- John Clayton, NFL senior writer
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With the success of Colin Kaepernick, Russell Wilson and Robert Griffin III, the question is whether the running quarterback will be the long-term future of the NFL.
The 2012 playoffs open a great forum for debate. At the moment, defenses don't have the answer for the pistol or read option. The NFL talks about defenseless receivers; the Green Bay Packers were a defenseless defense against Kaepernick on Saturday night. I was stunned the Packers were so ill-prepared and couldn't come up with more adjustments as Kaepernick gashed them for big runs.
I think these running-quarterback options will have a little bit more longevity than the Wildcat, but there has to be a limit. The Washington Redskins learned that in the wild-card round when they subjected Griffin to another pounding and ended up losing him to a torn ACL and LCL.
What is unique about some of the young quarterbacks who entered the league in the past two years is that they can throw accurately along with being able to run. But don't mistake yourself into thinking the day of the pocket passer is over. As quarterbacks get older, they can't run as well and have to settle into being pocket passers. If they can't make the transition, they lose their jobs.
Defenses will figure out better ways to stop the read option, but it takes time. It's no different from how college teams figured out how to slow the wishbone. A few wishbone teams still succeed in college, but it's not a recipe for winning big.
In the NFL, the quarterback is too important to put in jeopardy because of an overdependency on the running game. Wilson was durable this season because he is low to the ground and able to slide. Remember, Wilson was a baseball player. Kaepernick is bigger and can take hits, but he's still new to starting.
You look at RG III and wonder if his career will follow that of Michael Vick. Because Vick takes so many hits, he usually misses at least three games a year. With two knee reconstructions in four years, Griffin might have a shorter career. After all, these injuries are to his legs, and that's where he is so much better than other quarterbacks.
The pistol works in the NFL, but teams need to use it judiciously.
From the inbox
Q: There has been a lot of talk about Bruce Arians and Mike Smith as Coach of the Year. How is John Fox not the favorite? Fox had the Broncos on an 11-game win streak and secured the No. 1 seed.
Joe in Sacramento, Calif.
A: Fox is a viable candidate, but it's hard to top what the Colts did by going from 2-14 to 11-5. Arians did an unbelievable job taking over a team that could have fallen apart when it lost Chuck Pagano because of leukemia. He developed Andrew Luck, who threw for more than 4,000 yards. The Colts had 36 new players on their roster. This was one of the best turnarounds in recent years. Arians had my vote.
Q: With all of the salary cap room the Bengals have, do you see Mike Brown making any moves in free agency to boost the offense? Will there be any quality slot receivers available? I think hopes were Jordan Shipley would be the next Wes Welker and that was a bust. Also, looking at who is going to be available in the draft, what direction do you think the team needs to go?
Roger in Sioux Falls, S.D.
A: Despite their massive amount of cap room, I don't see the Bengals going crazy in free agency. I like the direction of the team. The Bengals have their slot guy -- Mohamed Sanu. He has moved inside, and Marvin Jones will work the outside on the other side of A.J. Green. That's a pretty good three-receiver set. They also need to save some money to start re-signing some of their top young players in 2014 and '15. First, they have to sign DT Geno Atkins to a long-term deal and get a deal done with Michael Johnson at defensive end. In free agency this year, their focus will be at cornerback and linebacker. They have a good quarterback (Andy Dalton) and a good, young roster to build on. With the locker room being positive, it would be good to invest more on their own players than go outside and pay free agents more than their current players. Ask the Philadelphia Eagles about that.
Q: Do you see a possible trade between the Jets and 49ers in the future? Mark Sanchez needs a place to begin a new career and so does Alex Smith. Smith is everything the Jets need, a game manager who does not throw many INTs. Sanchez is a starting QB who needs to start fresh as a backup.
John in Dahlonega, Ga.
A: I can't see Jim Harbaugh wanting that deal. First, he wouldn't want Sanchez's contract. Second, he wouldn't want Sanchez as a backup. Harbaugh likes developing his own quarterbacks. He has put his stock into Kaepernick. Having a backup making more than $10 million a year doesn't make much sense. Don't see that one happening.
Q: With all the firings and hirings going on right now, whom do you think is more important to the success of an NFL team -- the head coach or GM? Would you rather have an average GM and an extraordinary head coach, or an average coach and an extraordinary GM?
Skipper in Seattle
A: The best structure is to have the general manager pick the players and the coach develop them. A coach lives in the day-to-day world of getting a team ready for games and for the season. A general manager has to pick the players for the present and future. With a tight salary cap, it's important to have forward thinkers, and that's where the general manager is so important. Think about the draft. The coach is so consumed with the day-to-day operation, he can't start to study the draft until January or February. General managers can go to games, meet with college coaches and get to know the players. A head coach doesn't have that true chance. Ultimately, it's the quarterbacks who determine the success or failure of a franchise. Although there have been successful coaches who have run franchises, it doesn't happen often.
Q: As a Jets fan, I obviously would like to see their cap situation figured out. I know it would help if we don't bring back guys like Bart Scott, Calvin Pace, Bryan Thomas and Eric Smith, to name a few. Then I read that if we did that, we'd have only 10 starters under contract. Therefore, I think we should try to trade those players in order to have more players under contract. Maybe the Saints would be a good option because their defense is terrible, and the players mentioned above would make New Orleans at least a little better.
Josh in Washington, D.C.
A: The Saints have their own cap problems and will have to let some defensive players go themselves. The Jets are in cap hell. I still contend they will get rid of Sanchez and that will make life even tougher. What the Jets have to do this year is clean up their cap, take a step backward and hope to get better in 2014. It's going to be a tough season.
Q: My Lions have more than 20 free agents and no cap room to speak of. Even if they find a way to keep Cliff Avril and Louis Delmas, there's still a serious lack of playmakers on defense. General manager Martin Mayhew needs to hit a home run and maybe a couple of doubles in the draft. Whom do you see them taking at No. 5?
Will in Detroit
A: They need help at cornerback and probably a defensive end to replace Avril. There is no way they can afford a second franchise tag on him with their cap situation. The good news is that it's a decent defensive draft up top, and that's where the Lions will focus. That would put them in the market for cornerback Dee Milliner of Alabama and possibly defensive ends Bjoern Werner of Florida State and Damontre Moore of Texas A&M.
Q: I just don't get it. What was Mike Shanahan thinking by leaving RG III in the game after the first quarter? He risked the game, the rest of the playoffs if the Redskins had beaten Seattle and the future of the organization?
John in St. Petersburg, Fla.
A: This has been a much-discussed subject, and clearly Shanahan has taken the heat for leaving RG III on the field. I can't fault him for leaving him in when Dr. James Andrews didn't indicate the knee wasn't healthy enough to play. Shanahan kept looking over to Andrews, and Andrews watched RG III move and thought he was OK. My big problem was not changing the offense. It's one thing to see a player struggling with his leg injury, but I don't see why the Redskins didn't become more conservative with their quarterback. Running him wasn't right. He was clearly ailing. Now the Redskins can only hope Griffin will be ready for the 2013 regular-season opener.
Q: With the rather weak draft class of rookie QBs and only one proven veteran in free agency (Alex Smith), I have been a little surprised we haven't heard more about the Patriots' Ryan Mallett. He has a huge arm, and although didn't have gaudy stats in the preseason, I thought he looked good enough for teams such as Kansas City and Arizona to take a closer look.
Michael in Kansas City, Mo.
A: Don't forget about Vick. He's also expected to be released or traded much like Smith. I keep hearing that the Cleveland Browns might take a look at Mallett. The Browns' new management doesn't appear to be sold on Brandon Weeden. Though there is no guarantee Weeden will be out as the starter, the Browns will definitely study the market.