Labriola On

Labriola on can BA protect Brady better than Ben

Ready or not, here it comes:

• It was January 2012, and Steelers President Art Rooney II was on his postseason media tour to give his assessment of the team's 2011 season, one that ended with a 12-4 record but an overtime loss in Denver in the Wild Card Round of the playoffs.

• "We need to be more consistent on offense," said Rooney. "That's one of the goals we need to have. We need to take fewer sacks. I think we finished 21st in the league in scoring, which is something we obviously need to improve on," and then a little later he got specific about his starting quarterback. "I'm not sure if I would say he has to change his style of play. He may need to tweak it a little bit, but Ben is Ben. You wouldn't want to try to convince him that he completely has to change his game, because a lot of what he does is the reason he is successful. The other side of the coin is that he's turning 30 years old. We do need him to stay healthy. Taking fewer sacks would probably help that equation."

• Take fewer sacks. In the span of 90 seconds or less, Rooney said those three words twice. And then in case someone, anyone, either wasn't paying attention or didn't get his meaning, he threw in that tidbit about Ben Roethlisberger's upcoming birthday.

• Bruce Arians was promoted from wide receivers coach to offensive coordinator by Mike Tomlin when Tomlin was hired in early 2007 to succeed Bill Cowher, and Arians' his first five years on the job Roethlisberger was sacked 47, 49, 50, 43, and 42 times. That totaled 231 sacks for an average of 46.2 per season.

• Because everything and anything Rooney says is blasted all over the media, and on every existing media platform, it's inconceivable that Arians didn't hear what Rooney had said. But as my mother always scolded, "You hear me, but you're not listening."

• Apparently, Arians wasn't listening, and as a result he soon was out of a job in Pittsburgh, to be replaced as the Steelers offensive coordinator by Todd Haley.

• Apparently, Haley heard what Rooney wanted, because over the next seven seasons, Roethlisberger was sacked 30, 42, 33, 20, 17, 21, and 24 times. That totaled 187 sacks for an average of 26.7. The drastic difference in those numbers is no doubt a contributing factor in explaining why Roethlisberger is on track to play a 17th NFL season at the age of 38.

• This potentially is significant now because Tom Brady, who will be 43 on Aug. 3, recently signed a free agent contract to be Tampa Bay's starting quarterback, where Arians happens to be the head coach. In his 20 NFL seasons, Brady has been sacked 500 times, an average of 25 times per season, and in 15 NFL seasons as either an offensive coordinator or a head coach, Arians' offense never has seen the quarterback sacked as few as 25 times over the course of a whole regular season.

• Here are the totals: As the Browns offensive coordinator from 2001-03: 51, 35, and 40 sacks. As the Steelers offensive coordinator from 2007-11: 47, 49, 50, 43, and 42 sacks. As the Colts offensive coordinator/interim head coach in 2012: 41 sacks. As Arizona's head coach from 2013-17: 41, 28, 27, 41, and 52 sacks. As Tampa Bay's head coach in 2019: 47 sacks. In fact, in 2012, Colts rookie Andrew Luck, the first overall pick in that year's draft, endured 122 hits (41 sacks and 83 other recorded hits on the quarterback), and that 2012 season was the start of an career ended when he was 29 because as Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young said, "He took too many hits."

• How many times can a 43-year-old future Hall of Fame quarterback get sacked before he breaks? Based on history, that question is likely to be answered in 2020.

• Used to be, NFL teams would draft young quarterbacks with the idea of having them spend time on the sideline watching and learning the nuances of the professional game, and these tutorials could last up to five seasons before a guy would get a chance to play regularly, or the team would cut ties and move on to a different young quarterback.

• Going back in history, it was Craig Morton "mentoring" Roger Staubach in Dallas; Steve DeBerg being the sage veteran for rookie Joe Montana in San Francisco and then John Elway in Denver; Drew Bledsoe was so entrenched in New England that Tom Brady wouldn't even have gotten a chance to play in his second NFL season if not for a serious injury; and the Packers played Brett Favre before turning things over to Aaron Rodgers.

• That's the way it used to be, but not anymore.

• That quaint practice of having a young quarterback watching and learning went out the window once the NFL went to a system of free agency tied to a salary cap, and the practice became downright foolish after the 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement was ratified mandating all contracts for draft picks last four years with the team holding an option for a fifth year on first-round picks.

• Under the current system, the best plan is for a team to decide whether it's in the market for its next starting quarterback or not. Then if it is, get itself into position to pick the best college quarterback it can. Then make a commitment to the young guy and get him on the field as quickly as possible, even if it involves changing the existing offensive system to cater to the youngster's particular skill-set.

• The reason this is the smart way to approach this is because of the salary cap.

• Again, based on the 2011 CBA, draft picks are paid according to a slotted system based totally on draft position, which has eliminated rookie holdouts and also stopped big-money contracts going to rookies who have yet to strap on an NFL helmet. Depending on what side of this issue you happen to fall on, Matthew Stafford either was the last rookie to cash in, or he was the straw that broke the old system's back.

• As the first overall pick of the 2009 NFL Draft, Stafford signed a six-year contract with the Detroit Lions that paid him $72 million, of which $41.7 million was guaranteed. Over the first four years of his NFL career, Stafford made $50 million. Contrast those numbers to what Andrew Luck got as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. Luck signed a four-year fully guaranteed contract with the Indianapolis Colts for $22.1 million total.

• Two of the teams currently among the darlings of the football media for the way they have managed this offseason are the Kansas City Chiefs and the Baltimore Ravens, and both of those have benefitted greatly by being fortunate enough to have their starting quarterbacks both still operating under their rookie contracts.

• The Chiefs won a Super Bowl with Patrick Mahomes counting just $4.4 million on their salary cap, which was a help in Kansas City being able to carry wide receiver Sammy Watkins at a $19.2 million cap hit even though he was third on the team in receptions and fifth in receiving touchdowns in 2019; in being able to slap a franchise tag on defensive lineman Chris Jones worth $16.1 million in the aftermath of that Super Bowl victory and do so painlessly.

• In Baltimore, reigning NFL MVP Lamar Jackson cost the Ravens' salary cap $2.15 million in 2019, he will count $2.5 million on their cap in 2020, and $3 million in 2021, with the Ravens owning the right to exercise a fifth-year option on his rookie contract for the 2022 season.

• Having a talented quarterback at such an economical cap charge has allowed the Ravens a lot of flexibility over the past couple of offseasons, and where it's obvious is in their ability to commit $80-plus million of cap space on these six defensive players: Calais Campbell, Matthew Judon, Marcus Peters, Earl Thomas, Brandon Williams, and Michael Brockers.

• Both the Chiefs and Ravens have been able to keep their good players without sacrificing their depth, and in certain instances have been able to add pieces during free agency in an attempt to fortify their roster. They've both made good moves so far during this offseason, and they deserve credit for that.

• But what also should be acknowledged is that it has been made much, much easier for both of those teams because they are fortunate to have their starting quarterbacks still operating under their rookie contracts. Neither team will be as fortunate once it comes time to negotiate a second contract for Mahomes and Jackson and the Chiefs and Ravens find themselves having to commit up to $30 million per year on their salary caps for their quarterbacks.

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