Commentary

The financial lessons of Philadelphia

Mailbag: The NFL's biggest trend, coaches' challenges and expanding rosters

Originally Published: November 28, 2012
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

With Tuesday's release of Jason Babin, the Philadelphia Eagles are breaking up their dream team -- a dream that turned into a nightmare.

What looked to be a great idea collapsed in mediocrity and is now an embarrassment. Great cap planning by an aggressive organization allowed the Eagles to jump into free agency in 2011 in the hopes of grabbing a championship. The Redskins and Cowboys were trying to do the same thing, but the league robbed them of $46 million of cap space in 2012 and 2013 for what was considered cap manipulation in an uncapped year.

Now, it's interesting to see the Eagles behind both teams in the standings.

Babin did his part to help in his first season. He had 18 sacks and earned a trip to the Pro Bowl, more than justifying his five-year, $28.3 million contract. Others haven't.

Cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha got $60 million over five years, but he has lost speed and coverage skills. Over 11 games, he has surrendered 27 completions for 552 yards and five touchdowns. Only 10 corners have allowed more yards. Last season, he gave up 21 completions for 314 yards and four touchdowns the entire season, which wasn't bad but the defense played too much zone.

Defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins has been a solid interior lineman for the Eagles. He had 5.5 sacks in his first season as an Eagle in 2011, but over the past month, his playing time has dropped from the 40-50 plays per game range into the 20s. He got a five-year, $30.3 million deal.

Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie came to the Eagles in the Kevin Kolb trade and has been OK. He gave up 18 completions last season. He has given up 29 completions for 494 yards this season.

Then there's Michael Vick, who got a six-year, $102 million deal to make a Super Bowl run.

If there is a lesson to be learned, it's that gambling that much money on 30-year-old players is risky. Older players have a shorter window to win. Andy Reid made a miscalculation by putting three older starters with first-time defensive coordinator Juan Castillo, who had moved over from the offensive line.

Still this nightmare won't stop future teams from making such gambles. The Eagles thought they had the quarterback in Vick. They had the cap room and the money. They were trying to keep their fan base excited.

With an 8-8 first year and a 3-8 disaster this season, it wouldn't surprise me if Vick, Jenkins and Asomugha were all be gone by next season.

It's sad.

From the inbox

[+] EnlargeJim Schwartz
AP Photo/Mel EvansEmotions often come into play when a coach challenges a play.

Q: Can you explain the logic that the Competition Committee used when implementing the rule about baring coaches' challenges and assessing a 15-yd penalty when a coach throws a red flag on a scoring play? You know the NFL is taking heat over such a lame-brain rule when they're considering rescinding the rule during the season. When was the last time the CC rescinded a rule during the season? Has it ever been done?

Fred in Tampa, Fla.

A: The league is trying to move more replays to the booth. They want to take some of the pressure off the coaches, who reluctantly agreed to the challenges to get replay.

The thinking is not to have a coach challenge a play that is going to be reviewed automatically, as all turnovers and scoring plays are. What the committee didn't take into account was the emotion of the moment. Coaches want bad plays overturned. They reach for the flag for fear the next play is going to happen before there is a replay.

What will be fixed is still having the play reviewed if a coach challenges an automatically reviewable play. The league may still keep the 15-yard penalty, but all will be discussed over the next few weeks. Things could change in the playoffs, which would be a positive.

Q: As it relates to the Jim Schwartz penalty, is there a hole in the rule? What's to stop coaches in Gary Kubiak's position from throwing the flag? In fact, why WOULDN'T they throw it in similar situations? The play can't be reviewed, your touchdown stands (that would have been overturned), and you kick off from your 20. If this is indeed a hole in the rule, I would question whether the league could wait until after the year to change the rule.

Rick in Middletown, Conn.

A: If you are Kubiak, logic would be the reason you don't throw the flag. It's not as though you are going to eliminate the play. Plus, this would be judged as a calculated strategy to try to show up officials. You can't have two challenges on one play. The coaches are warned before each game not to challenge a play that is going to be replayed by the booth official.

Though a scenario such as that hasn't been tried, I don't see it happening. First, Kubiak would lose a challenge that he might need later in the game. Second, he'd leave his team vulnerable to a penalty.

Q: I think it is time for the league to not only expand the 53-man roster, but to consider expanding the game day 46-man roster as well. Several factors make this the right move. Teams are more conservative than ever in handling injuries, trying not to put a player back on the field until he is ready. As a separate issue, the concussion policy of the league also forces teams to be conservative with this particular type of injury.

Lastly, the schedule, which includes frequent Sunday/Monday night games for some teams, and Thursday night games once per season for all teams, causes issues for teams getting players healthy enough to play. Dallas has three defensive starters on IR, and six out of their seven inactive choices for the Thanksgiving game were essentially made for them as they had too many players that were too injured to play. What do you think? I think increasing the roster size to 55 with a 48 man game day roster may be appropriate.

Mike in Saratoga, N.Y.

A: Voices on many teams would agree with you, but old-school organizations would try to block such a move. While it would make sense to have extra bodies available to handle special teams and provide extra bodies, these teams would worry about competitive disadvantages.

Let's say the 49ers, which have been a healthy team for the past two years, have 53 healthy players. Let's say the Jaguars, which are 1-10, have five guys who can't play because of injuries and don't have that deep of a roster. The 49ers would be deeper and better, and it could promote more of a blowout with their advantage. Agree or disagree, but that's the thinking.

Q: I watched the Bucs-Panthers game. Josh Freeman (and his receivers) played terribly for the first three quarters. Then, they started running a hurry-up offense and Freeman came alive. It seems that most QBs get hot when they're running a hurry-up or no-huddle offense. It makes the defense play more simple packages and tires them out. Why don't teams run the hurry-up offense more? Is it too hard for most quarterbacks to run it or do coaches just not have enough faith in their QBs to run it?

Brandon in Los Angeles

A: More teams are running a no-huddle offense this season, and more teams will run it next season. Over the past two seasons, the percentage of no-huddle plays on teams has doubled. The only thing holding some teams back is having young quarterbacks who need time to incorporate the no-huddle into their routine.

Ryan Tannehill and Andrew Luck have already shown they are comfortable in no-huddle. The other rookie and second-year quarterbacks will start to use it more next year and the year after. Using the no-huddle with more three- and four-receiver sets takes 3-4 defenses out of the three-man line and puts it in their sub packages. No-huddle is one of the big trends that escalated this season.

Q: I've never understood why the NFL makes a team kick the extra point even if the game is over score-wise (for example, Packers-Seahawks this year). The defense cannot recover a blocked kick and return it for two points like in the NCAA (another rule I don't understand), that may make a difference in the score. Other than influencing the gambling line, kicking the extra point when the game is over is pointless. Could you explain both rule quirks?

Grant in St. Petersburg, Fla.

A: The NFL would never do anything to help betting, but it has to have betting in mind during the four quarters of a game. You don't have that problem in overtime. The game is over once a team gets a touchdown in overtime. But at the end of the game in regulation, the NFL believes it owes it to the fans to have that last kick. I don't see that changing.

Q: Twice in a couple of weeks, a Steelers quarterback lost the ball while in the process of throwing a pass and the officials allowed the play to continue, allowing the defense to recover the ball and return it for a touchdown.

Against Kansas City, the fumble ruling was rightly reversed to an incomplete pass. Against the Giants, the ruling was incorrectly (as believed by most) not reversed and allowed to stand a defensive touchdown. In another game, I saw another example of the officials allowing this type of play to continue instead of blowing the play dead as an incomplete pass. Do you believe officials are intentionally allowing any borderline play involving a potential turnover to continue because they know the play, by rule, is now automatically reviewed?

Eric in Phoenix

A: I hope the officials will be slow with their whistles. I was at the Oakland-Cincinnati game and watched a quick whistle cost the Raiders an easy touchdown. An inadvertent whistle shouldn't happen. Officials should let the play conclude and worry about a replay later. It's better to have the play happen and reverse it if it's wrong.

More than 10 years ago, the officials had too many inadvertent whistles that cost big plays. They've done a better job over the past decade. Officials shouldn't stand in the way of a play by blowing a whistle too quickly. And once that whistle blows, players should stop their efforts for safety reasons.

Q: I have more appreciation for the quality of Jay Cutler after watching a lesser-caliber quarterback play behind the same offensive line, one which gets manhandled on every play. I have always liked Cutler and think he is a good player, but curious how you think some of the "elite" quarterbacks would perform behind that line and how you compare quarterbacks that play their careers behind good versus bad lines?

Brian in London

A: Elite quarterbacks with quick releases and quick decision-making ability can survive. Peyton Manning is a classic example. In some years, his line was good. In others, it wasn't. Manning has a great ability to get rid of the football quickly and avoid the hit. Cutler can get rid of the ball quickly, but he is a gunslinger who will try to hold onto the ball a little longer to make a play. That makes it tougher on him.

Q: You mention the concern about a slowing pace of play quite often. Why doesn't the NFL shorten commercial breaks, or put in a 35 second play clock? I'd rather watch a replay than a horrible Buffalo Wild Wings commercial.

Devin in Australia

A: The networks won't allow shorten commercial breaks because someone has to pay the bills for the rights fees. What will be interesting is how the no-huddle affects the number of plays in games. The Patriots can get between 70 to 90 plays in a game with their quick no-huddle. Other teams might copy that when they have the right quarterback and proper talent to run it. It will also be interesting to see if more commercial breaks will be added once the rights fees double in 2014 and thereafter.

John Clayton

NFL senior writer