Ran into an interesting article this morning over at KC Chiefs.com regarding to pending quarterback battle in Kansas City. Trent Green, Damon Huard and Brodie Croyle are all on the current roster, and while no one really thinks Green will be there come late July there still figures to be a battle between Croyle and Huard.
What does this have to do with the Broncos? Well, it is a division rival so there is some direct correlation. Who the Chiefs decide to put under center has a direct effect on the Broncos and us fans. But it was more than just the KC quarterback controversy that sparked my interest.
Herm Edwards has yet to name his starter. To Jonathon Rand, who wrote the article, this doesn't seem to be that big of a deal --
That's not necessary with the Chiefs. Huard has spent a decade in the fire station responding whenever the bell rings and wouldn't be fazed if he were named the starter five minutes before kickoff for the opener.
Croyle, entering his second season, would be so happy to start that the timing wouldn't matter to him, either. And Green, after six years as the opening-day starter, could resume that role as easily as somebody slipping back on the living room couch.
So Edwards needs not hurry to name a starting quarterback.
How about the other guys in the locker room? These guys want to know who they are going to battle with, who their leader on offense is going to be. Don't underestimate this. Players are human. Sure, they will play hard for whoever is named the starter, but they have their preferences. Let's say Green gets traded. That will leave Huard and Croyle. Vets, who are getting increasingly concerned about winning now, will tend to gravitate towards the veteran. Younger players, who don't feel the same urgency about winning immediately, usually side with their peer group, or the younger guy. The longer the coach hems and haws about the decision the longer the line between the sides can be drawn. Any quarterback controversy, implied or otherwise, are a negative to the team. Period. And as we know very well, a quarterback quandary can be incredibly divisive to a fan base as well. Imagine having three guys to choose from.
Still, other than a passing interest this has little to do with the Broncos. Until this --
Edwards won't actually know whether Croyle is ready until he gets to play. All the practice field and pre-season reps in the world won't reveal if a quarterback's decision making, leadership and skills can hold up against the blinding speed and relentless pressure of a regular-season game.
A major factor in Croyle's favor, supposedly, is that the Chiefs can't afford to stunt his development while AFC West rivals develop young quarterbacks - the Raiders with rookie JaMarcus Russell, the Broncos with Jay Cutler and the Chargers with Philip Rivers.
This factor is overrated. If Croyle performs as well as either of his rivals, his age and upside would be the logical tie-breaker to give him the job. But if he's not ready to play and win, it would be a mistake to force feed him into the lineup just to keep up with the Joneses. It's too difficult to win in the NFL to compromise a season just to develop a young quarterback.
The Broncos probably would've made the playoffs last season had Mike Shanahan not benched veteran Jake Plummer with a 7-4 record. Tired of Plummer's interceptions, Shanahan went to Cutler, a rookie, and the Broncos finished 2-3. In a home game against the 49ers that could've put the Broncos in the playoffs, Cutler played unevenly after getting knocked woozy and the Broncos were upset 26-23. That loss gave the Chiefs the AFC's last playoff spot.
In case you need me to translate, Rand is saying that the Chiefs should start the vet instead of Croyle, in part, because the Broncos went with Jay Cutler, thus missing the playoffs. He speaks of Cutler's "uneven" play against San Francisco. Did he watch the Broncos offense under Plummer in 2006? Did he watch the offense struggle on Thanksgiving in Arrowhead? The Broncos offense was uneven all year.
Would we have made the playoffs with Plummer behind center all season? Maybe. I know the offense was scoring under 17 points per game under Plummer and over 24 per game under Cutler. What I do know for sure is the Broncos WERE NOT going to the Super Bowl with Plummer. That's the difference between the Broncos and Chiefs. Rand mentions the loss to the 49'ers as the "loss that gave the Chiefs the AFC's last playoff spot". Very true. It also "gave" the Chiefs the opportunity to get embarrassed in the Playoffs by the eventual Super Bowl Champion.
Rand says "It's too difficult to win in the NFL to compromise a season just to develop a young quarterback." That's the difference between Kansas City and Denver. KC considers backing into the playoffs and getting completely dominated by a defense that wasn't supposed to be that good as "winning". Denver considers AFC Championships and Super Bowls as winning. That's why you draft a quarterback in the first round the season after getting to the AFC Championship game.
Kansas City knows it is at the cusp of a major rebuilding plan. The fan base is passionate, like Denver's and losing would not go over well. But the time comes when over-hyped backups and aging veterans need to be replaced by young up and coming players. I don't know if Brodie Croyle is the answer in KC. I do know Jay Cutler is in Denver, becuase I watched him play, watched him make mistakes, watched him learn from them. Jay Cutler will get an entire off-season as the #1 guy to prepare. That is HUGE!
I am sure Croyle would be excited no matter when he is named the starter, but the damage will have already been done in the locker room and in the stands. If he is the future it needs to start now. Larry Johnson isn't getting any younger and whether it is this year or next Damon Huard is only a stop gap.
To be honest, it is thinking like Rand's that makes me more confident in the Broncos, and more excited about the 2007 season.