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How the NFL changed my mind this year

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NFC Championship - Green Bay Packers v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Every now and then I will write an article that leads to a comment making an observation, “That isn’t what you used to say.”

I don’t have all of the answers when it comes to the Jets or the NFL. Nobody does. All we can do is our best.

Watching football is a learning experience. As we watch, we frequently come across new information. Sometimes this information changes how we view the game.

With this in mind, here are five things on which I have changed my mind since the start of the 2019 NFL season.

The Backup Quarterback

This one comes directly from the season the Jets just had.

When the Jets signed Trevor Siemian to back up Sam Darnold, the move received muted praise. Siemian is a typical backup quarterback signing. He is a failed starter from another team. When a team signs somebody like Siemian, it is viewed as a solid move. Analysts discuss his “starting experience.” The stats from the best season of his career are noted. If he ever was the quarterback on a winning team, that is also discussed.

This article contains actual analysis from actual NFL scouts.

“He can throw it,” another scout said. “And he’s smart. He made some throws he shouldn’t have, but all young quarterbacks do that. Plus he won. Yes, he was on some good teams, but not all quarterbacks can win.”

“He’s started in the league, he has a winning record in this league, and he has a good presence in the huddle.

It is a bit ironic to address Siemian directly since he got hurt during his first game, but I think it’s clear the Jets weren’t going anywhere with him playing quarterback.

Can you really call somebody a quality backup quarterback if that’s the case?

I think teams need to rethink the backup quarterback spot. Maybe that means spending greater resources to find one. Maybe that means changing the type of skills you seek in a backup. Maybe it means going unconventional in your scheme.

Either way I think I’m done with the “solid backup” quarterback who isn’t actually solid.

Player Evaluation

Just by chance my reading list has included a number of books about the philosophies of legendary football coaches. Bill Belichick, Bill Walsh, and Nick Saban are among the coaches I have read about.

One thing that struck me was how these men build their teams. They don’t focus on position. They worry about roles. They want specific traits in wide receivers. Wide receiver roles are different, though. What they seek in an outside receiver is different from the desired skillset in a slot receiver. Ultimately they need to fill both roles.

Belichick and Saban in particular have a specific template for each role. I wrote about this a few weeks back. Some of the attributes for each role are physical (size and speed). Others are traits specific to a position.

These guys don’t just add players for the heck of it. There’s no signing or drafting a talented player and figuring out what he’ll do after the fact. It isn’t about accumulating raw talent. It’s about building a team. Every player is brought in for a specific role, and they believe he has the tools to fill it.

That doesn’t mean they get every evaluation correct. Nobody does, but this is part of the reason these guys are so successful.

Special Teams

I used to have the view that special teams players didn’t matter. Teams could just throw any young backup with upside on the field.

The Jets had almost 450 special teams plays this year. That means close to 20% of plays came on special teams. That is no small number.

The coaches I discussed in the last section value special teams. When I say they seek out players to fill roles, those roles include special teams.

I don’t think the market dictates paying much for special teams players.

I do now believe teams should scout special teams skills and factor those into evaluations and roster building strategies.

It suddenly doesn’t seem like a good idea to me to just throw anybody out there for one-fifth of game action.

The General Manager Job

I have to admit that I was a skeptic three years ago when the 49ers hired John Lynch. They had been an aimless organization for years, and it seemed like another bizarre move. They hired a guy straight from the TV booth with no personnel experience. The last guy I remembered to fit that description was Matt Millen. The Niners certainly hadn’t earned the benefit of the doubt on an unorthodox move.

We are now just days away from watching that same 49ers team in the Super Bowl, and they have built a tremendous roster. Lynch deserves a lot of the credit.

Most of us tend to think of the general manager’s job is pure talent evaluation. Most in that job come from a scouting background.

There was a day in the NFL when one person might have been able to handle all of the talent evaluation. That was a very long time ago.

NFL teams need to evaluate over 1,000 college prospects each season. They also need to have full scouting reports on players already in the league who might become available. This is too much for one man to handle.

The general manager also has duties overseeing the salary cap, making sure the facilities are up to par, navigating the team’s internal politics, acting as one of the franchise’s public faces, and dealing with crises that arrive both internal and external.

There simply isn’t enough time to crunch all of the film necessary.

A great general manager in today’s NFL hires a great front office team around him. He can delegate to that team. He is capable of synthesizing the information in front of him, and making smart decisions.

The background isn’t that important. It’s about capability. It probably isn’t an accident that a pair of the league’s most successful franchises, the Eagles and Saints also have general managers who don’t come from scouting backgrounds.

For what it is worth, the front office team Joe Douglas has built with the Jets contains a number of highly respected people within the league.

Mike Shanahan

I never thought Shanahan was an awful coach, but there was something about his record that stuck out to me.

Three year stretch from 1995-1997: 39-9 record (.812 winning percentage); 2 Super Bowl wins

The rest of his career: 131-129 record (.503 winning percentage); 1 Playoff win

You can’t take away the two Super Bowl wins or the great three year stretch. With that said, there’s a difference between having one red hot stretch and having sustained success. It always seemed to me that Shanahan had the former. Maybe he had a pair of Super Bowl wins, but so does George Seifert. I don’t think many people view Seifert as a legendary coach.

Events from the league this year and some quality articles led me to reconsider my position.

Offensive concepts he brought into the mainstream can be seen all over the NFL. And the proteges from his prolific coaching tree are taking offenses to the next level.

I have long argued that Don Coryell deserves a spot in the Hall of Fame. Coryell never won a championship, but his offensive ideas influence every team in the NFL to this day.

You could make the same thing about Shanahan except he does have a pair of Super Bowl rings.

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What did you change your mind about this year?