AFC South: Chad Jackson
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?
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.
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.
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.
Posted by ESPN.com’s Paul Kuharsky
- Dunta Robinson was fined for the message on his shows Sunday against the Jets, says John McClain.
- Kyle Shanahan makes an appearance in this look at young coaches and the box listing some up-and-comers by Jeff Chadiha.
- Stay calm about Steve Slaton, says Clifton Brown.
- The Texans signed running back Anthony Alridge to their practice squad, dropping linebacker Buster Davis, says McClain.
- Indy worked out three receivers Tuesday according to Adam Schefter: D.J. Hackett, David Patten, and Chad Jackson.
- Anthony Gonzalez will be out a month with a sprained right knee ligament, reports Chappell.
- Larry Coyer gives the Colts all sorts of blitz possibilities, says Mike Chappell.
- The Colts added Ed Johnson back to their active roster, writes Chappell.
- A look at seven key Colts topics, including what’s up at receiver, Johnson’s return and the team’s new willingness to blitz, from John Oehser.
- A return trip to Miami will bring Super Bowl memories for some, says Tom James.
- Jacksonville mayor John Peyton’s plugging Jaguars tickets, says Michael C. Wright.
- The Jags aren’t sure blackout news will spur ticket sales, says Gene Frenette.
- Criticism comes with the job according to David Garrard, writes Vito Stellino.
- In case you missed Wednesday’s comments from Wayne Weaver about Tim Tebow, they’re linked inside my reaction.
- Another take on what Tebow could mean in Jacksonville, from Jonathan Loesche.
- A team Q&A with Maurice Jones-Drew.
- David Garrard agrees with Jack Del Rio: He should have played better. Vic Ketchman’s story from jaguars.com.
- Ketchman takes a swipe at football technical talk and I’m with him on this one for sure.
- The trial of the man charged with shooting Richard Collier has been postponed, says the Times-Union.
- The Titans vow to slow Steve Slaton, says Jim Wyatt.
- Vince Young stood in for Steve McNair for a day.
- The Titans plan to do some work in the rain this week, says Gary Estwick.
- Chris Johnson’s hawking new T-shirts, blogs Wyatt.
- Six memorable home openers, from Terry McCormick.
- A replay of Wyatt’s chat.
- Johnson talks about getting more touches, from Titans Radio.
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
The Colts made a couple of roster moves Wednesday. At least one more is coming -- perhaps in time for Thursday, which marks the start of their practice week in preparation for Monday night's game at Miami.
The team waived kicker Shane Andrus, who worked as a kickoff specialist in the season-opening win against Jacksonville, and linebacker Cody Glenn, who was inactive against the Jaguars.
Adam Vinatieri said Monday he envisioned ultimately taking back the kickoff duties, though he didn’t offer a hint that it would be soon.
One of the two open roster spots will be taken by Ed Johnson. The veteran defensive tackle was suspended by the league for Week 1 and the team’s roster exemption for him is up.
The second spot is yet to be filled.
Team president Bill Polian has indicated the team may look for a veteran wide receiver to help while Anthony Gonzalez (knee) is out. The team is only three deep at receiver without Gonzalez (Reggie Wayne, Austin Collie and Pierre Garcon).
If the Colts don't find a veteran they like, they could opt to promote Taj Smith or John Matthews from the practice squad.
UPDATE: Adam Schefter reported Tuesday evening that the Colts worked out three free agent veterans -- D.J. Hackett, David Patten, and Chad Jackson.
A late day whip around the division.
Yahoo's Mike Silver takes a close look at Houston offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, Mike's son. "You get a job this young, people are going to say 'It's cause of your dad' or 'It's cause of your name,'" Shanahan said. "But trust me, no one in this business is hiring someone as a favor. There's too much on the line -- people's jobs, people having to move their families -- for someone to think that way."
Also, the Texans talked to Denver about cornerback Domonique Foxworth before he was traded to Atlanta. My colleague Bill Williamson got that from Foxworth himself.
Tony Dungy says he thinks the Colts' roster from 54-60 was the best it's been during his tenure, that he can still find new ways to convey old messages and that he doesn't think Colts-Bears will be a recipe for any opening-day oddities. His talk with Colts.com.
The Florida Times-Union offers a bit more on the Richard Collier shooting. The team was off today and will return to work tomorrow, sticking to its schedule. That includes an open locker room from 11:35 a.m. to 12:25 p.m., a media session for Jack Del Rio at 12:25 p.m. and a half hour of practice open to local media from 1:30-2:00 p.m.
In Jack Del Rio's first public comments since the shooting, he rejected the implication that Collier should not have been out so late:
"A person got shot. The guy who shot the gun is the problem," Del Rio said on his radio show, according to Cole Pepper of WOKV. "Not the guy who got shot. He's the victim. He's not the problem. You should be able to go out and have a good time and not be worried about being killed or put in a hospital. The person who pulled the trigger is who is wrong."
The Titans could be interested in receiver Glenn Martinez, released by Denver, or Chad Jackson, released by New England. I swapped emails with Jackson's agent, who indicated the Titans made an inquiry but ranked behind several teams who were more aggressively interested. Titans offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger was a Broncos assistant last year so he knows Martinez.