NFC West: Jeff Blake
All bets are off for 2013, and probably sooner, after neither Skelton nor Kevin Kolb separated himself significantly during their offseason competition.
Skelton becomes the fourth quarterback in four seasons to open a regular season as the Cardinals' starter. Kolb (2011), Derek Anderson (2010) and Kurt Warner (2009) were the previous three. Neither Kolb nor Anderson remained the starter past the seventh regular-season game.
Skelton beat out Kolb for the job without playing particularly well during the preseason, but Skelton appeared more confident, in my view. Kolb made his strongest case for the job during the team's preseason game at Tennessee, but two interceptions killed his momentum.
Naming Skelton the starter after paying a $7 million offseason bonus to retain Kolb shows coach Ken Whisenhunt wasn't going to anoint Kolb the starter simply because Kolb was earning a starter's salary. Whisenhunt has watched over the years to see how teammates respond to his quarterbacks. That was one reason he favored Anderson over Matt Leinart in 2010. It was likely part of his decision to go with Skelton as well.
The decision deals another blow to Kolb's flagging career in Arizona, but with questions about Skelton and the team's ability to protect either quarterback, Kolb figures to get another chance this season. The team has already committed close to $20 million to Kolb in 13 months. He is set to earn $1 million in salary this season. There's nothing to gain from releasing him now. Kolb's salary jumps to $9 million in 2013. It's an upset if he's on the roster at all by then, let alone at such a steep price.
Meanwhile, rookie Ryan Lindley appears to be gaining ground on the depth chart. Whisenhunt has said he doesn't expect Lindley to start this season, although one-time third-stringer Max Hall became a starter in 2010.
That will change when Kerry Collins replaces an injured Manning in the Colts' lineup for Week 1.
The first preseason game I covered as an NFL beat reporter featured Manning making his first start against the Seattle Seahawks in the Kingdome. His very first pass found Marvin Harrison for a 49-yard touchdown. Preseason games are generally without much meaning, but could there have been a more fitting beginning for Manning?
For a fuller appreciation of Manning's durability and consistency in starting 227 consecutive games, I went through Pro Football Reference counting how many quarterbacks had started for current NFC West teams since Manning made his regular-season debut. There have been 48. That figure includes 14 for the St. Louis Rams, 13 for the 49ers, 11 for the Arizona Cardinals and 10 for the Seahawks.
A few notes on the 48 players to start for current NFC West teams since 1998:
- There have been two Brocks (Berlin, Huard), two Charlies (Frye, Whitehurst), two named Chris (Chandler, Weinke), two Jeffs (Plummer, Martin), three Johns (Friesz, Navarre, Skelton), one Jon (Kitna), two Matts (Hasselbeck, Leinart), two Shauns (Hill, King), three Steves (Young, Bono, Stenstrom) and two Trents (Dilfer, Green).
- Two, Young and Warren Moon, have been enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame since Manning's streak began.
- Dilfer and Warner started for more than one current NFC West team since Manning's streak began. Warner started 57 games for Arizona and 50 for St. Louis. Dilfer started 12 for Seattle and six for San Francisco.
- Hasselbeck has the most total starts for current NFC West teams with 131, followed by Marc Bulger (95 for St. Louis), Jake Plummer (73 for the Cardinals) and Jeff Garcia (71 for the 49ers).
- Smith -- Alex, not Troy -- owns the most starts among current NFC West players with 50, all for San Francisco.
- Eight of the 48 were one-and-done as starters: Berlin, Scott Covington, Ty Detmer, Glenn Foley, Friesz, Frye, Navarre and Weinke. Nineteen have made at least 10 starts.
The NFC West will have two starters new to the division in Week 1: Tarvaris Jackson and Kevin Kolb.
The chart shows start totals by team for the 48. The NFC West changed membership with realignment in 2002. I'm going back to 1998 for the four teams currently in the division.
Making significant changes to the existing structure would stand as an overreaction, anyway. The Seattle Seahawks were, after all, the first team in NFL history to win its division with a losing record. This was the exception, not the rule.
I could see it happening periodically in the future, however.
Realignment into four-team divisions for the 2002 season increased the likelihood. As the NFC West proved this past season, a division needs only four teams in transition to produce a champion with a losing record.
Between 1990 and 2001, divisions produced four losing teams four times. The difference then was that divisions had more than four teams.
A quick look back at the "offending" divisions -- those with at least four losing teams -- from 1990 through this past season ...
The 2001 AFC Central featured the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens and a Pittsburgh Steelers team that went 13-3 with Kordell Stewart at quarterback.
The 1997 San Francisco 49ers went 13-3, including 1-0 with Jim Druckenmiller as the starting quarterback. The rest of the NFC West that season? Not so good.
Eric Pegram and Bam Morris carried the rushing load for the 1995 AFC Central champion Steelers. The Cincinnati Bengals went 7-9 that season despite getting 28 touchdown passes from Jeff Blake.
The 1990 Chicago Bears won the NFC Central with quarterback Jim Harbaugh posting a 10-4 starting record. Harbaugh finished that season with 10 touchdown passes and four more scores on the ground.
Marshall Faulk's career spanned the 1990s and 2000s, affecting his standing.
I used Pro Football reference to produce rushing totals for all NFC West players since 2000 (Cardinals, Rams, 49ers, Seahawks). Four players had at least 5,000 yards. None had even 3,000 for the Cardinals.
In fact, Alexander scored more rushing touchdowns during the decade -- 100 -- than all Cardinals players combined.
According to this Pro Football Reference list, Arizona players combined for 99 rushing touchdowns during the decade. I verified that information through official league stats. The Cardinals had two rushing touchdowns in 2005. Alexander had 27.
Tim Hightower's 18 rushing touchdowns led Arizona during the decade. Also on the list: Edgerrin James (16), Emmitt Smith (11), Marcel Shipp (11), Thomas Jones (9), Michael Pittman (9), Beanie Wells (7), Obafemi Ayanbadejo (3), Josh McCown (3), J.J. Arrington (3), Matt Leinart (2), Jeff Blake (2), Jake Plummer (2), Kurt Warner (1), Anquan Boldin (1) and Troy Hambrick (1).
I'll have to remember that as one piece of evidence to consider when the time comes to discuss Alexander's case for the Hall of Fame.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Branden from Scottsdale writes: Hey Mike, I wanted to get in on the Bolding discussion. I have read articles and comments from cities across the league that feel their team is "destined" to land Boldin.
A few thoughts …
1) The Cardinals are in the position of power. We can keep Boldin for two more years and let him play out his contract, or we can trade him for what we believe to be fair market value ... they are not going to trade him or cut him like the Cowboys with T.O.
2) Why would we trade him to ANY NFC team? I would trade him to an AFC team like the Titans who we play this year before I traded him to the Eagles where this season he isn't on our schedule, but we could meet them in the playoffs.
3) If I were the Cardinals, I would look to teams that have picks that we would want, but also maybe a starter in return...an OLB, DT, TE, LT, etc...Thoughts?
Mike Sando: First, great hearing from you, Branden. We'll have to get together again for some tailgating down there in Glendale once the season gets going.
On Boldin, some of this could hinge on whether the Cardinals think he can maintain a high level of performance for the long haul based on his playing style. He did miss games this past season.
It's looking like a given, I think, that the Cardinals are not going to satisfy Boldin's contract demands relative to what Larry Fitzgerald is making. Boldin's trade value might never be higher. If you're going to lose him after a couple years anyway, then you need to decide whether this is the time to get something in return.
Keeping Boldin would still make sense. He has meant a great deal to the team. At the same time, Fitzgerald has clearly passed him in importance to the Cardinals, so the team does have viable options beyond keeping Boldin.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Kevin Lynch of Niner Insider suggests the receivers make Kurt Warner, not the other way around. He suggests the 49ers might have been better off not signing the three-time Super Bowl quarterback. Lynch: "In Arizona, Larry Fitzgerald's and Anquan Boldin's statistics weren't that much worse when Matt Leinart, Cade McCown or Jeff Blake throwing to them."
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says he's "a little surprised" the 49ers haven't sought an offensive tackle in free agency. Barrows: "Their lack of interest at the position basically tells me they are confident they can land a good one in the draft."
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic quotes Bryant McFadden's agent as saying a broken forearm prevented the cornerback from commanding $8 million per season on a long-term deal. The Cardinals landed McFadden for two years and $10 million. Somers: "McFadden's first-year salary of $3.75 million is guaranteed, and he receives a $1 million roster bonus and $250,000 workout bonus. The $5 million salary for the second year is not guaranteed."
Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald says the cornerback market is weak after the Cardinals signed McFadden, a player the Dolphins had pursued. Salguero: "Eric Green, who included the Dolphins among his free-agent visits that also saw him travel to Tennessee and San Francisco, is still available. Although the Dolphins didn't make Green a contract offer last week, he expected to begin fielding such offers this week and it would not surprise, considering Miami's situation at cornerback, that they make him an offer."
VanRam of Turf Show Times looks at possible landing spots for Rams receiver Torry Holt. Baltimore? Chicago? Atlanta? Dallas? Philadelphia?
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says he thinks the Rams are considering Alex Barron as a potential left tackle, but the team probably doesn't have long-range plans for him at any position. Also: "There are some at Rams Park who like Jason Smith better at this point, thinking that he's more physical than [Eugene] Monroe. There are some at Rams Park who like Eugene Monroe better at this point, thinking that he's more athletic. Monroe is probably more NFL ready. Smith is still new to the position. As for [B.J.] Raji, don't rule him out as a first-round pick for the Rams. It's not as if anyone in the building has told me the Rams are interested. But he's certainly a top 10 pick, and the Rams do need another body at DT."
William Tomisser of Seahawk Addicts links to Sam Farmer's Los Angeles Times story about how far the Seahawks went in courting free-agent receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh. While free-agent visits are indeed planned in detail, the sea-plane ride that set apart this visit from some wasn't part of the itinerary, general manager Tim Ruskell said. According to Ruskell, the plane was available only by chance.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
|Recognize him? Quarterback Tom Tupa started 13 games for the Cardinals, same as Gary Hogeboom and Jeff Blake -- and nearly as many as Matt Leinart.|
At the other end, we can safely declare Kurt Warner the best starting quarterback for two of the four NFC West teams -- the Cardinals and Rams -- since those franchises last relocated.
With an assist from information available at Pro Football Reference, I counted 22 starting quarterbacks for the Cardinals in the 21 seasons since the team moved to Arizona for the 1988 season. Only one has started more games for the Cardinals than Warner during that time. A quick recap, in order of most starts:
1. Jake Plummer (82 starts)
2. Warner (42)
3. Josh McCown (22)
4. Steve Beuerlein (21)
5. Timm Rosenbach (20)
6. Chris Chandler (17)
7. Dave Krieg (16)
7. Matt Leinart (16)
9. Neil Lomax (14)
9. Kent Graham (14)
11. Gary Hogeboom (13)
11. Tom Tupa (13)
11. Jeff Blake (13)
14. Jay Schroeder (8)
14. Boomer Esiason (8)
16. Dave Brown (7)
17. Stan Gelbaugh (3)
18. Cliff Stoudt (2)
18. Shaun King (2)
20. Jim McMahon (1)
20. Stoney Case (1)
20. John Navarre (1)
The list affirms, in my view, that Leinart hasn't started enough games for the Cardinals to make an informed decision about his future with the team. The way Warner is going, Leinart might never start enough games to sufficiently inform that decision.