AFC East: Warren Moon
The NFL future of former New York Jets quarterback Tim Tebow remains cloudy. But Tebow could play in another league this year, such as the CFL, if he so desires. His rights have already been claimed by the Montreal Alouettes.
But would Tebow also be a major bust in the CFL? Former quarterback Warren Moon, who is well respected with Hall of Fame credentials, doesn't believe Tebow has what it takes to thrive in the league north of the border.
"If you can't throw the football, it doesn't matter where you play quarterback," Moon said. "You have to be able to throw it. That's his biggest problem, just being able to complete passes, be an accurate passer. I think he's a really good athlete playing the position, but I don't think that's enough sometimes."
Moon, who played in the CFL, brings up a good point: Other places like the CFL and Arena Football League are wide-open, high-scoring passing leagues. Tebow’s biggest weaknesses are his shoddy mechanics and throwing accuracy.
The more Tebow throws, the worse it is for him and his team. An NFL quarterback may need to throw 30 times a game to be successful. A CFL or Arena Football League quarterback may need to throw 40 to 60 times per game. It's hard to imagine Tebow thriving in that scenario, even against easier competition.
The best move for Tebow is to simply switch positions, the best way to prolong his football career. Tebow has the athleticism to play H-back, tight end, running back or special teams. Some teams would probably be interested if Tebow was more open-minded about a position change. But the more Tebow tries to be a throwing quarterback, the closer he gets to retirement.
Tebow would be wise to wait as long as possible for his next NFL shot. Going to the CFL right now would be a major risk. If Tebow fails in Canada, as Moon predicts, he may never make it back to the league where he won a playoff game as quarterback of the Denver Broncos.
That means, theoretically, Brady and coach Bill Belichick plan to dominate the AFC East and keep New England in title contention until 2017. Brady will turn 35 in August.
But five more years? That is an eternity in the NFL in which the average career span is approximately 3-4 seasons. Does Brady have enough in the tank to play 17 years at such a demanding position?
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, only four quarterbacks in NFL history have started on opening day at 40 or older. Warren Moon (41) was the oldest, followed by Brett Favre (40), Vinny Testaverde (40) and Johnny Unitas (40). Brady wants to become the fifth player to accomplish that feat.
Former quarterback and ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer played 14 seasons in the NFL and believes Brady will reach that goal. According to Dilfer, the key to quarterback durability is the lower body, not the upper body.
"What goes first with quarterbacks is their legs. Once you lose your legs, you kind of lose everything else," Dilfer explained. "I remember Kurt Warner talking about that late in his career, and obviously I experienced it. Every quarterback experiences it. I think Tom works hard enough to maintain the leg strength he needs to be as precise as he is, and I think he's a competitor that if he puts something in his mind that he's going to do something, he's a guy that goes out and does it.
"There's very few people in sports like that, talk about the Kobe Bryants and the greats in all sports. I think Tom is right up there. When he puts his mind to something, he's going to do it. So I fully expect him to be playing at 40 if he says he's going to."
It's hard to say when that window will close for Brady, who will lead the Patriots (14-3) in Sunday's AFC Championship Game against the Baltimore Ravens (13-4). He's proved over the past dozen years that as long as he's healthy, he's an elite player. Brady is an MVP candidate this season and by far the best remaining quarterback in the playoffs.
A case can made that Brady's three best statistical seasons occurred after 30 -- in 2007, 2010 and 2011. He also is coming off a record-tying, six-touchdown performance in a 45-10 playoff victory over the Denver Broncos. It was one of his top single-game performances.
Brady projects to be an elite player for at least the next two or three seasons. Injuries are probably the only thing that can derail him at this stage of his career.
Brady had reconstructive knee surgery and missed 15 games in 2008. Otherwise, he has had a clean bill of health. Outside of 2008, he has missed just one start since taking over the job in 2001.
"If anybody can pull it off, it's Brady, but like we saw with Peyton Manning, he could break down easier [with age] too," Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. said. "Manning may never be the same. He may never play at that same high level. Who knows? If Brady hits one stumbling block like Peyton did, all of a sudden 40 is a long way away for him. But nobody is playing better than Brady right now."
Brady has been fortunate with pass protection throughout his career. He has been sacked 26 times or fewer in six of the past seven seasons.
Former Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi was a longtime teammate of Brady's and knows firsthand the importance of protecting the veteran quarterback. Brady is a classic pocket passer who moves well in the pocket. But he doesn't have the ability to run away from defenders.
"As players progress up into the years, the more shots you take, the shorter the second half of your career will be," Bruschi said. "And I think Tom Brady will play as well as his offensive line, his protection, allows him. I think he's shown over the course of the last few years that there are the usual [ailments], they're becoming normal now. Late in the season, where he had a rib or a shoulder or various injuries like that over the course of a season.
"You end up accumulating some damage, especially as a quarterback, because you're the most sought-after hit in terms of the defensive perspective. So if he can be protected, I think that goal is possible. He can play as long as he wants to."
Brady currently is playing with a left shoulder (non-throwing) injury that has to be managed during the playoffs. This week Brady sat out of Wednesday's practice to rehab and watched extra film of Baltimore's defense.
An under-the-radar aspect of Brady's longevity could be the development of tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. Both have been tremendous weapons and security blankets for Brady in their second season together.
Throwing in the middle of the field is the quickest and easiest completion for quarterbacks. It also keeps the pass rush at bay.
"They're obviously a huge part of what we do," Brady said of his tight ends this week. "They are on the field quite a bit and they’ve been healthy so it’s been good to have them both out there. ... They're pretty good with the ball in their hands and break a lot of tackles so that’s definitely a plus for us also. We have a lot of yards after catch this year, and those two guys certainly do a great job with the ball in their hands."
Patriots owner Robert Kraft still remembers when the late-round draft pick came to Foxborough as a long shot in 2000. Kraft shared a great story about his first encounter with Brady this week.
"I still have the image of Tom Brady coming down the old Foxboro Stadium steps with that pizza box under his arm, the skinny beanpole," Kraft said. "When he introduced himself to me and he said, ‘Hi, Mr. Kraft,’ and he was about to say who he was and [I said], ‘I know who you are, you’re Tom Brady, you’re our sixth-round draft choice.’ He looked me in the eye and said, ‘I’m the best decision this organization has ever made.' It looks like he could be right, although hiring Bill Belichick, I think, also has been a pretty good decision."
Brady's Hall of Fame legacy is secure. If he retired today, Brady already would be among the top quarterbacks ever to play the position. He has three Super Bowl rings and could tie his childhood hero -- Joe Montana -- for the most playoff victories (16) with a win over Baltimore Sunday.
But the difference between being a top-five quarterback and the greatest ever could come down to these next five years. Brady can tie Montana (four) and Terry Bradshaw (four) for the most titles in these playoffs. But if Brady plays through age 40, he has a legitimate shot at being the winningest quarterback in NFL history.
"I'm really happy that we have him as our quarterback," Kraft said. "I hope we have the best quarterback and coach in the history of the game. I guess to prove that, we have a little more execution that we have to do over the next few years. I certainly hope we do it."
On the "First Take" debate desk, ESPN's Jemele Hill and Skip Bayless discuss Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon's declaration that Auburn quarterback Cam Newton has been the victim of racially motivated criticism.
The numbers suggest he does.
The numbers, however, also show Hall of Fame milestones are changing.
All seven quarterbacks who've been eligible for the Hall and have thrown for 40,000 yards have gotten in. Two more are active and should enter on the first ballot: Brett Favre and Peyton Manning.
Dan Marino, Warren Moon, Fran Tarkenton and Dan Fouts didn't win titles. Moon and Fouts never appeared in a Super Bowl.
So what about Bledsoe?
He threw for 44,611 yards and 251 touchdowns in 14 seasons with the New England Patriots, Buffalo Bills and Dallas Cowboys. He reached two Super Bowls with the Patriots, losing as a starter and winning as Tom Brady's backup.
But everyone knows the NFL has evolved. Passing numbers are prolific compared to 10 years ago.
New York Jets and Patriots quarterback Vinny Testaverde is another example. He threw for even more yards than Bledsoe did. The Heisman Trophy winner rolled up 46,233 yards and 275 touchdowns, ranking among the top eight all-time in each category
DeLoureiro, who also writes for NFLStatAnalysis.net, noted the only two quarterbacks of the Super Bowl era to enter the Hall of Fame without 40,000 yards or multiple championships were Steve Young and Jim Kelly.
Both presented special cases. Young started only eight seasons and was a two-time league MVP. Kelly took the Bills to four straight Super Bowls.
Tom Donahoe, the former Bills general manager, use to refer to Bledsoe as a future Hall of Famer, a comment that always sounded ridiculous to me.
It still does.
|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.
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.
Background: Former St. Louis Rams general manager, New England Patriots assistant director of player operations.
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.