Self-fulfilling prophecies make NFL camp 'competitions' a total joke
When Josh McDaniels picked Kyle Orton in trade, the QB competition was over
Aaron Rodgers' extension further solidified Ted Thompson's move to jettison Favre
Sorry, Kellen Clemens. You have no shot at beating out Mark Sanchez
The NFL is supposed to be among the most objective places of employment around. If you can play, you can stay, as the saying goes. Or in regard to coaches, win and you can stay in. The best players should start, make the team, etc. Likewise, the best coaches should get the head jobs, coordinator roles, etc. Yet in an ultra-competitive industry, that isn't always the case. There are still a number of personnel decisions that are pre-ordained. Call it the theory of the self-fulfilling prophecy.
The latest example comes out of Denver, where Kyle Orton "won" the battle for the starting quarterback position with Chris Simms. Now there's a shocker. After the whole drawn out Jay Cutler fiasco, was there ever any doubt who Josh McDaniels was going to tab as his starting quarterback? The only way Orton was going to lose the job to Simms was if Orton played horrendous and Simms played amazing, which was not the case.
That the Broncos announced their decision in June, without the players ever putting on shoulder pads, indicates this was more of a reaffirmation of what they already thought, not a genuine, no-holds barred competition. Making a decision about any position based upon OTAs, where there are no "live" bullets and no real threat of a pass rush, is questionable at best. So much for the pace of those practices being at a tempo conducive to learning and not evaluation, per the Collective Bargaining Agreement.
I am not saying Simms deserved the job. Orton is a proven winner when given an opportunity as opposed to Simms, who hasn't played in forever. Unfortunately for Simms, he was behind the eight-ball as soon as McDaniels hand-picked Orton in the Cutler trade.
Not every self-fulfilling prophecy necessarily results from a coach picking one player to play over another. Another high-profile example comes from Packers GM Ted Thompson and his decision in early November to give Aaron Rodgers a contract extension that will keep him in Green Bay until 2014 and pay him $66 million in the process. In the case of the Rodgers deal, much like the Orton situation, the ultimate decision to sign him to a long-term deal was probably the right one. Rodgers had proven he was a competent starting quarterback over the first half of the season and eventually finished with 28 touchdowns and only 13 interceptions while throwing for over 4,000 yards.
But similarly to the predetermined Orton decision in Denver, you have to imagine Thompson was hoping he would be able to sign Rodgers to a deal that validates him as the franchise quarterback for the Packers. After the messy Brett Favre divorce, Thompson would have been toast in the minds of the Lambeau faithful if Rodgers had faltered. So Rodgers contract not only establishes him as the quarterback of the future in Green Bay, it also becomes the backbone for Thompson's reasoning for moving forward without Favre in the first place. In effect, the Rodgers deal validates him and the entire Packers front office.
Critics will point out the team was only 6-10 last season and Rodgers showed a chronic inability to find a way to lead his team to a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter. Lucky for him, it doesn't matter. Thompson was itching to place the stamp of approval on his Favre decision as soon as possible. So as soon as a new contract for Rodgers was reasonable, he pulled the trigger.
Self-fulfilling prophecies like these happen all the time and it is no secret why. Owners, GMs and coaches have a vested interest in having their decisions pay off -- or at least appear to pay off. It makes them look good. It is one of the reasons I think more and more teams are drafting offensive linemen high in the draft over the last couple of seasons.
Teams and prognosticators will use the term "safe," but I prefer the word "hide." That's because one of the reasons an offensive lineman is a safe pick is because teams can scheme block to protect him, and can give him help from backs, tight ends and other linemen. Then, at the end of the year, teams can point out the fact their high pick started all 16 games and only gave up a couple of sacks, even though the truth may be that he was given so much assistance that he was rarely placed in a position to fail.
The next example of a pre-ordained competition is taking place in New York right now with the "battle" between Kellen Clemens and Mark Sanchez. Please. As if the $28 million guaranteed Sanchez is getting in his rookie contract wasn't enough of a reason to assume Sanchez would ultimately "win" the job, the recent comments from owner Woody Johnson comparing Sanchez's similarities to the great generals of all time pretty much cemented it. Sorry Kellen, but you have no shot.
That is a real shame in my mind because Clemens was once a hot prospect out of the Pac-10 and never really has had an opportunity to show what he can do outside of starting some games for a horrible Jets team in 2007. It is hard for me to imagine that a young quarterback with only 16 college starts can beat out a guy going into his fourth season working with offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. Alas, it doesn't really matter. As soon as their production appears to be even close to comparable in the eyes of the Jets front office, Sanchez will be taking the snaps. It has already been predetermined.
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