Commentary

Smaller window for position battles

Because new CBA calls for fewer practices, coaches' jobs even more challenging

Originally Published: July 23, 2012
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

Russell Wilson/Matt Flynn/Tavaris JacksonAP Photo/US Presswire/Getty ImagesRookie Russell Wilson, left, free-agent pickup Matt Flynn and incumbent Tarvaris Jackson are all vying for the Seahawks' starting quarterback job.

Timing is everything, and the current CBA will alter the ways teams handle position battles.

Under the new training-camp-lite CBA, coaches don't have the luxury of two-a-day practices. They have to give players a day off after five consecutive days of practice. That doesn't leave a lot of time to handle major battles at certain positions.

The most interesting battle to watch is the three-way quarterback fight in Seattle. Tarvaris Jackson, Matt Flynn and Russell Wilson battled equally in OTAs and in minicamp.

Competition is great, but part of this year's training camp is getting that quarterback ready for the opener with fewer practices to get the offense to respond.

The Seahawks have only 12 practices before their first preseason game. The training camp portion of the preseason contains only 15 practices. There are only five more practices over the final two weeks of the preseason.

That's 20 practices and four preseason games. Having good competition at quarterback is one thing, but at some point, Carroll and other coaches around the league need to focus on getting that starting quarterback ready for the opener.

Normally, coaches like to name their starting quarterback after three preseason games. With the limits on practice time, coaches might name their starter after two weeks, giving the starter the third preseason game to work with the offense before sitting out the fourth preseason game to protect against injury.

But it's not out of the question for some coaches to use that starter in the fourth preseason game because his time is so limited with the rest of the starters. The risk of that, though, might not be smart.

In 2011, coaches found ways of getting their teams ready for the regular season without the benefit of an offseason program, earning their pay. The new system, though, will be equally challenging.

From the inbox

Q: With a potential suspension coming for Dez Bryant, a seemingly injury-prone Miles Austin and uncertainty everywhere else in the Dallas receiving corps, would the Cowboys be wise to try and pick up a veteran wide receiver before training camp begins?

Jeff in Tulsa, Okla.

A: The answer is yes but they don't have to move quickly. If Bryant is suspended, the Cowboys would be devastated at wide receiver. It's the same thing if Austin suffers an injury. They have only two legitimate wide receivers unless you believe totally in Kevin Ogletree. That said, I think they will be wide receiver shopping during camp. Laurent Robinson was the perfect No. 3 wide receiver, but he snagged more than $6 million a year from the Jaguars this offseason. The Cowboys need to find another Laurent Robinson.

Q: I'm telling you now you better jump on the Bears' bandwagon. If you think they were impressive at 7-3 after 10 games last season, wait until they are 9-1 or 10-0.

Byron in Decatur, Ill.

A: I'm already there. I have them making the playoffs as a wild card over the Detroit Lions because I think they had a better offseason than the Lions. They added more weapons on offense, and that will help. I'm not ready to put them over the Packers. The Packers have the deepest receiving corps in football and they have Aaron Rodgers. For the Bears, I'm all-in.

Q: I heard Amani Toomer say he believes Tony Romo is better than Eli Manning because of his numbers and his numbers are only slightly better than Eli's. But Romo plays at least eight games in a dome. Eli plays eight in the Meadowlands; could this be the difference? Could you somehow find what Eli's numbers are in a dome?

William in Lakewood, N.J.

A: After looking at the numbers, the dome factor might not be pronounced enough to show a difference. I still contend the difference is Manning has won eight playoff games in the two years he helped to take the Giants to two Super Bowl victories. Romo has one playoff win during his career. Since 2009, when the Cowboys started playing in a dome, Romo has completed 67.1 percent of 648 passes for an average of 266.85 yards per game. He has 40 touchdown passes and 14 interceptions in those 20 domed games. Manning averaged 367.3 yards a game at home over those three years, completing 61.8 percent of his passes. He threw 76 touchdown passes and 49 interceptions at home. In seven domed games for Manning over that stretch, he completed 62.5 percent of his passes for 275.71 yards a game. Romo completed 63.7 percent of his passes in road games and averaged 258.05 yards.

Q: I'm trying to thoroughly understand how the NFL salary cap works after the new CBA. I'm not exactly following everything with the rollover, adjustments and the ability to spend what seems to be in upwards of $20-plus million over the $120.6 million cap set for 2012.

Nick in Philadelphia

A: Simple explanation. Up until this year, any unspent salary-cap money went in the owners' pockets. There was no carryover. Starting this year, the team has the option to carry over unspent cap money from the previous season. The Eagles, for example, had $17.8 million of unspent cap money at the end of last season. They elected to carry it over to this year. It took their $120.6 million cap to $138.4 million. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers carried over $23.5 million and improved their cap to $144.1 million. Of course, if all that money is spent this year, there will be no carryover.

Q: What holes do you expect the Browns to address in next year's draft?

Jordan in Washington, D.C.

A: With the additions of Trent Richardson, Brandon Weeden and Josh Gordon, the Browns can switch over to defense in next year's draft. They may look at linebackers. They will continue to bulk up the defensive line. They might have to replace Sheldon Brown at corner, since he's 33. They do need Greg Little to step up this season to keep them out of the wide receiver market for another draft.

[+] EnlargeGreg Little
Andrew Weber/US PressiwireThe Browns need Greg Little to emerge as a legitimate wideout.

Q: Is there a way to get around the draft to effectively choose your own future?

James in New Orleans

A: No. I guess a player can sit out three years after his last year of college eligibility and see if he can get into the league that way, but that's a trap. The league is set up to use the draft as the entry into pro football. I guess a good player could play baseball for three years and then try to get into pro football, but what would those three years in a different sport do to improve his football bargaining clout? He'd be 25 or older and have been away from the game for three years, which would devalue his stock.

Q: With all the trouble that the Lions have had and now Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant yet again having issues, why doesn't the NFL say if you have a troubled past you have to clean that up and act like a man before you're allowed to be drafted?

Grant in Atlanta

A: That's a team's decision, not a league decision. If a player has a troubled past, many teams remove that name from their draft boards. But blocking a player with a troubled past from coming into the league until he cleans up his act would be discriminating. It would expose the league to a lawsuit.

Q: I'm old enough to recall a time when players took offseason jobs in insurance or car sales in order to make a reasonable wage for a year. It strikes me that today, with a salary cap in place, a player's personal greed debilitates his team from paying other players, potentially making that team less competitive. The Drew Brees situation comes to mind: a QB demanding more in salary than the accumulated salaries of his starting offensive mates. I'm all for being paid handsomely, but doesn't such a large salary have implications in retaining other players, key or not, and ultimately affect team strength as well as potentially ruffle feathers of teammates? Wouldn't some of these guys better serve their team's chances of winning -- and arguably their own personal success -- by taking a bit less?

Kurt in Traverse City, Mich.

A: Greed isn't necessarily good for a player in a team concept, but there are a few more dynamics to the equation. By Brees going to $20 million instead of $19 million, it moves the top price for quarterbacks to a higher level and helps the next franchise quarterback looking for a contract. Remember, Brees works with the NFL Players Association. Plus, his demands didn't destroy the Saints' payroll. He was even willing to accept lower cap numbers in the first few years of his contract than the team was offering. That extra room allows more players to stay together on the team. It's a business from the team's side but it's also a business from the player's side. As you would have to admit, it's now big business.

John Clayton

NFL senior writer