NFC South: Tyler Thigpen
I’m not sure what the exact qualifications are for elite status. But I’ve always been a big believer that the most important thing a quarterback can do is win games.
Only Tom Brady (.780) and Ben Roethlisberger (.708) have better winning percentages, and I think pretty much everyone agrees they’re elite. Ryan’s winning percentage is ahead of guys like Peyton Manning (.678), Aaron Rodgers (.661) and Drew Brees (.601) and I don’t think there’s any question they’re elite quarterbacks.
Yeah, I know the difference with Ryan is that he never has won a postseason game. But people used to knock Manning for not being able to win the big one early in his career and he now is on his way to the Hall of Fame.
I think Ryan already is an elite quarterback. But there’s only one way to permanently end the argument. That’s for Ryan to go out and start winning some postseason games.
By the way, Ryan’s winning percentage is far superior to predecessor Michael Vick’s (.588). It’s also better than another guy who had some success in the NFC South -- former Carolina quarterback Jake Delhomme (.583).
Aside from Ryan and Brees, let’s take a look at the career winning percentages of the other current NFC South quarterbacks.
Tampa Bay’s Josh Freeman is 17-23 (.425). Carolina’s Cam Newton is 6-10 (.375).
There are even a few NFC South backups who qualified for the list by making at least 10 career starts, but their winning percentages aren’t very impressive. Carolina’s Derek Anderson is at .419, Tampa Bay’s Dan Orlovsky is at .167 and Carolina’s Jimmy Clausen is at .100. But, hey, at least Clausen doesn’t rank dead last in winning percentage among active quarterbacks with at least 10 career starts. Tyler Thigpen (.083) holds that distinction.
It remains very likely that, sometime between now and Monday afternoon, Brees and the Saints will work out a contract that pays him somewhere around an average of $20 million per season. That would put Brees on top of the list of quarterback pay. He’s earned that honor.
But what about the rest of the NFC South quarterbacks?
First off, let’s be clear that none of them are at the same level as Brees. But two of them are likely to come up for contract extensions sooner rather than later and Brees could help raise the bar.
As it stands right now, Atlanta’s Matt Ryan is tied for No. 13 in average per year at $11.25 million. Ryan’s contract currently runs through the 2013 season and there have been some rumblings the Falcons could start looking to extend him. Unless he goes out and wins the Super Bowl this season, I don’t think Ryan falls into the category of elite quarterbacks, but I think it would take an average of somewhere between $14 million and $16 million a season to lock him up.
Tampa Bay’s Josh Freeman ranks No. 22 with a $5.24 million average per year. Freeman’s coming off a tough season, but still has plenty of upside and also has a contract that expires after the 2013 season. If the Bucs really believe he is their franchise quarterback, they might be wise to try to extend him before Freeman gets a chance to get back on the field and really drive his price tag into the upper echelon. Then again, the Bucs might want to wait a bit to see if Freeman can recapture his style of play from the 2010 season before making any big commitment.
Carolina’s Cam Newton is No. 21 with a $5.506 million average salary. Although he was the No. 1 overall pick in last year’s draft, Newton’s first contract was less than a lot of guys drafted in the years just ahead of him because the league put in new rules last year that limit rookie contracts. If Newton continues to play like he did as a rookie, he could be looking at numbers like Brees a few years down the road.
I’ve assembled a list of the top 32 quarterbacks, based on average salary per year. Here it is:
Tom Brady and Peyton Manning are generally regarded as the best two quarterbacks in the NFL, and Drew Brees is the unquestioned king of the NFC South. I won’t dispute that. But, in a least one very important category, we have another NFC South quarterback near the top.
That’s Atlanta’s Matt Ryan. When it comes to winning percentage in games started by active quarterbacks (10 games minimum), Ryan is a very close second to Brady. In three seasons, Ryan is 33-13 (a .717 winning percentage). Brady is 111-32 (.776).
Ryan is ahead of the likes of Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers, who generally make every list of “elite’’ quarterbacks. By the way, Ryan's 33 victories tie him with Hall of Famer Dan Marino for the most by a quarterback in his first three seasons since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger.
Brees is 15th on the list with a .577 winning percentage (79-58). Tampa Bay’s Josh Freeman is 13-12 (.520).
Then, there’s Carolina’s Jimmy Clausen, who, amazingly is not last on the list. But he is very close with a 1-9 record (.100). Clausen should be very thankful that Tyler Thigpen is 1-11 (.083) and Brodie Croyle is winless in his 10 NFL starts.
With that in mind, and with some help from ESPN Stats & Information, let’s take a look at some of the more prominent potential free agents from the rest of the league.
QUARTERBACKS: Marc Bulger, Kerry Collins, Rex Grossman, Matt Hasselbeck, Patrick Ramsey, Alex Smith, Billy Volek, Kellen Clemens, Brodie Croyle, Trent Edwards, Bruce Gradkowski, Tarvaris Jackson, Matt Leinart, Troy Smith and Tyler Thigpen.
RUNNING BACKS: Cedric Benson, Ronnie Brown, Kevin Faulk, Mewelde Moore, Sammy Morris, Clinton Portis, Dominic Rhodes, Tony Richardson, Kevin Smith, Darren Sproles, Fred Taylor, Brian Westbrook, Ricky Williams, Joseph Addai, Ahmad Bradshaw, Jerome Harrison, Brandon Jackson, Laurence Maroney and LeRon McClain.
WIDE RECEIVERS: Mark Clayton, Braylon Edwards, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Randy Moss, Santana Moss, Terrell Owens, Donte’ Stallworth, Steve Breaston, Malcom Floyd, Santonio Holmes, James Jones, Sidney Rice, Mike Sims-Walker, Brad Smith and Steve Smith (of the New York Giants, not the Steve Smith of Carolina).
TIGHT ENDS: Desmond Clark, Donald Lee, Randy McMichael, Bo Scaife, Kevin Boss, Owen Daniels, Daniel Fells, Zach Miller, Ben Patrick and Matt Spaeth.
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: David Baas, Jammal Brown, Robert Gallery, Adam Goldberg, Kyle Kosier, Olin Kreutz, Matt Light, Sean Locklear, Casey Rabach, Chris Spencer, Langston Walker, Casey Wiegmann, Floyd Womack, Damien Woody, Chris Chester, Jeromey Clary, Daryn Colledge, Willie Colon, Doug Free, Jared Gaither, Charlie Johnson, Deuce Lutui, Samson Satele, Lyle Sendlein and Marshal Yanda.
DEFENSIVE TACKLES: Aubrayo Franklin, Tommie Harris, Chris Hoke, Chris Hovan, Kris Jenkins, Bryan Robinson, Gerard Warren, Jamal Williams, Pat Williams, Alan Branch, Barry Cofield, John McCargo and Brandon Mebane.
DEFENSIVE ENDS: Jason Babin, Dave Ball, Raheem Brock, Andre Carter, Shaun Ellis, Cullen Jenkins, Travis LaBoy, Trevor Pryce, Marcus Spears, Ray Edwards and Mathias Kiwanuka.
LINEBACKERS: Akin Ayodele, Keith Bulluck, Kevin Burnett, Dhani Jones, Kirk Morrison, Julian Peterson, Matt Roth, Takeo Spikes, Jason Taylor, Mike Vrabel, Stewart Bradley, Bobby Carpenter, Manny Lawson, Paul Posluszny, Ernie Sims and Stephen Tulloch.
CORNERBACKS: Nnamdi Asomugha, Phillip Buchanon, Chris Carr, Drayton Florence, Ellis Hobbs, Carlos Rogers, Lito Sheppard, Ike Taylor, Fabian Washington, Drew Coleman, Antonio Cromartie, Chris Houston, Johnathan Joseph, Dimitri Patterson, Josh Wilson and Eric Wright.
SAFETIES: Aaron Francisco, Ken Hamlin, Michael Lewis, Brandon McGowan, Quintin Mikell, Lawyer Milloy, Brodney Pool, Gerald Sensabaugh, Roy Williams, Gibril Wilson, Atari Bigby, Melvin Bullitt, Abram Elam, Dashon Goldson, Michael Huff, Dawan Landry, Danieal Manning, Bernard Pollard, Eric Weddle and Donte Whitner.
TAMPA, Fla. -- There could be even another element to the quarterback situation for the Buccaneers.
The team could be looking to trade one of its quarterbacks for a draft pick. Coach Raheem Morris wouldn't confirm an NFL.com report that the Bucs are shopping three of their quarterbacks for a trade, but he didn't deny it either.
"Oh, man, they're Nostradamus," Morris said when asked about the report. "Everybody in this league, all 32 teams around this time start calling front offices. I can't control who calls us. Everybody's interested in everybody's roster and everybody's looking to nit-pick off everybody's roster. Everybody has talent and you're trying to accumulate the best talent on your football team. That's just all that talk is what that is."
But it makes total sense for the Bucs to at least try to find out what the market value might be for Byron Leftwich, Luke McCown or Josh Johnson. They're not about to let go of rookie Josh Freeman, who they call their franchise quarterback.
But that's likely in the future. For now, it appears the Bucs will open the season with either Leftwich or McCown as their starter. They're about even at this point and a potential trade could play into Morris' decision, although the Bucs likely would be able to get only a late-round pick (at best) for any of their quarterbacks.
Leftwich, a former starter in Jacksonville, probably has more trade value because of his experience. McCown has only seven starts. Johnson, a second-year pro, has yet to play in an NFL game and probably wouldn't bring much in a trade.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
For a very long time, I've firmly believed Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin is the best assistant coach in the NFL.
Not today, though.
Kiffin's defense has been nothing short of horrible in the first half against Kansas City. Kiffin's defenses always have been known for being smart and well prepared. But the Chiefs are exploiting a defense that's not supposed to have weaknesses.
Give credit to Kansas City offensive coordinator Chan Gailey. He's successfully used the Wildcat formation at times, been able to run the ball consistently and has quarterback Tyler Thigpen looking like Len Dawson.
But there's one other factor at work here -- Kansas City coach Herm Edwards. He's got a defensive background, but there's little doubt he's having a huge impact on the offense today. Nobody knows Tampa Bay's defense better than Edwards, who used to be the defensive backs coach under Kiffin.
Edwards knows Tampa Bay's schemes and personnel and he's told Gailey where every weak spot is. That's worked so far and there's reason to believe it might continue. Edwards knows that Tampa Bay's aging defense can be worn down.
In the first half, Tampa Bay's defense spent way too much time on the field. Unless Kiffin can come up with some miracles at halftime, Tampa Bay's defense could be facing a very long second half.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
The Falcons are building with youth, but there's one old guy who has been a huge part of the team's fast start. That's defensive end John Abraham. As much as Turner deserves credit for keeping pressure off Ryan by running well, Abraham, 30, deserves credit for giving Ryan the upper hand in a battle of young quarterbacks.
Abraham was all over Kansas City's Tyler Thigpen, who was making his first career start. Thigpen started the game by completing only one of his first 10 passes. He finished with only 128 passing yards and three interceptions.
Abraham was a big part of the reason for Thigpen's struggles. He had two sacks and forced a fumble. That gives him six sacks for the season. Let's see, that puts Abraham on pace for 32 sacks.