As always, this is just my opinion.
We here on MHR know that John Clayton is the epitome of a sports journalist masquerading as a serious journalist. Not that one can't be both, but it is becoming increasingly difficult to do so and many (especially those on or connected to ESPN) are bowing to the pressure of their peers. John Clayton is dubbed "The Professor" by his colleagues, but I find this rather sycophantic and woefully inaccurate. I have a better nickname in mind, but it borders on breaking MHR's code of conduct, so I will reserve it for my own giggling/sniggering pleasure.
In the interest of full disclosure and merit-based praise/censure, I am going to start a John Clayton watch now that we have equalled his preseason win prediction for the season (3-13). I've said on other Fanposts that I want accountability in the MSM, and less ill-informed opinion masquerading as expert analysis. I want to provide that accountability for Clayton, and I promise you: if he is honest and open about his mistakes, I will sincerely acknowledge that and stop keeping an eye on him. If not, I'll continue to be a mosquito in a tornado, but at least a mosquito who forms his opinions based on fact instead of fan-based prejudice.
This first installment will be a baseline, covering all his comments on the 2009 Broncos. I'll occasionally alert you to clues to his modus operandi (MO from here on out), which helps to understand how his prior conceptions shape how he views the facts. Also, I'll give you some heads-up to a few snide remarks he throws out from time to time that show both how he overextends himself in criticism of the Broncos (beyond the point of face-saving retraction), and how his descent into faux journalism is complete. So, let's begin!
- Clayton admits he is "baffled" and is "not sure what they [the Broncos] are doing", referring to supposedly not addressing the front 7 (i.e., DTs, LBs, DEs) in free agency
- He takes issue with taking in 3 new RBs and calls the defensive players aquired "aging"
- Snide quote: calls the Broncos free agency period "an expensive tryout camp".
- MO alert: Clayton thinks the Broncos "need more help at nose tackle" -- Fields is a "good rotational player", but the Broncos need to trade up to get B. J. Raji. He believes that the Broncos are trying a similar strategy to the 2008 Dolphins: quantity over quality.
- To his credit, he acknowledges the above worked for the Fins and says, "we'll see if it works for the Broncos."
- Clayton looks at Jay Cutler and thinks that the Browns would be a good fit. To his credit, he correctly calls the final compensation package (roughly--i.e., two first-rounders and a third-rounder)
- MO alert: He calls the situation "messed-up" and places the blame on McDaniels for having "ruined Cutler's confidence in the organization"
- Snide quote: believes that McDaniels "continues to push the issue the wrong way by trying to be more like a boss than a diplomat".
- He claims that Cutler "apparently had still planned to show up" for the start of the offseason program until talks between Cutler and McDaniels "fell apart because of poor communication"
- He believes that "Cook, Jay Cutler's agent, has done nothing... other than offer his support." He claims that Cook "is not trying to play hardball" -- Favre and McNair to the contrary -- and that "the problem is between Cutler and his coach."
- He defends Cutler's antics, pleading to "give [him] some space," reminding people of Favre's immaturity in Atlanta and subsequent trade to Green Bay -- "You saw how well that one worked out"
- He speculates that seeing the interest in Jay Cutler ("the hottest trade commodity in the NFL in more than a decade") "might have convinced... Josh McDaniels to try and mend his relationship with the star instead of trying to trade the quarterback."
- He reports that Josh McDaniels "continued to try to text or call Cutler", causing Cutler to consider going to the Broncos' facility
- He claims McDaniels "fail[ed] to ease Cutler's anger about interest in Matt Cassel", but is now "willing to work with his quarterback."
- He opines that Cutler will still be with the Broncos in 2009.
- Even in an article that (while inspired by Cutler) doesn't have Cutler as its main topic, he gets in a little jab: "Josh McDaniels scrambles to make the best of a bad Jay Cutler situation."
- MO alert: He calls Cutler "proven."
- To his credit, he mentions how the Panthers did the same thing this year and last year. He also mentions that it seems to have worked for the Panthers last year. Unfortunately, he loses when he cites Smith's height but fails to cite Everette Brown's height, or the fact that FSU linebackers have a poor NFL record, or the fact that there were lots of questions regarding Brown's motivation. If he questions the merit of one player, he should do so for the other.
- He cites Denver's "porous" defense and "several questions" on offense to throw doubt on the strategy
- He believes the Broncos "could give Seattle a very high pick in the 2010 draft"
- To his credit, he calls Iron Clady "one of the leagues best young tackles."
- An obviously disgruntled fan wonders why we can't get Michael Vick or Vince Young. To his credit, Clayton realizes that McDaniels would never stand for such blasphemy.
- An odd exchange occurs where he wonders why he's still getting "bombed" with emails from Bronco fans wondering why he questions the Cutler trade. He says, "Orton is good [props at least for that]. Cutler is better. We stand together in our thinking." Ummm... Aren't you kind of missing the point, John?
- Clayton examines the Broncos, Chiefs, and Packers' switch to a 3-4 look, and states that the Broncos will have the hardest time of the three unless "Ronald Fields can do what wasn't done in San Francisco."
- MO alert: he claims that for a 3-4 to work, "you need a great nose tackle who can draw double-team blocks."
- In answering why the AFC West (supposedly) is the "dregs of the league", he claims that the Broncos "haven't drafted well for years." To his credit, he makes an exception of the 2008 draft.
- MO alert: he says, "Better days are ahead, but it's not going to be this season for [the Chiefs, Raiders, and Broncos]"
- Interestingly, on the basis that the 2008 draft was "one of [Shanahan's] better drafts," he states he was "stunned" that Shanahan was fired.
- Later in the mailbag, he says about Orton, "I thought he came into his own last season with the Bears. The guy has been a winner."
- However, he says that Orton will have to be "great" this year to continue his winning ways, because he's now got a "leaky" defense backing him up.
- A few things to his credit: he calls Orton "good," and realizes that the Broncos can "get by" without Marshall at WR.
- He reiterates his belief that the Broncos' defense is "suspect" and as a result we will "play a lot of shootouts"
- MO alert: He sees the middle of our schedule as a place where "it's going to be hard to win many games" -- in fact, from October 4 to Thanksgiving, he says we could "lose all eight [games]"
- He is also of the opinion that getting value (i.e., a 1st and 4th rounder) for Marshall is "the wise thing to do if McDaniels is going to build the Broncos back into a playoff team."
- Clayton reiterates his opinion that McDaniels "chased away" Jay Cutler and calls the whole affair a "soap opera"
- He sees the state of the Broncos as a "mess" and doesn't give them much chance against "a Bengals offense that can put up big numbers". He expects Chad Ochocinco to have "a great day" against the Broncos secondary (final stats: 5 catches, 89 yards, no TDs)
- According to Clayton, the Bengals offense played "poorly" losing to the Broncos. Seeing as how the Bengals "couldn't do anything with the Broncos' 3-4, they probably will have more trouble with what the Packers and [defensive coordinator Dom] Capers will plan" -- Chad Ochocinco will not be able to do a Lambeau leap (final stats: 4 catches, 91 yards, 1 TD)
- Snide comment: he calls the Broncos win over the Bengals "fluky but fun" -- I can almost feel him patting me on the head condescendingly.
- Interestingly, he thinks that the Browns' offense "couldn't do anything" vs. the Vikings. Really? 13 points, 268 total net yards, and 5.1 ypc for Jamal Lewis -- not amazing, but certainly something.
- A veiled mea culpa: He says the Broncos "might reach 6 or 7 wins by the end of the season if they win [either vs. Dallas or New England]". He also says "it's pretty clear the Broncos have established themselves as a better team than the Chiefs and Raiders in the AFC West." Considering his predicted 4th place finish in the division, that's a retraction... of sorts.
- He defends his initial 3-13 projection by referring to the "gauntlet" of 8 games coming up between now and Thanksgiving. "Where will the Broncos get their wins during this stretch?" he rhetorically asks.
- The Broncos are "the biggest surprise in football." Their Week 1 upset of the Bengals was "a stunner".
- Snide quote: "Mike Nolan has pieced together a 3-4 defense with some castoff defensive linemen. He has patched the secondary with veterans."
Really, his words stand well on their own. A few things, though. To his credit, he doesn't seem to be an Orton hater or of the MSM variety who is allured by gaudy QB stats. He also is usually fair with assigning praise where it is due. Still, with the Broncos he put himself past the point of no return long ago. His frequent snide comments, plus his devotion to particular football philosophies (especially about how to build a 3-4 defense), and finally a bizarrely one-sided take on the Jay Cutler situation, have placed his perspective on the Broncos outside the realm of objective journalism. While I don't think he is consciously grinding an axe in regards to the Broncos, I think that his perceptual schema is just as colored as ours is. Honestly, I only see two ways for him to acknowledge any success the Broncos may have: Either capitulate entirely and print the phrase, "I was wrong about the Broncos and Josh McDaniels", or ignore his prior statements to the contrary and slowly transition himself into a believer (in print). What he absolutely cannot do is re-interpret his prior statements as being conditional or contingent. He has painted himself into a corner, which is somewhat unique in the world of sports journalism. Usually, a journalist will leave himself/herself an out, relying on the vagaries of an NFL season and so-called "weasel words" (i.e., should, ought to, might be, probably, etc.) to remove accountability. John Clayton, however, has firmly established himself as someone who is against McDaniels and is invested in the Broncos' failure. We will see if he does the manful thing and admits it, or if he tries to wiggle his way free in the coming weeks.
But as always, this is just my opinion.