NFC East: John Elway

The Denver Broncos have won the offseason title and free agency is not even four days old.

John Elway signed safety T.J. Ward to a four-year, $23 million deal that guarantees him $14 million. He stole cornerback Aqib Talib away from the New England Patriots with a six-year, $57 million deal that guarantees him $26 million. Then he thanked the Dallas Cowboys for their cap woes and unwillingness to pay DeMarcus Ware and signed Ware to a three-year, $30 million deal that includes $20 million guaranteed.

Ware will make $250,000 more with the Broncos this year than he would have with the Cowboys.

Add those three to an offense that will still put up points even if Eric Decker leaves and Denver should be viewed as the favorites in the AFC.

In fact, they might look like a "Dream …" Sorry. Got something stuck in my throat. "A Dream …" Man, there it goes again.

One more time: A dream team.

Could the 2011 Philadelphia Eagles serve as a reminder that a "dream team" doesn’t mean a Super Bowl team?

To refresh: The Eagles loaded up with Jason Babin (five years, $28 million), Cullen Jenkins (five years, $25 million) and Nnamdi Asomugha (five years, $60 million). They traded Kevin Kolb and got Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in return. They added serviceable pieces in Ronnie Brown and Evan Mathis turned out to be a steal.

Then they signed Vince Young, who came up with the dream-team tag.

And Philadelphia finished 8-8.

The Broncos have Peyton Manning, so it’s hard to see an 8-8 season. But what happens if Manning gets hurt?

Aikman doesn't foresee joining Cowboys

January, 17, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- Last Friday, I mentioned Babe Laufenberg’s thought about Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman's possible involvement in the Dallas Cowboys’ front office, similar to the way John Elway operates the Denver Broncos.

It’s a terrific thought, but it would never happen. Appearing Thursday on KTCK The Ticket radio in Dallas, Aikman admitted he didn’t think it would happen with the Cowboys with Jerry Jones in control.

“Babe has been kicking the tires on that scenario for a couple of years,” Aikman told "The Morning Musers" show. “I think every guy who's played the position in the NFL and has spent time within the league has had maybe some aspirations, at one point in time, of moving into that capacity. I visited with John [Elway] last summer at length one evening at the Hall of Fame and talked to him about some of the challenges and the things that he had done there with the organization, and he's done a remarkable job. It's been very impressive. They've drafted good players. He's made good decisions, certainly, on bringing Peyton Manning in.

"Right now, I'm happy doing what I'm doing [as a TV analyst for Fox]. At some point in time, would I entertain the idea of intentionally getting involved with an organization? Yeah, I think that would excite me to some degree. Where that may take place, who knows? But the structure in Dallas is pretty much set. I don't anticipate anything like that would happen within the Cowboy organization."

Shanahan deserves celebration, scrutiny

October, 27, 2013
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The first thing you learn about Mike Shanahan is his competitive edge. That’s not a chip on his shoulder; it’s more of a boulder. When he was with Denver, he kept clippings from newspaper articles and pulled them out after winning the Super Bowl, just to remind reporters they were a bit, uh, wrong.

There’s a reason why a guy his size played college football. He’s tough, feisty and competitive and coaches that way.

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III and Mike Shanahan
Benny Sieu/USA TODAY SportsWashington Redskins coach Mike Shanahan finds himself in a different place today -- four and a half years after his tenure in Denver ended.
So, yeah, Mike Shanahan hasn’t coached in Denver since the 2008 season. He’s in his fourth season with Washington, where he’s re-built an organization and has a flashy young quarterback. He’s friendly with Denver vice president of football operations, and his former quarterback, John Elway and, supposedly, with the guy who fired him, owner Pat Bowlen.

Yeah, Shanahan has landed just fine on his feet. But there’s no chance his fire won’t burn a little brighter Sunday. Maybe Shanahan turns the Redskins around; maybe he doesn’t. But when he left Denver, Shanahan felt he had the makings of a strong team with young quarterback Jay Cutler and young receiver Brandon Marshall. It’s difficult to find such a combination; Shanahan had it and liked where they were headed. Then came a three-game collapse at the end of his 14th season and a firing.

“It was very shocking,” said Redskins guard Kory Lichtensteiger, drafted by Denver in 2008, of the firing. “Everybody was understandably disappointed, but to do a move like that ... the offense was on fire the whole year. A few things could have been tweaked, but a complete overhaul was extreme.”

If the players felt that way, then little doubt the coach did too. Not that Shanahan would admit it now.

“You know it’s been four and a half years, so it’s not like it was yesterday or the year before. So, I think it’s a little bit different than what normally happens when you’re gone for six months or nine months. I’ve done it before when I was with the 49ers and with the Raiders you go back to the place you’re at -- a lot of emotion. I think this is a little bit different than most.”

His son, Kyle Shanahan, who grew up in Denver, said, “You always want to beat people you used to work for. Everybody is like that, but it’s not as big a deal as I would have expected it to be four years ago.”

Under Shanahan, the Broncos had the fourth best record in the NFL from 1995-2008. They went 138-86 with seven playoff appearances and two Super Bowls. But his reputation took a hit post-Elway. They did win after him -- he coaxed 13 wins by a Jake Plummer-led team in 2005.

But Shanahan’s playoff record is 1-5 since winning his second Super Bowl. Make no mistake; the Broncos had talent on those teams, but you don’t win back-to-back titles with a slouch of a coach. And Shanahan is a good coach; Denver won double-digit games four times after Elway retired. However, he still has to prove he can build a championship team as the main architect. Heck, in Washington he needs to prove he can build a perennial winner. There’s still time this season and if they finish well, then there can be some optimism heading into the offseason (with more money). But they have to finish strong.

I know there have been some side issues that have hurt them, from the lockout to the salary cap. But this group traded for Donovan McNabb (though perhaps with a nudge from the owner); and allowed Albert Haynesworth to stick around another year; and put their faith, way too much of it, in John Beck and Rex Grossman as starters, though at least the latter belongs in the league and can help. If not for the good fortune of being bad in a year where there were two elite quarterbacks, then where would the franchise be? Of course, when they did get Robert Griffin III, they created one of the most enjoyable offenses to watch.

But they still haven’t built a top-level defense in the same fashion as what they're doing on offense. They have changed the culture in the building and there’s a strong mindset among the players in the locker room. But this business is about winning and doing it consistently. Until they do that ...

He did it in Denver and that’s why they’ll honor him with a video tribute before the game.

“I think it’ll be fun going back there, getting a chance to spend all those years in one place,” Shanahan said. “I’m sure hoping I don’t get booed.”

Hard to imagine Broncos fans booing a man who delivered two Super Bowls. But in Washington? If he wants a video tribute here someday, a lot of work remains.

Sunday is a statement on what Shanahan has done as a coach, a reminder of great times. It’s also a statement on what he has left to do.

Jerry Jones: That was Romo's best game

October, 6, 2013
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ARLINGTON, Texas – Dallas Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones has seen every one of Tony Romo’s starts and, to him, none was better than Sunday’s against the Denver Broncos.

Romo completed 25 of 36 passes for a team-record 506 yards with a team record-tying five touchdowns, but it was Romo’s lone mistake -- a fourth-quarter interception -- that will be remembered most in the 51-48 loss to the Broncos.

“He’s tough as a boot,” Jones said. “I’m not the least bit worried about any criticism here. I’m glad he had this game. If he can get better, this ought to make him better. I mean, I know no one with the Cowboys have ever had a game like this. Now you say you’ve got to win, but no one has ever played statistically and executed and did everything, not only executed the plan, not only did a lot of the deal, but he also created, and he made things happen. Now he was certainly very creative out there today too. People ask how could he be both? How could he protect the ball? How could he have great stats? How could he have accuracy stats? How can he run the team? But do we lose creative Tony Romo? You saw it out there today. You saw the whole package out there today. We’ve got some creative Romo. We’ve got the other parts of him, too, that he’s been working on. I like what we got out there today. I’ll take a helping of that every time. Seriously, I will, because it’s such a great combination, and very few people can play quarterback that way.”

Jones even invoked John Elway, Denver’s Hall of Fame quarterback and current vice president of football operations, when asked about whether this is how Romo will be remembered: statistically brilliant, but lacking the big-time wins.

“They will until he wins the Super Bowl,” Jones said. “And then when they do that, the guy standing over on the other sideline or up in the box, John Elway, had those things said about him his entire career, or things like that said his entire career. He was a great player and we all know that, and he ultimately got his Super Bowls, and they don’t say that about him anymore. And I’m not trying to be trite.”

RG III report: Protect thyself

September, 5, 2013
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RGIIIJohn McDonnell/The Washington Post/Getty ImagesWill Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III pitch out more on read-option plays this season?
Robert Griffin III, and everyone else it seems, knows what he must do Monday night. Before trouble arrives, hit the ground. Or get out of bounds. Or throw the ball away. It’s the same conversation that was had before his knee injury late last season; the volume, though, has increased. A lot.

Griffin will not abandon the run, whether a designed call or a scramble. It’s too much a part of his game and to ask him to just become a pocket passer is ignoring reality: Griffin makes huge plays with his legs, whether by running for a 76-yard touchdown (as he did against Minnesota last season) or by extending a fourth-down play by nearly 10 seconds and eventually picking up a first down (as he did against the Giants).

Still, the great debate has been how to keep Griffin safe. He can help himself by trusting more of what he sees downfield. He can also keep the ball alive when he does scramble, pump-faking as he approaches the line or even crosses it, something other mobile quarterbacks such as Ben Roethlisberger do well. It can cause enough hesitation to either create an opening or allow him to slide without still getting hit.

"He can’t run as much," running back Alfred Morris said. "He has to be a smarter runner. A lot of times on options I’m like, 'Give me the ball.' Not because I want the stats, but give me the ball to let me take the hit. I can take this hit. I’m built for this. So just not as many hits and being smarter sliding instead of making something big happen."

Morris brought up a good point, too: Griffin can trust his weapons. With a highly productive back in Morris and healthy receiving targets in Fred Davis, Pierre Garcon and even third-down back Roy Helu, Griffin does not need to go it alone.

"No one person will win this game," Morris said. "It’s a team sport. You don’t have to make the big play every play. You won’t hit a home run every play. I know he’ll use that sideline a lot more and I know he’ll slide a lot more.

"If he tries to hit a home run every time out there, you’re living in la-la land. That’s unrealistic so you have to nickel and dime, nickel and dime and know that you have to be patient and that big plays are going to come."

Michael Vick understands the dilemma Griffin faces, trying to remain dangerous while running less. Vick has run the ball 791 times in his career, with two seasons of at least 120 carries, the same number Griffin had a year ago.

"Well, it's one of Robert’s strengths," Vick said. "It’s something that he does well and it's made him the type of quarterback that he is today -- and a successful one and a good one. But what I’ve learned is that you have to be cautious because these guys in this league they hit so hard and we only weigh about 210 pounds, 215 pounds and these guys taking all types of angles on us and we don’t even see them sometimes. So it's important for us to protect ourselves and be conscious of where we are on the field and most importantly understand how much we mean to our football team."

Vick's career has been marked by big plays and big hits, leading to concussions or other injuries. He has played in all 16 games in a season once in his career and hasn’t topped 13 in the past three. Vick said he's only now running smarter.

"It happens in time. It happens over time, and I can honestly tell you right now I didn’t learn it until this year," Vick said. "This preseason was the most I’ve gotten down and slid and ran with a sense of getting down and not trying to score all the time. I think once you tell yourself that's what you’re going to do, then you kind of ingrain it in your mind."

It's not as if Griffin ran with abandon last season. He got hurt trying to extend plays against Atlanta (a concussion on a third-down play in the red zone); and Baltimore (a second-and-19 scramble late in the game trailing by eight); and Seattle (rolling to his right in the red zone; he wasn’t hit). And he was better at running out of bounds after his Week 5 concussion.

Still, he said he'll have it down Monday night.

"I mean, you guys have been talking to me about it for eight months. I think it’s ingrained in my head now. I'll be getting down on Monday night," Griffin said.

Two other mobile quarterbacks in recent decades, Steve Young and John Elway, ran much less than Griffin. The most Elway ever ran was 66 times in 1987, his fourth full season as the starter. In 1997, he ran the ball 50 times. Young ran it more often (4.2 times per game) and in his last full season as the starter he ran the ball 70 times, the second-highest total of his career.

"If they can stay healthy, they can have dominant careers," ESPN "Monday Night Football" analyst Jon Gruden said of the read-option quarterbacks. "Now, the style in which they play concerns me because I'm not accustomed to seeing quarterbacks take the kind of hits and as many hits as these men take.

"I'm concerned with any quarterback that runs the ball and plays the position recklessly because as far as I know, the quarterback is the only guy that can't play on Sunday if he has a sore passing shoulder. That's my only concern. I love watching them play. I love the style of offense that they play. The combination of dropback passing and option football is just downright nasty to a defense to defend, but can they sustain that style of play deep into their careers and eventually become $100 million quarterbacks as well?"

The Redskins say they don’t have a number on how many times Griffin should run. It’s hard to do something like that anyway. But Griffin's size -- he’s listed as 6-foot-2, 217 pounds -- means that questions about durability will be in play, whether he's a pocket passer or scrambler. The fewer hits he takes, the better. They won't abandon the zone-read -- it provides big plays, both in the run and pass game, and they have a strong belief it protects him better.

"It is what it is, whatever that number ends up being," Griffin said. "I just want to make sure I go out there and play tough, play hard, play fearless, and at the same time, play smart."

Griffin brainwashed? Hard to imagine

August, 14, 2013
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RICHMOND, Va. -- On Monday, Robert Griffin III heard the question, smiled, paused and thought about it. He hesitated briefly, then let everyone know he didn’t want to "B.S." anyone. And then he talked about how he didn’t understand Mike Shanahan’s plan for his return. It caused a stir, mostly for its honesty.

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This is the guy Donovan McNabb says has been brainwashed by the Redskins. If there’s one thing Griffin isn’t, it’s brainwashed.

McNabb, of course, once again reiterated a desire to talk to Griffin, who has declined to do so. The issue resurfaced because in the current issue of GQ magazine Griffin said of any talk with McNabb: “I don’t think Donovan is an idiot by any means. But right now, it’s probably best that we don’t talk."

McNabb said on WJFK radio in Washington on Wednesday that members of the Redskins’ offensive staff contacted him last year about reaching out to Griffin. However, multiple Redskins team sources were surprised by this statement, with one high-ranking official laughing at the idea that this would even be a possibility.

McNabb was an accomplished NFL player who guided Philadelphia to five NFC Championship Game appearances and one Super Bowl. Had his career ended there, without pit stops in Washington and Minnesota, then McNabb’s voice might have carried weight.

But his one season in Washington was notable for what didn’t happen. McNabb struggled to fully grasp the offense, coaches knocked him for his work ethic and players talked about it privately last season when comparing him to Griffin. When a point was made contrasting how McNabb worked as opposed to Griffin, one veteran said, “Oh, you noticed.”

Griffin is a smart kid who has to know what the coaches (and fans) think of McNabb. He’s a lightning rod in Washington. McNabb’s thought of Griffin talking to someone who could understand his situation has some validity, just in terms of helping a young kid navigate the path to high-profile stardom. It’s a road few can understand –- a guy like John Elway, a superstar who played for, and had success, under Shanahan, would probably be better.

But it’s not as if Griffin is a troubled kid making poor decisions. Is he headstrong? Yes. Competitive? Beyond belief. Has he made some missteps this offseason? Yes. Can he learn some things? Of course. He's only 23. But none of those missteps would affect his career. Otherwise, he probably wouldn’t go from major knee surgery to starting the season opener in only eight months.
As part of our series on the greatest coaches in NFL history, we are counting down the top 20, one per day, as voted on by our panel. And as revealed earlier today on our site, the man who came in at No. 19 in that poll is current Washington Redskins coach Mike Shanahan. These are the words of John Elway, the quarterback who helped Shanahan win two Super Bowl titles as coach of the Denver Broncos:
"There's one thing to me that was a great thing about Mike: He did not treat the playoffs any differently than he treated the regular season.

"You can see him make a comment during [the final minute of] Super Bowl XXXII. It was fourth-and-6 when John Mobley knocked the ball down. They had Mike on highlight. He said, 'Play the defense you would've played normally in the regular season. Don't change the play because it's the Super Bowl. Call the defense you did during the season.' That's why we had success. The postseason wasn't treated any differently, so we didn't feel the pressure. His mindset was the same whether it was the first game of the year or the Super Bowl. That was a great quality that he still has.

"The other thing is he was very, very aggressive, and he wanted to win on the offensive and defensive side of the ball. A lot of coaches tried to sit back and win on defense. As a quarterback, why I liked Mike was he wanted to win it on the offensive side. If we needed a first down late in the game, we were going to be aggressive offensively rather than punting and putting the game in the defense's hands. That's something I admired about Mike, and it led to a lot of success when I played with him."

Shanahan was the fifth coach to win back-to-back Super Bowls. His teams have consistently ranked among the league leaders on offense, and he's credited with the development of the zone-blocking run schemes that he's now using in Washington, where the Redskins last year led the league in rushing yards.

Over the years, the knock on Shanahan has become, "Well, he never won the Super Bowl without Elway." And while that is true, he did win it twice, and it seems unfair to try and separate the greatness of Elway from the guy who was coaching him and calling the plays. It's also worth noting that Shanahan completely overhauled the Redskins' roster and built them into a division champion in three years in Washington. And as great as quarterback Robert Griffin III appears to be, if Shanahan wins a Super Bowl with the Redskins, nobody's going to be saying, "Well, he never won without Elway or RG III." They're going to be planning his Hall of Fame induction ceremony.

Tony Romo: The old man and the (NF)C

February, 6, 2013
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Jean-Jacques Taylor has run the numbers and figured out that the Dallas Cowboys' Tony Romo will be the second-oldest starting quarterback in the NFC next season, behind only Drew Brees. Yipes.

Now, as we have discussed here many times, 33 is not end-of-the-line old for quarterbacks in the NFL in the year 2013. But it's closer to the end than it is to the beginning, and Jacques' point here is that the infusion of talented and successful young quarterbacks in the NFC is making Romo's path to the Super Bowl even more difficult than it already was. His other point is that Romo needs help:
For Romo to lead the Cowboys to the Super Bowl, Jerry must build a team around Romo the way the Denver Broncos built around John Elway.

When the Broncos won consecutive Super Bowls in 1997 and 1998, they were built around running back Terrell Davis, tight end Shannon Sharpe and receiver Rod Smith. Those guys did the heavy lifting.

A few times each game, the Broncos asked Elway to deliver one of his magical plays -- and he did. Early in his career, the Broncos asked Elway to do all of the heavy lifting and he was still dynamic enough to get Denver to three Super Bowls, which is why he's in the Hall of Fame.

No one is comparing Romo to Elway in terms of talent -- only in terms of what their teams ask each player to do.

Funny, that last part, because sometimes the criticism of Romo does remind me of what people used to say about Elway. In the final two years of his career, Elway went from "good, talented quarterback who couldn't win the big one" to "maybe the best quarterback ever to play the game." He did it by winning two Super Bowls at the helm of a team that could win with its running game.

Jacques is right that Romo needs help. The Cowboys' offensive line has been awful the past two seasons and the run game has been injury-plagued and unreliable. There is no question that Romo and his three interceptions were to blame for this year's season-ending loss in Washington, but he didn't lose all eight of the Cowboys' games single-handedly. There are deeper problems on this Cowboys team than Romo. If he finishes his career there without an Elway-type Super Bowl flourish, he'll go down in history as a Cowboys disappointment. Which is the way it goes with quarterbacks, even when it's not completely fair.

RG3 makes Redskins' hopes very real

December, 1, 2012
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Robert Griffin IIIAP Photo/Tim SharpRobert Griffin III has the Redskins believing they are contenders in his rookie season.

At the end of this interview with Robert Griffin III, he is asked to answer this question: The Washington Redskins are going to the Super Bowl in how many years?

Griffin, nonplussed, offers this answer:

"This year. I mean, it doesn't matter. Our season's not over. We're not out of the playoff hunt. If we win this game Monday, we control our own destiny. So it's every year, until we don't win it."

No pretense, no bluster, just the same, matter-of-fact tone he uses earlier in the interview when he honestly offers up John Elway, Michael Vick and Randall Cunningham among his influences and says Ray Lewis is the player whose autograph he would most like to get. Griffin doesn't suffer mundane convention or consensus protocol. He doesn't seek the sound bite. He gets a question, he rolls it over in his brain and offers his honest answer. Why wouldn't every player believe he could win this season's Super Bowl until his team is mathematically eliminated?

And so here stands Griffin, getting ready to play the first-place, defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants in the first "Monday Night Football" appearance of his career, with an understanding of the stakes. If the Redskins win the game -- and make no mistake, these Redskins fully believe they can beat these Giants -- they are one game out of first place and right in the thick of the wild-card race at 6-6. They would not, technically, be in control of their own destiny, as he claims, because they would still need teams in front of them to lose even if the Redskins won out. But they wouldn't need a ton of help, and the concept that a 10-6 record is likely to get them in is more than enough fuel for a December stretch run.

Griffin's most essential achievement in his decorated rookie season is to have made this possibility realistic. No Redskins team with Rex Grossman or Jason Campbell or the 2010 version of Donovan McNabb as its quarterback would have been a convincing playoff contender at 5-6 in Week 13. But this one, with Griffin taking the snaps, has people talking. Has people playing around with the Playoff Machine to see what has to happen for it all to come true. Redskins fans see the teams in front of them in that wild-card race and know well that their team beat the Saints, Vikings and Buccaneers head-to-head. They know the Seahawks can't win on the road. Heck, they know the Giants' remaining schedule doesn't look easy, and their team holds all kinds of tiebreakers, and the facts of the case become very simple: If the Redskins win this big Monday night game, they are in the mix.

The Redskins approach Giants games with a high level of confidence. They beat the Giants twice, rather soundly, in 2011, and they believe they had them beaten in Week 7 before they decided not to cover Victor Cruz on that 77-yard touchdown throw in the final two minutes. They do not fear the Giants, and they wouldn't have even if Griffin weren't their quarterback this season. They believe they have coverage schemes and pressure packages that can rattle Eli Manning, and they've spent the week watching film of themselves having great success against him. None of that means they'll win, but they have no doubt whatsoever that they can.

What Griffin has done is to build on that -- to fortify that confidence for the broader stage and the bigger dreams. If the Redskins can beat the Giants, as they already know they can, they can start to think about being a playoff team. And if you're a playoff team -- doesn't matter which one, as those Giants showed last season -- then you have a right to think about the Super Bowl. Why keep it a down-the-road fantasy when it's still a potential present reality? Griffin, who gives the Redskins reason to believe they might have the better quarterback on any given day they play, is speaking the absolute truth of his team's situation and his own. The fact that he's the one saying it means you don't have to look far to figure out why the Redskins, their fans and even some of their opponents might be believing it.

Griffin has made the Redskins legitimate, instantly. And whether they win Monday or lose, whether they make a real run at this year's playoffs or fall short, that's a heck of a rookie accomplishment.
If you've ever thought to yourself, "I wonder what it would be like to get a glimpse into the mind of 'First Take' host Skip Bayless as he agonizes over the question of whether Tony Romo will ever win a Super Bowl as quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys," well, then, you're in luck. Skip's weekly column for ESPN.com is a lengthy debate between Skip's head and his heart on this very topic.

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Skip concludes that the answer is "no," which is something of a departure from his long-held and oft-stated belief that Romo takes too much blame in Dallas. Along the way, he hits on a number of key issues at the heart of the perpetual Romo conundrum, including this one:
An NFL coach who loves Romo's talent and stays in touch with several Cowboys assistants told me: "That team badly needs Romo to take over as its leader. And all he really wants to be is a good soldier. Not a general. Just a very good soldier."

That's because, deep down, Romo knows he's still your basic undrafted free agent. Staubach won the Heisman. Aikman was the first pick in the draft. Romo doesn't trust he can be routinely great. He keeps waiting for someone to tap him on the shoulder and tell him he just got punked -- he isn't really a Dallas Cowboys quarterback. That's why he was so happy-go-unlucky in those first couple of seasons. He was trying to grin away the Texas-sized pressure, shrug off the voice inside telling him, "You know you don't belong here."

That voice keeps telling him he WILL self-destruct. And he does.

I think the "leader" stuff is overblown, and that it comes from people who don't ever visit the Cowboys' locker room, where Romo is looked at as a leader in all of the critical ways. But I think there's something to the idea of Romo's relationship to potential greatness. Guys who win Heisman Trophies and get picked first overall are the types of guys who have spent their whole lives crushing everyone and everything in their path -- for whom doubt was never company and therefore can't even be a memory. Romo hit more than his share of bumps and setbacks along his way to the NFL, and therefore the idea that he might possess more innate self-doubt than did his Hall of Fame predecessors is not a crazy one at all.

Where I fall short on this -- and I guess one of the reasons I was never going to make it on "First Take" -- is that I can't sit here and say Romo will never win a title with the Cowboys. Very few quarterbacks have ever filled us with certainty that they could win a Super Bowl until they actually did it. They used to say the Broncos would never win one with John Elway, that the Giants would never win one with Eli Manning. Someday, we may look back on this Romo conversation as preposterously silly.

But that's who Romo is right now. Even if you want to like him and believe in him, there are just enough reasons -- some of his own making, some not -- for doubt. And jeez, if he's lost Skip, that's a tough one.
"Monday Night Football" analyst Jon Gruden did a conference call Wednesday to discuss the quarterback prospects with which he's had a chance to work for his "Gruden's QB Camp" series in advance of the draft. He discussed them all, but the one of greatest concern to Washington Redskins fans is of course Robert Griffin III, whom the Redskins are expected to draft with the No. 2 pick two weeks from Thursday night. As reported fom Rich Campbell at the Washington Times:
"He can revive the Redskins as long as he stays healthy and he buys in and really takes to this new system and he continues to work. But this is a special young man whether the camera is on or off."

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Gruden believes Griffin will succeed under Redskins coach Mike Shanahan because of Shanahan's track record with mobile quarterbacks.

"Some of the best tape that I've ever studied was Mike Shanahan and John Elway in Denver," Gruden said. "The back-to-back Super Bowl championship teams, they took advantage of John Elway’s mobility. A lot of people forget just how extraordinary Elway was handing the ball off to Terrell Davis, and those naked bootlegs off of those stretch plays were devastating.

"What Mike did in San Francisco with Steve Young, another mobile quarterback, those were as good of offensive tapes as I've ever seen. I think when you get Robert Griffin, one of the most explosive quarterbacks to ever play the position, in a Mike Shanahan-type system, the possibilities are very exciting, I think, with Mike Shanahan's imagination."

Gruden and Shanahan are friends, it should be noted. And it's also worth noting that Elway and Young are two of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of the sport. Griffin could surely have a long and successful career without ever being nearly as good as either of those two players. But that word "revive" is a good one, since that will be the young man's task. (Unless the Colts surprise everyone and take him No. 1, in which case it will be Andrew Luck's task.)

The Redskins and their fan base are yearning for something about which to feel good. Excitement about the Redskins has been dormant for a long time. Just imagining Griffin in a Redskins uniform has begun to "revive" that excitement, but Griffin must deliver on his considerable promise in order to create a real "revival" for the Redskins and their fans. It's hard to find an expert anywhere who doesn't think he is capable of doing that.
McNabb/ShanahanMaxwell Kruger/US PresswireNo, QB Donovan McNabb's time in Washington with coach Mike Shanahan wasn't typically pleasant.
If you saw Donovan McNabb on "First Take" today, you know what this is about. If you haven't, here's the clip. McNabb, the former Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Redskins quarterback, was asked if he thinks Robert Griffin III is a good fit for the Redskins, who are likely to take him with the No. 2 pick in the draft four weeks from today. This was a perfectly teed-up Titleist of a question for McNabb, whose time in Washington was tumultuous to say the least, and he swung hard:
"No. I say that because a lot of times, ego gets too involved when it comes to being in Washington. Here's a guy coming out who's very talented, mobile, strong-armed. We've already heard he's intelligent. Football mind. Are you going to cater the offense around his talents and what he's able to do? Or are you going to bring the Houston offense with Matt Schaub over to him and have him kind of be embedded into that?"

The last part is a clear reference to Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and the idea that he tried to fit McNabb into the offensive system he brought with him from the Texans. But there's more:
"We talk so much about Mike Shanahan and the things that he was able to do in Denver. Well, I have a couple of names for you that Mike Shanahan, quarterbacks he's coached and the lack of success that he's had. We have John Beck, who as 0-4. Rex Grossman, 6-11. Jay Cutler, who was his prized possession, 17-20. Jake Plummer, a guy who had success, led them to the AFC Championship against Pittsburgh and then benched him the next year because he wouldn't do what he wanted him to do pretty much. Brian Griese, who was supposed to be the heir apparent to John Elway and hasn't had a lot of success."

To his credit, Skip Bayless asked McNabb if he had an ax to grind. And to his credit, the first two words of McNabb's response were accurate:
"I do but I don't. The whole deal about it is, we hear so much about players who move on somewhere, how the next year will be a lot better. Give him a chance to learn the offense and understand what we do. I never got that chance. And a lot of people haven't."

My inclination is to tread carefully here, since there's obviously a far greater chance that McNabb spends this next football season in those Bristol studios than on a football field. But the plain fact is, the guy needs a mirror.

McNabb makes some fair points about Mike Shanahan and the lack of success he's had as a head coach with quarterbacks other than Elway. He makes some fair points about egos, and I don't think there's anyone who doubts that Shanahan has a big one. He himself might even admit to that. He's a head football coach. The list of men who are those and don't have egos is a pretty short list.

But McNabb this morning was using a platform to grind his ax, plain and simple. My quickie evaluation of him on TV is that he'll be an excellent NFL analyst as long as he's talking about people he hates. His breakdown of the situation in Washington as it pertained to him ignores these elements:
  • He was benched by Eagles coach Andy Reid in 2008 and traded by Reid after the 2009 season to a team that the Eagles play twice a year. Clearly, there were some issues with McNabb even before he got to Washington. You don't trade your starting quarterback to a division rival if you think the guy is still worth having.
  • Three separate Redskins people who were with the team during McNabb's only season there have told me that the issue with McNabb was that he didn't want to put in the work during the week. Yes, the system in Washington was different from the one he was used to in Philadelphia, but that McNabb's response to that was to shut down and refuse to learn or practice it. One of those three people told me Shanahan was aware, before making the trade, that McNabb had developed the reputation over his final few seasons in Philadelphia of not wanting to put in the work during the week, but that Shanahan believed he could light a fire under McNabb.
  • Shanahan was not able to light that fire, and McNabb lost his job to Rex Grossman during the 2010 season. Rex Grossman, folks. Didn't lose the job to Johnny Unitas or Joe Montana. Couldn't play or practice well enough to fend off a challenge from Rex Grossman.
  • The Redskins traded McNabb prior to the 2011 season to the Minnesota Vikings for a sixth-round pick. McNabb must not have liked the egos or the system in Minnesota, either, since he played just six games there before losing the job to rookie Christian Ponder, then demanded his release later in the season after being demoted to the scout team.
  • No one picked him up off waivers.
  • No one has signed him so far this offseason.
  • There has been not one report of any team being interested in signing him.

McNabb's career is almost certainly over, and he's clearly bitter about the way it ended. The Shanahans certainly made some mistakes in handling the McNabb situation and said some things that embarrassed a proud veteran and left him very angry. They are not blameless here. But neither is McNabb, and if he's going to sit there and say things like he said this morning on "First Take," he'd do himself and the rest of us a favor if he uttered maybe just one or two words about his own role in the way things turned out for him in Washington.

It's possible, after all, that Griffin will be excellent in Washington. There's nothing anyone's heard about the young man to indicate he's unwilling to work or learn anything new.
PALM BEACH, Fla. -- As you may have heard, Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay has been wandering around the NFL owners meetings saying his team is undecided on whether it will take Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III with the No. 1 pick in the draft. Irsay could be telling the truth, or he could be putting up a smokescreen, as everyone does about the draft this time of year.

One thing is certain, though. The Washington Redskins, who traded three first-round picks and a second-round pick to the Rams earlier this month to move up to the No. 2 pick, don't care. They know they're getting one of those premium quarterbacks, and that's all that matters.

[+] EnlargeMike Shanahan
Jerome Miron/US PresswireMike Shanahan feels both of the top quarterbacks available in the NFL draft are athletic enough to thrive in his offense.
"That's a decision, when you get to the second pick, you've got to feel great about both guys," Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said Wednesday morning. "There can't be any, 'Oh, I hope I get this guy, I hope I get that guy,' because you don't know what's going to happen. You know what's reported, but you just don't know, especially with this process. But when we did move up to that position, we had to feel great about both of them before we gave up what we gave up."

It's widely believed the Colts have been set on taking Luck for some time, and the likelihood is that the Redskins will end up with Griffin. And because of Griffin's exceptional speed and mobility, conventional wisdom has begun to coalesce that says Griffin "fits Shanahan's system" better than Luck would. But Shanahan disputes that notion, indicating that he believes it underrates Luck's athleticism.

"I say both of these guys, because they've both very athletic," Shanahan said. "When you take a guy (Luck), who's 6-4, that's 240 (pounds) and can run a 4.6 forty, that guy can move pretty good. And obviously with Robert, running a 4.4 or under, usually guys that are that fast can't throw. And he can do both."

The Redskins have not worried, since making the trade, that they paid too much. The franchise has been in need of a franchise quarterback for years -- decades, really. And Shanahan believes that it's an essential ingredient to a championship team.

"The Super Bowls that I've been involved with, with Steve Young, with John Elway, both were franchise quarterbacks," Shanahan said. "They can make plays when everything breaks down. And if somebody can do that, then you've got an opportunity, once you get to the playoffs, to do something special. Now, can you still win without one? Sure you can. But you'd better be pretty special."

Shanahan said he and his staff are spending 11 hours a day preparing for the rest of the draft, going over every possible player and trying to identify potential future stars they can find in the later rounds. But what the Redskins did when they made the deal with the Rams was buy themselves their biggest present a month before Christmas. And every day, they walk past it, wrapped and sitting under the tree. And as excited as they are, they're happy to wait to unwrap it, because they know it's going to be awesome.

Giants-49ers: An early look-ahead

January, 16, 2012
1/16/12
10:03
AM ET
I am traveling for a good chunk of this day, as getting out of Green Bay on the morning after a playoff game is a challenge, so the blog may be a bit light depending on whether my plane is Wi Fi equipped. To keep you busy, here are some facts the good folks at ESPN Stats & Information sent us Sunday night regarding Sunday's NFC Championship Game between the New York Giants and the San Francisco 49ers.

We're No. 1: The starting quarterbacks in the game will be New York's Eli Manning, who was the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft in 2004, and San Francisco's Alex Smith, who was the No. 1 pick in the 2005 Draft. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, it's the second time in history that two No. 1 overall picks have faced each other in a conference championship, the first being the John Elway-Vinny Testaverde matchup in the 1998 AFC Championship Game.

Experience: This will be the 13th conference championship game for the 49ers, which is the third-most for any team. The Steelers have appeared in 15 and the Cowboys 14. It's the fifth conference championship game for the Giants, who are 4-0 all-time in this round, having won the NFC Championship Game in 1986, 1990, 2000 and 2007. They won the Super Bowl in all but one of those years -- 2000, when they lost to the Ravens.

Bay Area Blues: The Giants are 3-11 in San Francisco since 1980. That counts regular-season and playoff games. The 49ers are 19-8 all-time in home playoff games. A victory Sunday would tie them with the Steelers for the most home playoff wins of all time. But Manning got his fourth career playoff road win Sunday, tying him for the most ever by a quarterback. And Tom Coughlin got his sixth career playoff road win Sunday, which puts him one behind Tom Landry for the all-time record by a head coach.

Familiar foe: This is the eighth time the Giants and 49ers have met in the playoffs. That ties it with Giants-Bears and Cowboys-Rams as the most common playoff matchup of all time.
ASHBURN, Va. -- One of the most common criticisms of Washington Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan is that he's a slave to his own offensive "system," and more interested in finding players who fit that system than in finding the best possible players and constructing a system around them. Shanahan has heard this criticism, and when I brought it up in my interview with him last week, this is what he had to say about it:

"It's kind of funny, because when I had Steve Young and we had to run a West Coast offense [in San Francisco], and Steve was so much different than Joe Montana, you know, it was different. And then [John] Elway -- Elway didn't want to run the five-step drop. We were in a shotgun formation all the time. He hated the West Coast offense of three- and five-step drops, so with John it was a seven-step drop and a lot of shotgun. And then we wind up getting a guy like Jake Plummer, and of course Jake... totally different. He had to be outside the pocket, all those quarterback keeps, boots, none of the drop-back, none of the seven-step drop. He was good on the run, good on the play action, but the drop-back wasn't his game.

"So what you've always got to do is, whatever quarterback you have, you adjust your system to your players. The one thing I think I have been categorized with is the zone blocking scheme. People say, 'Oh, he loves the zone blocking scheme.' So I think I've been stereotyped there, relative to the running game. But in the passing game, if people look at what we've done in different places, they're gong to say, 'Oh, he adjusts the passing game to the quarterback.' Like with Rex [Grossman]. You can't run quarterback keeps with Rex, but you can do it with John [Beck]. So whatever somebody can do, you try to adjust accordingly."

Omar from Washington, D.C., sent in several questions for Shanahan last week, and one of the ones I used was about his relationship with his son, Kyle, who is his offensive coordinator. Omar wanted to know what Mike Shanahan thought of the criticism Kyle receives and how he feels his son has progressed in the role.

Mike Shanahan: "The important thing is that your coordinator knows what he's doing. Until you see a coordinator in meetings, or how he runs the meeting ... you're not really sure until you see him under the gun -- running game, passing game, installation of the run, installation of the pass, how he shows film, how he relates to the team. So that's where it's been very ... I shouldn't say a surprise, but it's natural for him, and it's easy to see that he understands the game. He can handle himself in any meeting, and until you see that as a coach, you just don't know, especially when it's your son. But he was very natural at that right away, so I became very comfortable with him, because I knew he knew what he was doing."


I told Shanahan that I often get questions from fans about whether Kyle will be fired, and that I generally respond to them by pointing out that Kyle's father is his boss and that a firing is therefore unlikely. He seemed to agree with my assessment, but here's what he had to say about the criticisms and the coaching staff in general:

MS: "I think what I've always been able to do is look at things very objectively in terms of where we're at. So when somebody says, 'Hey, your offense sucks,' I go, 'Hey, wait a minute. You look at my body of work over the last 27 years, we're No. 1.' And we’re going to continue to be up there. And I also know what it takes to have a good offense, in terms of coaches and personnel, and we're gong to get there, on both sides of it. And if I have a bad coach, I'm going to make changes, and if I don’t have the right personnel, I'm going to make changes. And we're going to get that thing fixed the right way."


Wendell Washington from Landover, Md., wanted me to ask the elder Shanahan about Redskins owner Dan Snyder -- specifically, whether Snyder has bought into Shanahan's belief that the way to build a long-term winner is through the draft rather than free agency and is sticking to his promise to let Shanahan do it his way.

MS: "Oh yeah, he's been very good. He's been very good letting me do it the way you want to do it. Been very supportive. I said to him, 'If you don’t count on me being here five years, you shouldn't sign me. Because this isn't going to happen overnight. We've got a lot of work to do. This is an older football team.' But he's been good."


Later on, though, I asked what impact the fact of his 11-21 record in his first two seasons as Redskins coach has on his faith that he's building the team the right way.

MS: "You just know that you've got two more years to get the job done, because they never let you go through the five years. You get it done in four years or you're gone. But that's what I love about this profession -- the pressure of it, what goes with it. The thing that I enjoy is that I've got an owner that's going to give me a chance to be successful. And if I can't get it done in four years, even though I've got a five-year contract, then I shouldn't be here."

We're going to do this every day until I run out of stuff. Thanks again for your help with the interview, and I hope you're enjoying what we've got out of it so far.

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