NFL Nation: Drew Brees
McCoy told Sports Illustrated he wants Rivers to complete 70 percent of his passes. Rivers completed 64.1 percent of his passes last season. He career high was 66 percent in 2010, and he has a career completion average of 63.6 percent.
Last year in Denver, McCoy helped Peyton Manning complete 68.6 percent of his throws. That was the best average of his career. Still, 70 percent is a lofty goal.
In the past five years, only one quarterback has completed more than 70 percent of his passes, and Drew Brees accomplished it twice.
Is it Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints or Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons? Heck, you can even look at all the offensive talent Carolina and Tampa Bay have and throw the Panthers and Buccaneers into the conversation.
But trendy and fun will only get you so far. Even in this day and age, you still must play defense once in a while. Especially if you’re a team in the NFC South. The division teams must face each other twice, as well as Seattle’s Russell Wilson, New England’s Tom Brady and San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick this season.
Maybe the more practical and important debate is: Which team has the best defense in the NFC South? No defense in the division was great last season. To win the division -- or do much of anything else -- this season, some NFC South defense must at least be halfway decent.
So which defense is the best?
I’m not going to even venture a guess right now because there are too many variables that must play out. I can see reasons why any of the four defenses could be the division’s best. I also can see reasons why each couldn’t.
Let’s take a look at the ceiling and the floor for each of the NFC South defenses:
Brad Penner/US PresswireAtlanta will be counting on former Giants star Osi Umenyiora to help upgrade the team's pass rush.
Nolan might get a little more creative and use some more 3-4 looks. He also might be able to get more aggressive because he has fresh legs at cornerback after the Falcons drafted Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford. William Moore and Thomas DeCoud are emerging as one of the league’s best safety tandems. There’s enough talent for this defense to be very good.
Why they could be the division’s worst defense in 2013: The Falcons were No. 24 in total defense (No. 21 against the run and No. 23 against the pass) last season. Umenyiora is on the downside of his career, too, and it’s not as if the Falcons have a lot of other proven pass-rushers.
The young cornerbacks could take some lumps early on. Problems covering the tight end were exposed in the playoffs last season, and the rest of the league got to watch.
Why they could be the division’s best defense in 2013: In terms of pure talent, I think Carolina has the best front seven in the division. The arrival of rookie defensive tackle Star Lotulelei could put the Panthers over the top. Lotulelei is the kind of wide body who’s going to make everyone around him better.
Lotulelei is going to keep blockers off linebackers Luke Kuechly, Jon Beason and Thomas Davis. He also is going to take blocking away from defensive ends Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson, who already were pretty good at getting after the quarterback.
Why they could be the division’s worst defense in 2013: As much as I can see the front seven being very good, I can see the secondary being very bad. Veteran cornerback Chris Gamble is gone, and I don’t see anything close to a true No. 1 cornerback on this roster. The picture isn’t much brighter at safety.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
Why they could be the division’s best defense in 2013: New coordinator Rob Ryan is going to bring swagger and an aggressive attitude. That can only help a unit that ranked No. 32 in total defense last year.
More importantly, Ryan is going to bring a 3-4 scheme. That’s the defensive system that seems to be having leaguewide success these days. The Saints have some good individual talent on defense with players such as end Cameron Jordan and inside linebacker Curtis Lofton, and rookie safety Kenny Vaccaro should make an immediate impact.
Why they could be the division’s worst defense in 2013: The defense was a mess under coordinator Steve Spagnuolo last season, and I’m not sure simply changing schemes will solve everything. Outside of Vaccaro and cornerback Keenan Lewis, it’s not as if the Saints have added a lot of big-time talent this offseason.
It could take more than one season for Ryan’s defense to really turn the corner.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
Why they could be the division’s best defense in 2013: On paper, I think Tampa Bay might have more talent than any other defense in the division. After ranking No. 32 against the pass last season, the Bucs went out and got cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Johnthan Banks and safety Dashon Goldson. Linebackers Lavonte David and Mason Foster and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy already are very good.
If young defensive ends Adrian Clayborn and Da’Quan Bowers can step up, this could be a solid defense in all areas.
Why they could be the division’s worst defense in 2013: It seems as if the Bucs are pinning a lot of their hopes on Clayborn and Bowers. Both have already dealt with injuries and are not that experienced.
If the pass rush isn’t effective, all those upgrades in the secondary might not matter very much.
Levi's Stadium joins CenturyLink Field, University of Phoenix Stadium and the Edward Jones Dome among sponsored playing venues in the NFC West.
The 20-year agreement for naming rights could be worth $220 million, enough to purchase 4.4 million pairs of jeans at $50 a pop. The agreement is subject to approval Thursday by the Santa Clara Stadium Authority.
Levi Strauss & Co. is based in San Francisco and got its start when its namesake, having moved from New York, began selling various products during the Gold Rush. So, there are natural ties between the 49ers and Levi Strauss.
The potential for long-term stability seems strong. The Levi's brand will presumably endure as it has for 160 years. The 49ers likely won't have an unpleasant name change forced upon them, as the case was when CenturyLink overtook Qwest, affecting the Seahawks' stadium brand. I think that's something to consider whenever a team enters into an agreement with branding and profits and mind.
There can be only one Candlestick Park. It's closing after the 2013 season. The new stadium is scheduled for completion in time for the 2014 opener.
We should note that Wrangler endorser Drew Brees and Hudson Jeans endorser Rob Gronskowski are scheduled to visit Levi's Stadium with their teams in 2016. Niners coach Jim Harbaugh will presumably wear his khakis that day, same as always. Levi's does manufacture khaki Dockers, for those wondering.
Update: The most prominent Levi's endorser in the NFC West plays for the rival Seattle Seahawks. Russell Wilson signed on last season.
Matthew Berry ranks the 200 best fantasy football picks for 2013. The best fantasy player in the NFC South?
Grant Halverson/Getty ImagesTampa Bay running back Doug Martin could be ready to deliver a monster fantasy season.
People tend to forget that Martin played his entire rookie season without guard Davin Joseph and about half of it without guard Carl Nicks. Put those two back in the middle of the line and it’s not hard to imagine Martin putting up numbers even better than he did in his first season.
Fantasy football tends to put a lot of value on running backs and Atlanta’s Steven Jackson also comes in with a high ranking. Berry put Jackson at No. 12.
Now, let’s leave it up to Berry to bring back up the spirits of those Saints fans that took a hit earlier when Pro Football Focus ranked Drew Brees No. 79 on its list of the NFL’s top 100 players. Berry has Brees at No. 15 overall and second among quarterbacks (behind only Aaron Rodgers).
Brees is always a good fantasy pick, but I think he could be better than usual this year. Coach Sean Payton had a full season off to come up with new wrinkles for his offense, and that can only help Brees’ numbers.
Berry also scored some points with New Orleans fans by rating Jimmy Graham as the league’s top tight end (No. 20 overall).
Some other NFC South players on Berry’s list:
- No. 25 Atlanta receiver Julio Jones
- No. 28 Atlanta receiver Roddy White
- No. 31 Carolina quarterback Cam Newton
- No. 33 Tampa Bay receiver Vincent Jackson
- No. 45 New Orleans receiver Marques Colston
- No. 56 New Orleans running back Darren Sproles
- No. 57 Atlanta tight end Tony Gonzalez
- No. 59 Carolina receiver Steve Smith
- No. 64 Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan
- No. 76 New Orleans receiver Lance Moore
- No. 86 Tampa Bay receiver Mike Williams
- No. 103 New Orleans running back Mark Ingram
- No. 104 Carolina running back Jonathan Stewart
- No. 110 Carolina tight end Greg Olsen
- No. 118 Atlanta running back Jacquizz Rodgers
- No. 141 Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman
- No. 144 New Orleans running back Pierre Thomas
- No. 164 Carolina running back DeAngelo Williams
- No. 174 Carolina receiver Brandon LaFell
- No. 191 Atlanta kicker Matt Bryant
Brees, who plays in one of the NFL’s smallest markets, came in at No. 6, just one spot behind Peyton Manning.
Although we in the NFC South often talk about being overshadowed by bigger markets, Brees is proof that’s not always the case. Brees has combined his on-field exploits and his effervescent personality to gain awareness.
Even those that don’t follow football closely know about how Brees helped the New Orleans area recover from Hurricane Katrina. Rodgers and James came in slightly behind Brees.
But the real shocker is that Tim Tebow, who currently doesn’t have a team, topped the list of America’s most influential athletes.
The Packers had a key advantage over other teams who have negotiated mega-million dollar quarterback contracts recently. Rodgers had two years remaining on his previous deal, a structure that allowed the Packers to spread out a record-setting five-year extension over a longer period. That helped lessen the Packers' annual salary-cap hit, as well as their cash outlay, over the full seven years they now have Rodgers under contract for.
An elite quarterback's contract has the potential to cripple an NFL team. Rodgers' most certainly does not.
As the chart at the bottom shows, Rodgers' cap number won't exceed $20 million until 2017 and won't elevate beyond $21.1 million at any point. Compare that structure to Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, whose new deal will count $25.3 million in 2015. Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco's deal will count $28.55 million against the cap by 2016, and the New Orleans Saints are looking at a cap hit of $26.4 million for Drew Brees by '16.
Of this there can be no doubt: The Packers and Rodgers agreed on a deal that won't be as onerous as those for Flacco, Brees and even Romo. Rodgers, in fact, seems likely to play the next seven years without a significant renegotiation, giving the Packers a long-range planning advantage.
With that said, it's difficult for me to classify the deal as an obvious hometown discount when it set a number of NFL records, including the payout over the first three years ($65.2 million). Rodgers will also tie an NFL record for single-year payout by receiving $40 million in cash during the 2013 league year. (As we discussed earlier, Rodgers really had no incentive to take a true hometown discount because there is no reason to expect it would change how the Packers do business with other players.)
The best way to view those aspects of the deal is as a tradeoff for agreeing to spread the payout of a five-year extension over seven years. In the end, the Packers have Rodgers signed to a seven-year deal worth a total of $130.75 million.
The annual average of those figures, $18.7 million, is less than what Flacco, Brees and Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning receive. That, along with the manageable cap structure, are the biggest wins for the Packers. In return, Rodgers is getting a record-setting amount of cash now and over the next three years rather than await a backloaded payout that might never come. A win-win all around, if you ask me.
The NFC South might be the only division in the NFL with four franchise quarterbacks, assuming Tampa Bay’s Josh Freeman can be just a little more consistent.
When Freeman is on his game, he joins Atlanta’s Matt Ryan, New Orleans’ Drew Brees and Carolina’s Cam Newton to give the division four high-octane offenses. In recent years, defense has become something of a lost art in the NFC South. But that may be about to change.
The division-wide theme to the 2013 NFL draft was to load up on defense, even to a point where it looked like teams were overcompensating at what had been problem spots.
Carolina used its first two picks on defensive tackles (Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short). Atlanta used its first two picks on cornerbacks (Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford). Even after trading for cornerback Darrelle Revis, Tampa Bay used its first pick on cornerback Johnthan Banks. And New Orleans, the league’s worst defense last season, used its first pick on safety Kenny Vaccaro.
Will that be enough to shut down Ryan, Brees, Newton and Freeman? Probably not. But all four NFC South defenses suddenly got better over the past few days.
This wasn’t a flashy draft for the division. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Teams focused on the basics, and no team did a better job of that than Carolina.
New general manager Dave Gettleman apparently believes that everything starts up front. His selection of Lotulelei was a stroke of intelligence and a little bit of luck. By all rights, Lotulelei shouldn’t have been available at No. 14. Just a few months ago, people were talking about him as perhaps the No. 1 overall pick.
But a pre-draft medical scare caused Lotulelei’s stock to fall. He checked out fine medically, and I’m sure the Panthers did plenty of homework on his health situation. They ended up getting the best defensive tackle in the draft. Put Lotulelei in a rotation with Short and Dwan Edwards, and defensive tackle suddenly becomes a strength for Carolina. With the infusion of talent in the middle of the line, a Carolina front seven that’s good everywhere else could become a real force.
AP Photo/Alix DrawecThe Saints are hoping that safety Kenny Vaccaro can help improve the NFL's worst defense last season.
New Orleans is in the process of switching from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 scheme. That means you have to have the right personnel for the 3-4, and I’m not sure the Saints have that. The key to a 3-4 scheme is having an edge pass-rusher. The Saints could have had outside linebacker Jarvis Jones, who was a productive rusher in college, at No. 15, but they passed on him and took Vaccaro. That was New Orleans’ one big chance to get a pass-rusher because the Saints have been limited as to what they were able to do in free agency by the salary cap.
Maybe Victor Butler, Martez Wilson and Junior Galette will provide a strong pass rush. But they’re all unknown commodities. If the pass rush doesn’t make an impact, life isn’t going to be easy for Vaccaro and the secondary.
MOST SURPRISING MOVE
Immediately after the season ended, Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano talked about how he wanted to bring in someone to compete with Freeman for the starting job. That caused a bit of a stir in Tampa Bay, but the coach backed away from that statement several times, saying he simply meant he wants to improve the competition at all positions. In other words, Freeman is the starter as he heads into a contract year.
But Schiano, who wasn’t around when Freeman was drafted, opened the way for a quarterback controversy the first time Freeman struggles by drafting NC State quarterback Mike Glennon in the third round. The Bucs had more pressing needs, such as tight end and depth on the defensive line, at that point in the draft.
Yet they took Glennon, who might have stuck around for another round or two. Freeman still is the starter, and maybe everything will work out fine for him. But he suddenly is on a short leash. Schiano now has a quarterback that he drafted and could turn to if Freeman has a few bad games.
FILE IT AWAY
Stanford tight end Levine Toilolo, taken by the Atlanta Falcons in the fourth round, can be a better NFL player than his draft position and college numbers would indicate. Toilolo was overshadowed by Coby Fleener and Zach Ertz.
In 2010, Toilolo beat out both of them for the starting job. That lasted for only one game as Toilolo suffered a knee injury in the first game of the season. He came back but took on a secondary role.
He doesn’t stand out as a receiver or a blocker, but he’s decent in both areas and has lots of upside. Toilolo could be coming into an ideal situation in Atlanta. He’ll get to learn from Tony Gonzalez for a year. After that, Toilolo could become the starter.
I’m not saying he’ll turn into the second coming of Gonzalez. But Atlanta has so many other offensive weapons that Toilolo could end up being a productive tight end.
Remember, the earlier the ranking, the greater the need.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Josh Freeman is entering a “prove-it" season. What if he starts off poorly? I can’t see the Bucs turning things over to Dan Orlovsky for the long term. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the Bucs draft a quarterback any time after the first round.
Atlanta Falcons: They’re set with Matt Ryan as the starter and they’re high on the potential of Dominique Davis. But I’m not sure Davis is ready to be the No. 2 guy. The Falcons could try to draft a backup, but I think it’s more likely they’ll sign a veteran after the draft.
Carolina Panthers: They appear to be in good shape with Cam Newton as the starter and Derek Anderson and Jimmy Clausen behind him. But I’m curious as to why I repeatedly have been hearing the Panthers have done an inordinate amount of homework on Syracuse’s Ryan Nassib.
New Orleans Saints: Drew Brees will have a new backup with Chase Daniel gone. It looks like veterans Luke McCown and Seneca Wallace will compete for that job. But it might not be a bad idea for the Saints to take a shot on a project later in the draft. McCown and Wallace are only short-term solutions and Brees can’t play forever.
Add just one more piece and you’re over the hump and on your way to winning it all, the thinking goes.
Despite the hefty price tag, Tampa Bay’s trade with the New York Jets for Darrelle Revis on Sunday doesn’t quite fit the profile of an “all-in" move. One player, even if he’s the best cornerback on the planet, doesn’t suddenly take a 7-9 team and put it in the Super Bowl.
Other things have to happen -- like quarterback Josh Freeman becoming more consistent, defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and a young defensive line continuing to progress and running back Doug Martin avoiding a sophomore slump.
But Revis instantly makes the Bucs better, and he’s going to bring star power to a team that hasn’t been relevant on a national scale or won a playoff game in quite some time. The last two times the Bucs made national headlines were when they fired coach Jon Gruden and when they released Derrick Brooks.
This time, they’ll dominate the news cycle with an incoming player. That’s significant for a team that has struggled for several years to sell out Raymond James Stadium. Say what you want about Tampa Bay’s ownership, but I think the Glazer family had a heavy hand in this deal. Attendance issues are very much on their minds and they just brought star power to a fan base that needs something to get excited about.
But this move isn’t purely about selling tickets. It’s about football, and general manager Mark Dominik and coach Greg Schiano were as much on board as the Glazers.
Schiano needs a shutdown corner to improve a pass defense that was the worst in the league last season. When signing guys like safety Dashon Goldson, guard Carl Nicks and Vincent Jackson over the past year, Dominik frequently has cited “rare’’ and “unique’’ opportunities to get Pro Bowl players in their prime.
The fact that Revis was even available makes him even more rare and unique than Goldson, Nicks and Jackson.
Assuming Revis is fully recovered from a knee injury, he, Goldson and safety Mark Barron, a first-round pick from last year, suddenly make the secondary look like a strength.
Yeah, the Bucs are gambling a bit on their future by giving up the draft picks, but they’re not mortgaging it. The Bucs had been sitting there with $33 million in cap room, just waiting for this deal to go down. They’ve got the cap room in future years to give Revis a lengthy extension, something no other team in the NFL was willing to do. Let's be honest: If the Bucs held onto the No. 13 overall pick in this year's draft, they weren't going to get a cornerback anywhere as good as Revis.
This trade doesn’t come with the long-term implications the trades the Bucs made for Gruden (two first-round picks and two second-round picks) and receiver Keyshawn Johnson (two first-round picks) carried.
Dominik and, to a lesser degree Schiano, are stepping out on a bit of a limb here. But even if they hadn’t made this deal, Dominik already was on a bit of a hot seat heading into his fifth year as general manager. Schiano is heading into his second season as the head coach, but patience no longer is a virtue in the modern NFL.
It’s a lost art. Teams need to win or else coaches and general managers will go quickly. Patience is especially thin in Tampa Bay because the Bucs haven’t made the playoffs since the 2007 season.
Adding Revis might not put the Bucs into the Super Bowl this season. But it might be enough to put them into the playoffs. Talk of a Super Bowl might come a year or two down the road.
Just making the playoffs would be a huge stride for this franchise. Just making the playoffs and selling out most of the home games would make the Revis deal worthwhile.
Breakdown: The Saints may be coming off a losing season, but they still are going to get plenty of national attention. They’ll play four games in prime time, including two at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Saints’ schedule is tied for the second-hardest slate in the NFL (a .539 winning percentage by opponents in 2012). But the best news might be that coach Sean Payton will make his official return to the sideline following a one-year suspension in the opener against Atlanta at home. The Saints and Falcons are one of the league’s hottest rivalries (the Saints have won 11 of 14 meetings since 2006) and Payton’s return only adds another storyline. The key to New Orleans’ season might be the four-week stretch from Nov. 10 to Dec. 2. In that span, the Saints will host Dallas and San Francisco and then travel to Atlanta and Seattle.
Complaint department: Saints fans might call it a conspiracy by the NFL and they might be right. But the schedule makers have set up an Oct. 13 game at New England that could be historic. Tom Brady currently has a streak of 48 games with at least one touchdown pass. New Orleans’ Drew Brees set the record (54). As long as Brady can keep the streak going, he’ll have a chance to tie Brees’ record against the Saints. That could give new coordinator Rob Ryan some material to motivate his defense for Brady.
Road warriors: The Saints are used to hitting the road. They’ve had to get out of New Orleans due to weather and Payton often has had his team practice elsewhere in the preseason. That experience might come in handy. The Saints have three separate times when they will have to play back-to-back games on the road. But the bright side is the Saints will play three of their first four games at home and they also will be home with Tampa Bay in the final week of the regular season.
Saints Regular Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 8, Atlanta, 1 p.m.
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 15, at Tampa Bay, 4:05 p.m.
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 22, Arizona, 1 p.m.
Week 4: Monday, Sept. 30, Miami, 8:30 p.m.
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 6, at Chicago, 1 p.m.
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 13, at New England, 4:25 p.m.
Week 7: BYE
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 27, Buffalo, 1 p.m.
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 3, at NY Jets, 1 p.m.
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 10, Dallas, 8:30 p.m.
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 17, San Francisco, 4:25 p.m.
Week 12: Thursday, Nov. 21, at Atlanta, 8:25 p.m.
Week 13: Monday, Dec. 2, at Seattle, 8:30 p.m.
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 8, Carolina, 1:00 p.m.
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 15, at St. Louis, 1 p.m.
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 22, at Carolina, 1 p.m.
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 29, Tampa Bay, 1 p.m.
Teams will bring in a bunch of prospects that they won’t end up drafting, simply because they’re doing their homework.
But there’s one visit going on Tuesday that has at least made me curious. The New Orleans Saints reportedly are hosting Oklahoma offensive tackle Lane Johnson.
The Saints have a glaring need at left tackle after the departure of Jermon Bushrod in free agency. Johnson would be a great fit, but the potential stumbling block in this scenario is that it’s likely he won’t be available when the Saints pick at No. 15.
In virtually every mock draft I’ve seen, Johnson is gone before No. 15, and he usually is in the top 10.
The fact the Saints have him in for a visit at least makes me wonder if they would consider trading up to get Johnson. It’s possible, but I’d say it’s a long shot.
The Saints might not have the means to make such a move. They’re without their second-round pick (as punishment for their bounty program). Also, the Saints haven’t placed a premium on their tackles in the Sean Payton era. They generally have used later picks (like Bushrod and Zach Strief) at tackle. Plus, there’s the fact that the Saints have some big needs on defense.
But the left tackle is the guy that protects Drew Brees’ blind side. Makes you wonder if the Saints might break from their routine and try to trade up for Johnson.
- The price: The Cardinals are sending a 2013 sixth-round pick (176th overall) and a 2014 seventh-rounder (conditional on Palmer starting at least 13 games, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter) for Palmer and the Raiders' seventh-round pick (219th overall) in 2013. Palmer has started at least 13 games in three of the past four seasons and seven times since first becoming a starter in 2004. The price in draft-choice compensation was so low because the Cardinals knew Oakland would release Palmer in the absence of a trade. General manager Steve Keim and the Cardinals' front office deserve credit for getting a starting quarterback without giving up too much. Sometimes a team acts hastily in the presence of great need, particularly when there's a powerful head coach involved. That arguably happened to an extent with the Kansas City Chiefs when they acquired Alex Smith for a second-round choice. Smith might be more appealing than Palmer, but is he that much more appealing?
- The salary: We'll revisit initial reports on financial compensation once the numbers can be verified and put into context. Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says Palmer will get $16 million over two years, with $10 million guaranteed. That makes Palmer the obvious starter. And with backup Drew Stanton having received some guaranteed money as well, he becomes the clear No. 2.
- The protection: Cardinals quarterbacks took a league-high 58 sacks last season. The team's new coach, Bruce Arians, favors a downfield passing attack. Arians' quarterback in Indianapolis last season, Andrew Luck, was put under duress and/or hit before throwing a league-high number of times, according to ESPN Stats & Information. What does this mean for the immobile, 33-year-old Palmer? Not as much as those numbers suggest. Palmer ranked seventh among qualifying quarterbacks last season in sacks per drop back. He was at 4.4 percent, below the 5.9 percent average for 32 qualifying quarterbacks. Eli Manning, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Matthew Stafford, Tom Brady and Matt Ryan were ahead of Palmer in this category. Offensive lines deserve some blame for sacks, but quarterbacks play a huge role in them. Mobility isn't the key variable, either. Palmer gets the ball out.
- The INTs: Palmer throws interceptions at a high rate. Perhaps he'd be better off taking a few more sacks. Palmer ranks 25th among 29 qualifying quarterbacks over the past three seasons in touchdown-to-interception ratio. Palmer is at 1.22 in this category, ahead of only Mark Sanchez (1.14), Colt McCoy (1.05), Matt Hasselbeck (1.03) and Chad Henne (0.88).
- The impact: Palmer has been an average quarterback in recent seasons as measured by Total QBR. I would expect the Cardinals to win a few more games as a result, perhaps getting into the 8-8 range, all else equal. Arizona posted a 5-11 record last season, but that was misleading. The Cardinals went 1-11 over their final 12 games. The quarterbacking was horrendous. Ryan Lindley, John Skelton and Sanchez were the only quarterbacks with at least 100 pass attempts to finish with a negative number in points above replacement. That suggests they were not just below average, but also worse than replacement-level players. Palmer finished the season at plus-44.7 in this category. That was 23rd in the NFL out of 39 quarterbacks with at least 100 pass attempts -- not great, but so much better than Lindley or Skelton.
Back with more in a bit. I've revived Palmer-related charts that ran recently. The one below shows stats following the major injuries Palmer has suffered.
There are several ways to view this process and that number.
OH MY GOD THAT'S AN INSANE AMOUNT OF MONEY FOR PLAYING A GAME isn't one of them. I think most of you understand that professional sports exist in a financial fantasy land.
Some of you, however, are voicing a more subtle objection that's worth exploring: C'MON! WHY CAN'T RODGERS TAKE A HOMETOWN DISCOUNT AND HELP THE PACKERS BUILD A GOOD TEAM AROUND HIM? Eric of Madison put it this way in a note to the mailbag:
Regarding the talk on the Rodgers extension, don't you think that there's significant drawback to paying one player $25 mil a year? Maybe as a Packer fan I'm romanticizing him, but Rodgers seems like the kind of guy who would be open to something under market value -- say $18 million a year, although I don't know how anyone can live on that -- to give the team more financial flexibility to keep more talent around him. I'd love to hear your thoughts.
Assuming recent reports are accurate, Rodgers hasn't made that offer and -- importantly -- the Packers haven't asked him to. At the very least, a "hometown discount" would put Rodgers below the $20.1 million threshold set last month by Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco. By definition, a record-setting deal can't be viewed as much of a discount.
But should Rodgers have stepped up and made that offer? After all, he has on several occasions lobbied publicly for the Packers to re-sign some of their free agents, from receiver James Jones to running back John Kuhn. NFL teams are operating under a relatively flat salary cap, and the chart shows how large the annual cap numbers have been in the most recent contract agreements for elite quarterbacks. It might be difficult for Rodgers to argue for future veterans if his cap number limits the Packers' flexibility.
To me, however, the answer is simple. The only value in taking a hometown discount is public relations. There is no reason to believe it would impact the Packers' future team-building.
Rodgers has acknowledged his role as the "face of the franchise" and the Packers undoubtedly love having one of the NFL's top quarterbacks on their roster. I know many of you think of him as the type of player who doesn't care about the difference between $15 million and $22 million. That might well be the case. But Rodgers would be naive to assume that the Packers or any NFL team would capitalize on the discount -- at least not in the desired fashion. There are no quid pro quos in the NFL, and if you don't believe me, look at what has transpired this offseason between the New England Patriots and quarterback Tom Brady.
As NFC West blogger Mike Sando and I discussed on the Inside Slant podcast, Brady signed a contract extension that added $3 million in guarantees to his current deal but locked him in to below-market salaries for the 2015, '16 and '17 seasons. Although Brady never directly acknowledged it, the widely held assumption was that he had granted the Patriots extra financial flexibility to maintain an elite team. Weeks later, of course, the Patriots stood firm on an offer to free agent receiver Wes Welker -- one of Brady's favorite teammates -- and watched as he signed with the Denver Broncos.
And in case there was any confusion about the Patriots' operation after Brady's deal, owner Bob Kraft had this to say at the recent NFL owners meeting: "I don't answer to Tom Brady." Kraft went on to deny any hard feelings that might have arisen from Welker's departure and added:
"[Brady] never put a demand or expected anything when he did what he did. He never put quid pro quos, and to be honest, we wouldn't have accepted them had he done that. He did what he thought … and what he did was tremendous. It's given our team a real competitive advantage to be in a position to win. And now it's how well our personnel people make the decisions."
In other words, the Patriots continued doing business as usual after Brady's agreement. And there is every reason to think the Packers would do the same if Rodgers took a discount. Do you really think general manager Ted Thompson would, say, start signing free-agent running backs if Rodgers' average cap number is $17 million (almost twice what it is now) rather than $22 million?
In the end, the best thing Rodgers can do is cooperate on the timing and structure of the deal. As you look at the chart, you see that the Ravens pushed a disproportionate amount of Flacco's cap hit into 2016 and beyond. That means the sides almost certainly will have to renegotiate in three years or face a truly paralyzing cap problem. The same could be true for the New Orleans Saints and Drew Brees, whose cap figure jumps to $26.4 million in 2015.
The best model is what the Denver Broncos did with Peyton Manning, whose cap figure averages just under $20 million. Manning's cap numbers over the five-year deal range between $18 million and $20 million, a smart pay-as-you-go approach.
Rodgers surely wants the Packers to be competitive. But by now, he must know how the Packers operate. They will use their cap space to re-sign key players and fall back on their draft-and-develop approach to fill in around them. Nothing about the value of Rodgers' next contract will change that.
The New Orleans Saints just announced quarterback Luke McCown has signed with them after spending last season with the Atlanta Falcons. Presumably, the Falcons wanted to keep McCown, who had deep ties to offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, as Matt Ryan’s backup.
Instead, McCown now will be the backup to Drew Brees. The Saints have been in the market for a backup since Chase Daniel signed with Kansas City early in free agency. McCown spent part of the 2012 offseason with the Saints.
Losing McCown isn’t the end of the world for the Falcons. They are high on Dominique Davis, who made the team as an undrafted free agent last season. But the Falcons now may have to go shopping for a veteran backup.
No matter how high they are on Davis, it would be a risky move to have a guy that never has taken an NFL snap as the only thing standing between a Ryan injury and disaster.
They said he appeared more fit (probably a result of a fitness program that culminated with his running a half-marathon) and younger than he has looked in years. They said he looked relaxed and -- in the biggest news flash of all -- sounded almost humble at times.
"It's almost like Year 1," Payton said.
In some ways, it is Year 1 all over again. Payton is back from a season-long suspension stemming from the bounty scandal. It's a good thing he's fit and refreshed because he's facing a challenge almost as big as the one he so successfully took on when he first became the coach of the Saints in 2006.
Back then, the franchise, the city of New Orleans and the entire Gulf region were dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. A young hotshot who had made his name as an assistant with the Cowboys and Giants, Payton energized the Saints, and the team became a rallying point for the entire region.
You know the story of the electric return to the Superdome against the Atlanta Falcons. You know the story of how the Saints made it to the NFC Championship Game in Payton's first season and how they won the first Super Bowl championship in franchise history in his fourth year.
In the process, a die-hard fan base that had endured decades of disappointment came to expect big success on a regular basis.
Then along came the bounty scandal and the Saints traveled back in time. They went back to mediocrity and went 7-9 while putting a historically bad defense on the field.
"We found a way to get to 7-9 and that's where we are right now," Payton said. "Until we get a lot of that corrected, we've got a lot of work to do."
Although he's known around the league for his confidence (some would say arrogance), Payton wasn't beating his chest. He pulled off a miracle in New Orleans once and he knows an encore isn't going to be easy.
"What's dangerous is [saying], 'He's back and they're right back to being the old Saints,'" Payton said. "That’s a dangerous mindset to have. It's not real. We could turn around and win five games if we don't correct some things."
That's a very healthy and smart attitude to have because the Saints aren't the same team he was forced to walk away from just over a year ago. Things didn't work out well for Steve Spagnuolo, the defensive coordinator Payton hand-picked to replace Gregg Williams.
The Saints allowed more yards than any defense in history.
"In fairness to Steve, we never got to coach together," Payton said. "It was a difficult and probably unfair situation for Steve."
Fair or not, Spagnuolo was fired after last season and has been replaced by Rob Ryan, who will switch the base defense from a 4-3 scheme to a 3-4 front. Ryan faces a monumental task. Not only is he taking over a defense that was horrible last season, but he has to find a way to make a new scheme work when the Saints don't have much salary-cap room to bring in guys who will fit in his system.
But there's more than just a defense to fix. Even quarterback Drew Brees had a subpar (by his standards) 2012 season.
"His two greatest allies are a good defense and a decent, good running game," Payton said. "The quarterback's job description is entirely different. He's having to press and do things that his counterpart doesn't have to do. You get one-dimensional where you're not controlling the game."
The Saints have to get back to controlling games and Payton has to get back to controlling the Saints. As he watched his team from a distance last year, Payton said he felt like a parent who had left his child in the hands of a baby sitter.
"When you're away from it and you come back and the swing set is empty and there's dirty diapers in the garbage can that normally would be taken away each day, you wonder, 'How did this happen?' Payton said. "It's not one person's fault. It just happened."
And again, Payton would like to remind you that his mere presence isn't going to solve everything.
"I think the one thing we have to avoid is this perception that we'll be right back in the swing of things," Payton said.
It's true that Payton has to get used to a bunch of new players, and the coaching staff has had some turnover. Payton estimated that the Saints turn over 18 percent of the roster each year. He didn't get to know the new players from last season and he has to get to know the players that have been (and will be) added this year. That's nearly 40 percent of the roster.
"It's not been uncommon to walk the hallways and run into a player you haven't met yet," Payton said. "I'd equate that almost to a coach in the first year."
Maybe that's not such a bad spot to be in. Sure there's a ton of work to be done. But the last time Payton was a first-year coach, he turned a franchise around.
I wouldn't bet against him doing it again.