NFL Nation: Patrick Ramsey

MNF preview: 49ers catching a QB break?

November, 17, 2012
Jason CampbellMike DiNovo/US PresswireBears backup Jason Campbell's career stats are similar in many ways to starter Jay Cutler's.
The San Francisco 49ers won't have to face Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler on "Monday Night Football" in Week 11.

They'll draw backup Jason Campbell instead.

This would seem to increase the 49ers' chances for victory, but based on what? Cutler has a better won-lost record as a starter. He has greater experience running the Bears' offense. But if you're looking for additional evidence, you won't find it in the traditional or advanced stats used to evaluate quarterbacks over time.

You'll see a couple of quarterbacks who have produced similarly over the past five seasons. Cutler has played more and for better teams. But his NFL passer rating since 2008 is 83.0, compared with 85.1 for Campbell and 84.1 for every other NFL quarterback. Cutler's Total QBR score since 2008 checks in at 56.5 when 50 is about average and 65-plus represents Pro Bowl-caliber play. The figure was 50.9 for Campbell and 52.0 for all others.

The point is that the 49ers might not be catching a big break while Cutler sits out the game after suffering a concussion in a 13-6 home defeat to the Houston Texans in Week 10. The Bears paid a $3.5 million salary for Campbell to be their backup because they figured they could win with him.

"We feel like he is a starting quarterback in the NFL that we have being our backup, and we feel very comfortable with him leading us," Bears coach Lovie Smith told reporters.

NFC North blogger Kevin Seifert and I discussed on a recent Inside Slant podcast how aggressive the Bears should be in re-signing Cutler after the season. I had some general impressions of Cutler but was curious to see how he stacked up against the highest-paid quarterbacks the past few seasons.

Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Matt Ryan all had QBR scores in the 70s among regular starters over that period. Cutler was at 56.5. The figure for Cutler is 50.3 since 2009, compared with 50.5 for former Bears starter Kyle Orton and 47.7 for Campbell. Again, all the top quarterbacks were closer to 65-plus.

Cutler does have a 31-19 starting record with the Bears. That is far better than the 31-39 mark Campbell has posted for his career. But the Bears were 30-20 in the 50-game period before Cutler arrived. Orton, Rex Grossman and Brian Griese were their starting quarterbacks in that span.

Campbell's former team, Washington, was 31-39 in the 70-game span before Campbell posted the same starting record for the Redskins and Oakland Raiders. Tony Banks, Shane Matthews, Patrick Ramsey, Danny Wuerffel, Tim Hasselbeck and Mark Brunell were the starting quarterbacks during that run.

Quarterback play matters a great deal. Teams with the higher QBR scores have won 86 percent of games since 2008. Teams with higher NFL passer ratings have won 79.7 percent of the time over the same period. Those figures outrank even the winning percentages for teams winning the turnover battle (78.5 percent, a figure related to the previous two in that QBs are leading contributors to turnover stats).

The Bears are most dangerous for their defense, however. They rank among the NFL's top five on defense in passer rating, QBR, yards, rushing yards, net yards per pass attempt, interception percentage, third-down conversion rate and points. They were built to win without great quarterback play.

So, if Cutler has been only slightly above average and Campbell plays an average game Monday night, the drop won't be as pronounced as it usually is when a journeyman replaces a big-name quarterback. And if Campbell plays poorly, well, Cutler has done that, too. He has thrown more than three picks in a game four times since 2008, a league high.
Colleague Kevin Seifert showed some daring by sending TCU quarterback Andy Dalton to the Minnesota Vikings at No. 12 in a recent mock draft.

He wasn't arguing for Dalton's value so much as saying the Vikings' need for a quarterback might compel them to take one there.

[+] EnlargeSam Bradford
AP Photo/Winslow TownsonDid the Rams "reach" to get quarterback Sam Bradford in the first round last year?
"To me," Seifert later wrote with first-year Vikings coach Leslie Frazier in mind, "there is no better time to jump to the other side than in a coach's first year, giving him a building block for the rest of his program."

The key, of course, is not mistaking anchors for building blocks.

Steve Mariucci was the San Francisco 49ers' first-year coach when the team used a 1997 first-rounder for Jim Druckenmiller, a blunder softened only by Steve Young's presence on the roster. That experience should not directly influence the 49ers' thinking as they consider first-round quarterbacks for new coach Jim Harbaugh, but it's a reference point.

With Harbaugh and the 49ers in mind, I went through recent drafts to see which teams with first-year head coaches used first-round selections for quarterbacks. More precisely, I looked at all first-round quarterbacks since 2000 to see which ones had first-year head coaches.

Six of the last eight first-round quarterbacks -- Matthew Stafford, Mark Sanchez, Josh Freeman, Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco and JaMarcus Russell -- joined teams with first-year head coaches. All but Russell remain franchise quarterbacks in their teams' eyes. All but Russell are still playing for their original head coaches. Four of the six had winning records in 2010.

For most of those franchises, value and need lined up pretty well, and first-year coaches benefited.

"If you don't have a quarterback, you're drafting maybe a different kind of running back, maybe a different kind of offensive lineman, than if you have somebody," Lions coach Jim Schwartz told reporters at the scouting combine. "We had Calvin Johnson, but our ability to get Jahvid Best, Nate Burleson in free agency, to draft Brandon Pettigrew -- those pieces were because of the quarterback that we have."

We could also argue that the St. Louis Rams were better off building their offensive line and other areas of their roster before making Sam Bradford the first overall choice in 2010. They could have drafted Sanchez or Freeman instead of defensive end Chris Long in 2009, then spent subsequent selections on players to build around one of those quarterbacks.

Bradford and Denver's Tim Tebow were the "other" first-round quarterbacks in the eight-man group featuring Stafford, Sanchez, Freeman, Ryan, Flacco and Russell.

In general, getting the right quarterback for a first-year head coach puts a franchise in strong position for the long term. There's no sense forcing the issue, however, because the wrong quarterback can drag down any coach, regardless of tenure.

A coach such as the Vikings' Frazier might have a harder time waiting. His contract runs only three seasons and ownership expects quick results. Harbaugh has a five-year deal with the 49ers. Expectations are high, but there's less urgency for immediate results.

The first chart shows the 14 first-round quarterbacks since 2000 that landed with returning head coaches.

The second chart shows the 14 first-round quarterbacks since 2000 that landed with first-year head coaches.
 Josh Johnson and Andrew LuckUS PresswireCoach Jim Harbaugh (not pictured) is likely to seek brainy, athletic QBs such as Josh Johnson, left, and Andrew Luck, whom he coached in the college ranks.
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Less than a week before the 2011 NFL draft, no team in the league has a greater need at quarterback than the San Francisco 49ers.

No amount of pre-draft smoke can obscure that reality, so why even try?

"It is a need here with the 49ers," general manager Trent Baalke said Wednesday.

David Carr, who fell behind Troy Smith on the depth chart in 2010, is the only 49ers quarterback under contract. And no one expects him to return.

Three questions persist. What type of quarterback will the 49ers seek for new coach Jim Harbaugh? What is the likelihood they'll find a future starter in this draft? And where does 2010 starter Alex Smith fit into the picture?

The profile

Any prospect Harbaugh likes for the position will be smart, athletic enough to move well and wired like a quarterback as opposed to being just a raw athlete.

That is the word from some of the people who would know best, including Harbaugh himself. Harbaugh sought those qualities when he recruited current Tampa Bay Buccaneers backup Josh Johnson to the University of San Diego. More recently, Harbaugh sought them in the quarterbacks he brought to Stanford, where the relative smarts were pretty much required, anyway.

"You have to be able to learn, taking what you learned in the meeting room on the field the next day or that day and being a quick learner," former Stanford quarterback Alex Loukas said. "We call it a 'one-rep guy' -- taking one rep and getting that rep correct the first time. Being focused every rep, attention to detail is very big. If somebody is lined up wrong, you have to make sure they are right."

Loukas was among 15 former Stanford players attending the 49ers' pro day Wednesday for athletes with Bay Area ties. Receiver Ryan Whalen was another.

"I do think they will make the right decision in what they do," Whalen said, "and it’s going to need to be a smart quarterback, a quarterback that can stay in the pocket and can move, and a tough guy who is a good leader."

Harbaugh, who started 140 regular-season games and won twice in the playoffs during a 14-year NFL career, is bringing a run-heavy West Coast system to the 49ers from Stanford. It's a pro-style offense all the way, but Harbaugh says he's open to certain quarterbacks from spread-oriented offenses.

"If they have it in their DNA to be a quarterback, they’ll figure out how to go from the shotgun to under center," Harbaugh said. "I hope that paints a picture. If you got the DNA to be a quarterback, you have the ability to figure things out [in general]."

Drafting a quarterback

Pre-draft expectations can be notoriously off-base.

A year ago, Jimmy Clausen was supposedly the hot prospect and even a consideration for the Seattle Seahawks with the sixth overall pick. He went 48th to Carolina.

It's tough to know, then, which quarterbacks will be available to the 49ers in the first two rounds. But if conventional wisdom is even remotely accurate, Cam Newton and Blaine Gabbert will not be considerations for San Francisco with the seventh overall choice. Taking another quarterback that early would also defy expectations.

What about the second round?

Even if we set aside the second round's status as a quarterback wasteland, there is this: The 49ers, though picking seventh in the first round, are scheduled to select only 13th in the second. The gap stems from the NFL's system of rotating selections by round among teams with identical records the previous season.

Eight teams with potential quarterback needs select before the 49ers in the second round.

Throw in the 49ers' confidence in Harbaugh's ability to coach quarterbacks and it's easier to fathom San Francisco fighting off the urge to address such an obvious and critical need in the first two rounds. And if they draft one later than that, they're investing in more of a developmental player, not a near-term starter.

"You can't, because you need something, misevaluate, or you are back to square one," said Baalke, who was not yet with the 49ers when they arguably did just that in selecting Smith first overall.

Baalke then pointed to the draft, free agency and the not-yet-open trade market as options the team will consider.

"I am confident our plan is such that we will figure it out, and I've got tremendous confidence in Jim and the coaching staff to win football games with whoever we bring in here," he said.

Re-evaluating Alex Smith

The 49ers have told Smith they want him back and are awaiting word from him on a decision once the lockout ends and communication is restored.

All the qualities that Harbaugh wants in a quarterback line up with the advertised traits that attracted the 49ers' previous leadership to Smith in the first place.

At the very least, those traits weren't strong enough to transcend the well-documented coaching- and injury-related issues Smith has encountered as a professional. At most, they did not exist. But it's obvious Harbaugh, a coach with few other viable options at the moment, wouldn't mind finding out for himself.

As Harbaugh told KNBR radio in February, "I like Alex and I like being around him and I like what I see on tape. ... I’m not going to hide my feelings. I like Alex Smith. I like him as a football player, as a person. ... Some people say Alex Smith needs a fresh start, needs a new place to be. I say, 'Let that place be here.' "

The ultimate decision

Baalke holds the power over personnel decisions in the 49ers' power structure. His teams over the years have drafted five quarterbacks: Chad Pennington and Patrick Ramsey in the first round, Sage Rosenfels in the fourth, Nate Davis in the fifth and Gibran Hamdan in the seventh.

While this is the first time Baalke has entered a draft with the GM title, Harbaugh's background as a quarterback will influence the team's thinking significantly.

"It's a critical decision," Baalke said. "Jim and I had a great conversation about it [Tuesday]. ... We feel we have it evaluated right and placed on the board accordingly."
Joe WebbAP Photo/Paul Sancya"'Monday Night Football,' you can't get better than that," said Joe Webb of his probable first start.
Speaking on a conference call last week, Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith turned the tables on a group of reporters. Asked about the rookie quarterback he's likely to face Monday night, Smith laughed and said: "You guys could probably tell more about him than me. So let's have your scouting report."

To put it bluntly, does it matter? Whoever takes the Minnesota Vikings' first snap will be the fourth backup quarterback the Bears have faced this season. Smith's team has won all three previous games, allowing a total of 26 points and limiting the passers to an average of 142 yards per game.'s Jon Greenberg suggested the "Bears are getting another break in a season full of fortune." Indeed, they appear to be living the kind of charmed existence necessary for most division winners in this era of NFL parity.

And let's be clear: The Bears won't simply be facing a backup quarterback at TCF Bank Stadium. The Vikings' starter will be a pull-the-ripcord-emergency replacement for Brett Favre and Tarvaris Jackson, both of whom suffered significant injuries in consecutive weeks.

The Vikings announced Saturday they will start Joe Webb -- a sixth-round draft choice once projected as a receiver and whose future position remains unclear. His backup will be journeyman Patrick Ramsey, whose first practice with the team was Thursday.

Webb's ascendance should please fans of both teams. For the Vikings, he represents the excitement of the unknown at the end of a deeply disappointing season. The Bears have remained publicly respectful of Webb, but surely they know he is the rawest quarterback they have faced this season and one who will start only through unique circumstances.

If common sense had prevailed in the spring, Webb would be into his 15th week as a receiver/kick returner/Wildcat quarterback. That was the original vision after Senior Bowl coaches switched him from quarterback to receiver in January. Webb, in fact, gained some national buzz after the emergence of a YouTube video that showed him jumping over seven stacked drill bags.

[+] EnlargeMinnesota's Joe Webb
Nick Laham/Getty ImagesIt will be Joe Webb (14), not Brett Favre, who starts for the Vikings on Monday night.
The Vikings drafted him as a receiver, but former coach Brad Childress switched him to quarterback during rookie minicamp. (My theory is that Webb was a pawn in Childress' vendetta against former backup Sage Rosenfels, whom he wanted to jettison. Making Webb the presumptive No. 3 quarterback provided the perfect avenue. But I digress....)

Is he a quarterback because of his skills or as the result of a Machiavellian sideshow? I'm not sure. Regardless, Webb has appeared permanently amused ever since. As in: Not even I can believe I'm a quarterback on a National Football League roster. Watching him practice and interact with teammates has been at once charming and frightening.

"I really like his attitude," offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said. "He's got great confidence in his ability. He's kind of an unflappable guy. He does come across like he doesn't know what he doesn't know [and doesn't know] what he's getting himself into. He just really does believe in his ability and that he can make plays in the field."

We'll find out Monday night if that confidence is justified or borne from blissful ignorance. Frankly, it could be either. Webb had the kind of training camp that made you cringe at times and raise an eyebrow at others. He'd throw a 6-yard duck followed by a 50-yard rope. He tantalized late-game preseason observers with a 48-yard touchdown run against the San Francisco 49ers and, as expected, helped nudge Rosenfels off the roster in September.

Considering Favre's 18-year streak of consecutive starts, the decision carried little weight at the time. But now Webb is set to make his first NFL start on "Monday Night Football" against a defense that ranks fifth in the NFL with 26 takeaways. Oh, and the game-time temperature is expected to be around 20 degrees -- or about 20 degrees lower than the coldest game he said he ever started at Alabama-Birmingham.

"I mean, it's a great opportunity. "Monday Night Football," you can't get better than that," Webb said. "You've been dreaming that ever since you've been a little kid. Watching the game ever since you've been a little kid and now I'm probably going to be a part of it. [I'd] love to take advantage of it."

Webb has carried himself as a happy-go-lucky interloper in an NFL locker room. Monday night, he'll have a chance to demonstrate he belongs on the big stage.

"Joe, he is a character," Bevell said. "He's got great personality. The guys like him. The players around him feed off his energy. But he has great confidence, and I don't think he has any doubt about stepping in the huddle, calling plays, doing what we're asking him to do. ... As long as he's working within the offense, who can't believe in him?"

Here's the better question: If the Bears took care of business against Jimmy Clausen, Tyler Thigpen and Drew Stanton, shouldn't they do the same against Joe Webb? Who can't believe that?

Final Word: NFC North

December, 17, 2010
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 15:

Shut down: Thanks in large part to the emergence of cornerback Tramon Williams, the Green Bay Packers have played some of the NFL's best pass defense this season. They'll face their stiffest test yet Sunday night at Gillette Stadium, where New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady will take the field as the presumptive league MVP. But if you're a Packers fan, you can take solace that your team has been the league's best at limiting passes to and down the sideline -- one of Brady's favorite places to throw. The Packers have allowed an NFL-low 46.4 completion percentage and two touchdown passes outside the numbers on the field, according to ESPN Stats & Information. This season, Brady has completed 64.5 percent of those passes for 16 touchdowns and two interceptions. That's not to say the Packers will shut him down, but at least they are equipped to squeeze the field against him.

[+] EnlargeMatt Flynn
AP Photo/Duane BurlesonThe Packers are almost certain to start the inexperienced Matt Flynn at quarterback against the Patriots.
Step up: Let's face it -- the Packers are going to need a whale of a game from backup quarterback Matt Flynn, who seems certain to start in place of Aaron Rodgers (concussion), to win Sunday. I suppose it's possible the Packers could discover their running game here in Week 15, but the chances of winning a slowed-down, low-possession game against the Patriots' offense aren't high. The Packers' offense is built through the passing game, and Flynn needs to produce and ensure that every scoring opportunity is capitalized upon. It's worth noting this statistic from ESPN Stats & Information: Flynn has thrown three red zone passes in his career. Two have been intercepted. Rodgers? He has thrown one interception in 218 red zone attempts dating to his promotion to the starting job in 2008.

Base set: The Minnesota Vikings are expected to start rookie quarterback Joe Webb on Monday night against the Chicago Bears, although veteran newcomer Patrick Ramsey could also play. A raw passer, Webb has legitimate running skills. The Vikings almost assuredly want to de-emphasize the pass, but tailback Adrian Peterson was limited this week in practice by ankle and knee injuries. When Webb does drop back, the Bears are well-equipped to force him into rookie mistakes. The Bears' success in sending four or fewer pass-rushers this season -- they rank third in the NFL in yards per attempt and interceptions in those situations -- means they should be able to sit back in coverage and make plays on Webb's passes. That will also help them limit his scrambles. It could be a long night for the Vikings in that regard.

Quick change: Monday night's game will mark the 10th relocated home game in the past 37 years in the NFL. The home teams are 3-6 in those games and have lost the past four, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The last home team that won a relocated home game was the 1994 Seattle Seahawks, who defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers at nearby Husky Stadium while the Kingdome was undergoing roof repairs. I think we can say this much about TCF Bank Stadium: It will be a modest, at best, home-field advantage for the Vikings. First, they haven't played an outdoor game in Minnesota in 29 years. Second, it's been three years since they've won a December/January outdoor game, and that contest was in San Francisco. Their last December/January outdoor victory in a cold-weather site was a January 2005 playoff victory at Lambeau Field. But not since December 1999 have the Vikings won a regular-season game outdoors in December or January, a 34-17 victory over the New York Giants.

Getting pressure: The Detroit Lions' defensive line demonstrated that it can overpower an opposing offensive line in last week's victory over the Packers. The Lions have 36 sacks this season -- tied for sixth-most in the NFL, but they'll have their hands full Sunday with Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman. This season, Freeman has been sacked 20 times -- the ninth-fewest among qualified quarterbacks -- and ranks third among NFL quarterbacks with 301 rushing yards. That matchup will be key as the Lions try to snap their NFL-record 26-game losing streak on the road.

FavreWatch: Ready to call it a career

December, 16, 2010
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Lost in the insanity of a still-unconfirmed game site Thursday was that Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre ruled himself out indefinitely because of continued numbness in his right hand.

Interim coach Leslie Frazier has held out hope that Favre could play Monday night against the Chicago Bears, but Favre strongly downplayed that possibility. He confirmed that he had an ultrasound test earlier this week, but said it was to look for a blood clot, not to identify nerve damage. The test proved negative for a blood clot.

Instead, it appears that rookie Joe Webb will start the game with veteran newcomer Patrick Ramsey as his backup.

"I don't see any change today," Favre said. "... There is still some numbness and discomfort, so ... there's no way I would even consider it with those symptoms still. I think it would be foolish to even think that way."

Although the Vikings haven't placed him on injured reserve, I strongly suspect Favre believes he won't play again this season. Asked if he would resume practicing if the numbness dissipated, Favre smiled and said: "I suppose." He also was vague on the protocol for recovery. "I think time would be the best remedy," he said.

And to be clear, I don't blame Favre one bit. If the Vikings want to use his continued presence on the active roster as a ruse in the name of competitive advantage, that's up to them. But he has taken a beating this season, and with the team eliminated from playoff contention, there is no reason for him to try playing in anything close to the condition he's in.

In his 20th season, Favre didn't seem interested in returning to the field just for a so-called final hurrah.

"If it is meant to be, it is meant to be," he said. "I am not going to beat myself up over it one way or the other. I know up to this point, I came in and did everything I could do, don't regret it one bit. If it is meant to be over, then so be it."

Vikings face Bizarro World upon return

December, 14, 2010
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Let us quickly summarize where the Minnesota Vikings stand with three long, and potentially torturous, weeks remaining in their season.

They literally have no healthy quarterbacks.

They have no idea where they are playing their next home game, scheduled for six days from now. We'll call it "Location TBA Stadium."

Any other questions?

OK, let's expand.

First, interim coach Leslie Frazier said Tuesday that presumptive starter Tarvaris Jackson has a turf toe injury that will "put his availability in jeopardy" for Monday night's game against the Chicago Bears at Location TBA Stadium. Jackson's long history of minor injuries and long recovery periods suggests he won't be ready for this game.

Surprisingly, Frazier suggested that Brett Favre -- who seemed headed into retirement as recently as Monday night -- could be de-mothballed and potentially rolled out as the Vikings' starter. Favre said Monday night that he wouldn't consider playing until the numbness in his right hand subsides, but Frazier suggested that process has begun and said an ultrasound performed Tuesday was "negative" for nerve damage.

"We're hoping to get him back," Frazier said.

For now, we'll file that under the category of a snowball's chance of flying deep below the earth's surface.

I asked Frazier what information he had that would suggest Favre will be ready to take the Location TBA field for this game. His response: "The fact that the ultrasound came back negative helps you be somewhat optimistic. There's no nerve damage, so you feel positive in that regard. Now it's just a matter of the time frame, how long will it take for the numbness to go away. Brett, he's an unusual healer. He comes back a lot sooner than others from most injuries. We'll just have to wait and see."

In the meantime, however, that brings us to rookie Joe Webb, whom Frazier called the "healthiest" of his quarterbacks and one who might well end up taking the first-team repetitions when practice resumes Thursday. (Webb himself was questionable last week because of a hamstring injury.) The Vikings were in the process of moving Webb to receiver as recently as two weeks ago, however, and Frazier acknowledged that trotting him out for the first play at Location TBA "wouldn't be the ideal situation."

For that reason, the Vikings had compiled a list of available veteran quarterbacks, including veteran Patrick Ramsey, and were preparing to sign one of them within the next day or so. (Frazier said former Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper was not one of them.) When asked if he was looking for a veteran who could start Monday, or one to back up Webb, Frazier said it "probably depends on that guy's awareness of what we do."

So when they gather Monday night at Location TBA, it seems the Vikings' most likely starter is Webb. Their second option likely isn't on the roster as of this posting. The Vikings' hopes for Favre rest solely on that -- hope -- and not on significant physical progress in the past 24 hours.

And when might Location TBA be revealed? As of Tuesday evening, the Vikings would say only that they are getting TCF Bank Stadium ready to host the game if emergency construction crews aren't able to repair the Metrodome's collapsed and torn roof in time.

How long they will wait before making a decision is unknown. If they shift the venue, one of the many issues that would have to be resolved is ticket conversion and how they would pare down distribution by about 12,000. My guess is they will find 12,000 volunteers to not sit outside on what is forecast to be a night of single-digit temperatures, but we'll find out soon enough.

Or will we??????????

Time also gets crunched for Dolphins

November, 15, 2010
Teams usually get six days between games to take inventory of their roster and get healthy.

The Miami Dolphins get three days to recover from Sunday's carnage and significantly less time to come up with a game plan for Thursday night's game against the Chicago Bears in Sun Life Stadium.

Expect several roster moves in the coming hours for a team that lost its top two quarterbacks, star left tackle and maybe its sacks leader.

General manager Jeff Ireland will be combing the streets for free agents. It's hard enough to find somebody to contribute on the fly, but to get them up to snuff on a playbook within 72 hours is practically impossible.

JaMarcus Russell, Patrick Ramsey and Chris Simms all have been reported as quarterbacks of interest for Miami. The United Football League season ends in a couple weeks. That would make former NFL starters such as Daunte Culpepper, Jeff Garcia, Brooks Bollinger, Tim Rattay and Josh McCown available. Former starter Cleo Lemon is almost done with his Canadian Football League season.

Starting quarterback Chad Pennington suffered a shoulder injury. Previous starter Chad Henne went down with a knee injury. Pro Bowl left tackle Jake Long reportedly dislocated a shoulder. Outside linebacker Cameron Wake hurt a hip.

The Dolphins have been scrappy in staying above .500 and in the AFC playoff race. But their 29-17 victory over the Tennessee Titans might have been their Waterloo because of the injuries.

The Dolphins won the game but still failed to gain any ground on the New York Jets or New England Patriots, who won on the road to remain two games ahead of the Dolphins.

Now Miami must scramble to field a team and identify somebody on its roster who won't get Tyler Thigpen destroyed. Vernon Carey played left tackle in 2007, but hasn't seen time there since Long was drafted first overall in 2008.

Check back for updates on the Dolphins' roster.

QB drama sweeps through NFC West

September, 4, 2010
Matt Leinart's future with the Arizona Cardinals is but one quarterback drama in the NFC West.

The Seattle Seahawks have interest in Patrick Ramsey, ESPN's Adam Schefter reports, and signing Ramsey might indicate the team isn't waiting around for Leinart.

Why Ramsey? He was with Seahawks offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates and quarterbacks coach Jedd Fisch in Denver for the 2008 season. Bates coached the Broncos' quarterbacks. Fisch coached their receivers.

The Washington Redskins drafted Ramsey in 2002, one year after Seahawks general manager John Schneider and assistant pro personnel director Trent Kirchner were with the team.

Ramsey's strong arm and gunslinger's mentality makes him a fit for the Seahawks in their new offense. Charlie Whitehurst, acquired from San Diego this offseason, also has a strong arm and more freewheeling style than the quarterbacks Seattle targeted previously during the Mike Holmgren years.

Signing Ramsey would presumably spell the end for J.P. Losman in Seattle. Update: Losman is out, and Schefter says the plan now is to go with two quarterbacks.

In Arizona, meanwhile, the Cardinals are carrying four quarterbacks and coach Ken Whisenhunt has said the team must name its starter and decide whether Leinart could remain in a No. 2 role. Lesser quarterback dramas are percolating in St. Louis and San Francisco. The Rams have not yet named Sam Bradford their Week 1 starter, while 49ers coach Mike Singletary told reporters he wasn't playing motivational games with Nate Davis when he questioned the third-string quarterback's preparation.

Chase Daniel appears to be No. 2 QB

September, 3, 2010
Although the New Orleans Saints haven’t formally announced any roster moves today, it’s become apparent that Chase Daniel has won the backup quarterback job.

Mike Triplett reports that the agent for Patrick Ramsey said the veteran has been cut. Ramsey was signed as the heir apparent to veteran Mark Brunell to serve as the backup for Drew Brees. But Daniel, who spent part of his rookie season on the regular roster and practice squad, had such a strong preseason that he beat out Ramsey.

Under coach Sean Payton, the Saints often carry only two quarterbacks. Rookie Sean Canfield already was released, but remains a candidate to be signed to the practice squad next week.

Ramsey didn’t play poorly in the preseason and could be on the radar for several other teams looking for experienced backups. I see one possible destination in the NFC South, and let me make this clear: this matchmaking is purely speculative on my part.

Although the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been singing the praises of Josh Johnson, I really think they need a backup with some real experience behind starter Josh Freeman. Johnson isn’t very experienced, and I’m not convinced he can be a solid backup.

If the depth chart at quarterback stays the way it is in Tampa Bay, the Bucs are in a world of trouble if anything happens to Freeman, who is recovering from a fractured thumb and expected to begin practicing soon. A guy like Ramsey wouldn’t be a threat to Freeman, but he has some experience and talent, and he’d provide better insurance than Johnson.

It's a wrap on the preseason

September, 3, 2010
The preseason ended last night, so now we can get onto the real thing. But let’s take one very quick look back at what happened around the NFC South last night.

Carolina managed to go through the preseason without scoring an offensive touchdown.

Perhaps the biggest news out of Carolina is that right tackle Jeff Otah is not expected to be healthy enough to play in the season opener and, beyond that, there’s a question of when he’ll be able to return. Geoff Schwartz has been working in his place. Otah reportedly had a setback in his recovery from a knee injury.

New Orleans running back Chris Ivory, who has been a big hit throughout the preseason, left the game against the Titans with a knee injury. The Saints weren’t offering any details. Same with linebacker Jonathan Casillas, who left with a foot injury. The team said both players will be evaluated Friday.

Quarterbacks Patrick Ramsey and Chase Daniel each did some good things as they concluded their battle for the backup job behind Drew Brees. What’s going to be interesting here is if the Saints carry three quarterbacks. They often have carried only two in coach Sean Payton’s tenure.

Receiver Arrelious Benn and defensive back Corey Lynch each had big games in Tampa Bay’s preseason finale.

The biggest news out of Tampa Bay’s preseason finale was that quarterback Josh Freeman, recovering from a fractured thumb, threw extensively before the game. Freeman is likely to begin practicing soon and is expected to be ready for the season opener.

The Falcons sat virtually all of their starters in the preseason finale. That gave players like safety William Moore, receiver Andy Strickland and tight end Michael Palmer a chance to make positive impressions.
A quick review of New Orleans’ 38-20 preseason victory against Houston on Saturday night.

Bradley Handwerger writes that the New Orleans offensive line bounced back nicely after a rough outing in the opener. Maybe a little bit of depth-chart shuffling by the coaching staff in practice last week started a fire under some guys who were off to slow starts.

Chase Daniel had a big game while getting extended playing time. Everyone assumed Patrick Ramsey would be the backup quarterback behind Drew Brees, but Daniel is making a case for that job.

There’s no question Sean Payton runs an offense that’s built around the passing game, but the running game looked very strong against the Texans.

The New Orleans defense, after a rough opener, looked a little more like it did last season. The Saints produced two turnovers.

Camp Confidential: Saints

July, 31, 2010
PM ET NFL Power Ranking (pre-camp): 2

METAIRIE, La. -- As the New Orleans Saints finished their first camp practice Friday morning, defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, a man known for holding back nothing on or off the field, unloaded. He wanted to get something off his chest. Heck, out of his body, out of his mouth and out into the open.

Without ever really being asked anything that would prompt the issue, Williams started talking about why the Saints can repeat as Super Bowl champions. He’s tired of hearing the reasons they can’t and the repeated reminders that the follow-up season hasn’t been good to many Super Bowl teams in recent history.

“I keep on hearing you guys talk about this Super Bowl hangover and it’s starting to chafe me a little bit,’’ Williams said. “It really is and I’m being real honest. The reason being is, if you could see behind the scenes of our offseason program from April 19 and to see every single practice we’ve had, I don’t have any qualms about the way our defense is because all they did was show up with more hunger, more fire, wanted me to be a bigger jerk and get on their (butt) more. They begged for me to get on their (butt) more. So far, I’ve seen nothing that would indicate that we can’t make another run at this.’’

Williams may be one of the organization’s more vocal figures, but you quickly get the feeling he’s not alone on this idea. Sure, the Saints spent a good portion of the offseason celebrating the first Super Bowl title in franchise history. Sure, recent history is stacked against them. No team has repeated since the 2004 Patriots.

Confidence -- some even have suggested arrogance -- was a big part of the reason the Saints won the Super Bowl last season. That hasn’t changed. Unlike a lot of recent Super Bowl teams, the Saints really didn’t lose much in free agency and they didn’t have their coaching staff picked apart. There really hasn’t been much turnover of faces or attitude.

“There was a really good locker room here before I got here,’’ Williams said. “There’s a better locker room now. The guys that we brought in this year, they fit into that locker room because Jon Vilma and Drew Brees aren’t going to let the wrong kind of people be in that locker room. They’re just not going to do that.’’


[+] EnlargeJabari Greer
Doug Benc/Getty ImagesA healthy Jabari Greer could help the defense be more consistent.
1. Can a defense that was opportunistic but far from dominant become more consistent? Sure, there is some bravado that comes with Williams. That’s part of his nature and it’s part of what makes him a good coach. But what he’s saying isn’t just bluster.

The Saints really should be much better on defense this season. All they really lost was linebacker Scott Fujita and defensive end Charles Grant. They showed Grant the door and probably upgraded the position by signing veterans Alex Brown and Jimmy Wilkerson. They’ll line up on the other side from Will Smith. Brown and Wilkerson aren’t dominant pass-rushers, but they’re consistent in that area and play the run very well. Fujita was a key contributor, but the Saints believe they have a group of promising linebackers (Troy Evans, Jo-Lonn Dunbar and Stanley Arnoux) and believe one of them will rise up.

Plug in a healthy Sedrick Ellis in the middle of the defensive line and the Saints should have a solid front seven. But the defensive backfield is where the Saints really could be outstanding. They’ve assembled one of the best collections of secondary talent in the league. Jabari Greer and Tracy Porter might be the best cornerbacks no one outside of New Orleans has heard of. When healthy, they both can be shut-down guys. Both were banged up last season, and that’s one of the reasons the Saints drafted cornerback Patrick Robinson. That move also has allowed them to move last year’s first-round pick, Malcolm Jenkins, to free safety, where he might get the chance to beat out Darren Sharper. If you can put Sharper, a possible future Hall of Famer on the bench, that’s a pretty big statement. People talk about New Orleans’ offense being explosive, but the defense has a chance to be every bit as dynamic.

2. Can the offense live up to last year’s standards? Brees remains the quarterback and, as long as that’s the case, this offense is going to be great. Brees clearly is in his prime and his pairing with head coach/offensive genius Sean Payton makes magic possible on every play.

This is an offense that can hit you from every angle -- Brees throwing short or long, Pierre Thomas running inside and Reggie Bush outside and an offensive line filled with Pro Bowlers. Keep in mind that the Saints had some injuries at the skill positions last year, but they still were phenomenal on offense. If they can keep Bush, Thomas, Marques Colston, Heath Evans and Jeremy Shockey healthy, last year’s production could be eclipsed.

[+] EnlargeJahri Evans
Larry French/Getty ImagesJahri Evans is part of a dominant offensive line that makes up for any weakness at left tackle.
3. Is left tackle really that important? The Saints used to have a Pro Bowl left tackle. His name was Jammal Brown and they traded him to Washington in the offseason. That happened after Brown missed all last season with an injury and the Saints got by with Jermon Bushrod quite nicely.

The Saints aren’t touting Bushrod as a franchise left tackle, although he’s the favorite to be the starter. They also drafted Charles Brown, and Zach Strief, who filled in when Bushrod slumped a bit last season, also is in the mix. The Saints gave Bushrod plenty of help last season and they’re prepared to do it again for him -- or for Brown or Streif. But the lesson that came out of last year is, in this offense, it’s not a necessity to have a dominant left tackle.

But that’s partly because the Saints have the league’s best guard tandem (Jahri Evans and Carl Nicks), a Pro Bowl right tackle (Jonathan Stinchcomb) and an excellent center (Jonathan Goodwin). Throw anyone out there at left tackle and the rest of the line and Brees will make him look good.


Jimmy Graham. The Saints took what seemed like a bit of a leap when they drafted the tight end in the third round. He played basketball at the University of Miami before deciding to switch to football in his final year. The conventional wisdom was that Graham would be a bit of a project and would take a year or two to really have an impact. But there already is a buzz among the coaching staff and other offensive players about Graham. Everyone knew he had great athletic ability coming in, but he’s picked up things faster than anyone expected and he got some first-team work with Brees in June workouts. He might play a bigger role faster than anyone expected.


Clint Ingram. When the Saints signed Ingram, a lot of fans instantly thought he would be the automatic replacement for Fujita. Ingram had been a starter in Jacksonville, so the logic was solid. But Ingram was injured when the Saints signed him and he still hasn’t been on the practice field, except while riding a stationary bike. That has allowed Troy Evans, Dunbar and Arnoux time to make a good impression. Unless Ingram gets healthy very soon and makes a huge impression on the field, he might not even get a roster spot.


  • Darren Sharper
    James Lang/US PresswireDarren Sharper wore down toward the end of last season and had offseason microfracture surgery.
    I know this might sound like blasphemy to Saints fans because Sharper is very popular and had a huge impact last year. But the fact is he’s 34 and coming off micro-fracture knee surgery. I’ve suggested before I think there’s a good chance Jenkins takes his place in the starting lineup. But I’ll take it one step further here and say -- I’m not promising this will happen -- I can see a scenario where Sharper doesn’t even stay on the active roster. The Saints are high on Jenkins. They also like Usama Young and are hopeful about Chip Vaughn, who missed his rookie year with an injury. Ideally, the Saints would like to keep Sharper around for his leadership. But if his knee doesn’t come along, he could spend part of the season on the physically-unable-to-perform list, the injured-reserve list or maybe even be released or retired. Even with all his credentials, Sharper can’t contribute if his knee isn’t right. The Saints have a lot of other safeties with young legs.
  • The Saints used a three-headed backfield with Bush, Thomas and Mike Bell last season. Bell is gone, but the playing time division should be pretty similar this year. Just plug Lynell Hamilton into Bell’s place. The Saints wouldn’t have let Bell go if they didn’t think Hamilton was ready. I don’t want to tease you and say this is the year Bush shows he can run between the tackles. But remember how well he ran in the playoffs and how he was more physical than at any time in his career? That was because he was completely healthy. That seems to still be the case, so don’t be surprised if you see Bush’s numbers go up a bit. This guy can do a little bit of everything.
  • Shockey’s always been an easy target and there’s no doubt he’s brought some of that on himself. But he appears to be in very good physical shape. Shockey hasn’t really been a distraction in New Orleans like many thought he was when he was with the Giants. He’s just been banged up for much of his time with the Saints. Maybe –- and I’m just saying maybe -- Shockey might have matured and might be taking better care of himself in an effort to stay on the field.
  • It really didn’t get much attention, but the best move the Saints made in the offseason might have been signing Patrick Ramsey to serve as Brees’ backup. Veteran Mark Brunell was a good fit in that role for a couple of years, but the Saints needed to get a little younger. The Saints hope and pray nothing ever happens to Brees. But, if he were to miss some time, the New Orleans offense might not suddenly fall apart. Ramsey’s a guy who has bounced around the league. He got messed up by Steve Spurrier early in his career in Washington, but he still has some talent. This is a quarterback-friendly offense with all sorts of weapons and Ramsey could win games for the Saints -- if that ever becomes necessary.
  • For a couple years, special teams were a bit of a question. That has changed. Kicker Garrett Hartley and punter Thomas Morstead were heroes in the Super Bowl. They’re still young and should only continue to get better.
  • It’s very early in camp, but one player who has intrigued the coaching staff is defensive end Junior Galette. He’s an undrafted rookie and very undersized at 258 pounds. But this guy is showing great speed and there’s a chance he could land a job as a pass-rush specialist. Yeah, Bobby McCray also is supposed to fit that description. But McCray had 1.5 sacks last season and actually was cut because of a high salary before he basically begged his way back (at a reduced salary). If the Saints cut McCray once, there’s no reason why they couldn’t do it again.
NFC Big Question: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Who will back up Drew Brees in New Orleans?

The New Orleans Saints are a team without a veteran backup behind quarterback Drew Brees -- at least for the moment.

[+] EnlargeDrew Brees
Chris Graythen/Getty ImagesThe Saints need to bring in an insurance policy for Drew Brees.
Brees has been durable and the offensive line played so well last year that he rarely was touched. Veteran backup Mark Brunell didn’t look especially good when he got to play late last season and there are strong rumblings the New York Jets will sign him just before training camp.

I’m not ruling out a Brunell return to New Orleans. But, at the very least, I think it’s safe to say the Saints will add a quarterback with some experience at some point. The only quarterbacks they have besides Brees are Chase Daniel and rookie Sean Canfield. The Saints like them both, but they’re viewed as projects.

This is too good a team to leave in the hands of an untested quarterback if anything happens to Brees. Due to the "final eight" rules, the Saints are rather limited in their ability to sign true unrestricted free agents.

They’ve had Patrick Ramsey and Josh McCown in for visits and could do something with one of them later. The Saints did a nice job of keeping their championship roster together and put some good patches on some need areas.

They’re pretty much set at every spot, except backup quarterback. They’re not done there yet. Sometime in the coming weeks, the Saints have to bring in a backup with some experience who can handle the team in case anything happens to Brees.

Bills' pursuit of McNabb was inspired

April, 5, 2010
The Buffalo Bills deserve credit for thinking big.

They failed in their quest to acquire quarterback Donovan McNabb, but Bills fans should be thrilled their front office at least tried something that bold.

The Philadelphia Eagles traded McNabb to the Washington Redskins on Easter night for a second-round pick in this year's draft plus a third- or fourth-round pick in the 2011 draft.

We don't know exactly what the Bills were offering. The Redskins' second-round pick was the 37th overall, four slots better than the Bills' second-rounder. But the Bills might have sweetened the deal with additional picks or players.

But the Bills couldn't swing the deal because McNabb was unwilling to sign an extension. He's entering the final year of his contract, and trading away assets for a veteran who'd be around for one unhappy season would have been ludicrous.

Multiple reports state McNabb simply didn't want to play for the Bills or the Oakland Raiders.

ESPN's Sal Paolantonio reports the Bills and Raiders had the two best offers on the table just last week. Yahoo! Sports writer Jason Cole reports the Bills were willing to offer McNabb an extension, but he wasn't interested.

While McNabb's rejection certainly was influenced by the Bills' dysfunction during a long decade without a playoff appearance, it shouldn't be a reflection of their current front office.

Rookie general manager Buddy Nix and new head coach Chan Gailey identified a need and went after one of the most accomplished quarterbacks in the league, a five-time Pro Bowler with 216 career touchdown passes and 100 interceptions.

Their pursuit of McNabb was inspired and far more significant to the franchise's potential well-being than the splash they made with one-and-done diva receiver Terrell Owens last year.

Nix and Gailey repeatedly declined to publicly reveal their depth chart, insisting Trent Edwards, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Brian Brohm are interchangeable at this point. But Nix and Gailey also have mentioned multiple times they're on the lookout for a fourth quarterback.

At the recent NFL owners meetings in Orlando, Fla., Gailey noted he wanted to have his quarterback situation sorted out before the draft, which begins April 22.

"You'd like to have everything settled before you went into the draft," Gailey said. "The problem comes if you don't solve an issue before the draft. Then you have to try and solve it in the draft. Then if you don't solve it before the draft or in the draft, now your back's to the wall and everybody knows it. That's a bind you get into. Now they can hold you up."

What do the Bills do now?

Drafting a quarterback becomes a greater possibility. The Bills hold the ninth overall pick, but they have so many needs. Maybe Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen still will be on the board, creating a difficult decision. If the Bills go with another position in the first round and hold off until the 41st pick to look at quarterbacks, then University of Florida icon Tim Tebow, Texas' Colt McCoy or Central Michigan Dan LeFevour might become an attractive option.

Jason Campbell automatically becomes a possibility. He's a restricted free agent with a first-round tender, so an offer sheet is unlikely. But a trade could be worked out because he's not needed in Washington anymore.

Some unrestricted free agents: Kyle Boller, Daunte Culpepper, Josh McCown, Patrick Ramsey and Chris Simms. Other getable restricted free agents: Kellen Clemens and Troy Smith.

And, for the record, J.P. Losman's still out there.

Regardless of where the Bills find that fourth quarterback, it's impressive to know they aimed for McNabb.

If this is how Bills fans can expect their team to operate under their new front office, then there's genuine reason to get excited.