Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Lack of Depth Leads to Mediocrity in NFL

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Lack of Depth Leads to Mediocrity in NFL

Article excerpt

Former NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle used to envision Sunday as a day of parity, when it wouldn't be rhetoric to say anybody could beat anybody.

But now that it's here, parity is hardly a panacea. It's difficult to celebrate mediocrity.

"You're talking to a football purist," said ESPN analyst Tom Jackson, former Denver Broncos linebacker. "I enjoy seeing the game played at its best ... I don't see enough of that.

"I understand it can generate more excitement from fans when 17 or 18 teams are still in the playoff race with two or three weeks to go, but I would rather see 10 teams in the race if it meant better football is played."

This season, 47 percent of NFL games have been decided by seven points or fewer (up from 45 percent at the same point last year) and 12 have gone into overtime (compared with three through Week 6 in 1994).

And last week, parity reared its ugly headlines again. The Indianapolis Colts beat the San Francisco 49ers. The Denver Broncos shut out the Oakland Raiders. The Jacksonville Jaguars fell a late field goal short of taking the Chicago Bears into overtime for a chance to become the first expansion team to win three straight games.

"If this continues," said Jackson, "we won't know how to judge upsets anymore."

In the age of free agency and salary caps and expansion, competitive mediocrity is the by-product.

There are more good athletes playing football than ever. But expansion to Jacksonville and Carolina has created more jobs than there are quality people to fill them, free agency spreads the quality players all over the NFL in search of big bucks, and the salary cap prevents teams from stockpiling talent.

Basically, teams have no depth. So when injuries happen - and they will - you're stuck playing the inexpensive, inexperienced and ineffective.

"We did the New England game last week," said NBC analyst Paul Maguire, "and (Patriots coach) Bill Parcells made seven changes - five were performance changes and two were injury changes. I said to Bill, `If you're not happy with the way your team is playing, if you had the luxury and money, would you go out and get different players? …

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