Monday, March 19, 2012

Volume 7, Number 1: An Open Letter to Jimmy Clausen

Two years ago, you declared for the NFL Draft a year early with the idea that you would go in Round 1, preferably to a team that would make you its quarterback of the future. It was a sound decision. Charlie Weis had been fired as Notre Dame head football coach, and 2010 was the final year that rookies could command bigger salaries than the ones they get under the current Collective Bargaining Agreement.

In the three years that you played at Notre Dame, you played in a pro-style offense and improved year-to-year in three key metrics:
  • Completion percentage
  • Touchdown-to-interception ratio
  • Yards per attempt
Add your size to the mix, and it seemed like you would be a plug-and-play fit for any NFL team that needed a quarterback. I still believe that you could be.

I am well aware that most of what has happened in the last two years was beyond your control. The 2010 Panthers were riddled with injuries at key positions (e.g. RB DeAngelo Williams, OT Jeff Otah) and their defense was subpar. They got the first pick in the 2011 Draft and decided that Cam Newton was too great a talent to pass up, especially after leading Auburn to the National Championship a few months prior to the Draft. They also signed a veteran quarterback in Derek Anderson who was more experienced with new offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski's offense, and relegated you to third-string, inactive for every game in 2011.

Through it all, you have kept your head up high and said all the right things. Well done. I could not give you enough credit for that.

Now that Peyton Manning has signed with the Broncos, and they want to trade Tim Tebow, I'd like you to consider asking the Carolina Panthers about a trade to Denver.

And I'm not exactly alone: Scouts, Inc. (the scouting service that grades both veteran and soon-to-be-drafted players for ESPN) says: "He has some tools to build on but could use time as a veteran QB's understudy."

I can think of at least quarterbacks who floundered on bad teams, and then got their careers turned around after backing up a proven veteran on a much better team:
  1. Jim Plunkett, a former #1 overall pick (New England, 1971) whose second season in the NFL was so bad (25 INTs, only 8 TDs) that most NFL fans today would have written him off as a "bum," or a "sunk cost". After seven mostly forgettable seasons, he landed on an Oakland Raiders team that already had a Super Bowl-winning veteran in Ken Stabler, and was third-string behind Stabler and Dan Pastorini for two seasons. Pastorini got hurt and Plunkett took over, and he went on to win two Super Bowls (XV and XVIII).
  2. Steve Young, who joined the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1985 after two seasons with the USFL's Los Angeles Express, went 3-16 in two seasons. He played for a team that went 2-14 in 1985 and 1986, and there aren't many NFL teams that lost 28 games or more in a two-year span, so it's plain to see that Young played on a team that was devoid of talent. The Buccaneers, who had deemed Young a bust, drafted a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback in Vinny Testaverde with the first overall pick the very next year.** Young was traded to the San Francisco 49ers in 1987, where he played behind Joe Montana for four seasons before taking over in 1991. In 1994, Young led the 49ers to their fifth Super Bowl title as San Francisco vanquished the San Diego Chargers in Super Bowl XXIX.
** That sounds a lot like what the Panthers did with you, huh, Jimmy?

I'd love to add this name to the list:
  • Jimmy Clausen had a rough rookie year playing for an injury-maligned Carolina Panthers team in 2010, going 1-9 in ten starts. He was demoted to third-string after the Panthers drafted Cam Newton first overall in 2011. Carolina traded him in 2012 to the Denver Broncos, where he backed up Peyton Manning (who had been released by his long-time team, the Indianapolis Colts, for monetary reasons). After learning under Manning for two seasons, he took over the Denver offense in 2014. Two years afterwards, he led them to their first Super Bowl title in 17 years, as the Broncos defeated the Atlanta Falcons, 28-17, in Super Bowl LI.
Dude. It could happen. All you have to do is do what you can to make it happen. But right about now, you're probably wondering, What the heck do I have to learn from Manning?

There are a few areas--all fall under "intangibles"--where you could stand to improve:

  1. Pocket presence. Most of the time that you got sacked, you just didn't see it coming. You have to figure out when the pocket is breaking down so you don't end up in a moment where it already has broken down. Scouts, Inc. said, "He does not always feel pressure, especially coming from the backside."
  2. Public relations. Yes, I must reiterate you did well in that area last year, not complaining about being third-string or blaming this teammate's injury or that teammate's performance for what happened in 2010. Unfortunately, plenty of people in this small world still insist on judging you by the time you arrived at Notre Dame in a limo, or that incident outside a South Bend bar where you got punched in the face. These people, wrong though they are, think of you as a brat with a sense of self-entitlement who rubs teammates the wrong way. That's where Manning comes in. He is a master at PR. I predict that after his NFL career is over, he'll move on CBS' pregame show, The NFL Today, where he'll replace either Dan Marino or Boomer Esiason.
  3. Doing what it takes to be both a leader and a winner in the NFL. This league has ground up and spit out signal-callers who accomplished a lot more for their college teams than you did for Notre Dame. Meanwhile, Manning's won a Super Bowl in addition to the national championship he won at Tennessee. Wouldn't you love to pick his brain for his championship experience alone? After all, you once said you planned on being "a gym rat in the film room" before the NFL Draft.

You may be wondering why the heck I'm writing you this letter when I'm from Michigan and my hometown team is the Detroit Lions. That's easy. I'm in a 16-team fantasy football league, and the way that league is set up, the only players you can draft every year are rookies. In 2010, I drafted you over Tim Tebow and Colt McCoy because I need a backup for Ben Roethlisberger. I still think I made the right choice. I don't blame you at all for what happened. Besides, you're not the first quarterback to have a rough rookie season--I already mentioned Plunkett and Young, Troy Aikman took his lumps with a terrible 1989 Dallas Cowboys team, and so did Peyton Manning himself with the Colts in 1998.

Bottom line, your new career pathway has just revealed itself.  Pursue it like a man possessed.  Good luck.


Mark Rabinowitz
Owner/General Manager
Detroit Vipers

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