Todd Hartley: Everything Jake with Plummer?
September 4, 2003
I don’t know how, considering that college football is under way and the NFL has endured four weeks of preseason games already, but football season has snuck up on me again. Maybe it’s because I don’t want to let go of summer just yet. I want to bask in its lingering glow just a little bit longer.
The Denver Broncos and their fans can certainly empathize with my plight; they’ve been pining away for John Elway for the last five years, and much of their team’s lingering reputation is still based on the Super Bowl years of 1997 and ’98.
The current Broncos team has made it to the postseason just once in the last four years after failing to do so last season. The problem, in the eyes of much of Denver, has been that Elway has not been playing quarterback.
Instead, the reins of the offense have been in the hands of Brian Griese, who was no John Elway. He made it to the Pro Bowl and won more games than he lost, but faced with expectations in Denver, he was doomed to failure.
So Griese was shipped off to the Dolphins, and Cardinals quarterback Jake Plummer was signed as a free agent, to the tune of seven years and $40 million. That’s a big gamble on a guy whose statistical numbers are much worse than Griese’s.
In six seasons in Phoenix, Plummer won a single playoff game, in 1998. Since then, his teams have endured four straight losing seasons. One year, Plummer threw 24 interceptions and only nine touchdowns, and over his career, he’s amassed 114 interceptions and 90 touchdowns. His career passer rating is an even 69.0, and trust me on this one, that’s disgusting.
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In short, Plummer is a loser. Griese may not have been the next Elway, as he was hoped to be once, but Plummer isn’t even the next Bubby Brister.
However, in Phoenix expectations run low. The playoff win in ’98 was the first for the Cardinals in 51 years. Losing just seems to be the accepted way of doing things for the franchise. They’d be the Los Angeles Clippers of football if it weren’t for the Cincinnati Bengals.
That’s why, despite throwing 20 interceptions last year and guiding Phoenix to a 5-11 record, Plummer is still worth $40 million in the eyes of Broncos coach Mike Shanahan.
There is one reason and one reason alone that Shanahan feels that way about Plummer: During Plummer’s tenure in Phoenix, 21 of the Cardinals few wins have been the result of game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime. On its surface, that number seems almost Elway-esque, but let’s face it, if you play for the Cardinals you’re always going to be behind in the fourth quarter.
Oddly enough, whereas Griese was blamed for the Broncos’ woes despite good numbers, the Cardinals were assumed to be the cause of Plummer’s poor career. It would have been poetic justice if Griese had wound up in Phoenix, don’t you think? Then we’d see who was truly the better quarterback.
Unfortunately, Griese will be backing up Jay Fiedler in Miami, and the Cardinals will be in the hands of Jeff Blake, a guy who knows a thing or two about losing from his time in Cincinnati.
It will be interesting to see how Blake fares with what is perceived to be a worse offense than the one Plummer directed last season. Blake was the Bengals starting quarterback from 1994 to ’99 and has been mostly a backup ever since. Still, his career passer rating is higher than Plummer’s.
To help Blake in the backfield in Phoenix, the Cardinals brought in the NFL’s all-time leading rusher, Emmitt Smith of the Cowboys. Smith rushed for just 975 yards last season, yet Dallas, which stumbled to a 5-11 record, was so bad that Smith was still highly regarded in much the same way Plummer was with Phoenix.
At the very least, Smith will have a massive offensive line to run behind, but nothing else about the Cardinals inspires confidence that it will be anything but a long losing season for the future Hall-of-Famer.
Smith will spend his twilight suffering one defeat after another while adding very little to his career rushing numbers. It will not be a pretty sight. But don’t blame Emmitt; after all, he’s playing in Phoenix, so just like Plummer, if he sucks it’s not his fault.
Of course, if Plummer sucks in Denver … well, we’ll just have to wait and see about that.
[Todd Hartley, a longtime sufferer of “plumber’s crack,” writes this column on Fridays in The Aspen Times. E-mail at email@example.com]
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