bills coach Dick Jauron's decision to throw on that fateful play the New York Jets defense turned into a miracle touchdown to win Sunday's game at the Meadowlands.

NFL executive Michael Lombardi justifies Jauron's call at that point in the game -- if not the personnel Buffalo had to execute it -- but can't fathom why Eric Mangini would call a timeout with 2:06 left in the game.

The real miracle, according to Lombardi, is that the Jets overcame their coach's boneheaded decision.

Here is the explanation from Lombardi's always-informative blog:

The reality here is that Eric Mangini made the wrong call in the game, not Dick Jauron. You never call a timeout when the clock is under 2:10 because part of the reason for calling a timeout is to force a specific play call. When the clock is under 2:10, then the run/pass option is in play, and as a defense, you have to defend the whole playbook. Had Mangini let the clock run down to the two-minute warning, the Bills would have been forced to only run the ball at that point since the clock and the Jets were the opponent.

Now, the Bills made a mistake because putting the ball in J.P. [Losman's] hand was a bad play. But in the reality of game management, they did the right thing. They should have spread the field and forced the Jets to have to declare their hand and then maybe taken a shot down the field. But as mad as Bills fans are at Jauron, he fundamentally made the right decision -- but they did make a bad call.

While we're at it, I also have ESPN analyst Floyd Reese's take on the play. Reese was the Tennessee Titans GM from 1994 to 2006.

When I asked Reese what he thought, he referenced a lesson he learned while the Minnesota Vikings linebackers coach under Bud Grant.

One thing he always stressed was "If you're going to put a player in position to win the game, you better be darn sure you have the right player doing it." The bottom line is, there are a lot of players who want to do it and will try as hard as they can, but are just unable to pull off that special play. I think maybe that was a little bit of the case there.

Personally I always told a coach "I won't fire you for making a decision, whether I agree with it or not. But please don't do anything stupid."

I wouldn't say [Jauron's call] was stupid. A lot of football people will say it was the right call. Mike Martz will say it was the right call. Bill Belichick would say it wasn't.