NFL Nation: Vinny Testaverde

TAMPA, Fla. -- The Bucs could come out of this year's draft with something they've never had before.

They could come away with a franchise quarterback for the first time in team history. The Bucs hold the No. 1 pick in the 2015 draft and Oregon's Marcus Mariota and Florida State's Jameis Winston are sitting there.

Take either one and the expectations will be high. But maybe Tampa Bay fans should temper their enthusiasm just a little bit.

Their history with highly-drafted quarterbacks isn't great. Let's take a look:

Doug Williams gets tons of credit for taking the team to the NFC Championship Game after the 1979 season. But the fact is Williams, who was taken with the 17th pick in the 1978 draft, wasn't really a franchise quarterback. He wasn't around long enough to qualify for that and his career record was only 38-42-1.

The guy that came in with the most attention was Vinny Testaverde. He was selected No. 1 overall (the last time the Bucs had the top pick) in 1987. Testaverde had good talent, but a sub-par supporting cast. His record with the Bucs was 90-123-1.

Trent Dilfer was supposed to be a franchise quarterback when he was selected No. 6 overall in 1994. Never a fan favorite and perhaps a benefactor of the talent around him, Dilfer actually had a winning record. He was 58-55.

Tampa Bay's last shot at a franchise quarterback was Josh Freeman, who was taken No. 17 in 2009. Freeman had tons of ability, but some intangibles obviously were missing. With Freeman, the Bucs were 24-36.

All that history shouldn't scare the Bucs away from Mariota and Winston. Instead, it should provide more motivation to get the pick right.

Bucs need franchise QB with No. 1 pick

December, 28, 2014
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WinstonUSA TODAY SportsJameis Winston and Marcus Mariota haven't announced plans to enter the draft, but they likely will.
TAMPA, Fla. -- The most important game for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this week might not be their season-ending 23-20 loss to the New Orleans Saints on Sunday.

Instead, it might be the Rose Bowl on New Year's Day.

General manager Jason Licht will be there. Coach Lovie Smith might join him. More importantly, Oregon's Marcus Mariota and Florida State’s Jameis Winston will be playing in Pasadena, California.

Those are the two quarterbacks the Bucs might be choosing between in May. That much became certain Sunday as the Bucs secured the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 draft with a loss to the Saints at Raymond James Stadium.

The way the Bucs cemented the pick is up for conversation. They had a 20-7 lead heading into the fourth quarter. Then they inserted a whole bunch of young players. That led to questions about the Bucs trying to "tank" the game in order to get the No. 1 pick.

"In the second half, we wanted to look at some more football players," Smith said. "We're not going to the playoffs and we have a comfortable lead and we're going to run the football. The guys we had out there fought right up until the end. [The Saints] made some plays to win the game at the end."

In the final analysis, debate of whether the Bucs were playing for the No. 1 pick doesn't matter. What does matter is they have the No. 1 pick, and the debate about Mariota and Winston is only beginning.

More than anything the Bucs have done in years, they have to make the right call with this pick. Sure, there's a chance they could decide to go with a defensive end or an offensive tackle. But the Bucs, who finished 2-14 and were dismal on offense, have to at least consider a quarterback with the first pick.

"Right now, we’re going to evaluate it all," Smith said. "Our play at the quarterback position hasn't been good enough, as it hasn't been good enough at any position, starting with my position. It's a total evaluation of everything."

It's pretty obvious the Bucs already have evaluated their current quarterbacks, Josh McCown and Mike Glennon. It also is pretty obvious that neither one of those guys is the long-term answer. McCown will turn 36 before next season starts and the coaching staff's refusal to take another look at Glennon late in the season shows he is not in the plans.

The Bucs have a chance at a potential franchise quarterback in Mariota or Winston. In theory, you shouldn't have a chance at a franchise quarterback too often because you shouldn't always be at the top of the draft.

Even the Bucs, who have a .385 winning percentage all-time, haven't held the No. 1 overall pick since 1987. That year, they drafted quarterback Vinny Testaverde. Things didn't work out as planned, but that had more to do with the shortcomings of Testaverde's supporting cast than it did with the quarterback.

This situation is different. The Bucs have a defense that showed promise as the season went on. They also have an excellent pair of receivers in Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans.

It's not much of a leap to say all the Bucs need to turn things around is a quarterback. They just have to pick the right one.
IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys reaffirmed their love of QB Tony Romo on Thursday night when they passed on selecting Johnny Manziel in the 2014 NFL draft.

In 2007, they made a very similar move.

Romo
Back then, there were questions about Romo even after he took the NFL by storm and lifted the Cowboys to the playoffs in 2006.

Was he truly a franchise quarterback? Would a new coaching staff see him the same way the previous coaching staff saw him? Would there be any aftereffects from the bobbled snap in the playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks?

The Cowboys had searched forever, it seemed, for Troy Aikman’s successor. They tried Quincy Carter. They tried baseball players, such as Chad Hutchinson and Drew Henson. They tried veterans, such as Vinny Testaverde and Drew Bledsoe.

In 10 games, Romo threw for 2,903 yards with 19 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. He went to the Pro Bowl.

He was also in the final year of his contract. Would the Cowboys make him a mega-offer with such a short track record?

Staring at the Cowboys as they were about make the 22nd pick in the '07 draft was Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn. Nobody expected him to be there. He was the Cowboys’ highest-rated quarterback. Forgetting what we know now, he had the stamp of approval from Charlie Weis, a coach who worked with Tom Brady. Quinn put up some strong numbers.

On the clock, the Cowboys traded out of the first round when they secured the Browns' second-round choice in 2007 and their first-rounder in 2008. Eventually they moved back into the first round in a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles to take Anthony Spencer with the 26th pick.

The Cowboys affirmed their love for Romo. Seven games into the 2007 season, they signed him to a six-year, $67.5 million deal that included $30 million guaranteed.

About 14 months ago, the Cowboys reaffirmed their love for Romo with a six-year, $108 million extension that included $55 million.

Like in 2007, he faces some questions in 2014. Some are football-related. He has not led the Cowboys to the playoffs since 2009. He has a 25-28 record since the beginning of the 2010 season. There are a lot of questions about his health because he is coming off his second back surgery in less than a year. He turned 34 last month.

But just like seven years ago, Jerry Jones backed Romo once again.

“I think that Tony has everything to do with this decision,” Jones said of Dallas' selecting OT Zack Martin over Manziel. “We have a big commitment to Tony. We feel that anything we look at at quarterback would be down the road and in the future in the development of that quarterback. If you look at the difficult dynamic, giving up this player [Martin] that really enhances what we can do on offense and what Tony can do for the future, just on a pretty quick consideration [taking Manziel] didn’t make sense. That was the driving force behind it.”

New York Jets should sign Michael Vick

February, 25, 2014
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Michael VickChris Humphreys/USA TODAY SportsQuarterback Michael Vick could be just what the New York Jets need as a backup to Geno Smith.
It’s 1998, and the New York Jets have a young quarterback they like a lot but aren’t willing to marry. They’re intrigued by a mid-30s free agent, a former No. 1 overall pick who lost his starting job the previous year with his second franchise. They decide to sign him, ostensibly as the backup, thinking he still has enough left if he has to play.

That’s how the Jets landed Vinny Testaverde, who was 35 when he replaced Glenn Foley after a few games and led them to the AFC Championship Game. It was one of their smartest personnel moves ever.

Pardon the time travel, but the Testaverde story is relevant because the Jets are faced with a similar situation at quarterback -- not identical, but similar.

This time, the Testaverde role could be played by Michael Vick, who fits the same profile. He is a former top pick, turns 34 in June and will be looking for a third team after losing his job last season to Nick Foles, the new prince of the Philadelphia Eagles. The Jets are intrigued by Vick, and there’s already rampant speculation they will pursue him when free agency begins March 11.

Do it.

Vick would be a nice fit for the Jets, assuming they part ways with Mark Sanchez. They need a seasoned backup who can fill a two-pronged job description: still good enough to pose a threat to Geno Smith (and win games, if called upon) and willing to serve as a mentor to the young quarterback.

This isn’t to suggest that Vick will pull a Testaverde, who lasted four-plus years as the Jets’ starter and became one of the most beloved players in franchise history, but he would fill the current void. He would be a short-term answer for a team that has to start thinking short term. The full-scale rebuilding project is over.

Make no mistake, the Jets still want Smith to succeed and believe he can, but they’re still not willing to commit to him -- wisely so. Even though they have more invested in Smith than they did in Foley all those years ago, the Jets still have questions. A player like Vick would be solid insurance for 2014. If Smith regresses, if he crumbles under the pressure of having Vick over his shoulder, it’s time to move on. You start over in 2015.

It’s one of the toughest commodities to find, a quarterback willing to be a good-soldier backup but capable of becoming captain of the platoon if called upon. Vick was a model teammate last season, handling the quarterback change with aplomb, but he still wants to be a starter. There’s no telling if he would be amenable to the Jets’ situation. The Jets need to find out.

“A lot depends on the makeup of the No. 2 quarterback,” said an AFC personnel executive, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “If you’re grooming a young starter, there needs to be a healthy balance of competitor and mentor but also a good resource on the sideline and during game prep. I certainly think [Vick] can still start in the short term.”

Another reason this could work is Vick’s familiarity with Marty Mornhinweg’s system. They spent four years together in Philadelphia, 2009 to 2012, with Vick making the Pro Bowl in 2010 after rebooting his career in the aftermath of a 21-month prison sentence for dogfighting. In 2010, he posted a career-high 100.2 passer rating.

A healthy and rejuvenated Vick, armed with his knowledge of Mornhinweg’s offense, would pose a serious threat to Smith in training camp. General manager John Idzik always talks about competition; this would be real competition. You would have to think it would be Smith’s job to lose. And if he does, so be it.

Obviously, Vick isn’t the same player he was in 2010. Undermined by injuries and turnovers, his production has deteriorated -- with a touchdown-interception ratio of 35-27 over the past three seasons. He has played a full season only once in his career, but the beauty of the Jets’ situation is that he probably wouldn't have to.

Because of his background with Mornhinweg, Vick is a better option than any of the other free-agent quarterbacks. Josh McCown, 34, is interesting, but he did nothing noteworthy in his career until a five-start hot streak last season with the Chicago Bears. He would be a good insurance policy -- until he had to play.

The way to go is Vick -- as long as he’s cool with the conditions: Help the kid as much as you can, knowing that you’ll play if you give us the best chance to win.

If the Jets decide to chase Vick, they might want to include the Testaverde story in their recruiting pitch.

Can Freeman follow past Bucs' QBs?

September, 26, 2013
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TAMPA, Fla. – Maybe losing his job as the starting quarterback for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is the best thing that could happen to Josh Freeman.

Freeman
With Wednesday’s news that rookie Mike Glennon will take over as the starter, it’s fair to say Freeman’s tenure in Tampa Bay is just about over. He’ll either be traded this season or be allowed to walk away as a free agent afterward.

While those might not sound like great options, the history of the Buccaneers suggests otherwise.

Doug Williams, Steve Young and Trent Dilfer all went on to win Super Bowls after departing the Bucs. Vinny Testaverde went on to have a long and productive career. Can Freeman be as successful as those former Tampa Bay quarterbacks?

I think the talent is there. But Freeman is going to have to land in the right place. After what he has been through with Greg Schiano, Freeman needs a different style of coach. Freeman’s laid-back ways and Schiano’s militaristic style didn’t work well together.

There are plenty of people around the league who believe Freeman has what it takes to be a successful quarterback. Someone will give him a shot at a starting job.

Maybe Schiano ruined Freeman forever. Or maybe Freeman can do what Williams, Young and Dilfer did once they got a change of scenery.
Years ago, conventional wisdom would have applauded Carson Palmer for topping 4,000 yards passing with the Oakland Raiders last season.

Now, conventional wisdom has evolved to the point where mainstream analysis discounts those 4,000 yards because Palmer, entering his first season with the Arizona Cardinals, accumulated those yards in a losing context. Palmer went 4-11 as a starter.

Andy from New York hit the NFC West mailbag with a challenge we'll take up here. He thinks Palmer deserves more credit than he's getting.

"After two minutes of research, I found on the Hall of Fame's website that only 48 quarterbacks have thrown for more than 4,000 yards in a season (a combined 110 times)," Andy wrote. "Of those 110, only 18 times has it been done on a losing team (14 more times with a .500 record). If it is so 'easy' for a QB to rack up yards when playing from behind (when the defense knows it is a passing situation), why has it been accomplished only 18 times on a losing team in the entire history of the NFL?"

It's an interesting point. Passing for that many yards in a season requires some talent, obviously. But there is nothing inherently magical about the 4,000-yard plateau. Palmer passed for 3,970 yards while posting a 4-12 record in 2010. The 48-yard gap between 2010 (3,970 yards) and 2012 (4,018 yards) means nothing.

Palmer, Jon Kitna and Drew Brees each owns two seasons with at least 4,000 yards and a losing record. Elvis Grbac, Josh Freeman, Trent Green, Jeff Garcia, Bill Kenney, Peyton Manning, Dan Marino, Cam Newton, Aaron Rodgers, Matt Schaub, Matthew Stafford and Vinny Testaverde have each done it once.

Some of those quarterbacks were or are great players. Others were not so great.

ESPN developed the Total QBR metric to measure a quarterback's contributions to winning, whether or not the quarterback accumulated lots of passing yards. Manning scored a league-high 84.1 out of 100 last season. Mark Sanchez scored a league-low 34.0.

QBR can tell us something about the recent run on 4,000-yard seasons. Quarterbacks have combined for 42 of them since 2008. The QBR score Palmer posted last season (44.7) ranked 42nd out of those 42 on the list. The chart shows the seven times over the past five years when a quarterback passed for at least 4,000 yards without posting a winning record. Palmer probably had the worst supporting cast, but if anything, QBR affirms the general feeling on Palmer.

Now, back to Andy's point. Why aren't more quarterbacks from losing teams passing for 4,000 yards regularly? I'd venture that most quarterbacks good enough to pass for that many yards will be good enough to help their teams win most of the time. The question here is whether Palmer is one of those quarterbacks. Recent evidence suggests he might not be, but I think his prospects will improve with Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, Andre Roberts, Rob Housler and possibly even Patrick Peterson catching his passes.

Final Word: NFC South

December, 28, 2012
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» NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about the Week 17 games:

The record book. Although his play has been dismal recently, Tampa Bay’s Josh Freeman can make a lasting impression if he throws one touchdown pass against Atlanta. He needs just one scoring strike to set a new franchise record for career touchdown passes, which tells you a lot about the history of this franchise and its quarterbacks. Freeman currently is tied with Vinny Testaverde with 77 touchdown passes. A touchdown pass would also give Freeman the franchise record for touchdown passes in a season. He currently is tied with Brad Johnson, who set the team record (26) in 2003.

[+] EnlargeMatt Ryan
AP Photo/John BazemoreMatt Ryan has put together a stellar record in the Georgia Dome, going 33-4 there in his career.
At home in the Georgia Dome. The Falcons haven’t lost at home this season. In fact, they’ve won 11 straight home games dating back to last year. That’s the longest streak in franchise history and the longest active winning home streak in the NFL. Quarterback Matt Ryan is 33-4 at home in his career. Since 2008, the Falcons are 23-1 at home against teams that did not finish with a winning record.

Touchdown machine. In his last five games, Carolina quarterback Cam Newton has been responsible for 14 touchdowns (passing and rushing). That’s the most of any player in the league in that span. Newton also has a shot at Peyton Manning’s record for most passing yards in the first two seasons of a career. Manning threw for 7,874 yards in his first two seasons. Newton has thrown for 7,672 yards.

A (bad) place in history. We’ve talked a lot all season about New Orleans’ struggles on defense. There were a few minutes later in the season when it looked like things were starting to improve slightly. But this defense has a chance to set an NFL record for most yards allowed in a season. If the Panthers can manage 282 yards, the Saints will break the record (6,793 yards) set by the Colts in 1981.

The 5,000 club. New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees currently has 4,781 passing yards on the season. If Brees reaches 5,000 yards, he’ll be the first player in history to hit that mark three times. Brees went over 5,000 yards in 2008 and last season.

Freeman, Bucs breaking new ground

November, 15, 2012
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Josh FreemanCary Edmondson/US PresswireTampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman is directing the league's third-highest scoring offense.


This really has been true for only five weeks, but I don’t think I’m going out on a limb by saying the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have the most exciting offense in franchise history and they have a true franchise quarterback for the first time.

Start thinking about the history of this franchise because that’s a part of why I feel comfortable making those statements. We’ll run through that inglorious history in just a moment, but let’s start with the past five games.

In that stretch, Josh Freeman, who entered the season as a huge question mark, has established himself as a big-time quarterback. Rookie running back Doug Martin has become such a phenomenon that he finally might have shed that nickname he doesn’t like. And wide receiver Vincent Jackson has turned out to be worth every penny of that five-year, $55 million contract he signed back in March.

In each of the past five games, the Bucs have scored at least 28 points. When’s the last time that happened?

Never.

What’s happened in the past five games has vaulted the Bucs into the league lead in average yards per play (6.21). They’re averaging 28.9 points per game, which ranks them behind only New England (see Brady, Tom) and Denver (see Manning, Peyton). Speaking of Peyton Manning, he’s second in the league with an average of 8.20 yards per pass attempt. Freeman is No. 1 at 8.27.

Martin had a 251-yard, four-touchdown game at Oakland and has turned out to be the “all-purpose back’’ that coach Greg Schiano and general manager Mark Dominik talked about on the night they drafted him.

Jackson’s leading the league by averaging 21.4 yards per reception. Heck, teammate Mike Williams is second at 18.3.

Heck, if this keeps up, we might be calling Freeman, Martin and Jackson “The Triplets’’, the way Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin used to be referred to in their Dallas glory days. At times, some people got carried away and called the Cowboys’ stars “The Quadruplets’’ because they actually thought Alvin Harper was good.

That’s a perfect way to jump back into the history of offensive football and the Buccaneers. Harper was the receiver the Bucs signed in the mid-1990s to be their Irvin. Instead, the thing most Tampa Bay fans remember about him is that he got part of his finger sliced off in a training-room accident.

For their entire existence, including the good years, the Bucs have been anywhere from dismal to mediocre on offense. They won a Super Bowl with Brad Johnson as their quarterback and Monte Kiffin commanding a defense for the ages. They won a lot of games and tasted their first sustained success under coach Tony Dungy ... with Kiffin commanding a defense for the ages.

At one point in the 1990s, Tampa Bay’s bread-and-butter offensive play was having Errict Rhett run into Mike Alstott’s back and fall as far forward as possible. They later upgraded and had Warrick Dunn run into Alstott’s back and actually make a cut or two.

Even back during the first rise to prominence (1979), Tampa Bay was much more defined by Lee Roy Selmon and the defense than it was by the offense and Doug Williams.

Speaking of Williams, he was the best quarterback in franchise history -- until Freeman’s emergence. Between them, the Bucs have trotted out the likes of Steve Young (before he became Steve Young in San Francisco), Vinny Testaverde, Craig Erickson, Trent Dilfer, Shaun King, Brian Griese and Jeff Garcia.

[+] EnlargeDoug Martin, Mike Williams, Vincent Smith
Matt Stamey/US PresswireA supporting cast that features receivers Mike Williams (19) and Vincent Jackson (83) and running back Doug Martin makes the Bucs' offense so fearsome.
Although Young, Testaverde and Dilfer had talent, they never had a chance in Tampa Bay because they didn’t have a supporting cast. Williams was easily the best quarterback in Tampa Bay history, but I’m not sure you can call him a franchise quarterback because his tenure lasted from 1978 until he left for the United States Football League in a contract squabble following the 1982 season.

Freeman’s not going to follow a similar route. He’s under contract through 2013, but, after what he’s shown this season, I think it’s safe to say Freeman’s going to be around a lot longer than that. Sometime in the offseason, the Bucs almost certainly will give Freeman a big contract extension.

Freeman has bounced back from the disastrous final season of the Raheem Morris era. He’s turned out to be everything Schiano and offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan said he would be upon their arrival. Schiano and Sullivan said they wanted to build an offense that ran the ball consistently and they wanted to take some shots downfield in the passing game.

That formula’s working. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Freeman leads the league with 19 completions on throws of 20 yards or more. Jackson leads the NFL with 10 receptions on throws of 20 yards or more.

Williams has revived a career that seemed to stall last year. The Bucs plucked receiver Tiquan Underwood off the scrap heap and he’s turning in big plays. Martin is making things happen in the running game and as a receiver and the offense is clicking, despite the fact the Bucs are without injured Pro Bowl guards Carl Nicks and Davin Joseph.

For the longest time, there was a joke in Tampa Bay that the most exciting offense the region ever saw was the “Fun and Gun’’ orchestrated by Steve Spurrier and the USFL’s Tampa Bay Bandits, who, briefly, were more popular than the Bucs in the 1980s.

Those Bandits were wildly entertaining, but part of the reason they’re so fondly remembered is because the Bucs always were boring -- and usually bad -- on offense.

Until now.

Heisman no longer bad omen for QBs

April, 19, 2012
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Sam Bradford/Cam NewtonUS PresswireSt. Louis' Sam Bradford, left, and Carolina's Cam Newton have helped change the thinking that a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback won't be successful in the NFL.
There was a time -- like pretty much the last 50 years -- when a Heisman Trophy wasn’t a very good thing for a quarterback to have on his résumé as he entered the NFL.

When Baylor’s Robert Griffin III gets taken early in next week’s NFL draft, he could be the latest piece in the trend of turning around the apparent curse on quarterbacks who won the Heisman. It has started to change only recently, but all of the sudden it’s looking like the trophy isn’t an anchor guaranteeing NFL mediocrity or obscurity for a quarterback.

Look back at 2010 winner Cam Newton. He was last year’s offensive rookie of the year for the Carolina Panthers and set all sorts of rookie passing (and rushing) records. There’s big hope in St. Louis that 2008 winner Sam Bradford can get back to the promise he showed as a rookie after struggling through a rough 2010 season. Then there’s 2007 winner Tim Tebow. He couldn’t throw spirals in Denver, but he won games. That at least created a market for Tebow to get traded to the New York Jets, where it remains to be seen if he’ll ever be able to win the starting job away from Mark Sanchez.

But there’s at least hope that Griffin, Newton, Bradford and Tebow can go on to have long and prosperous NFL careers. Before they came along, there were decades of evidence that suggested quarterbacks should just quit the game after winning the Heisman.

Remember Troy Smith, Eric Crouch, Danny Wuerffel, Charlie Ward and Gino Torretta? How about Ty Detmer, Andre Ware or Pat Sullivan?

They had little to no success in the NFL.

And remember Jason White?

I honestly did not at first. I had to go back and look up White, who won the trophy not all that long ago. He won it in 2003 while putting up some gaudy numbers at the University of Oklahoma. White didn’t even get drafted and quit football altogether after a short training-camp stint with the Tennessee Titans. He never even played in a regular-season NFL game.

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
Jerome Miron/US PresswireRobert Griffin III threw for 4,293 yards and 37 touchdowns on his way to winning the Heisman Trophy last season.
Guys like White, Smith, Crouch, Wuerffel, Ward, Torretta, Detmer, Ware and Sullivan all had some things in common. In general, they were able to win the Heisman because they put up big statistics at programs where they were surrounded by elite players. They also had limitations -- usually in size, speed or arm strength -- that prevented them from being taken very seriously by NFL talent evaluators.

But those same evaluators also missed on some Heisman winners who seemed to have what the NFL wanted. Remember Matt Leinart?

He came from one of those football factories (USC), where he was surrounded by guys like Reggie Bush, but Leinart was supposed to be the one whose college success could transfer to the NFL. That’s why the Arizona Cardinals drafted him in the first round. But Leinart was nothing short of a tremendous disappointment.

When he flopped, it looked like there really was something to the Heisman Curse.

Prior to Tebow, Bradford, Newton and Griffin, you’ve got to look at a list of 18 quarterbacks who won the Heisman before you find one who really made it big. You’ve got to go all the way back to Roger Staubach, who won it for Navy in 1963. He went on to have a great career for the Dallas Cowboys and earned a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Since Staubach won the Heisman, other quarterbacks have had to settle for just getting into the College Football Hall of Fame.

Sure, there have been a few Heisman winners to come out and have some success. Jim Plunkett won two Super Bowls, but his career didn’t really take off until he landed with the Raiders after mediocre stints in New England and San Francisco.

Vinny Testaverde had an extremely long NFL career and the longevity led to some impressive career statistics. But Testaverde never had the kind of career so many people imagined when he was coming out of the University of Miami and taken No. 1 overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1987.

Guys like Steve Spurrier and Doug Flutie bounced around and had some success. Then there’s Carson Palmer, who has had some bright moments, but still is trying to fully live up to the Heisman hype.

But Newton, Griffin, Tebow and Bradford finally might be able to put a stop to the near-half-decade drought of Heisman Trophy winners truly excelling in the NFL.

“Cam Newton is the best thing to ever happen to Robert Griffin III,’’ former NFL quarterback Chris Weinke said as we discussed this year’s crop of quarterbacks back in February. “Just like Drew Brees is the best thing to happen to [Wisconsin draft prospect Russell Wilson]. Cam showed that a big, athletic quarterback that can run can be great in the NFL. Brees showed that a guy that’s not 6-foot-4 or 6-foot-5 can throw for 5,000 yards in an NFL season. We all know the NFL is a copycat league. Cam’s success and Drew’s success helps the draft stock of guys like Robert and Russell.’’

Ironically, Weinke’s name is another one on that Heisman list. His story might be the most unique of all the Heisman-winning quarterbacks. Weinke enrolled at Florida State after giving up a minor-league baseball career. He won the Heisman in 2000 and seemed to have the talent of a classic drop-back passer, but the fact he would turn 29 in his rookie training camp, pushed him into the fourth round of the 2001 draft. The Carolina Panthers took him and he started under coach George Seifert as a rookie, but never could quite won over John Fox, who took over the next year.

Weinke spent the next five seasons as a backup in Carolina and finished his career in 2007 with San Francisco.

These days, Weinke has carved a niche as a quarterback guru. He is the director of football operations at IMG Academies in Bradenton, Fla. He has worked extensively with Newton and some other quarterback prospects over the past few years.

Weinke says he’s seen the game change just since his playing days ended. Like just about everyone else, he says the NFL has become more driven by quarterbacks. He says natural talent is a prerequisite for NFL success and he points to guys like Newton and Griffin, saying they could be a new prototype. And he goes back to his point about the NFL being a copycat league.

“People are always looking for what works,’’ Weinke said. “Cam obviously had a fantastic rookie season. So people look at Robert and say he can do the same thing because the skill sets are similar.’’

For Griffin, Newton and Bradford -- and perhaps even Tebow in his own way -- maybe the skill sets are so good that it no longer matters if a quarterback is lugging around a Heisman Trophy.
The Robert Griffin III episode of Gruden's QB Camp, which aired Monday night, was generally well received. People were impressed with Griffin, who came off as cool and smart and completely composed during the half-hour special. The Washington Redskins fans from whom I heard came out of the thing even more excited than they already were at the idea of Griffin as their team's new quarterback.

Griffin
Griffin
But there was one minor issue a few people raised, more as question than as criticism. More than one person has asked me why Griffin's show was so focused on Griffin's personality while Andrew Luck's, which aired three days earlier, was so much more focused on Xs and Os. If you watched Luck's, you'll remember a lot of film study, a lot of chalkboard time and a lot of repetition of the phrase "Spider 3 Y banana." We saw very little X-and-O stuff during Griffin's show.

So, in an attempt to get this question answered for you, I reached out to Monday Night Football producer Jay Rothman, who was happy to explain that they collect more than five hours of tape for each of these shows and must, of course, cut that down to the most compelling possible 22 or 23 minutes (to account for the commercials). Additionally, they've made 10 of these this year, with 10 different quarterbacks. The Luck and Griffin ones were just the first two to air. They don't want each of them to feel exactly the same.

"In the case of RG3, he had such a great personality, the stuff he was giving us was compelling," Rothman said. "Each of the shows has its own personality and feel, and I think at the end of the RG3 one, fans got a sense of what the kid was all about. In the body of the storytelling, you get a sense of the kid -- his personality, his smarts, all of that."

The important thing to remember is that Griffin was put through the same X-and-O paces by Gruden as Luck was. That stuff just didn't make it on-air. But if you really want to see it, you will get your chance.

Rothman told me that Gruden occasionally brings in a guest when he feels it's appropriate to the subject, and he invited former NFL quarterback (and Heisman Trophy winner and No. 1 pick) Vinny Testaverde in for the chalkboard portion of his time with Griffin. The producers are in the process of editing that portion of the session -- Griffin being grilled on Xs and Os by Gruden and Testaverde -- to air on a future edition of "NFL Live." So at some point in the future (I'll try my best to let you know when), you will be able to see that portion of Griffin's time with Gruden, if you're hungry for more.

Also, I'm going to take this chance to plug our programming some more. The Griffin show airs three more times this weekend and 29 more times total over the next month and a half. This is the full schedule of Gruden's QB camp programming, which will also feature eight more quarterbacks before it's all said and done. I'm enjoying them very much, and I hope you will too.

Giants-49ers: An early look-ahead

January, 16, 2012
1/16/12
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I am traveling for a good chunk of this day, as getting out of Green Bay on the morning after a playoff game is a challenge, so the blog may be a bit light depending on whether my plane is Wi Fi equipped. To keep you busy, here are some facts the good folks at ESPN Stats & Information sent us Sunday night regarding Sunday's NFC Championship Game between the New York Giants and the San Francisco 49ers.

We're No. 1: The starting quarterbacks in the game will be New York's Eli Manning, who was the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft in 2004, and San Francisco's Alex Smith, who was the No. 1 pick in the 2005 Draft. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, it's the second time in history that two No. 1 overall picks have faced each other in a conference championship, the first being the John Elway-Vinny Testaverde matchup in the 1998 AFC Championship Game.

Experience: This will be the 13th conference championship game for the 49ers, which is the third-most for any team. The Steelers have appeared in 15 and the Cowboys 14. It's the fifth conference championship game for the Giants, who are 4-0 all-time in this round, having won the NFC Championship Game in 1986, 1990, 2000 and 2007. They won the Super Bowl in all but one of those years -- 2000, when they lost to the Ravens.

Bay Area Blues: The Giants are 3-11 in San Francisco since 1980. That counts regular-season and playoff games. The 49ers are 19-8 all-time in home playoff games. A victory Sunday would tie them with the Steelers for the most home playoff wins of all time. But Manning got his fourth career playoff road win Sunday, tying him for the most ever by a quarterback. And Tom Coughlin got his sixth career playoff road win Sunday, which puts him one behind Tom Landry for the all-time record by a head coach.

Familiar foe: This is the eighth time the Giants and 49ers have met in the playoffs. That ties it with Giants-Bears and Cowboys-Rams as the most common playoff matchup of all time.

Cam Newton No. 3 on Steve Smith's list

December, 1, 2011
12/01/11
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Interesting story here about how Carolina receiver Steve Smith ranks the quarterbacks he has played with since coming into the league in 2001.

Delhomme
Delhomme
Testaverde
Testaverde
When you simply glance at the headline, you might think Smith is selling rookie Cam Newton short. Smith says Newton is No. 3 on his list.

But when you read Smith’s words and think about them, this one is not difficult to understand. Although all indications are that Newton and Smith have developed a very strong chemistry, Newton hasn’t been in the league for a full season.

He’s fared very well through the first 11 games. If Newton keeps doing what he’s been doing and Smith, who is under contract through 2012, stays healthy, the rankings could change. There already is no doubt Newton is the most physically talented quarterback the Panthers have had.

But Smith has a good memory, and that’s why he ranks Jake Delhomme at No. 1. I know a lot of Carolina fans were down on Delhomme as he left at the end of the 2009 season. But Delhomme had a nice overall career in Carolina and he had a strong bond with Smith.

The two were teammates from 2003 through 2009, and they shared a lot of big moments. But Smith’s pick at No. 2 is somewhat surprising, again on first glance.

Smith went with Vinny Testaverde. Although Testaverde was with the Panthers for a little more than half of the 2007 season, he was at a point in his career where he had a big impact on Smith.

When Delhomme went down with an elbow injury that season, backup David Carr didn’t work out. The Panthers lured Testaverde out of retirement and he quickly brought a strong presence and leadership skills to the locker room. At that point, Testaverde was more than willing to share the wisdom he had collected through the years.

Smith said he learned a lot from Testavrede, and still uses many of those lessons.

So, after you really think about it, it’s not all that surprising Smith ranked Newton third on his list. Smith was with Delhomme for a long time. Smith also benefitted greatly simply by being around Testaverde. Newton hasn’t been around long enough to have a lasting impact on Smith. At least not yet.

Plus, Smith is a pretty smart guy. Although he’s given Newton plenty of praise this season, it would be out of character and not a great idea for Smith to go ahead and put a rookie at No. 1.

Newton’s off to a very nice start, but there still is a lot of work to be done.
In this Insider postInsider, Football Outsiders takes a look at the 10 biggest oversights in NFL history. Basically, they’re looking at guys that started out with one team, didn’t do much of anything there and went on to greatness elsewhere.

Favre
Favre
Young
Young
Well, guess what? The No. 1 and No. 2 guys on the list come from teams that are now part of the NFC South.

Brett Favre came in at No. 1 and Steve Young is No. 2. Yep, I know it’s ancient history, but Favre and Young each spent a little time with teams now in the NFC South.

Favre was drafted by Atlanta and spent a year with the Falcons. It’s easy to look back and say the Falcons and then-coach Jerry Glanville made a huge mistake in trading away a guy who’s sure to be in the Hall of Fame. But that’s not really a fair way of looking at it. Fact is, Favre was wild in those days and has admitted he was out of control.

There are stories about the Falcons posting a security guard at his door so he wouldn’t sneak out the night before a game. There’s also the legendary story about Favre missing practice and telling Glanville it was because he was in a car accident.

Glanville’s response: "You are a car accident."

Favre put things together when he got Green Bay. But things were never going to work in Atlanta if Favre had stayed on the same path.

Saying the Bucs were flat-out wrong in giving up on Young after two ugly seasons isn’t right either. It just wasn’t the right place or the right time for Young to even have a chance. In the late 1980s, the Bucs were as dysfunctional a team as you’ll ever see. Young spent most Sunday’s running for his life because the Bucs couldn’t protect him.

They gave up on him and traded him to San Francisco, where he prospered after serving some time as Joe Montana’s backup. Tampa Bay turned around and drafted Vinny Testaverde as the franchise quarterback. Testaverde also had enormous talent, but could never get things going with the Bucs because there was so little talent.
Drew Brees Derick E. Hingle/US PresswireDrew Brees will need to separate himself from quarterbacks like Vinny Testaverde and Drew Bledsoe.
He already has thrown for 7,000 more yards than Terry Bradshaw, completed one fewer touchdown pass than George Blanda and won one more Super Bowl championship than Jim Kelly and Fran Tarkenton combined.

So they already should be carving Drew Brees from the shoulders up in Canton, Ohio, right? The quarterback of the New Orleans Saints could retire tomorrow and waltz straight to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in five years, correct?

Well, it’s not quite that easy. At least not yet.

Brees has 35,266 career passing yards. He should soar past Kelly in the first game of this season and should end the year somewhere pretty close to Johnny Unitas, who ranks No. 12 all-time with 40,238 passing yards.

If Brees throws 33 touchdown passes this season, the same number he threw last season, he’ll have 266 for his career. That number would put him in the top 10, just behind Joe Montana at 273.

If you’re putting up numbers like Unitas and Montana, shouldn’t you be an automatic Hall of Famer? Yes, if Brees had played in the same era as Unitas or Montana.

But times have changed, and if you don’t believe me, let me throw out three names: Vinny Testaverde, Drew Bledsoe and Kerry Collins. All three rank well ahead of Brees in career passing yards, and Collins might not be done yet. Bledsoe and Testaverde also rank ahead of Brees in career touchdown passes.

Bledsoe, Testaverde and Collins are pretty good quarterbacks, and their stats were helped by longevity. That’s not a bad attribute, but nobody is ever going to argue that Testaverde, Bledsoe or Collins belongs in the Hall of Fame.

What they represent is the middle ground of the last generation. Brees has to cross that -- and then some -- to assure himself a spot in Canton.

Testaverde had 46,233 career passing yards, which ranks seventh. Bledsoe is one spot behind him at 44,611 yards. Collins is No. 11 at 40,441 yards. Testaverde is No. 8 in career touchdowns with 275, and Bledsoe is No. 14 with 251.

As a member of this generation of quarterbacks, Brees has to go beyond the numbers of guys like that. The bar has been raised, and it’s still rising.

Assuming Brett Favre stays retired this time, he finished his career leading in passing yards (71,838) and touchdown passes (508). Then, you’ve got guys like Peyton Manning, who is 34, still going strong with 54,828 passing yards and 399 touchdowns and Tom Brady, who is 33, with 34,744 yards, 251 touchdowns and a handful of Super Bowl rings.

Manning and Brady are going to continue to increase their numbers, and Brees has to stay on a similar pace. I’ve had the honor to vote for the Hall of Fame twice, and I can assure you voters pay very close attention to a player's contemporaries. Brees isn’t going to get in simply by putting up numbers close to Testaverde, Collins and Bledsoe.

He’s got to stay somewhere close to Manning and Brady. It would help if Brees could avoid seasons like last year when he threw a career-high 22 interceptions and the Saints got bounced by Seattle in the first round of the playoffs.

I’m not trying to cast gloom on Brees’ Hall of Fame chances. I seriously think he’ll get there, but I’m just saying there’s some work left to be done.

Brees had some knee problems last season but still threw for 4,620 yards and 33 touchdowns. Those numbers are pretty comparable to an average of the two seasons before that.

Let’s assume the knee is healthy and say Brees goes out and plays four more seasons with numbers like that. It’s fairly realistic, as long as Sean Payton’s calling the plays, Marques Colston is catching the passes and Jahri Evans and Carl Nicks are blocking up front.

That would put Brees at 53,746 passing yards and 367 touchdown passes. That would put him fourth on the all-time passing yards list and fourth on the list of all-time touchdown passes, as they now stand.

That would be an automatic pass into Canton. Brees doesn’t even need to reach those numbers to get there. He just needs to move ahead of the middle-of-the-pack guys, and a few more playoff wins wouldn’t hurt. Brees is approaching the doors to Canton. He just needs to keep going straight up a few more steps.
Nice nugget from ESPN Stats & Information on multiple Heisman Trophy winners selected in the same draft and this one has big NFC South implications.

With Cam Newton and Mark Ingram both selected in the first round Thursday night, the 2011 draft marked just the seventh draft since 1967 in which more than one Heisman Trophy winner has entered the league in the same year.

Newton was picked No. 1 overall and he was college football’s Heisman Trophy winner last season. Ingram was taken at No. 28, after the Saints traded back into the first round to get him. Ingram won the Heisman in the 2009 college season.

The feat also happened in last year’s draft, when Sam Bradford and Tim Tebow both came with the trophy. Prior to that, Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart came in together in 2006.

Beyond that, there was a much bigger gap in the time frame. Desmond Howard and Ty Detmer came in the 1992 draft. Vinny Testaverde and Bo Jackson were picked in the 1987 draft. Herschel Walker and Doug Flutie were selected in 1985. Billy Sims and Charles White were drafted in 1980.

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