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View Full Version : Parity in the NFL?



hermhater
11-09-2007, 07:57 PM
http://www.chiefscrowd.com/forums/images/imported/2007/11/107.jpg (http://origin.denverpost.com/portlet/article/html/imageDisplay.jsp?contentItemRelationshipId=1714458 )The Chiefs' emphasis on defense and impact players such as Jared Allen have given them a chance in the mediocre AFC West, despite an offense that ranks 30th in the league. (AP | Paul Sakuma)
Every once in a while, when frustration requires a fresh dose of perspective, Kansas City Chiefs general manager Carl Peterson looks across the concrete to Kauffman Stadium, the heartbreak hotel the Royals call home.
"This is the first year in four or five that they didn't lose 100 games," said Peterson. "I really do feel for our neighbors across the parking lot. They're caught in a system that makes it tough to compete. When you're playing the Yankees or Red Sox and they've got three, four or five times your payroll, that isn't a real competitive system."
As opposed to the one Peterson operates in. No league preaches or practices parity like the NFL. In a business in which little Green Bay, Wis., can field a
http://www.chiefscrowd.com/forums/images/imported/2007/11/108.jpg (http://origin.denverpost.com/portlet/article/html/imageDisplay.jsp?contentItemRelationshipId=1714451 )

first-place team, every franchise is competitive, some more than others. "The NFL would love everyone to become 8-8 and let tiebreakers determine who's in the tournament," said Peterson, in his 19th season as keeper of the Chiefs' competitive flame. "And obviously, from an overall viewpoint, that's a healthy aspect of the NFL. It's absolutely true. Every single year, every team has a chance."
That's not to say the winless St. Louis Rams or Miami Dolphins are going to print playoff tickets anytime soon. But know this: They're not that far away from contending for a spot in the postseason. No team is in today's NFL, where the forces of free agency and the salary cap always are at work, typically in the have-nots' favor.
"The system is set up for everyone to be .500," said former Tennessee Titans general manager Floyd Reese, now an ESPN commentator. "That's why it's such a shock for teams to be perennially bad. The system helps them in every way possible. By the same token, it's astounding for teams to be continually good because they're fighting the entire system."
Which brings us to the Broncos and Chiefs, who'll square off Sunday afternoon at Arrowhead Stadium. The teams have a combined record of 7-9 and, assuming San Diego gets its act together, neither may make the playoffs. The Broncos have been thoroughly embarrassed a handful of times, and the Chiefs' offense ranks among the worst in the league.
"Transition," not "rebuilding"
Be careful, though, when describing the plight of the two franchises. Peterson says both teams are "absolutely" in a state of transition, but that doesn't necessarily mean they're rebuilding. Fact is, rebuilding has become an antiquated term in the NFL. It may exist in Major League Baseball, where the business model is oppressive to some markets, but it doesn't fly in today's NFL, where every team is a few savvy personnel moves from playoff contention.
"To me, any time people say they're rebuilding, it's an excuse for not winning," said Broncos coach Mike Shanahan. "Obviously, you may have a younger team and you may not be as deep as you would like, but the bottom line is you have to try to find a way to win. Sometimes people take a step backward to go forward, but that doesn't mean you're trying to rebuild."
There are no five-year plans in today's NFL, and for one obvious reason: In the league's win-now-or-else culture, the coach would get fired midway through the process. It's more than that, though. Free agency and the salary cap make for more mole hills than mountains to climb. More often than not, the streets of the NFL lead to corners to be turned, not dead ends.
Case in point: The Detroit Lions. They're on pace to win 12 games after Sunday's 44-7 annihilation of the Broncos, evicting from Ford Field those recent images of media boycotts and bag-wearing fans. You'll have to excuse Detroit quarterback Jon Kitna for not being surprised. He predicted the Lions, 3-13 a year ago, to win 10 games.
Drama, what drama?
It's getting so that dramatic turnarounds in the NFL aren't that dramatic after all. Thanks to the draft, which rewards ineptitude, and free agency, which has made players more transient, such turnarounds are becoming more the rule than the exception. A key free-agent signing here and a couple of astute draft choices there and any team in the league can change its fortunes from one season to the next.
It isn't just the Lions. The Cleveland Browns, a laughingstock since their league-orchestrated rebirth in 1999, have a serious shot at the playoffs. And the Packers, two years removed from a 4-12 season, are legitimate Super Bowl contenders in the mild, mild NFC. Nothing unusual there. Seven of the 12 playoff teams last season didn't make the postseason the previous year, and four - Baltimore, Philadelphia, the Jets and New Orleans - finished in last place in 2005.
There are many more examples where they came. The 1998 Rams, your basic 4-12 have-nots, were headed for another dreadful season in 1999, or so many assumed. The next thing anyone knew, Arenaball refugee Kurt Warner was the MVP of the league and the Rams were sitting atop the pro football world.
Another part of the equation is luck. There's no other word for it. In a game in which injuries are so prevalent, in which a player can thrive in one coach's system and struggle in another's, you need to catch some breaks. You need to accumulate a roster of players, most of whom are ready to make an impact at the same time.
"Sometimes you've got to be a little bit lucky," Shanahan said. "You look at some of the great years we've had here in the past 25 years, we've dodged the bullet a little bit. That's part of it. If you can do that, you've got a chance. That's the way the system is designed. Everybody has a chance."
Even the Patriots, a serious threat to finish 16-0 after beating the Colts last Sunday, have had their share of fortuitous developments. Case in point: Quarterback Drew Bledsoe getting hurt in 2001, forcing Bill Belichick to turn to some sixth-round afterthought named Tom Brady.
Of course, luck can only carry a team so far. Success in the NFL is mostly about making sound personnel decisions. It's about acquiring the right players and fitting them into the right system implemented by the right coaches. It's also about managing the salary cap. In a lot of ways, the cap defines how teams do business in the 21st century.
"You've got to watch your money," Reese said. "What's your cash situation like? Do you have a lot of dead money? You can't continue to redo contracts for expensive veterans who maybe aren't real productive. And you can't make mistakes in free agency. You pay 10 million bucks to a guy who can't play and you can really get in trouble.
"If you make good decisions, yeah, you can turn it around quickly. But everything has to be in order. If the age of your important players is right, adding a few new pieces can make all the difference in the world. But your team has to be ready to go to that next level."
History lesson lifts despair
Are the Broncos and Chiefs ready for such a move? The temptation is to say no. The Chiefs have issues at quarterback, where stopgap Damon Huard is starting ahead of Brodie Croyle, who has been given every opportunity to win the job.
But Kansas City, whose offense ranks 30th in the league, has a vastly improved defense, one that has allowed more than 20 points once in 2007. And it has Larry Johnson, one of the best clock-eating tailbacks in the business. The combination of the two has allowed the Chiefs to avoid a downward spiral, just as Shanahan expected.
"For people to say they were going to struggle, they don't know anything about football," Shanahan said. "I knew their defense, regardless of the transition their offense was making, would keep them competitive. You're talking about a young offense trying to make the transition to a quarterback who might not be the name player. But you take a look at Kansas City, with that defense, I knew."
And the Broncos? As ugly as things look today for Shanahan's team, a little history lesson might be in order. Denver hasn't had back-to-back losing seasons since 1971-72. Shanahan's first Broncos team finished 8-8, then leaped to 13-3 the next season. His only losing season came in 1999, when the Broncos finished 6-10 and lost Terrell Davis to a serious knee injury. So what happened the next season? The Broncos rebounded to finish 11-5.
At least one longtime Broncos admirer is keeping the faith that Shanahan can turn things around. His name? Carl Peterson.
"Mike Shanahan is too good of a football coach to be down very long," said Peterson. "And he's too good of an administrator. He sees all the parts. He knows what works and what doesn't work. When you have a new quarterback, a new coaching staff and a bunch of young players, there are going to be some bumps in the road. But at the end of the day, it's been proven too many times by him and that franchise.
"I'm sure right now there's a lot of negative stuff and second-guessing going on. That's because today is all the media worry about. It's what have you done for me in the last 15 minutes? But you have to keep things in perspective, and Mike does that. I know how much he burns inside. He's a fiercely competitive guy. He's been a great adversary for us, and I have no doubt that's going to continue."




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