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Sunday, July 10, 2011

Kerry Collins: Gone

At one point in the offseason, there was that feeling – Kerry Collins is available. Why not? Those wounds have healed, he’s a competent veteran. Of course, it was never to be, with Collins doing what he does best one final time by retiring this week.

That’s a hard assessment, but it can’t be denied that Collins’ history includes some effort failures. It was good to see him pick himself back up, and have success in various spots. He should be proud of his statistical accomplishments and longevity, long after the preseason 1997 hit by Bill Romanowski dealt a near-knockout blow to his career and our franchise.

I’m not the guy to defend Kerry Collins. He made his share of mistakes – partying instead of studying, making stupid and racist comments to teammates, and franchise quarterbacks don’t come to their coach and say they have no heart left. He earned his exit, even if it was a stupid move on Dom Capers’ part.

But, by 1998 it was time to talk new contract, the team had thrown a new offense on Collins, and there were heavy expectations because of defensive spending. All of that fell on Collins, right or wrong, and it smothered him. The WCO is a good offense, which could fit Collins’ abilities. Collins had around 1000 yards in four games, and the offense was starting to work better than it had in 97. The four losses weren’t on him. For him to react that way was no better than the way that Capers did, but he didn’t cut himself.

Collins, after forfeiting his franchise position with Carolina, bounced around. Quarterbacks with potential tend to do that, and sometimes they get by on reputation...Collins had certainly damaged his reputation enough by that point.

He had success in the 2000s, with a Super Bowl and some success there, but not enough to fend off a high pick – which became Eli Manning. It’s a tough situation, and better quarterbacks have been through it – Drew Brees was replaced once (actually, within the trade that gave the Giants the rights to Manning), Joe Montana couldn’t even outlast it way back when – but had Collins been a Panther in that same situation, or originally drafted by NY, the sentimentality of it, that franchise mystique, they probably don’t wheel and deal for Manning from the 4th spot (whether that’s a mistake or not is hard to say, but I’d still view it as true).

If you need any clarity on whether a modestly successful Collins could’ve stayed in Carolina through a 2003 season on his given career path of the time? Jake Delhomme survived an extra year after a worse collapse. If Collins could’ve made it through the 96 NFCC game, and taken them to another Super Bowl (he and the franchise both went, obviously, at different times), he has tenure. Outside a big contract, it’s tough to get tenure as a 6+ year quarterback otherwise.

He stopped in New Orleans for a bit before the Giants – great place for a guy with drinking issues – and followed that successful NY stint with Oakland (where you’d figure he and Randy Moss could put together a deep game), and then Tennessee – where he somehow found himself a backup, then had a bigtime 13-3 season and a Pro Bowl bid, and then of course was back on the bench the following year.

I’ll go further than the statement about not being replaced in the mid-2000s by a flashy name in the draft – if Collins had gone to two Super Bowls, with one team, or even just had his level of longevity with Carolina, he’d have a steadier footing for the Hall of Fame right now. He has a lost Super Bowl and 40,000 yards, and that’s it. A championship or two, or even just another appearance or two with one team, in this modern day of Free Agency, might’ve mattered, and being successful on one team probably means another Super Bowl or two (he made it deep into the playoffs three times, with one appearance, so it’s not really that huge a stretch honestly). It changes Collins from an aching athlete at middle age, to regional hero and marketable name. More money, sure, but most definitely a raised level of accomplishment.

So, to make this relevant to Carolina, take heed Cam Newton – you’re saying and doing the right things right now. This isn’t a one year job, and for most it is (just ask Jimmy Clausen). This takes your best, your all, every time. I can understand finding a lack of realistic want for a young franchise like Carolina – it’s hard to live or die a team without realistic tradition longterm – but at the most basic level, their success is your success. Even a level of success later, with someone else, is realistically making do, a lessened level of long term failure. Falling out of favor with your drafted team – the one that expects you to be their franchise, their face – means a lot more trouble than just a little extra work. It’s a lot harder road from here. There may be continued opportunity, but it’s a much harder road.
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