AFC East: Troy Aikman

Kevin Turner's rugged road

March, 16, 2011
3/16/11
12:00
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Kevin TurnerMike Cellucci/ESPN.comKevin Turner, who played fullback in the NFL for eight seasons, was diagnosed with an incurable neuromuscular disorder 10 months ago.
Kevin Turner couldn't sit still on that April afternoon in 1992. The Alabama fullback tried to watch the NFL draft for as long as he could, but a combination of tension and monotony increased with each pick. Every 15 minutes another name that wasn't Kevin Turner was announced.

Turner stepped into the backyard of his parents' Prattville, Ala., home for some fresh air and hopefully a diversion. He still laughs at the memory of what happened next. His father bolted out the door and blurted the big announcement: "The Boston Patriots!"

Turner gently corrected him. Actually, it was the New England Patriots. They selected him 71st overall, the second fullback off the board.

The moment was exhilarating for a father and his only child. Raymond Turner coached Kevin from 5 years old until junior high and nearly wept the first time he saw his son enter Bryant-Denny Stadium decked in crimson and white.

Now his son was headed to the National Football League. He loaded up his maroon 1991 Ford Bronco and, with Guns N' Roses blaring, headed off to Massachusetts, where he began an eight-year, $8 million NFL career, met his future wife and scored some touchdowns.

Yet if he knew then what he knows today, he'd be torn about pulling out of Prattville.

"If they would have come to me and said, 'I've seen the future. This is what happens.' Of course, I would stop playing immediately," Turner said. "But, as we all know, nobody can see the future. For me, it just falls into a long line of bad decisions."

Turner is divorced. He went bankrupt on bum real estate investments. He was addicted to painkillers for a couple of years. None of those problems are the worst of it.

Ten months ago, the 41-year-old father of three was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), the incurable neuromuscular disorder commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease.

Turner's arms don't work well, his hands even less. His pinch strength, a measurement of the strength generated by the thumb and forefinger, is one pound. That's comparable to an infant. He doesn't have enough might to squeeze toothpaste out of a tube.

Forget about buttoning a shirt. It can take him half an hour to wiggle into his blue jeans with nobody there to help, but he said, "socks are the worst."

Kevin Turner
Todd Warshaw/Allsport The Eagles made Kevin Turner the NFL's second-highest-paid fullback in 1995.
The body that produced 30-plus receptions five times for the Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles, made him the second-richest fullback in the NFL and impressed then-Patriots coach Bill Parcells as a prototypical West Coast fullback is failing.

"It's quite a different way of life," Turner said. "It's pretty embarrassing, but cleaning yourself after going to the bathroom becomes very difficult when you can't use your hands. These are just things you don't think about.

"You have to be very creative. I can't pull down my zipper. I got what I call zipper-getters. It's a little hook with some fishing wire that goes around the zipper of my pants so you can go to the bathroom."

Doctors have told him his speech probably will be the next to go. His throat and jaw muscles cramp, reminding him ALS is as relentless as he was on the football field.

Eventually, it will kill him. Maybe within another year or two. ALS is undefeated.

Recent scientific data strongly suggests repeated head trauma can cause a condition that mimics ALS. The neuromuscular disorders are virtually identical -- so alike the difference is detectable only by autopsy.

"Football had something to do with it," said Turner, who has no family history of ALS. "I don't know to what extent, and I may not ever know. But there are too many people I know that have ALS and played football in similar positions. They seem to be linebackers, fullbacks, strong safeties. Those are big collision guys."

To raise research funds and awareness about sports-related head injuries and ALS, he formed the Kevin Turner Foundation.

Dr. Ann McKee said Tuesday the latest information shows NFL players have eight to 10 times the likelihood of being diagnosed with ALS than the average citizen. McKee was the lead neuropathologist for the study that linked head trauma in collision sports to the ALS variant.

The effects of head trauma are a hot-button NFL issue. The league has included ALS as an automatically qualified condition under the 88 Plan, which assists former players with medical expenses related to head injuries.

Cases continue to emerge about retired players experiencing early dementia, memory loss, depression, aggression or erratic behavior. Last month, four-time Pro Bowl safety Dave Duerson committed suicide after complaining of severe headaches, vision impairment and an increasing inability to form coherent sentences.

Parcells said he was "sick" to hear about Duerson's death. Duerson played for Parcells on the New York Giants' 1990 championship team. Parcells coached Turner for two years in New England.

"Look, we all know that this is hazardous to your health," Parcells said in a somber tone last weekend. "We do know that. And fullback is a very high-collision position. It's not like playing wide receiver or corner. He's either running the ball and getting tackled, catching the ball and getting tackled or blocking somebody.

"I've seen a lot of big collisions in football. We all know when we sign up for this that there's an element of risk involved."

'A special kid'

Turner wasn't a superstar in terms of decorations. He didn't go to Pro Bowls. But he was far from an NFL commoner.

"He had a heart that just wouldn't stop," Raymond Turner said of his son. "From the time he put the gear on to the time he took it off, he was a competitor. Never once in my lifetime did I have to tell him to hustle. It was there. It was built in. He knew what he wanted to do."

The Eagles loved Turner enough that they signed him to a three-year, $4.125 million offer sheet with a $1.5 million signing bonus when he became a restricted free agent in 1995 after two seasons with the Pats. They outbid the Washington Redskins. Daryl Johnston of the Dallas Cowboys was the only fullback with a bigger contract.

The bemused Patriots couldn't match the Eagles and settled for a third-round draft choice as compensation. New England fared well with the transaction. The draft pick turned out to be running back Curtis Martin.

[+] EnlargeKevin Turner
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images"There's nobody out there who wouldn't like [Turner] as a person, player, practice habits, versatility," former Patriots coach Bill Parcells said.
But at the time, Parcells didn't want to lose Turner.

"There's nobody out there who wouldn't like [Turner] as a person, player, practice habits, versatility," Parcells said. "This kid had everything. He was a special kid.

"He was a first-down player and was capable of playing on third down because he had such great hands. He really was an all-purpose back. And you don't see those fullbacks anymore. Kevin was a traditional, old-time, versatile, run-block-and-catch fullback."

Turner's best season was 1994 with the Patriots. When not blocking for Marion Butts, Turner made 52 receptions, gained 582 yards from scrimmage and scored three touchdowns -- all career highs. Turner scored an overtime touchdown in Week 11 to beat the Minnesota Vikings. His catch in the left corner of the end zone was Drew Bledsoe's 45th completion on his 70th attempt, a record that stands by one throw.

Whatever glory Turner experienced came with a price. He absorbed punishment. That's how players often win their team's Ed Block Courage Award, as Turner did with Philadelphia in 1996. They're admired for their perseverance.

Turner knows of only two concussions he suffered in the pros. One came with the Patriots in 1994 against the Cincinnati Bengals. He twisted awkwardly while trying to catch a pass near the goal line, and his head struck Riverfront Stadium's hard artificial turf.

The other known concussion happened with the Eagles in 1997, while Turner was running the wedge on a kickoff return against the Green Bay Packers at Veterans Stadium.

"The next thing I remember," Turner said, "I was asking our backup quarterback, Bobby Hoying, 'You're going to think I'm crazy, but are we in Green Bay or are we in Philly?' I was looking around that stadium and could not figure it out.

"I stayed out for two, maybe three series of downs, got my senses back and finished the game. It was a fairly significant injury to my brain, and I just kept pounding on it."

Turner's father is aware football probably contributed to the ALS diagnosis. He often wonders what hit wrecked his son's brain.

Was it the wedge? Was it the time Turner collided with Atlanta Falcons linebacker Jessie Tuggle so violently at the goal line he knocked Tuggle out? Was it his final NFL play in 1999, when he barely got a piece of Indianapolis Colts linebacker Cornelius Bennett but both arms went numb for 15 seconds?

The probable answer is all of them contributed amid an accumulation of other hits that didn't register.

"I never thought about my head, the way I was abusing my head, the pounding my head was taking and the long-term consequences," Turner said. "Playing the position I did, I leveled my head every time I was on a lead block. It was part of the three points: my two hands and my head. That's how I was taught to do it."

A wicked game

McKee is director of the VA Brain Bank at the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy at Boston University School of Medicine. The center has studied 46 brains of athletes who sustained repeated, sports-related head trauma. Research indicates concussions aren't necessary to induce frightening symptoms.

Many retired NFL players, such as Turner, Miami Dolphins linebacker Zach Thomas, Buffalo Bills guard Conrad Dobler and Patriots cornerback Mike Haynes, have pledged to donate their brains for research.

[+] EnlargeDuerson
Al Messerschmidt/Getty ImagesDave Duerson, who committed suicide, reportedly asked that his brain be examined.
"It's very tough now to look at the sport and not listen to the voices inside your head that are very, very much aware this game is associated with significant risks," McKee said. "And we may not fully understand the depths of those risks.

"Every month, we've been getting more cases into the brain bank and seeing more cases of [chronic traumatic encephalopathy] and some with this [ALS] variant. It's more and more difficult to embrace this sport as it's currently being played. With each month of this work, it just seems worse."

McKee isn't some fuddy-duddy intellectual, trying to undermine football's place in society. She was raised in a football household just outside Green Bay. Her father played for Grinnell College. She attended every game her brothers played.

"Football is a way of life there," McKee said. "It's huge. It's how we define ourselves. I'm sure I would have played if I'd have been born a boy. Football is an enormous part of my heritage. I do understand that football is so much more than a sport to people. It's what we do."

But is football evolving into a culture of regret?

Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman, who has a long history of concussions, recently told HBO's "Real Sports" that if he had a son, the boy wouldn't be allowed to play football. Four-time Pro Bowl safety Blaine Bishop didn't make an edict but showed off his scars until his son decided not to play, which suits dad just fine.

Turner's jovial patter quickly switched to an agonized sputter when asked whether his two sons should play football. Nolan, 13, has been playing for a while. Cole, who will turn 8 next month, started last year.

Turner doesn't let his kids (10-year-old Natalie is a cheerleader) drink sodas because he doesn't think it's good for them, yet football maintains a powerful influence in their family. Turner hinted he won't let Cole play this year because he's perhaps too young. Nolan's situation sounded more complicated.

"It's something I struggle with every day, whether to just lay the law down and say, 'No, we're not playing,'" Turner said. "Or do I let him live his life and take a chance? But, God, I can't tell you how hard a question that is, especially in Alabama. I'm still not sure that I'm going to let him."

Turner was 5 years old when his dad began coaching him. In many ways, it turned out well.

Colleges began recruiting him as a high school sophomore. Florida State coach Bobby Bowden came to their house, but Alabama won out. The Crimson Tide chose Turner for their commitment to excellence award his junior season. He was a captain his senior season. He left with a finance degree and lived a fantasy some folks would give a limb to experience.

"If they'd have told me when I was 23 years old, in the best shape of my life and just got the dream chance of my life to play in the NFL -- first week of practice in New England, I'm in awe of Andre Tippett, Irving Fryar -- but in 17 years, you're not going to be able to pull up your pants ... you could not imagine it,” Turner said.

"Most people would say, 'If there's a 10 percent chance of that happening, I'll take my chances.'"

'You know it's coming'

Chances are, Turner doesn't have long to live. One of his doctors gave him two years. That was almost a year ago.

ALS has no cure. There are no treatments to stop or reverse it. Fifty percent of ALS patients do not live three years beyond their first symptoms. Only 20 percent reach five years.

One by one, motor neurons steadily shut down. As they do, muscles wither. Although Turner's brain will remain sharp, he will lose his ability to walk, speak and swallow.

ALS eventually reaches the muscles of the chest wall and diaphragm. Suffocation and pneumonia are the most common causes of death.

"There are still times, and let me say it's not very often, in the past year where I'll sit there and become completely overwhelmed and break down and cry," Turner said. "Every now and then I'll let myself think about it. I'll see something or hear something that reminds me of the inevitable. You know it's coming."

Turner said he intends to immerse himself in his children's lives and his foundation's cause. He travels the country for speaking engagements to raise funds. Country-gospel singer Ty Herndon dedicated the title track of his Grammy-nominated album, "Journey On," to the Kevin Turner Foundation. Turner and his children appear in the poignant video.

Turner’s father, meanwhile, can't help but worry. He admitted he and his wife, Myra, feel helpless -- a disconcerting sentiment when it comes to any child, let alone an only child. Raymond is 67 years old, and he's dealing with the likelihood he'll outlive his once-vigorous son. The unavoidability hit home the day a packet arrived in the mail, detailing the process of donating his son's organs.

Turner's mom and dad are considering moving from Prattville closer to Birmingham, Ala., where their grandchildren live, about 85 miles away. Raymond wants to make sure they have a father figure nearby.

"The fact that I'm healthy lets me think I'll be around to see the kids through," Raymond said. "This is not supposed to be this way. Just things you've got to think about and don't want to think about, but you've got to be realistic."

So much has transpired in the 19 years since Turner drove that Ford Bronco from Prattville to the NFL. He made it a point to swing through Manhattan on the way, getting a slice of New York-style pizza and some cheesecake from Carnegie Deli just in case his ride didn't last very long.

The possibilities were infinite. Today, they're decidedly limited. But Turner insists he will make the most of the time he has left and maybe -- just maybe -- be the first person who beats ALS.

On Tuesday night, Turner’s father pondered how amazed he was the first time he glimpsed at his son in an Alabama uniform and saw "Kevin Turner" scroll across the bottom of his television screen on draft day.

And then, he considered how pleased he is with Turner today. The feeling doesn't pertain to football at all anymore.

"I swell up and tell him so often about how proud I am of him, most part for being a man of good character," Raymond said. "That's meant more to me than anything."

Football Outsiders use Jets for sneak peek

July, 4, 2010
7/04/10
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The mathemagicians at Football Outsiders are close to releasing their annual yearbook.

Luckily for New York Jets fans, Gang Green's dossier is the free sample chapter to promote the looming release of Football Outsiders Almanac 2010.

If you enjoy smart, statistical-based analysis, then you can immerse yourself in this reference staple. Any given paragraph of this book can provide information you didn't know could be tracked.

To get an idea of the type of insight you can pick up, here are highlights from the Jets' section, written by Football Outsiders managing editor Bill Barnwell:
  • Football Outsiders projects the Jets to win 9.8 games, but they have a 39 percent chance of winning 11 or more.
  • The Jets have a 7 percent chance to win six or fewer games.
  • The odds of opposing kickers missing five straight field goals, which happened in the postseason, was 5,292-to-1.
  • Cornerback Darrelle Revis limited receivers to 3.5 yards a catch. The league average for qualifying cornerbacks was 7.5 yards. Revis was targeted 96 times, more than any other cornerback.
  • Football Outsiders "Revisized" other players' stats to put his season in context: "A player playing at Revis' level while getting a comparable usage rate at a different position in 2009 would have set the NFL passing record by nearly 500 yards, beat out Jerry Rice for the single-season receiving record or run for 2,000 yards while averaging a record-tying 6.4 yards per carry."
  • Peyton Manning's "Revisized" season would have given him 5,532 passing yards. Brandon Marshall would have gained 1,922 receiving yards.
  • Among the 11 quarterbacks from 1978 through 2008 with statistical seasons most similar to Mark Sanchez's are David Woodley (1981), Troy Aikman (1990) and John Elway (1984). Then again JaMarcus Russell (2008) and Tony Banks (1996) are in there, too.
  • The Jets' defense forced opponents to go three-and-out on a league-best 34.4 percent of drives.
  • The Jets allowed an NFL-high 10.6 yards on every screen pass against them. On offense, they tried an NFL-low 10 screen passes for a measly 2.6 yards a try.

Speed Dial: Zach Thomas in the Hall?

May, 21, 2010
5/21/10
8:36
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Time for another installment of "Speed Dial," where I call three people in my Rolodex and get their insight on a particular subject.

Today's question: I reach out to members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's board of selectors to ask "Is Zach Thomas, who retired Thursday as a Miami Dolphin, worthy of enshrinement?"

Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: "Unless a guy's obvious, like Troy Aikman or Dan Marino or somebody like that, there's a reason you have a five-year period from the time a player retires until he's eligible. It gives us guys a chance to think about whether we want to vote for them or not. But my initial reaction? Zach Thomas just doesn't jump out at me as a Hall of Famer. Now, I'm not saying I won't vote for him. I have five years to think about it. But off the top of my head, he doesn't strike me as a Hall of Famer. But he's a candidate, and I'll look more into his career and talk to other people before I decide."

Dave Goldberg, AOL Fanhouse and formerly of The Associated Press: "I always have an open mind on these things, but right now I don't think so. My first thought is he is one of those guys in the Hall of Very Good. He was a very good player for a long time, but did he stand out? No. There are so many of these guys, and he's one step away, one level below the Hall of Fame. I remember his first day in training camp with the Dolphins. I was there. Jimmy Johnson loved Zach Thomas from the first day. He was too small and a fifth-round pick, but he was smart and a leader and was quick. But as a Hall of Famer? Not quite. He didn't quite have the impact. I don't remember him dominating games, and that's what I think of when I think of Hall of Famers."

John McClain, Houston Chronicle: "I've watched him since he was at Texas Tech. When I think of Dick Butkus or Ray Nitschke and Jack Lambert as the greatest inside linebackers in history, then, no, Zach doesn't belong. But I'm willing to listen to any evidence from anybody that can convince me that Zach has Hall of Fame credentials. Right off the bat, my initial thought for Zach going into the Hall of Fame is 'No,' when compared to the other guys, but I've said that before and changed my mind during the five years before he's eligible. I'm open-minded."

Brady, Marino in running for top pick

April, 8, 2010
4/08/10
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With 10 days remaining in the NFL's attempt to determine the 75 greatest draft picks of all-time, the league released the top 20 candidates after fans have cast nearly 40 million votes.

The project was put together to celebrate the 75th draft, which begins April 22. NFL.com editors got us started by narrowing each team's list of candidates down to the top 10.

Fans can vote through April 18 at NFL.com. Parts of the list will be revealed on NFL.com and the NFL Network beginning April 19. The top 10 will be saved for the draft telecast.

These 20 players, listed in alphabetical order, have received the most votes so far:

Tom Brady is no Jim Plunkett

February, 16, 2010
2/16/10
12:35
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Everybody loves a good quarterback argument.

[+] EnlargeTom Brady
MPS/US PresswireTom Brady is a two-time Super Bowl MVP -- but he hasn't reached legendary status yet, according to one analyst.
Here's a list that endeavors to provide a definitive answer to the following question, but probably will get folks yapping at each other: Who is the greatest Super Bowl quarterback of all time?

Cold, Hard Football Facts kingpin Kerry J. Byrne rolls out all the statistical data from the 20 quarterbacks who've played in more than one Super Bowl and ranks them purely on how they performed on the biggest stage.

Reputation doesn't matter one iota. That's why Jim Plunkett is slotted waaaaaaaaaaay ahead of John Elway.

Byrne breaks them down into four categories -- Legends, Champions, Cling-ons and Gimps -- and backs up the ranking, complete with a spreadsheet that lists all of their stats.

Legends

1. Joe Montana

2. Terry Bradshaw

3. Jim Plunkett

4. Troy Aikman

5. Bart Starr

Champions

6. Tom Brady

7. Brett Favre

8. Roger Staubach

9. Kurt Warner

10. Len Dawson

11. Peyton Manning

Cling-ons

12. Bob Griese

13. Ben Roethlisberger

14. John Elway

15. Joe Theismann

Gimps

16. Jim Kelly

17. Fran Tarkenton

18. John Unitas

19. Earl Morrall

20. Craig Morton

A look at rookie QBs in Week 1

August, 26, 2009
8/26/09
3:03
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Rookie Quarterbacks To Start Week 1, Last 10 Seasons



Year
QB
Team
Result


2008
Matt Ryan
Falcons
W, 34-21



2008
Joe Flacco
Ravens
W, 17-10



2005
Kyle Orton
Bears
L, 9-7



2003
Kyle Boller
Ravens
L, 34-15



2002
David Carr
Texans
W, 19-10



2001
Chris Weinke
Panthers
W, 24-13



2001
Quincy Carter
Cowboys
L, 10-6









Notable Rookie QBs and how they fared starting Week 1:


1989 -- Troy Aikman
Aikman struggled in a Week 1 start for the Cowboys as the Saints won, 28-0. Aikman threw for only 180 yards and had two interceptions.


1998 -- Peyton Manning
Manning opened his Colts career as the starter and lost to the Dolphins, 24-15. Manning threw for 302 yards and three interceptions.


1998 -- Ryan Leaf
Leaf's not-so-memorable career got off to a good start, a 16-14 win over Buffalo. Leaf threw for a TD and had two interceptions.


2002 -- David Carr
In the first game in Texans history, David Carr led Houston to a huge victory over the Cowboys, 19-10. Carr threw for 145 yards and two touchdowns.


2008 -- Joe Flacco
Flacco started for the Ravens in Week 1 last season, leading Baltimore over Cincinnati, 17-10. Flacco didn't throw for a touchdown, but he ran for a 38-yard score.


2008 -- Matt Ryan
Matt Ryan started for Atlanta in Week 1, beating Detroit, 34-21. He threw a touchdown pass on his first attempt, a 62-yard strike to Michael Jenkins, and finished 9-for-13 for 161 yards.

When we're not watching, they're still working

April, 14, 2009
4/14/09
11:00
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

How powerful it must feel to make 80,000 people, some of them wearing your jersey, ascend from their seats and cheer your effort.

How exhilarating it must feel to be completely surrounded by fans, pumping their fists and screaming their throats hoarse for you.

To consider the massive audience beyond the confines of the arena, the millions watching at home and around the world on television, or those who don't care one whit about your uniform but maybe drafted you in their fantasy leagues, the sensation must be profound.

NFL players affect the way people feel every time they snap up their Riddells and stride onto the field. In many cases, what transpires on Sunday can buoy or ruin a town's mood for an entire week.

Yet some players' greatest accomplishments happen nowhere near a stadium, aren't broadcasted and have only a handful of witnesses.

These moments often are the greatest feats players will achieve as human beings.

Overlooked too often are remarkable acts performed in the community by the same men who garner so much attention for participating in a football game. They help children, comfort the sick and encourage the destitute -- and don't expect any applause in return.

 
  Al Pereira/Getty Images
  Running back Tony Richardson takes great pride in his charitable contributions off the field.

When NFL Charities recently rewarded 89 player foundations $1 million in grants, three of the five organizations it highlighted belonged to AFC East players: Miami Dolphins quarterback Chad Pennington, New England Patriots tackle Matt Light and New York Jets fullback Tony Richardson.

"I've been blessed to do what I do for a living, but with that I think it's also a tremendous responsibility," Richardson said. "The fact I can show up somewhere and somebody's life can be impacted, at the end of the day that's how we're all going to be judged."

Richardson's jersey isn't the NFL's biggest mover, but the three-time Pro Bowler and lead blocker for five 1,000-yard rushers has sold his share over the years for the Kansas City Chiefs, Minnesota Vikings and Jets.

One of his jerseys, in particular, symbolizes the influence an NFL player can have on one life.

Christopher, a 9-year-old Kansas boy, was buried in it.

"That's definitely humbling and overwhelming," Richardson said. "It doesn't even seem real. I would never think that I could have that kind of impact on one individual or family.

"You can't even put that into words that you've touched someone's life like that."

Christopher had leukemia. Richardson would visit him at Children's Mercy Hospital in Kansas City. Christopher, when his health permitted, would attend any event he could for Richardson's organization, the Rich in Spirit Foundation.

On the desk at Richardson's home in Kansas City is a picture of Christopher.

"My philosophy in life is that if you've had a bad day, that's up to you," Richardson said.
"You control how you respond to adverse situations. His picture helps me maintain that perspective. It reminds me how precious life is, how each day could be your last."

(Read full post)

Pats have decisions to make on Cassel, Brady

November, 22, 2008
11/22/08
10:00
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 Stew Milne/US Presswire
 Should the Patriots bank on Tom Brady returning to full health or should they invest in a young quarterback on the rise?

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

An innocent question to stimulate conversation ignited outrage.

One reader demanded I resign from ESPN.com. Another implored my bosses to terminate my blog completely. They wrote in to ridicule my intelligence, mock my background and question my journalism ethics.

All for asking a question to which I didn't give my opinion.

What I dared to do was broach the subject of what's going on with the New England Patriots quarterback situation and the uncertainty clouding it.

Sporting icon Tom Brady is rehabbing his surgically rebuilt, infection-prone left knee. Information has been scarce. So much is unknown.

Matt Cassel has developed into a bona fide NFL starter before our eyes, but he will be an unrestricted free agent after the season.

This is the exact question I posed before opening the floor to comments:

Do you bank on the superstar maintaining his elite status, or invest in the rising prospect, who years from now still should be in his prime when the veteran retires?

That line didn't seem inflammatory when I typed it, but after the backlash from incensed readers, I decided to check with some professionals to see whether they thought I had raised a legitimate issue or I was nuts.

Charley Armey

Background: Former St. Louis Rams general manager, New England Patriots assistant director of player operations.

Note: As Rams director of player personnel, Armey dealt with Trent Green's season-ending knee injury and emergence of unheralded Kurt Warner en route to a Super Bowl title.

The risk is too great not to move forward with the quarterback you have right now. You have to get him signed and give your team stability at the position. There's no absolute. That's the problem. You've got to protect yourself and the organization.

I would do whatever I had to do to sign him. I would try to structure the contract so that at some point in time I could deal the player if it's convenient but keep him around until Brady is back and 100 percent.

After Brady is back, you address what you do with both quarterbacks. You have to proceed as though Cassel will be your quarterback until proven otherwise. There are no other options for the Patriots. They have to get the guy signed.

This kid [Cassel] has proven that his arm is getting better and better. They've invested the money and the time to get him to this point. He's a commodity now. You can't let him get away for nothing. I would figure out how to get it done. I would not let him out of there, period.

But the deal can be done. [Cassel] ought to feel a strong sense of loyalty for to the organization for drafting him when they did, showing faith in him and investing in him the way they did.

You know who the quarterback is when he's healthy, but it sure is a nice problem when you have two. Otherwise, you're looking for a free-agent quarterback who's 105 years old to come in and be the backup.

It took Trent Green almost two years and maybe three years until he was comfortable on that knee. Some guys come back and are comfortable on it right away.

You don't know how [Brady's knee] is going to react until you start working out in game mode. He has to step up, take a hit, pivot on it, slide to the left, slide to the right, plant it, come off it. You won't know until you get in a game situation regardless of how the off-field rehab goes.

(Read full post)

New England Patriots: Franchise player

August, 18, 2008
8/18/08
1:06
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

 
 Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images
 Tom Brady has guided the Patriots to three Super Bowl titles.

Readers' pick: Tom Brady, QB

With the exception of young franchises such as the Houston Texans or Baltimore Ravens, active players can be difficult to vote for as the greatest ever. Their careers are still unfolding, their legacies changeable.

Despite 48 years of players, Tom Brady's career towers over all other New England Patriots.

Part of Brady's colossal stature is that only two career Patriots -- guard John Hannah and outside linebacker Andre Tippett -- have been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

But even a crowded field would have trouble touching Brady.

Through their first 42 years the Patriots won zero championships. Brady has since guided them to three Super Bowl titles, claiming the game's MVP award twice. That's enough to cement his status as a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

Brady last year directed perhaps the most merciless offense in NFL history. He threw for a record 50 touchdowns and just eight interceptions, propelling the Patriots to an unprecedented 16-0 regular-season record and two playoff victories. His ankle injury in the Super Bowl played a role in their inability to close out their perfect campaign.

He owns the best winning percentage (.782) of any quarterback in the Super Bowl era, higher than Joe Montana, Roger Staubach, Troy Aikman, Terry Bradshaw and Bart Starr. Brady owns the second-highest playoff winning percentage (.824) behind only Starr.

Not many active players can be mentioned in the same sentence as those names.

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