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John Clayton = Yoda of Football Guruness

I think we can all agree that ESPN's John Clayton is the best writer covering the NFL today. He's the ONLY reason I even bother to read ESPN's site. If there was a Jedi-like hierarchy for NFL writers, John Clayton would clearly be Yoda, while guys like Sean Salisbury would be Jar-Jar.

Clayton recently penned a fun article at ESPN where he built the best NFL team he could, keeping it under the $102 million salary cap. So, armed with his knowledge of player contracts, Clayton made his team. The article is humorous just to see who he picked, but what's very cool about it is the very solid reasoning he uses to build the team. For example, he built his defense around a simple philosophy used by many NFL teams:

Perhaps the biggest fundamental concept that allows all of this to work is an acceptable cap philosophy that isn't given much publicity. The Cover 2 defense, employed by the Colts' Tony Dungy and several other coaches, is a better system to work under the cap than the 3-4. In the 3-4, teams must pay big money for at least a couple of starting linebackers, a couple of defensive linemen, a hard-hitting strong safety and for bigger, more physical cornerbacks. The Steelers' starting 11 in the 3-4 defense totals around $34.88 million and the Chargers' $30.6 million, while the Colts' starting 11 in the 4-3 is $26 million.

The Cover 2 in a 4-3 allows for a younger flow of players. Younger usually means cheaper, but Cover 2 defensive coaches are accustomed to grooming young linebackers with speed. The Seahawks, for example, went to the Super Bowl with two rookie linebackers. Dungy has gone to the playoffs year after year realizing he probably will lose a young linebacker after his fourth season in the league.

Clayton's reasoning is why so many teams are switching to Dungy's Cover 2 defense. For all the laurels and praises the media bestows on Patriots coach Bill Belichick for his defensive "genius," it is clear that no defensive-minded coach has had more impact on the NFL in recent years than Tony Dungy, not Belichick.

It seems EVERYBODY copies Tony's scheme now.

On Clayton's team, he selects 5 Colts players (the most from any team): Freeney, Sanders, Vinatieri, Saturday, and Manning. Yes, Clayton picks Manning over Brady. Why? The answer may shock you:

Naturally, championship teams are built around quarterbacks. While it can be debated forever whether New England's Tom Brady is better than Manning, the salary cap made the decision simple for "The Best Team Money Can Buy." Manning has run one of the league's top offenses since the late 1990s and his cap number is $10.566 million. Brady has a $15.67 million cap hit. That difference freed up $5 million for four of the top five linebackers.
This nugget is a slap in the face to every dork Patriot fan that continues to say Manning is overpaid while Brady takes pay cuts to play for "a winner." Every dork-loser-idiot laughed when Manning signed his 7 year, $98 million dollar contract in 2004. They claimed the contract would kill the Colts cap. At the same time, they praised Tom Brady for taking less money to play for a winner (Brady signed for 6 years, $60 million). In the end, because of how the contracts were structured, Manning is signed longer and counts less against the Colts' cap than Brady does against the Patriots'.

Little facts like this tend to get in the way of opinions from "experts" like Peter King, who's next intelligent thought will be his first. King claimed a few years ago that New England got a better deal with Brady than Indy did with Manning. The only thing King knows how to do, other than stay stupid crap and get paid for it, is to stack 4 full plates of food on his arm as he exits the free buffet line.

In the Jedi hierarchy of NFL writers, Peter King is Jabba the Hutt.

Read Clayon's article for some fun and enjoyable insight into player salaries and NFL salary capology.