Top 10 players and coaches in dead-end jobs this season
Remember that flight attendant who declared his independence by grabbing two Blue Moon beers and sliding down the emergency chute to his 15 minutes of fame? Yeah, I almost already forgot him too, at least until I began writing this column on people in the NFL caught in dead-end situations with no way out. That guy’s time in the spotlight may have ended faster than Timmy Smith’s did after running for something like 700 yards against the Broncos in the Super Bowl way back when. But for the following 10 players and coaches, Joe Concha says the Inception-like nightmare has just begun.
Jay Cutler, QB, Chicago Bears
He has a rocket arm, but an attitude out of the Ryan Leaf School for QBs. The ex-Bronco was forced from the friendly AFC West confines and privilege of playing the Raiders and Chiefs four times a year to the tough NFC North (Detroit notwithstanding) and Chicago ... a team whose WR core ain't exactly the Three Amigos or Fun Bunch. Worse, the O-line’s getting him pounded already, leaving Cutler with either A) No one to throw to, or B) Looking up at the spaceship known as the somewhat-new Soldier Field. The blame game should begin around Week 4 after Chicago's likely 1-3 start. Overall, a bad fit for a franchise that hasn't found the right QB (22 different starters since 1992) in a long time.
Kyle Orton, QB, Denver Broncos
Don't get me wrong, I like Orton. He's a steady and reliable QB who’s a better version of another steady and reliable AFC West QB (Jason Campbell), but he's just not going to make the big plays that propel a team to the next level. No playoff starts, and he's one or two subpar starts away from the "We want Tebow" chants, which is likely why Denver signed him to a one-year deal, and why they drafted the Florida icon to be the next John Elway.
Eric Mangini, Head coach, Cleveland Browns
The Mangenius once was so huge he got 15 seconds on the Sopranos (most among active coaches). But thanks to one bad December with Brett Favre in New York and an even worse run with the Browns last season, he's suddenly in the situation of needing at least a .500 mark this year to avoid heading back to the ranks of eternal "assistant." If this wasn't a team with Jake Delhomme as its QB (see: 23 INTs in final 12 games as Panther) and one with a slight confidence problem at home (four wins in 16 tries the past two seasons), that might not be such a challenge. But Mangini’s seemingly being set up to fail to allow the team's GM (Mike Holmgren) the opportunity to turn it all around in 2011.
Albert Haynesworth, DT, Washington Redskins
Who knew the game's best nose guard would morph into Finch from Wildcats? One difference: Finch wasn't making $21 million playing for Goldie Hawn, which Big Al is doing for Dan Snyder. If that kind of cash isn't enough to serve as a motivator, what is? Before training camp, Mike Shanahan told him he could either play for the 'Skins, accept playing in a 3-4 defense or go elsewhere. Haynesworth opted to stay, but didn't buy into the program. Even if he does well moving forward, it won't matter much to fans who won't see much of a return-on-investment. Nose guards aren't picked for fantasy teams for a reason, and 3-4 defenses aren't exactly good for stats when getting double-teamed every play.
John Fox, Head coach, Carolina Panthers
In an era when most head coaches who haven't won a Super Bowl have a shelf life of maybe 2-4 years in any given organization, Fox is just one of three head coaches in the history of the franchise. Granted, said franchise only came along 15 years ago, but his staying power’s rivaled only on a mainstream level with Bill Shatner, the Ground Zero Mosque debate, Jennifer Aniston and Pearl Jam. Nevertheless, rookie QBs and tough divisions have a way of pushing contract extensions off the table. Owner Jerry Richardson may decide Fox is like his Joe Torre in '07 and he needs to find the next Joe Girardi. Unless Matt Moore and/or Jimmy Clausen can make huge strides this season, the 55-year-old Fox will be the first victim of the Panthers' rebuilding year.
Marshawn Lynch, RB, Buffalo Bills
Two things won't happen this year: 1) Andre Reed gets inducted into the Hall (which absolutely should happen if any logic is applied); 2) The Bills win five games playing in the impossible AFC East (0-6 against Jets, Pats and Fish is almost a certainty). The one bright spot for Buffalo will be the emergence of C.J. Spiller, who’s looked downright Thurman-like in the preseason (126 yards, 3 TDs on only 26 carries). That means Lynch is likely a goner or won't see much time with Fred Jackson becoming a third-down specialist to spell Spiller. Hard to believe Lynch was once a second-round fantasy pick a year ago, but off-field problems and Spiller's upside are steering the Bills in another direction as they rebuild (again).
Matt Leinart, QB, Arizona Cardinals
Suddenly, it seems that bad karma, and not Vince Young, was the reason the Trojans lost the national title to Texas that night at the Rose Bowl. Just look at the then-USC backfield now: LenDale White? Drug issues send him from Tennessee to Seattle to Denver. Reggie Bush's violations ensure USC won't be playing for any more championships the next two years. Leinart can't beat out a seemingly washed up Kurt Warner for the job he was drafted to take, and now a former QB of the seriously offensively-challenged Browns (Derek Anderson) is likely to make him a backup once again.
Tarvaris Jackson, QB, Minnesota Vikings
Even if this is Brett Favre's last year, the amount of frustration and disrespect this guy’s been forced to endure should make him look for the inflatable slide right out of Minneapolis. Never has a player been so publicly shunned than Jackson, who’s likely taking this whole thing well (again) because somewhere deep down in places he doesn't want to talk about at parties, he knows he's lucky to have a seat at the table. When Jackson’s had his chances, it hasn't been Fran Tarkenton, or even Fran Fraschilla. 2007: NFL's 28th-rated passer in 12 starts while throwing 12 picks and nine TDs. Only playoff start: Throws crippling pick-six to put Vikes out of their misery at home against Philly in 2008. He should be happy to get a nice paycheck, a little sympathy and some mop-up duty.
Jarred Page, FS, Kansas City Chiefs
Talk about being born under a bad sign. Here are Page's two options: Sign with the Chiefs (29th-ranked defense in the league, 4-12 overall) or go to the juggernaut that’s really, really interested in him: The 2-14 Lions! It's more of a lose-lose than quitting a low-paying job on an airline, jumping off an airplane and realizing the beers you took with you are O'Doul's. D'OH! Worse off, Jarrad's agent is his brother John, which leads to the inevitable bad things that go along with mixing business, millions, commissions and family together. Option No. 3 is for Page (not the agent, the safety) to sit out altogether, which given the alternatives might not be the worst idea.
Nate Kaeding, K, San Diego Chargers
There's an old Robin Williams/Kurt Russell movie most haven't seen called The Best of Times (1985). Brief synopsis: Williams plays a nerd who somehow made the football team in high school, but drops a sure last-second TD in a big game against his downtrodden city's biggest rival. He has to live with it like Bill Buckner or Scott Norwood, for years until one day he organizes a rematch using the same exact teams, including Russell as the awesomely-named star QB, Reno Hightower. Williams is put in the exact position again. Will he catch the damn ball this time? Will he gain the forgiveness from an entire town who’s scorned him his entire adult life? That's the scenario Kaeding needs to play out to compensate for his horrific 53 percent success rate in the playoffs, including an 0-for-3 meltdown last year in a three-point loss to the Jets. Overall, he's 3-for-9 at home in the postseason! — Joe Concha