Smart teams build
teams with depth

Dec 5, 2006 3:53 AM

Depth is such an essential element of success in pro football, and one easily overlooked.

Good coaches and GMs will build their teams with the understanding that they will lose some players during the football season. This is very different from a GM who think good teams come minus injuries.

Pittsburgh: Two years ago, the Steelers already had a starting QB in Tommy Maddox. When Ben Roethlisberger fell to them in the first round (11th pick) of the draft they were delighted. A player they had rated high dropped in their laps so they took him. They placed and emphasis on drafting talent before need, which is the better way to go.

The Steelers were stockpiling talent at the most important position. They didn’t anticipate Maddox getting hurt in Week 2, but that’s what happened, and they were prepared with Roethlisberger stepping in and winning 15 in a row as a starter. The main reason for depth is one of the most important components of football: Injuries. The world of pro football is a violent game, and injuries are commonplace. Stockpiling depth is one way to address future problems.

New England: When coach Bill Belichick and GM Scott Pioli took over in 2000, they noticed the Pats payroll was heavy in star power ($8-10 million), very light on middle-tiered payroll players and heavy with athletes in the low payroll range. They immediately set out to change that, slowly paring down the high-salaried guys (QB Drew Bledsoe, WR Terry Glenn), and using the money to attract more middle-payroll athletes in the $4-6 million range.

They also weren’t afraid to let talented free agents walk (Damien Woody, Ted Washington, Ty Law, David Patton, David Givens, Deion Branch). The Lions gave center Damien Woody big bucks in 2004, but how has that worked out? The Lions offensive line has been awful. Receivers Patton and Givens went for big bucks in Washington the last two years, but neither helped. Other than QB, one player isn’t likely to turn around an offense or defense. Despite personnel changes, the Pats are 5-0 SU/ATS on the road.

San Diego: The Chargers traded the rights to the top pick in the 2001 NFL Draft to Atlanta, which used the selection to take Michael Vick. San Diego selected RB LaDainian Tomlinson of TCU with the fifth overall pick, then got Purdue QB Drew Brees with the first pick of the second round. In hindsight, that was a great trade for the Chargers. They did it again in 2004, trading QB Eli Manning to the Giants for two first-round picks, which turned out to be QB Philip Rivers and LB Shawn Merriman. Talk about stockpiling talent! The Chargers are 16-4-1 ATS their last 21 road games.

When Rivers was a rookie, the Chargers still kept veteran Doug Flutie and Drew Brees. They didn’t know who would lead the team, but were smart enough to have three talented options. It was Brees who matured as an MVP candidate in 2004. When he was up for free agency, rather than bust their budget, the Chargers let him walk and turned the offense over to Rivers, who has been far better than many expected. The Broncos can only hope rookie QB Jay Cutler plays as well the rest of the season.

Stockpiling depth is essential when injuries strike. Look at all the QB injuries this season: Aaron Brooks (Oakland), Matt Hasselbeck (Seahawks), Chris Simms (Bucs), Donovan McNabb (Eagles), Bryon Leftwich (Jaguars), Kurt Warner (Cardinals). In addition, look at the QBs whose were ineffective and lost their jobs: Mark Brunell (Redskins), Kerry Collins (Titans), Daunte Culpepper (Dolphins), and Drew Bledsoe (Cowboys).

Part of it is luck. It’s tough to lose such a pivotal figure as a star quarterback. On the other hand, part of it is smart coaching and management. It’s a matter of preparing proper depth in case something goes wrong. It’s not the job of a GM to be praying every Sunday for players not to get injured.

Smart teams expect injuries and stockpile depth.