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Eventually, whatever Tennessee Titans quarterback Kerry Collins(notes) is doing right or wrong won't matter. Instead, the future will be all about the politics of zeros: how long the Titans have a zero in the win column, and the relationship that has with the number of zeros in Vince Young's(notes) 2010 salary.
Not because he has earned the opportunity. Not because he's ready to transform into Tom Brady(notes) (whoa … threw up in my mouth). Not even because Titans coach Jeff Fisher will suddenly regain his confidence in Young. Instead, the former "future of the franchise" will get his opportunity because owner Bud Adams still entertains faint hope … and the Titans likely won't have much else to lose.
Consider the facts. Young turns 27 in May and, not counting incentives, he's due $11.75 million in base salary and a roster bonus in 2010. His cap number would be $14.21 million, and if he were to be released, the Titans would actually gain $9.29 million to spend on free agents. Adams just needs to know if he'd be wasting money, but he can't figure that out if Young's fading star is strapped to the bench the remainder of this season. So it only makes sense that Young would get another look, barring a sudden Kerry Collins renaissance against Indianapolis (arguably the best team in football right now) and New England (getting better and healthier every week).
That's not to say the 0-4 start should be blamed entirely on Collins. Fisher isn't merely being diplomatic when he says the losses don't fall entirely on the veteran's feet. Indeed, there are far deeper problems in play than an aging quarterback who has been turning the ball over a little more than usual (seven turnovers this year compared to eight all of last season). Tennessee's front four misses the physical presence of departed free agent Albert Haynesworth(notes). And the back end – a secondary that includes three Pro Bowlers in cornerback Cortland Finnegan(notes) and safeties Michael Griffin(notes) and Chris Hope(notes) – has been either inconsistent or injured, tied for a league-worst 1,129 passing yards allowed.
All of that has only compounded some of Collins' early mistakes. But ultimately, the identity of the offending parties won't matter if 0-6 becomes a reality. The only thing that will matter is what is best for this team beyond an already disintegrating 2009. And there wouldn't be a more natural pivot point for a quarterback change.
If the Titans go into their bye week winless, fans will be crestfallen and the playoffs essentially will be out of reach. Suddenly, Young would have a two-week window to take first-team snaps and prepare himself for a post-bye schedule that begins reasonably with two home games (Jacksonville Jaguars and Buffalo Bills) sandwiched around a road tilt against the San Francisco 49ers. It would be a natural opportunity, offering a 10-game window that would be more than enough to determine whether he's worth another season of investment.
It may be the last scenario fans could have fathomed a month ago, when most still thought of the Titans as AFC elites. But the opportunity to live up to that expectation is fading fast. And it's only a matter of time before Adams realizes that he can't afford to let Young's last opportunity pass with it.
Here are some of this week's other inconvenient truths …
Cassel isn't on thin ice. He's on concrete … in the middle of the parking lot at Arrowhead.
I have to chuckle when I hear people talking about Kansas City Chiefs coach Todd Haley yanking Matt Cassel's(notes) chain. I recently read one suggestion (I won't mention where) that referenced the Chiefs turning to Brodie Croyle(notes) if it translates into wins. I don't doubt that Haley would have suggested this – he was notoriously nitpicking at Kurt Warner(notes), so why spare Cassel – but I don't believe it. If Haley is still saying it in 2011, then I'd raise an eyebrow.
Let's be realistic here. Unless Cassel somehow falls into the Rex Grossman(notes) school of "check-down or chuck-deep" quarterbacking, Haley isn't going to pull the rug out from under his feet. He might threaten it. He might even sit Cassel for a game just to prove there is bite as well as bark. But Cassel is the long-term future of the franchise, and Haley knows it. He's got a $63 million deal that includes $28 million in guaranteed money. That's the type of coinage that guarantees seasons of opportunity.
And while general manager Scott Pioli will publicly support Haley in his decisions, Pioli also knows that Cassel's success or failure will reflect on him. He traded for him and doled out the long-term money. So why on earth would he privately support any kind of serious move toward Croyle, who just happens to be a relic from the Carl Peterson regime? It's simply not happening.
Fans in Kansas City will eventually become fluent in Haley-speak. They'll understand when he's serious about yanking a guy, or when he's merely pulling a leash to get a desired response. And they'll realize that even if Cassel ascends into the upper echelon of quarterbacks, Haley will still needle him from time to time. That's just the way Haley is built. If he were an art teacher rather than a football coach, he'd be staring at Michelangelo's statue of David and complaining about the shape of the toes.
Williams' season-ending surgery carries every bit the severity that Merriman's did in '08
I'm going to stop short of saying that Jamal Williams'(notes) loss will ultimately be the mortal wound to this season's Super Bowl hopes. But after seeing the Pittsburgh Steelers' running game gouge the Chargers repeatedly Sunday night, I'm already leaning toward that proclamation. What was most interesting to me was how, late in the game, you caught Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson(notes) beating his chest and pleading for the San Diego defense for a stop in the fourth quarter. And while my lip-reading skills aren't what they used to be, I'm 99-percent certain that he at one point screamed something at the defense about "showing heart".
When I saw that, I realized I wasn't the only one who thought the defense was looking pretty impotent. But it flashed some realities that I've believed for a while: First, San Diego's linebackers have always been overrated against the run, particularly when they have to fight through garbage to make a stop. And second, Williams has long been the real centerpiece of that defense. While people were losing their minds over Antonio Cromartie's(notes) interception totals and referring to Shawne Merriman(notes) and Shaun Phillips(notes) as "Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen", Williams was the one devouring multiple offensive linemen and acres of real estate.
In essence, Williams was doing the dirty work while the glamour boys behind him were sucking up all the pretty stats and credit. If they were the sports cars, he was the nimble and irreplaceable cement mixer. Watch the tape against Pittsburgh. Take note of how many times Rashard Mendenhall(notes) was sheering off chunks of yardage through space that Williams would have owned. Mike Tomlin could have coasted a battleship through some of the holes. It's a long-term problem and one that is practically impossible to patch in the middle of the season.
The critics who said Coles was no longer an upper-tier wideout were right
OK, maybe there weren't many people out there using Laveranues Coles'(notes) name and the phrase "upper-tier wideout." But certainly the Cincinnati Bengals sold him – and bought him – as a capable replacement for T.J. Houshmandzadeh(notes). Yet when I watch the Bengals, I see a guy who is the fourth-best option behind Chad Ochocinco(notes), Andre Caldwell(notes) and Chris Henry. On Coles' way out of New York, Jets coaches complained that he didn't really do one thing extremely well anymore, and he'd lost most of the explosiveness to take over even an occasional game. Basically, he's a capable set of hands in the red zone. And heck, if you want to talk about matchups, you might get more production scheming to get Cedric Benson(notes) singled up with a linebacker or safety (which would make Coles the fifth-best option).
Forget comparing it to what Houshmandzadeh got from the Seattle Seahawks in free agency. Coles' four-year, $28-million deal doesn't mesh well with his first month's worth of performance: 10 catches for 78 yards and one touchdown. You might even argue that his most memorable moment thus far was when he zipped himself inside his Hyperbaric Chamber (looked more like a big duffel bag to me) on HBO's "Hard Knocks."
Surely, Cole's digits will improve (this is the new line the Bengals are selling). Or at the very least, he'll get more opportunities if there is an injury that thins out the options for quarterback Carson Palmer(notes). But really, is that what you want to be saying one month in about a guy paid to be your impact No. 2? Not likely.
Childress was right about Favre
I admit, I've been quick to criticize Brett Favre(notes) the past few seasons. I think he's a far bigger drama queen and egomaniac than anyone ever wants to point out. Basically, he has always struck me as a less destructive, passive-aggressive version of Terrell Owens(notes) – an opinion that was formed partly by Favre's actions and partly by conversations with some of his former teammates. And frankly, it has always bothered me the way a certain few in the media seemed to be constantly sizing him up for the NFL's Mount Rushmore, while simultaneously minimizing some sizable leadership flaws.
I also thought Minnesota Vikings coach Brad Childress was making a mistake when he allowed Favre to duck out on training camp and then take the controls at the last possible moment. (Note: Before you fire off an email, no, I have never bought the whole health "concern" that supposedly kept Favre out. I never will, either.)
But in spite of the August drama, it's impossible to do anything but give Childress and Favre respect after the 4-0 start. Not only has the veteran quarterback appeared to have won over the Vikings' veterans in short order, he played one of his most flawless games in years in Monday's win over the Green Bay Packers to boot. You could go over every inch of the tape with a microscope and be hard-pressed to find more than a few molecules out of place. It was, in a word, exquisite.
But what should impress people the most about Favre at this point is that his performances have shown range – something that wasn't always the case last season with the Jets. In the season's first two wins against the Cleveland Browns and Detroit Lions, he proved he could be the proverbial point guard: directing traffic, playing mistake-free football, and letting the defense and running back Adrian Peterson carry the day. In the victory over San Francisco, he displayed the ability to take the Vikings on his shoulders when it absolutely had to be done, stringing together an immaculate 80-yard game-winning touchdown drive.
Finally, on Monday night, he proved that he can still be remarkably perfect – a sharp, dominant, willful leader who can be the best player on the field despite being only days removed from his 40th birthday. It's worth noting that his past two performances have come against what should be two of the NFC's better defenses this season. Watching the victories in back-to-back weeks, it's clear that Childress was right to shove all his chips in on this decision. Though Favre has only played four games, he has already given the Vikings something that Tarvaris Jackson(notes) never did and Sage Rosenfels(notes) likely never would: championship aspirations driven by, rather than in spite of, quarterback play.
- Vince Young
- Todd Haley