From the context of a former head coach, “More than a Game” talks about the NFL as a business: what the NFL was, what the NFL is, and where is NFL is headed.  It talks about the draft, about talent evaluation, about the salary cap and its implications, about why there aren’t old fashioned fullbacks anymore. It is an especially useful book in the context of the current negotiations, as it was written with the potential lockout in mind.

I’ll pull out some quotes, in the hopes of giving you a feel for the material.

With real free agency and the salary cap, as stipulated in the 1993 collective-bargaining agreement, both the rules of how to build a team and the job of the builders changed dramatically. Suddenly, the balance of power between owners and players shifted. It wasn’t enough to draft the right players. Teams now had to figure out how to retain those players.

The stockpiling of proven talent – think of the Steelers’ trio of All-Pro linebackers in the seventies, or the 49ers’ pair of future Hall  of Fame quarterbacks in the late eighties and early nineties-proved impossible in the new era.

In other words, the talent rich teams from the 70s through the 90s are things of the past. Billick and his coauthor, Michael MacCambridge, go on to emphasize the title of this particular chapter, “Don’t Fall in Love With Your Own Players”.

Later in the chapter on draft philosophies. titled “There are no certainties”, you get

The Cowboys, with the development of their computerized scouting system of the sixties, relied on “measurables”  (height, weight, speed, arm strength, shuttle speed and so forth). The 49ers rose up against Dallas at the end of  the seventies by being more interested in the intangible elements that couldn’t be fed into a computer….The Patriots  understood before most teams that in the transient modern age, it was more important than ever that the parts fit, and that players drafted or signed through free agency be a particularly good fit for the style of offense or defense a team favored.

And in this chapter, Billick builds his case by example after example. There is extensive discussions of the drama around the Raven’s first round draft pick  in 2003, about all the issues behind choosing Kyle Boller, and the final selection of Terrell Suggs. The chapter ends with a particularly provocative bit of text.

We got Suggs that draft because we and other teams have learned what to value and what to disregard. In general, teams know what sort of running backs excel in pro football. They’ve gotten very good at developing a profile of the sort of talent it takes to be a successful offensive tackle (the top two selected in the 2008 draft, Boise State’s Ryan Clady to Denver and Virginia’s Branden Albert to Kansas City, started every game of their rookie seasons). As a group, we are smarter and more sophisticated about nearly every position on the field – with notable exception of the most important position, quarterback.

So in short, a NFL must read, for the personal side of the NFL. Topics also include what coaches go through, how the league has changed in character as the new breed of owners has emerged, and other components of the business of the NFL. It’s more of a “GM” view of the process than a line coach view, but without a peer in this day and age.

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