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Saturday, April 11, 2009
Weekend mailbag

By Kevin Seifert
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

Let's wrap up the news cycle with some weekend mail. We'll continue our new approach: Less questions = Better (or at least more long-winded) answers.

Joe of Chicago writes: This whole argument about Cutler's record is ridiculous. What was Manning's record after 37 games? (Either one.) Aikman, Bradshaw, Montana?

Kevin Seifert: Cutler's 17-20 record during his first three seasons in Denver has definitely drawn some scrutiny. I haven't put a ton of emphasis on it, most because of Denver's historically bad defense last year. But it turns out that all but one of the quarterbacks you mentioned had better 37-game records than Cutler.

Here's how it broke down: (Feel free to check my work using pro-football-reference.com.)

Terry Bradshaw: 21-16
Joe Montana: 21-16
Peyton Manning: 19-18
Eli Manning: 19-18
Troy Aikman: 13-24

Although the quarterback is the most important player on the field, ultimately his record is impacted heavily by the team around him. Aikman lost 18 of his first 21 starts on a rebuilding Cowboys team. In 2008, Cutler played with one of the worst defenses in the past decade, as determined by Football Outsiders.

But facts are facts. Cutler's first 37 games haven't gone quite as well as some of the Hall of Famers you named.


Renzo of Dinkytown writes: I've been wondering about this for a while. Does it seem like there is a substantial communication problem between Brad Childress and his players? Adrian Peterson says he wants to go to 230 pounds. Childress responds, Did he say that? I don't think he said that. But he shouldn't do it, and I don't have a problem telling him that. Meanwhile Rick Spielman OKs the weight gain, and Peterson I'm sure is left shrugging his shoulders. Similarly, there were reports that the Vikings plan to work out Ryan Cook at center, but Cook says he has heard nothing of the sort. There seemed to be some kind of similar situation with Matt Birk, where the coaches were never quite clear whether or not they wanted to keep him. Is this normal for a head coach/ franchise?

Kevin Seifert: At the top, I can tell you I was there when Spielman commented on the situation. He definitely chose his words carefully and ultimately deferred to Childress. But I never heard him say it was OK. From body language, at least, I got the impression Spielman was pretty dubious about it but didn't want to speak out of turn.

Many coaches play mind games and/or communicate to their players through the media, but I don't think Childress is one of them. I know he reads everything written about the Vikings, so I'm sure he knew Peterson had been quoted saying he wanted to gain 12 pounds this offseason. My educated guess is that Peterson never spoke to Childress or the Vikings' strength staff about it. If anything, this sounds like a player thinking out loud.

NFL teams give each player a weight guideline, so it's pretty likely that there would be a conversation about such a significant weight gain. Is the onus on Peterson to talk to Childress about it? Or should Childress have sought out Peterson as soon as he read the quotes? Probably the former more than the latter, but either side could have avoided this communications lapse.

In general, I can't tell you how many NFL players have complained about being in a communications blackout. Many players feel in the dark. They don't want to ask how they're doing and coaches don't always confront them. That's probably no different from many workplaces. As for Childress specifically, some situations during his career could have been avoided with better communication. Most of them occurred during his first season. But I wouldn't say his communication with players is substantially worse than other coaches I've covered.


Matt of Frederick, Md., writes: You mentioned in your previous article about passing in the draft that you feel rookie salaries are out of control and probably bad for the league. I wholeheartedly agree, and wonder how you see the possibility of an uncapped year playing into rookie contracts this year. I don't know if I fully understand the ramifications of it. Would players/agents want longer contracts or possibly shorter ones so they might be able to go find one more lucrative in the uncapped year? I only ask because I would expect it to play into contract negotiations, not because I actually foresee an uncapped year

Kevin Seifert writes: Really good question, Matt. There is definitely a general feeling among NFL people that the potential for an uncapped year is going to cause some complications in negotiating rookie contracts. Some teams already were forced to address the issues this offseason when they signed big-money free agents.

Agents always like shorter contracts, even if there is no threat of an uncapped year. The closer a player is to expiration of his deal, the more leverage he has. But keep in mind one change if the uncapped year occurs: Players will need six years of experience, instead of four, to qualify for unrestricted free agency. So there is no new incentive that I can think of for the 2009 rookie class to seek contracts shorter than normal.

As for the impact an uncapped year might have, I refer you to the blog of an anonymous but very astute NFL observer who refers to himself as AdamJT13. (I've linked previously to his analysis of compensatory draft picks.) The main point is that it will be harder for teams to achieve the typical goal of lowering a salary cap figure in the first year of a contract. I won't attempt to explain the minute details, but if you're curious, be sure to check the blog entry.


Brian from East Lansing, Mich., writes: I am a very passionate Lions fan and I thoroughly understand the need for a franchise quarterback. Maybe Matthew Stafford will be great. Maybe he will be a bust but don't we have more pressing issues? I mean Daunte Culpepper will probably do an okay job for us and Stafford won't start right away anyway. So why don't they try and coach Drew Stanton and develop him and see if he is capable? I am sure they haven't given him as good a look as they should. I might be a little biased as I am graduating from State this spring, but I think they should at least see what he can do?

Kevin Seifert: I edited down Brian's question a bit, but I'm especially interested in the Stanton angle. I chided some readers who pushed for the Lions to make Stanton their starter last season. After all, he missed most of training camp because of a thumb
injury and didn't practice at all as a rookie in 2007. On paper, he was woefully unprepared to start last season.

At the same time, I'm a little surprised at how quickly the Lions' (semi-)new regime seems to be writing him off. You figure Daunte Culpepper is going to be on the roster in some capacity, most likely as the starter, and the Lions have said they want to sign another veteran. If they draft a quarterback as well, you wonder if Stanton will even make the roster.

I don't think he should be in the mix to start, but it's a little early to cut ties entirely. After all, Stanton still hasn't gone through a full training camp in the NFL. Scott Linehan will be his third offensive coordinator in three years. And, the Lions made him a high second-round pick and guaranteed him $2.85 million in 2006. How could they already have made up their mind on him?