Matt Flynn, Carson Palmer, Colt McCoy, Nnamdi Asomugha; Bill Russell, Ted Williams; Buster Posey, Matt Cain, Bruce Bochy, Jeremy Affeldt
QUARTERBACKS ARE on the move in the NFL, and both the Raiders and 49ers made significant moves this week.
After weeks of media speculation on the future of Carson Palmer, the Raiders obtained Matt Flynn from the Seattle Seahawks and then traded Palmer to the Arizona Cardinals, exchanging their seventh round draft pick for a sixth rounder from Arizona.
Trades are seldom made in the NFL and when they are, those analyzing them, whether media or fans, often make misjudgments. That’s especially true with quarterbacks. The 49ers made a great trade with Alex Smith because he was a proven winner and much coveted by new Kansas City coach Andy Reid. The quarterbacks who were traded this week had question marks because of either age or inexperience but that doesn’t mean they won’t be successful with their new teams.
The best example of this was probably the Raiders trade of Palmer. There were a lot of components to this trade, starting with the fact that the Raiders obviously wanted to get rid of Palmer’s $13 million salary. Palmer had agreed to re-structure his contract last year but refused to do it again, especially since they wanted him to agree to both a lower salary and less guaranteed money. Since he reportedly had no confidence that the Raiders will be a winning team this year, that choice was a no-brainer to him.
That reminded me of a “Chronicle Live” show on Comcast early last year when Tim Kawakami and I were debating how Palmer and Richard Seymour would react, knowing that they weren’t part of the Raiders future. That’s no longer an issue because neither of them will be around for the 2013 season.
I had long felt that Seymour was the most overrated player in the NFL. His reputation came from what he did for the New England Patriots. With the Raiders, he took too many plays off and made too many senseless penalties.
Palmer’s attitude was much different – and much better. He kept going full bore in a bad situation and conducted himself very well last season. He was often blamed when the Raiders lost, as quarterbacks always are, though he had no complementary running attack, his pass protection was poor and his receivers were inconsistent. Yet, he never once publicly criticized any other players or any of his coaches, and he accepted a blame which he didn’t deserve.
That said, Flynn is a better choice for the Raiders going forward because he’s six years younger and much cheaper than Palmer. Whether he’ll turn out to be a better quarterback is still open to question because of his limited experience. General manager Reggie McKenzie was at Green Bay when the Packers drafted him in the first round and he liked what he saw then. Flynn had a couple of spectacular games when he replaced Aaron Rodgers, which was enough to get him a big free agent contract from the Seattle Seahawks. But, the Seahawks quickly went to third-round draft pick Russell Wilson, who went on to have a brilliant rookie season as the Seahawks advanced to the playoffs. So, do you dismiss Flynn because he got beaten out by a rookie or just realize that Wilson gave the Seahawks a more versatile option because he could run as well as pass?
It’s not necessarily a knock on Flynn that he sat most of the time in Green Bay as Rodgers played. Rodgers also sat when Brett Favre was the starter but he has been brilliant since Favre left. Flynn has plenty of time left to prove that he can be a top quarterback. He’ll get his chance with the Raiders. Fans like Terrelle Pryor but the coaching staff doesn’t, though Pryor played well when he had a start last season. No matter what the Raiders might say about competition for the starting quarterback, the position is Flynn’s unless he screws up big time.
MEANWHILE, THE 49ers also got a backup quarterback from Cleveland, Colt McCoy, surrendering only a sixth round pick. They still have 13 draft picks left, unless they package some to move up in the first round. Either way, they’re in very good shape going into the draft.
McCoy, who will battle Scott Tolzien for the backup role, was highly-rated when he came out of Texas but the Browns, who drafted him in the first round, made a fundamental mistake that bad teams often make: They forgot that they had to put a good team around the quarterback. McCoy played decently for three seasons on a mediocre – at best – team before the Browns drafted Brandon Weeden, who will be 30 in his second season this year.
If you want to know why the Browns keep spinning their wheels…
My guess is that McCoy will win the battle to be the backup to Colin Kaepernick because of his experience. The 49ers know that he could step right in as the starter if Kaepernick was hurt – which he may be if they use him too often on running plays – and he’d be able to run the offense efficiently. Tolzien has good tools, an accurate arm though not a particularly strong one, but until you see a quarterback in a regular season game, you can’t be sure of him. Those make-believe games they play in the exhibition season are meaningless because so many playing won’t even be on the roster when the real season begins.
MEANWHILE, THE 49ers made another interesting move when they signed Nnamdi Asomugha, former Cal and Raiders star, whose reputation has taken a hit since he signed a big free agent contract with the Philadelphia Eagles.
One of the most important factors in football is the style of play a team uses. Al Davis got burned on this a couple of times when he signed defensive backs Larry Allen and De Angelo Hall, who looked good playing in the zone defenses which are most common in the NFL now. When Davis was alive, he insisted that the Raiders continue to use man-to-man defense most of the time. Allen and Hall were completely lost trying to play man-to-man. They were termed busts but that was because Davis put them in the wrong system.
The opposite thing has happened to Asomugha. He fit very comfortably in the Raiders style, playing a defense so suffocating that, after many unsuccessful attempts, other teams quit throwing in his direction. But when he went to the Eagles, they were playing a variety of zone defenses that were unfamiliar to him and he looked bad. There were reports that he had lost a step but I’ve seen many times when a player seemed slow because he was confused.
At any rate, 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio mixes his defense, sometimes man-to-man, sometimes zone, so Asomugha may have some success with the Niners. Or, he may not and just retire. We’ll see soon enough.
THE NEWS that Bill Russell was back in the area for several public appearances brought back a memory for me, of the time Russell was hired to coach the Sacramento Kings.
That was a period when I was doing quite a bit of magazine writing, and Inside Sports hired me to do a piece on Russell. The first thing I did was to contact the Kings public relations department to set up an interview – but I was told, “We have absolutely no control over him, so we can’t help you.”
Fortunately, I knew that Joe Morgan was a good friend of Russell’s, so I asked Joe to talk to Russell about my proposed article. He did, assuring Russell that I was one of the good guys, at least in Joe’s eyes. Not everybody would have agreed. Russell had scheduled a trip to Chicago to see his father, so we talked in the hospitality room of United Airlines at SFO. It was a lively conversation, going over several topics, because Russell is a very intelligent man. Eventually, I turned that conversation into an article that pleased my editors.
But no, my hand never shook at the thought of talking to Russell. I’ll leave that kind of thing to Bruce Jenkins, who has a very different approach to sports writing. I stopped hero worshipping athletes soon after I arrived at The Chronicle in 1963. I’ve met a lot of athletes, many of whom I’ve liked, but I’ve never regarded them as anything but fellow professionals, even those who are superstars. And, when I met my childhood idol, Ted Williams, we had a pleasant talk which – surprise! – focused on hitting. My hand didn’t shake at all.
I WAS AT the Giants luncheon on Friday when the announcement came of the long-term contract for Buster Posey. The room rocked with applause, of course, and I concurred. Long-term contracts are always a risk but when you give them to players like Buster Posey and Matt Cain, the risk is minimized because they’re both solid citizens. If they can stay healthy, which is always a question with any player, they’ll both have long and successful careers.
Tim Lincecum is a different matter. Lincecum didn’t want to sign a contract extension earlier and right now, the Giants are probably happy that never happened. Lincecum’s lack of maturity and professional approach brought him down big time last season, though he partially redeemed himself with some great work in relief in the postseason.
This last offseason, he took a professional approach, working seriously on his conditioning and adding muscle to give himself more endurance. After a shaky spring training, though, he’s still a question mark. Manager Bruce Bochy will certainly give him the opportunity to prove he belongs in the starting rotation. The first test will come tonight against the Dodgers.
When he’s on his game, Lincecum can be a lot of fun to watch. For everybody’s sake, I hope he has a good outing tonight and that he continues his success through the season.
As for Posey, it’s a shame his value has to be reduced because he’s replaced as catcher to give him a rest, so he plays first base while Brandon Belt moves to left field, lessening the defense at three positions. If the National League had the DH, Posey could do that – as he did briefly in the final exhibition against the A’s in Oakland – while Belt stayed at first base and a better defensive outfielder played left field.
But, the NL decided to stay with the 1876 model. That means we’ll still have the double switch at AT&T. Be still, my beating heart.
AS YOU CAN imagine, that Giants luncheon was a joyous occasion, even toasted by Mumm’s (California) sparkling wine, and there were some lighter moments as well. Jeremy Affeldt went to the Young Giants in the crowd so they could ask questions of Posey, manager Bruce Bochy and general manager Brian Sabean. Bochy, noting that Affeldt had given up a home run as soon as he came on in relief in the Bay Bridge Series game against the A’s the night before, claimed that he told Affeldt when he came back to the dugout, “I’ve already got my contract extension. You don’t need to keep trying to get me fired.”
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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