Should Broncos fans trust Elway’s QB eye? Here’s why they should worry.

With draft success sparse in Denver between 2013-17, the Broncos finally appear to have formed a young core capable of supplementing their handful of Super Bowl 50 holdovers. The Broncos’ projected starting lineup is probably the franchise’s most talented since its 2015 championship campaign.

The 2018 draft class and undrafted free-agent RB Phillip Lindsay give the four Super Bowl-era starters left –- Von Miller, Chris Harris, Emmanuel Sanders and Derek Wolfe –- reason for optimism after the past two seasons shoved the Broncos off the national radar. Rookie head coach Vic Fangio’s credentials dwarf Vance Joseph’s, new offensive line coach Mike Munchak is one of the NFL’s premier assistants and additions Kareem Jackson and Bryce Callahan help form one of the league’s better-looking secondaries.

Potential enhancements notwithstanding, the Broncos’ years-long headliner issue remains. As such, it is difficult to see them escaping the lower rungs of the NFL’s middle class. The absolute best-case scenario? A Joe Flacco-fronted wild-card season. The more realistic outcome? Something closer to the Broncos’ post-Peyton Manning slates, when the Broncos went 9-7, 5-11 and 6-10.

Denver’s 2019 operation looks to feature a low ceiling for a few key reasons, the most visible being Flacco’s track record. And the Broncos’ longer-term route back to relevance involves notable impediments. 

In nine years running the team, general manager John Elway has invested in four veteran quarterbacks and four rookies, with the intentions of one day starting them or reluctantly having to do so. Brock Osweiler (a 2012 second-round pick and 2017 free-agency addition) counts twice. This era’s non-Manning QBs -– Osweiler, Trevor Siemian, Case Keenum and Paxton Lynch -– and several non-quarterback draft misfires threw the Broncos off course, with the decision to take Lynch at No. 26 overall in 2016 doubling as one of the bigger turning points in franchise history.

Elway’s Flacco-Drew Lock combination approach, in theory, stabilizes the Broncos in the short term while providing future upside. This formula obviously could work. But it has a better chance to fall short of helping the Broncos capitalize on their somewhat promising roster.

The Broncos are, with straight faces, counting on Flacco to recapture his age-29 form . He is now 34. In 2014, under then-Ravens offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak, Flacco started two playoff games after compiling a career-best 68.2 QBR figure (ninth that season) in the future Broncos head coach’s system. New Denver OC Rich Scangarello’s offense is derived from Kubiak’s. This plan’s rather notable caveats? Flacco, since recording his quarterback-record seventh road playoff win in 2014, has suffered a torn ACL (2015), dealt with back (2017) and hip (2018) problems, has not cleared seven yards per attempt in a season or posted a QBR figure higher than 19th.

This latest Elway swing connecting would represent an incredible comeback and make Scangarello (two years as an NFL position coach, three seasons of Division I-FBS work) an unusual head coaching candidate. Elway attributed some of Flacco’s recent woes to the Ravens’ lack of offensive weaponry. That is not a flawed theory, but the Broncos’ skill-position group may limit Elway’s latest stopgap passer.

Emmanuel Sanders, eight months post-Achilles tear, is now 32. The former Pro Bowler likely will not return completely to his pre-injury version. Denver’s 2018 offense cratered (13.3 points per game) without Sanders in its final four games (all losses). This one is counting on a bevy of second-year cogs –- running backs Lindsay and Royce Freeman and wideouts Courtland Sutton and DaeSean Hamilton — elevating Flacco. The Broncos selected Noah Fant in the first round, but tight ends are notoriously slow developers. Just one (Evan Engram) exceeded 575 receiving yards as a rookie this decade. Elway’s assessment of his own skill corps may be off. Envisioning Flacco success without prolific chain-moving help is difficult.

Another troublesome component of Denver’s potential road back: the timeline issue Lock creates. Fangio’s early Lock analysis underscores how committed the team is to Flacco. Lock sitting throughout 2019, as the Broncos hope he will, would be atypical. Of the 36 quarterbacks selected in the first or second rounds from 2010-18, only seven have failed to start at least two games as rookies. Given Flacco’s trajectory, Lock probably joins the majority of his 2010s predecessors.

Barring a Johnny Manziel- or Christian Hackenberg-esque rookie year, Lock will also likely deter the Broncos from drafting one of the highly touted QBs expected to be available in 2020. The Broncos, then, stand to be tethered to an injury-prone passer on the way out and a No. 42 overall pick. For a franchise that saw the Lynch mistake accelerate this descent and prevent Elway from making a play for Patrick Mahomes a year later, bypassing a higher-touted QB class because of Lock (56.9 completion percentage at Missouri) is a gamble.

Since 2000, 21 quarterbacks have been chosen in Round 2 . Drew Brees became an all-time great. The rest of the viable-starter list includes Andy Dalton, Colin Kaepernick, Derek Carr and Jimmy Garoppolo. Based on the Broncos’ run of miscalculations at this position, would you bet on Lock joining this group or the larger one that includes Osweiler, Brian Brohm, Quincy Carter and Co.?

Elway’s attempts to prop up his long-productive defense with passable QBs failed, and that unit’s cornerstones (Miller and Harris) are now north of 30. The Broncos’ past three-plus years look a lot like the pre-Deshaun Watson Texans, who trotted out four below-average starting QBs from 2013-16. It took a first-round quarterback investment to (sort of) revitalize the Texans. But Houston’s Osweiler- and Brian Hoyer-piloted playoff teams benefited from poor AFC South competition. The Chiefs and Chargers give the Broncos a vicious divisional docket — a primary reason this latest reboot could be inconsequential.

Elway earned the job security he has enjoyed, but he should be about out of chances to fix this. If the Flacco-to-Lock baton pass unfolds like Elway’s other attempts to install a Manning successor, the Hall of Fame quarterback’s eye for QB talent should raise concerns. History shows the odds being against this latest solution reviving the Broncos.

By Sam Robinson

Why under-the-radar Falcons and these sleepers could surprise in 2019

A few recent Super Bowl entrants barely resemble their ultimate-game versions. The Seahawks, Panthers and Broncos hover at different retooling stages, well off the level of their championship-caliber teams. Another franchise that claimed a mid-2010s conference title isn’t far from its 21st-century apex but is being treated as one whose contention window is nearly shut.

Bovada views nine NFC teams as more likely to win Super Bowl LIV than the Falcons. While the franchise that won the 2016 NFC Championship should not be regarded as a 2019 favorite, based on events last season, its current iteration looks much closer to contender than lower-middle class operation.

Slotted ahead of the Falcons entering training camps: the Packers, Vikings, Seahawks and 49ers. Oddsmakers are giving a pass to a few 2018 underachievers, and an overachieving Seattle outfit, while not affording the Falcons (plus-1500 to win the NFC) the benefit of the doubt. A playoff team in two of the past three years, and one that lost three starting defenders in September of last season’s 7-9 slog, the Falcons feature fewer questions than most of their mid-level NFC brethren.

Calvin Ridley gave the 2018 team three 800-plus-yard receivers; one of the better prospects in a loaded ’18 draft, he should improve this season. This Falcons edition employs a scarier aerial corps than Atlanta’s Super Bowl LI team. The Falcons will have Devonta Freeman back after a 14-carry season, and first-round offensive linemen (right guard Chris Lindstrom, right tackle Kaleb McGary) join stalwarts Alex Mack and Jake Matthews. The offensive coordinator of the No. 1-seeded 2012 Falcons, perhaps a pass interference no-call from Super Bowl XLVII, is the returning Dirk Koetter, an upgrade from ill-fitting Steve Sarkisian.  The Falcons’ Freeman-less offense still finished sixth offensively. Few NFC attacks can compete with this version’s firepower.

Of course, the Falcons are minimized on preseason radars because of their defense, which finished 25th in points allowed last season. But it was battling uphill, with safeties Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen missing 15 and 13 games, respectively. Atlanta’s top defender, middle linebacker Deion Jones, played in just six. Football Outsiders’ injury stat, adjusted games lost, ranked the Falcons’ defense 25th.

In 2017, this Falcons core finished eighth in points allowed. A healthier Atlanta defense muzzled the Rams in Sean McVay’s playoff debut and held the Eagles to 15 points in the divisional round. GM Thomas Dimitroff clearly believes in his defense, given his top outside defensive investment this off-season (an Adrian Clayborn reunion, for just $750,000 guaranteed) and his extensions for Jones and Grady Jarrett this week. With no defenders chosen before Round 4, the Falcons may be banking too much on holdovers. But the Jones-, Jarrett- and Desmond Trufant-fronted lineup does not need to become a top-10 crew for the Falcons to contend again. It just can’t sink as low as it did last season. 

Fourteen starters remain from Atlanta’s Super Bowl LI team. With the exception of 34-year-old quarterback Matt Ryan, only one (Mack, 33) is north of 31. This nucleus has not reached its expiration date.

Spearheading a weakened team, Ryan (ninth in 2018 QBR) threw a quiet 35 touchdown passes and seven interceptions. If Drew Brees’ late-season valley was an indicator of a decline, the Falcons will lead the beneficiaries. Even if Brees continues his historic path and keeps the Saints atop the NFC South, Atlanta will almost certainly vie for a playoff spot.

The Falcons do not profile as 2019’s only candidates to shake off depressing seasons.

Of the NFC’s middle tier, the Vikings (plus-1200 to win the NFC) have balance their peers do not. They have staked their immediate future on GM Rick Spielman’s early- and mid-2010s draft picks (and Kirk Cousins justifying the expensive roster). In hiring Gary Kubiak as de facto offensive czar, the Vikings are going all-out to make their unprecedented quarterback contract work. Cousins learned the NFL through the Shanahan-Kubiak scheme, which produced McVay’s. Cousins set Redskins records in McVay’s offense. This, and a better offensive line, stands to increase Cousins’ comfort level.

A veteran Viking defense (top 10 in points and yards last season) has not crossed the “aging” threshold. It should remain capable of helping the team to the playoffs. 

No team replaces wideouts like the Steelers, who will be fairly motivated given the events of the past 10 months. It is certainly possible Antonio Brown, now a Raider, catalyzed Ben Roethlisberger’s mid-career metamorphosis into a statistically dominant passer. If the 16th-year quarterback maintains most of his Brown years’ form, the Steelers — bolstered by a legitimate commitment to restocking their long-unreliable defense and still carrying a stacked offensive line — boast a stronger roster than 2018’s. If Pittsburgh can reasonably navigate the Brown void, its cornerstone talents have obviously proven more than Cleveland’s. 

Neither the Vikings nor Steelers have a Saints-level obstacle in their way, but both are short on time. If they flounder this season, it will mean sobering self-evaluations and likely the end of their nuclei’s contention stretches. It is fair to wonder how much time the Falcons have left, too.

The franchise’s best players –- Ryan and Julio Jones –- are in their primes but won’t be for too much longer. Not making a serious run this season will probably mean head coach Dan Quinn’s ouster, after the off-season canning of all three coordinators. The fallout from another bungled season would mean chances increase the Ryan-Julio-Quinn era will be remembered for the most crushing defeat in NFL history, in Super Bowl LI against New England.

Despite scant references to their existence on 2019 sports debate shows, the Falcons have plenty of tools to return to relevance. Too much talent and experience reside on this roster to believe Atlanta will allow this run to end meekly. Bet on the Falcons playing a key role in shaping the NFC playoff seedings this season.

By: Sam Robinson

Ezekiel Elliott to hold out of training camp without a new deal?

Ezekiel Elliott and the Dallas Cowboys could be headed toward a contract impasse that keeps him out of training camp.

Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk wrote Monday that, “Per a league source, Elliott has privately said that he will hold out of training camp unless he gets a new contract.”

The Los Angeles Chargers are already facing a similar threat. Melvin Gordon has declared through his agent that he will demand a trade and could hold out into the season if he doesn’t get a long-term extension worthy of his production.

Elliott is clearly one of the NFL’s best running backs and is more valuable than the $3.85 million he’s due to make in 2019 without a new deal.

Sitting out of training camp does makes sense, especially if Elliott believes the Cowboys will eventually grant him his new deal. Running backs already deal with tremendous wear and tear, and it’s not like Elliott doesn’t know the offense. There are penalties to missing camp days, but it stands to reason Dallas could waive those in this situation.

However, his situation isn’t as simple as all that. The Cowboys have other players they might see as higher priorities who are also looking to get paid big-time money — quarterback Dak Prescott, defensive back Byron Jones and receiver Amari Cooper being atop that list.

Then there’s the looming legal battle with a Las Vegas security guard, who said he will sue Elliott over an incident at a concert earlier this year.

Needless to say, this game of contract chicken will be fascinating to watch unfold.

Originally posted on Sportsnaut  |  By Jesse Reed  |  Last updated 7/15/19

Why 2019 is so crucial for Panthers’ Cam Newton

The lengthening of superstar NFL quarterback careers in recent years has thrown out of whack the perspective that once informed where QB are in their arc, and how much time they have left.

In 2019, two NFL starting quarterbacks (Tom Brady and Drew Brees) will be over 40, and at least eight of them — 25 percent of the league’s presumptive Week 1 starters — will be at least 34 years old. Of those, only Eli Manning appears to show signs of decline or readiness to retire.

Once upon a time, a quarterback turning 30, as Cam Newton did last month, might have seemed like a significant milestone. Nowadays, however, it more than likely only means that a passer has another decade left of his career. Obviously, injuries and a few other factors can play a hand, especially for a quarterback who takes so much contact. But short of something catastrophic, there’s little reason to assume Newton should think his days are numbered.

Newton, coming off shoulder surgery in late January, is scheduled to throw in quarterback drills, though on a pitch count and aiming at stationary targets, when the Panthers open mini-camp Tuesday. This isn’t the first time Newton has thrown a football since undergoing the procedure, as the world found out earlier this month when a fan’s video of Newton throwing on a practice field made waves online, much to the dismay of Panthers head coach Ron Rivera.

After eight seasons, it’s fair to presume that Cam is right about at the midpoint of his career. Sadly, he’s beginning the second half returning from a serious injury, one that derailed what had been something of a comeback season for the quarterback. While Newton is among the league’s biggest stars, and has put together moments and short stretches of greatness, he has struggled to produce at the elite level on a year-to-year basis in the NFL.

Newton’s 2015 MVP season, albeit one where he fell just short of a championship, seemed to be a realization of the early career progression. He had reached the zenith and appeared at the time there to stay, until he wasn’t. Newton regressed considerably the following year, and didn’t return to dominating form again until 2018, even if the second half of last season was marred by struggle through injury. That dip in performance wasn’t entirely Newton’s fault, as Carolina has been frustratingly unable to surround its star quarterback with comparable talent in the receiving corps. The hire of Norv Turner last year, as mocked as it was at the time, inoculated life into play-calling that had become stagnant in Carolina.

Hopefully that means Newton can establish some consistency in the years to come. As Turner tells it, Cam has displayed urgency in his effort to be back on the field in time for the start of this coming season. “He’s really attacked this rehab, and he’s done everything he could possibly do physically to get back to where he is with the shoulder,” Turner told SI. “It’s been good for him to concentrate on the mental part of it. There’s only so much he can do, without throwing. And he’s really grown there, without being able to throw.”

That’s a significant leap from initial fears in January that Newton might have to miss a season to recover. Owner David Tepper tried to put a positive spin on it at the time, saying the wait would be worth it to get their franchise quarterback back to 100 percent. But there’s no denying that it would be a frustrating setback to Newton and those who want to see him realize his potential.

With the younger weapons in the Panthers’ offense starting to reach maturation,  there’s reason to believe Newton can make strides again this season if his health cooperates. Receiver D.J. Moore aims to build off an encouraging rookie season and Christian McCaffrey in 2018 proved himself worthy of the first-round pick the Panthers spent on him the year before.

This may not be a make-or-break season for Newton, but assuming he’s fortunate enough not to have his health be a deterrent for the second straight year, it can be pivotal and set him up for a back half of a career that might place him among the greats.

By: Michael Tunison

Original Article

The 50 greatest QBs of all time

In April 2018, Adam Steele of offered a formula for determining the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history. If only the process was so easy. The reality of the situation is that analysts, journalists, beat reporters, observers and fans will probably never come to a consensus regarding the topic for different reasons. As much as those individuals may not want to admit it, personal feelings do affect opinions on the matter.

The men atop the list are either already in the Pro Football Hall of Fame or will have their days in Canton not long after they call time on their legendary careers. Who sits atop your figurative mountain? Is it The Sheriff, The Gunslinger, Joe Cool or the signal-caller whom supporters of the New England Patriots refer to as the G.O.A.T.? Maybe, just maybe, you deem someone else the greatest QB of all time.

50. Russell Wilson

Russell Wilson’s stock will either rise or fall between the posting of this piece and his last game in the NFL. The one-time Super Bowl champion should have another ring in his personal trophy case (why didn’t Pete Carroll feed Marshawn Lynch?!?), and that second championship could have propelled him higher up such lists. He’s already the greatest QB to ever play for the Seattle Seahawks.

49. Vinny Testaverde

In January 2010, Jason Lisk of Pro-Football-Reference argued that journeyman QB Vinny Testaverde enjoyed a better career than some realized. Testaverde remains 13th all time in passing yards despite the fact that he hasn’t played since 2007, and he started his career under center for some awful Tampa Bay Buccaneers sides. Whether or not you believe Testaverde peaked later than others or deserved better from the team that drafted him could affect how you rate him.

8. Joe Theismann

In 1978, Joe Theismann earned the keys to the offense of the Washington Redskins when he was 29 years old. His career ended in 1985 following the horrific leg injury he suffered while being sacked by New York Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor. Between those two moments, Theismann won a Super Bowl, an NFL MVP award and Offensive Player of the Year honors.

47. Daryle Lamonica

The bulk of Daryle Lamonica’s time as a starting QB occurred from 1967 through through 1972 with the Oakland Raiders. He twice won AFL MVP featuring for excellent Oakland teams, but he was unable to win a Super Bowl with the club. The Professional Football Researchers Association inducted Lamonica into its “Hall of Very Good” in 2013.

46. Bobby Layne

Fans of the Detroit Lions know Bobby Layne for the alleged “curse” he brought down upon the franchise after he was traded to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Supernatural occurrences aside, Layne was a dual-threat QB named to six Pro Bowl squads during the 1950s. “Bobby Layne never lost a game,” Hall of Famer Doak Walker once said of his former teammate, per the NY Times. “Sometimes, time just ran out on him.”

4. Donovan McNabb

Donovan McNabb was largely responsible for the rise of the Philadelphia Eagles during the first half of the 2000s. Statistically, he posted his best passing numbers after the Eagles acquired Hall of Fame wide receiver Terrell Owens. The six-time Pro Bowl signal-caller is one of 10 QBs to accumulate at least 3,000 rushing yards during his career.

43. Roman Gabriel

Roman Gabriel evolved into one of the better QBs of the second half of the 1960s after the Los Angeles Rams entrusted him with starting duties in 1966. Gabriel won MVP honors that season, and he was named Comeback Player of the Year in 1973 for his play with the Philadelphia Eagles following a trade. Per the Pro Football Researchers Association, Gabriel’s 3.3 career interception percentage was the lowest of all time, among eligible QBs, when he retired.

42. John Brodie

According to Daniel Brown of the Mercury News, former San Francisco 49ers quarterback John Brodie was third all time in passing yards behind only Johnny Unitas and Fran Tarkenton when he retired after the 1973 season. The two-time Pro Bowl QB and one-time NFL MVP led the league in passing yards on three occasions. Unfortunately, he also played for some forgettable teams.

41. Ken Anderson

Per KC Joyner of the NY Times, Hall of Fame head coach Bill Walsh once explained how he helped “pad” the stats of quarterback Ken Anderson when Walsh was an assistant with the Cincinnati Bengals. Ironically, Walsh served as head coach of the San Francisco 49ers team that defeated Anderson and the Bengals 26-21 in Super Bowl XVI. In Anderson’s defense, he won NFL MVP, Offensive Player of the Year and Comeback Player of the Year in 1981. In July 2018, Boomer Esiason told the official Bengals website Anderson should be a “no-brainer” Hall of Fame inductee.

40. Cam Newton

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton turned 29 years old in April 2018. At that time, he had Offensive Rookie of the Year, Offensive Player of the Year, an MVP award and a conference championship on his resume. Newton’s inconsistent play frustrates Carolina fans who know what he can achieve when in his top form. His ceiling remains high heading into the second half of his career.

39. Jim Everett

Some may immediately think of Jim Everett’s infamous altercation with sports talk personality Jim Rome whenever they see or hear the QB’s name. As Jason Lisk of The Big Lead pointed out, Everett is relatively underrated for somebody who led the NFL in touchdown passes in back-to-back seasons (1989, 1990). Per Pro-Football-Reference, he’s 28th all time in passing yards and 40th in career passing touchdowns.

38. Tony Romo

Tony Romo never took good Dallas Cowboys teams past divisional rounds of postseason tournaments, and that could prevent him from entering the Hall of Fame without a ticket. Romo earned four Pro Bowl nods during his lengthy career, and he is fourth all time in career passing rating, per Pro-Football-Reference. Plenty of teams around the NFL would have loved having Romo under center for regular-season games between 2007 and 2014.

37. George Blanda

Via Pro-Football-Reference, George Blanda is one of eight men to toss seven touchdowns in a single game. The 1961 AFL MVP led that league in pass completions on three occasions, and he twice led that league in passing yards. His kicking skills allowed him to extend his career once he could no longer earn roles as a starting QB.

36. Randall Cunningham

Well before the Michael Vick Experience took the NFL by storm, Randall Cunningham electrified fans as a member of the Philadelphia Eagles. As of the end of the 2017 NFL season, Cunningham is second only to Vick in QB career rushing yards, per Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk. He was named to four Pro Bowl squads between 1988 and 1998.

35. Matt Ryan

Like the previously mentioned Cam Newton, Atlanta Falcons QB Matt Ryan has several personal pieces of silverware in his trophy case. It’s possible Ryan, who should cruise to 50,000-plus career passing yards before he retires, would be higher on the list had the Falcons not blown a 28-3 lead to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LI. The 33-year-old one-time MVP needs several additional good seasons, and maybe a ring, to cement his Hall of Fame status.

34. Rich Gannon

The Oakland Raiders acquired QB Rich Gannon before the 1999 regular season. He was 33 years old when he began a run that included four consecutive Pro Bowl nods, first-team All-Pro honors on two occasions and an MVP campaign in 2002. Gannon led the NFL in passing yards that same season. If only he and Jon Gruden found each other sooner.

33. Boomer Esiason

Former coach Sid Gillman, an offensive mastermind credited for helping make pro football the pass-first game it is today, referred to Boomer Esiason as “technically the most perfect” QB when speaking with Sports Illustrated’s Ryan Zimmerman in 1991. The 1988 NFL MVP was named to four Pro Bowl squads between 1986 and 1993. He matched 13 touchdowns with only two interceptions in 1997, his last season with the Bengals and as an active player.

32. Phil Simms

Had Phil Simms not suffered a broken foot late in the 1990 season, he, not Jeff Hostetler, probably would have guided the New York Giants to a Super Bowl XXV win over the Buffalo Bills. Simms may have even won a second Super Bowl MVP award. Imagine how much higher he’d be on such lists in such a scenario.

31. Norm Van Brocklin

QB Norm Van Brocklin led the Philadelphia Eagles to a victory over the Vince Lombardi-coached Green Bay Packers in the 1960 NFL Championship Game. That, in itself, is enough to earn him a spot here. Van Brocklin was one of the top quarterbacks of the decade beginning in 1950, when he was named to the first of nine Pro Bowl teams. Van Brocklin won the MVP award in 1960.

30. Philip Rivers

Unless his fortune changes, Los Angeles Chargers QB Philip Rivers will go down as the greatest QB of the 2000s, to date, to never win a Super Bowl. Rivers has been a fantasy football hero for the bulk of his career, and he’s a no-doubt Hall of Famer. Championships, or a lack thereof, matter in these types of discussions and debates.

Full 50

By: Zac Wassink

One-on-One: If Troy Aikman’s in HOF, Donovan McNabb should be, too. Right?

Yardbarker NFL writers Michael Tunison and Chris Mueller address some of the hottest issues in the league. This week’s topic: Does Donovan McNabb have a compelling case for the Pro Football Hall of Fame?

Mueller: There exists an old saying in sports talk radio that, on a slow news day, all a host must do, in any city, is say, “Pete Rose, Hall of Fame, yes or no?” Then watch as the callers flood in, taking care of several hours of airtime in one fell swoop.

We love to debate whether or not Player X does or doesn’t belong in their respective sport’s Hall of Fame because anyone good enough to be on the cusp can have a compelling case made for either side.

Typically, fans or media are the ones who bring up these arguments, but Donovan McNabb decided to cut out the middleman recently and make his case. That he used three-time Super Bowl champion Troy Aikman as his foil made things interesting, and even a little spicy.

Here’s the thing, though — if individual numbers matter, then he should be in over Aikman every day of the week and twice on Sundays. In fact, if the story compelled you, like me, to look up Aikman’s stats, you were probably shocked by how pedestrian they are. I grew up as a kid in the early 1990s thinking that Aikman was great, but maybe he was more along for the ride than anything.

                 Comp.- Att.  |   Yds.  |   Pct.  |   TDs   

McNabb   3170-5374       37,276     59.0      234

Aikman    2898-4715       32,942     61.5      165

Three Super Bowls is three Super Bowls, but McNabb didn’t have Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin, and an offensive line that dominated virtually every defense it came across. McNabb had Terrell Owens and Brian Dawkins, both in the Hall of Fame, and … Freddie Mitchell. Give him the former group, and something tells me he would have found a way to get over the hump.

So sue me, I think McNabb is right. It looks uncool to advocate for your own worthiness, yes, but the man still has a point.

The bigger discussion is also relevant here. What exactly is the best criteria for evaluating someone’s Hall of Fame candidacy? Do stats matter more than titles? And when one player at a position is clearly superior to another, but the man with inferior stats got to the top of the mountain three times, how much should that matter?

Mar 13, 2018; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Philadelphia Eagles former quarterback Donovan McNabb in attendance of the Phoenix Suns game against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Talking Stick Resort Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Tunison: I do feel for McNabb, even after his multiple DUIs and post-career propensity to be a social media irritant. He was a good to very good quarterback. What he truly excelled at, however, was making the right enemies, whether it was Rush Limbaugh calling him overrated as a result of the media’s desire for black quarterbacks to do well, or Eagles fans never quite embracing him or just being outright hostile to McNabb.

And, yeah, his numbers were better than Aikman’s. So what? The Hall has always been desirous of star players from dynasties. Steelers receiver Lynn Swann’s career numbers kind of suck (336 receptions, 5,462 receiving yards, 68 TDs), but he won four Super Bowls and made some exciting plays in them. It would ridiculous to claim championships don’t play a role in voters’ decision-making. I’m not saying it’s right. It just fits into several fairly arbitrary things that can decide borderline cases.

McNabb was certainly good enough to win a championship, and came awfully close once. What gets remembered about that Eagles’ Super Bowl appearance, though? T.O. playing through injury and having a great game, and McNabb allegedly throwing up and moving the ball too slowly in the fourth quarter. It’s a shame, because 2004 was by far McNabb’s best season (300-469, 3,875 yards, 31 TDs), and his only MVP-caliber one.

That McNabb’s numbers were on the whole better than Aikman’s has to also be put in the context that McNabb started his career just as Aikman’s ended, and offenses in the 2000s were opening up more than those of the ’90s. Awareness of concussions was still only burgeoning, but there were efforts by the league during McNabb’s playing days to make it harder for defensive backs to jam receivers.

Finally, here’s a good example to posit: Carson Palmer has comparable career numbers — see here —  to Donovan McNabb. Do you want  Palmer in the Hall of Fame?

Mueller: McNabb being a target of some of the worst people around never made me feel any sympathy toward him, probably because I was attending Penn State during his prime years, and had to deal with that obnoxious E-A-G-L-E-S chant because the team was very good.

If anything, I feel like reconsidering his Hall of Fame credentials is a mea culpa on my part, because I used to just make fun of him for throwing the ball at his receivers’ feet too often, and never winning the big one. If I overestimated Aikman’s greatness, I underestimated McNabb’s.

Oh, and he could run, too, especially early in his career. That feels pretty relevant to his candidacy, given that he piled up 3,459 yards and 29 touchdowns on the ground. He was so dangerous as a passer that he never got slapped with the “running quarterback” label applied to any black quarterback who moved faster than a statue.

The Super Bowl is obviously important, and making huge plays on the way to victory should count for something, but not everything. The list of quarterbacks with similar careers to McNabb has a pretty striking line of Hall of Fame demarcation — if you won at least one title, congratulations, you’re in. If you didn’t, sorry, you’re not. Unless you’re Jim Kelly, in which case smashing into the same wall four straight times earns you a sort of lifetime achievement award.

Perhaps if McNabb had better NFC title game luck, or if he hadn’t very literally puked in the biggest moment of his career, he’d already be in. Neither factor should keep him out any longer.

Do I want Palmer in? No. He was a compiler, and ran the show for a handful of very good teams, but some truly mediocre to awful ones. Most of all, he doesn’t pass my most basic Hall of Fame worthiness test; did I watch him and say, “This man is one of the all-time greats?”

During his playing career, McNabb didn’t pass that test either. Unlike Palmer, I’m now ready to admit the error of my ways.

Tunison: Don’t feel too bad. After all, neither of us are actually HOF voters. I’m sure Canton will ask me  once I get 30 years’ experience happily granting NFL GMs anonymity to say nasty things about their players. 

Original Article

NFL stars looking to rebound from a rough 2018

Whether it was due to injury, age or just subpar play, many NFL players are looking to rebound after disappointing 2018 seasons. Here’s a look at 25 players hoping to bounce back.

Ezekiel Ansah, DE, free agent

Ansah had an injury-plagued year in 2018, likely his last in Detroit. He played only seven games, recording four sacks, and he struggled to find a market as a free agent this offseason due to a shoulder injury.

Vic Beasley, DE, Falcons

Beasley led the league with 15.5 sacks in 2016, but that production looks more like a fluke after his last two seasons. He had only five sacks in each of the last two seasons and also had just 20 tackles last year as a situational pass rusher. Atlanta desperately needs a rebound from him this year.

Randall Cobb, WR, Cowboys

At one time Cobb was Aaron Rodgers’ top receiver, but he’s struggled in Green Bay over the last three years. After playing only nine games due to injuries last season, he signed with the Cowboys to replace Cole Beasley as the team’s slot receiver.

Andy Dalton, QB, Bengals

Dalton’s last winning season as a starter was 2015. Last year he went 5-6 in 11 starts before a season-ending thumb injury. He also threw 11 interceptions during his time on the field. Bengals fans hope new head coach Zac Taylor can help Dalton take a step forward.

Joe Flacco, QB, Broncos

The writing was on the wall for Flacco in Baltimore after the team drafted Lamar Jackson. Despite adding several new receivers, Flacco went 4-5 as a starter with just 12 touchdown passes before giving way to Jackson due to a hip injury. Denver traded for Flacco in the offseason, but he’s in a similar situation after the Broncos drafted Drew Lock in the second round.

Leonard Fournette, RB, Jaguars

Jacksonville’s return for selecting Fournette fourth overall in the 2017 draft hasn’t been great thus far. He had more than 1,000 yards rushing in his rookie season but averaged only 3.9 yards per carry. Last season was worse, as he played only eight games mostly due to injuries and had a terrible 3.3 yards per rush attempt. Fournette also had minor legal issues during the offseason.

Devonta Freeman, RB, Falcons

Freeman has struggled to stay healthy over the last two seasons and played only two games last year due to foot and groin injuries. He’s still young enough to rebound going into his age 27 season, and the Falcons need him to be healthy after Tevin Coleman left in free agency.

Jimmy Graham, TE, Packers

Green Bay expected big things from Graham after signing him last offseason, but he was a relative disappointment with only 636 yards receiving and two touchdowns. Graham deserves credit for gutting out a thumb injury late in the year, but the expectation that he’d replace Jordy Nelson’s production didn’t come to fruition.

A.J. Green, WR, Bengals

Green has missed significant time in two of the last three seasons, sitting out seven games last year due to a toe injury. For the second straight year, Green’s production when he did play was also down significantly with only 77 receiving yards per game after averaging at least 80 yards from 2012-2016.

Full 25

By: Seth Trachtman


Why the Bills — yes, the Bills! — are a stealth playoff contender

Overlooking the Bills is usually easy. As one of American professional sports’ smallest markets, Buffalo has struggled to receive national media attention in the post-Doug Flutie years. In 15 of the past 17 seasons, the Bills have won from six to nine games, cementing their off-the-grid status.

Even Buffalo’s flashy quarterback maneuver last year came in a season when four other teams made major investments in rookie passers. With Lamar Jackson piloting a Ravens division title, Baker Mayfield mounting an offensive rookie of the year pursuit in Cleveland, the Jets’ market producing frequent attention and Josh Rosen spending this off-season in several NFL news cycles, Josh Allen is by far the least discussed member of 2018’s five-QB first round.

A post-draft Super Bowl odds list slotted the Bills in the John Mellencamp Oscar likelihood realm – the 10,000-to-1 figure better than only two franchises’ May outlooks – and only three AFC teams have worse playoff odds entering OTAs. Given the many high-profile off-season moves elsewhere and the Bills’ 21st-century M.O., this makes sense.

But the Bills won six games with a woefully understaffed offense last season. Football Outsiders graded Buffalo’s 2018 offense as the third-worst DVOA attack of the past five years –- better than only the 2018 Cardinals and 2016 Rams.

Considering the free agency and draft capital the Bills allocated to repairing their offense, and Ed Oliver joining a defense that finished second in yards allowed and DVOA last season, the Bills look like a 2019 deep sleeper.

Skepticism is obviously appropriate. The Bills beat no playoff teams in 2018 and finished with a minus-105 point differential. But they went 5-5 in contests in which Allen played throughout.

Although Allen outperformed Rosen, Jackson and Sam Darnold in Total QBR (52.2, 24th – one spot behind Mayfield), the project passer completed just 53 percent of his throws and was inconsistent as a rookie. How could he not be? Equipped with one of the worst receiving corps in the NFL and a bottom-tier offensive line, Allen cannot be properly evaluated yet. That will be easier to do this season.

The John Brown and Cole Beasley arrivals did not move the needle like Antonio Brown and Tyrell Williams did in Oakland, but they give the Bills competence at wide receiver and bring complementary skill sets. Adding a reliable slot target and deep threat, along with mid-level tight end investments in Tyler Kroft and third-rounder Dawson Knox, will be critical to Allen’s development.

Three of Allen’s top four targets last season were either undrafted (Robert Foster and Jason Croom) or currently unemployed (Kelvin Benjamin).

John Brown is an injury risk but played 16 games last season. The Ravens’ switch to Jackson harpooned Brown’s effectiveness. On pace for more than 1,100 receiving yards after nine games, the speed merchant went from 66.8 yards per game with Joe Flacco to 16.2 with Jackson. Brown will make Allen’s deep-ball affinity more fun than it was last year.

Brown, Beasley, Foster and Zay Jones represent a more reasonable aerial crew for Allen. Buffalo’s new offensive line will help, too.

The Bills led the NFL in rushing by a substantial margin in 2016; their offensive line deteriorated into one of the league’s worst by the end of last season. After deploying Pro Football Focus’ No. 26-rated line, the Bills signed six offensive linemen and drafted Cody Ford in Round 2. Ford compiled quality marks as a run- and pass-blocking right tackle at Oklahoma last season and should be a Week 1 starter at right tackle or right guard. Placing him next to new center Mitch Morse would allow dependable ex-Washington swing tackle Ty Nsekhe into the lineup over a trending-down Spencer Long.

By: Sam Robinson

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Treated unfairly with Cardinals, Rosen must quickly deliver for Dolphins

The world of pro football hasn’t been exceedingly kind to Josh Rosen in the year and change he has spent in its confines. A new beginning has presented itself in Miami, yet for a quarterback, such constant upheaval early in a career often has dire results.

Rosen may not have been the only quarterback in the 2018 class to be unfairly maligned coming into the draft — Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson can attest to that. The knocks on Rosen, however, were the sort of things that show that the league’s media apparatus saw him as unlikable from the get-go.

Rosen was said to be too much of an independent thinker who didn’t possess the single-minded obsession with the game that football culture has come to not only revere but demand of its quarterbacks. It didn’t help that his former college coach, Jim Mora, made comments almost tailor-made to alienate Rosen from the NFL fandom, which tends to skew older and more culturally conservative than other major sports leagues.

“He needs to be challenged intellectually so he doesn’t get bored. He’s a millennial. He wants to know why,” Mora said last spring. “Millennials, once they know why, they’re good. Josh has a lot of interests in life. If you can hold his concentration level and focus only on football for a few years, he will set the world on fire. He has so much ability, and he’s a really good kid.”

Those weren’t meant to be entirely damning words. Yet in the mind of football people, who often view a detail-obsessed micro-manager like Peyton Manning as the be-all, end-all of quarterbacking, they certainly seemed like it. Obviously, a pro team doesn’t — and shouldn’t — want its most important player to be a complete scatterbrain who can’t focus, but it’s probably not great for anyone to insist that a player not care about anything other than his sport and have no outside interests.

If those criticisms set some fans on edge, they didn’t hurt Rosen’s draft position much. He was taken 10th overall by Arizona, the fourth of five QBs selected in the first round last year. Rosen ended up having a lousy rookie season, posting atrocious figures in critical categories such as completion percentage (55.2), yards per attempt (5.8), and passer rating (66.7), yet one would have a hard time arguing he wasn’t set up for failure. His first offensive coordinator in the pros, Mike McCoy, was fired at mid-season. Arizona’s offensive line was rated the worst pass-blocking unit in the league by Pro Football Focus. His best and most productive weapon was a 35-year-old Larry Fitzgerald, who put up career-worst yardage numbers (734) as retirement creeps closer.

Even if Rosen had stayed in Arizona, he was going to have to learn a new offensive system and deal with new coaches in 2019. So in that sense, going to a new team isn’t that much of a departure. How it happened, though, was a disaster that is likely to unfairly dog Rosen. Just as the Giants recently made assurances they wouldn’t trade Odell Beckham before doing exactly that, Arizona earlier this year brushed off talk of dealing Rosen, which the Cardinals ended up doing 2 1/2 months later.

Much was made of the fact that Rosen unfollowed the Cardinals on various social media platforms after the team made quarterback Kyler Murray the first overall pick in this year’s draft. In terms of pettiness, it’s relatively minor and passive-aggressive, and you could easily argue deserved on the part of Arizona. Yet it was enough in the content-starved expanse of the NFL off-season to become a controversy. NFL Network’s Steve Smith, no stranger to public outbursts in his playing days, lambasted Rosen during live draft coverage about what the former receiver saw as immaturity and a lack of desire to compete.

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By: Michael Tunison


Steelers GM: Extension likely Big Ben’s last deal

Originally posted on Pro Football Rumors | By Zach Links | Last updated 4/26/19

This week, Ben Roethlisberger inked a lucrative new extension with the Steelers to take him through the 2021 season. This deal, GM Kevin Colbert says, will likely be his last (Twitter link via Aditi Kinkhabwala of

This doesn’t come as a huge surprise – Roethlisberger celebrated his 37th birthday in March and the new pact will take him through his age-39 campaign. Roethlisberger has flirted with retirement a few times in the past, so it was never expected that he would plan for the Tom Brady route.

Even in his old age, Big Ben remains effective. He’s also healthier than he has been in the past. Roethlisberger started all 16 games last year, marking his first perfect attendance campaign since 2014.

This year, Big Ben will seek to prove that he can conquer both Father Time and the absence of star wide receiver Antonio Brown. There’s plenty of reason to believe that he can pull it off – he finished fourth in Total QBR and eighth in adjusted net yards per attempt last season, even though the Steelers fell just shy of the playoffs.

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