Monday, February 18, 2008

Sympathy for Javon Walker/What to do with Travis Henry?

Javon Walker recently went on record saying that he would be better off playing for a team other than the Denver Broncos.

I can sympathize with Walker, to a degree.

Consider this: Javon Walker has probably not been the same person - football player or otherwise - that he was before the early morning hours of January 1, 2007, when he witnessed his teammate, Darrent Williams, murdered by machine gun fire. The crime has yet to be solved, which probably weighs that much heavier on Walker.

This happened after the emotional roller coaster that was the uncertainty of a comeback after Walker's devastating knee injury in 2005 and a subsequent trade from the Packers to the Broncos in early 2006. Walker played well in 2006 and earned his spot as Denver's top receiver going into the 2007 season.

In the early games of 2007, Walker continued his role as the Broncos featured receiver until he again hurt the same knee that was surgically rebuilt in 2005. This injury forced him to miss several games, so he was forced to sit idly by and watch his team devolve from a serious playoff contender into one of the more mediocre teams in the NFL. Meanwhile, Brandon Marshall emerged as an incredible talent, and in the process took over Walker's spot as the featured receiver for the Broncos.

Upon Walker's return to the line-up, he played sparingly and caught few balls. It was apparent that Marshall was now the go-to receiver in the Broncos scheme and Walker's role was diminished as a result. It seemed Walker may have even lost a step as well.

When you take into account the emotional ups and downs of Walker's life and career in just the last two years, not to mention since his original injury, it comes as no surprise that he would want to end his tenure in Denver in favor of starting over somewhere else.

But wait, let's be practical. If Walker is traded or cut, he would have to go somewhere else and compete for a job, which he wouldn't (presumably) have to do in Denver, at least not to the same degree. He is not guaranteed a spot on any roster, not to mention competition for the first receiver spot, like he would be with Denver. (It is my belief that he would likely win the number one spot, too, because Marshall is still a little rough around the edges.)

Secondly, the nature of professional sports is competition. If Walker is unwilling to compete with Brandon Marshall for the top receiver spot on the Broncos for the rest of the time he's with the team, then perhaps he should leave. I believe competition between these two receivers would provide incentive for both of them to perform as the elite receivers that they are, which automatically makes Denver a viable offensive threat and will result in huge numbers for both Walker and Marshall. Everybody wins: the players, the team, the organization and, most importantly, the fans.

I am of the opinion that the best choice for Javon Walker is to stay in Denver and duke it out with Brandon Marshall. It's the best choice for Walker and it's the best case scenario for Denver to have the maximum possible strength at the receiver position with Stokley, Marshall and Walker all together in the mix. If Walker leaves, Denver will likely have to settle for a lesser talent and Walker will presumably have to settle for a diminished role on another team. Everybody loses.

Granted, there are certain other factors at play here - chiefly financial - to which I'm not privy, that could very well be the reason for Walker's stated desire to leave. But I believe Walker will be rewarded with his loyalty. After all, now he has something to prove again. And what better way to prove yourself than to exceed everybody's expectations, like Walker seems to believe he can?

Now, if Walker wants to leave strictly on an emotional basis, I can understand. I just hope he understands that the road won't be any easier anywhere else, just different. But maybe that's what he needs.

On a related note, what are the Broncos to do with Travis Henry? My personal opinion is to dump him. I don't know everything that was going on with him this season in terms of physical and mental health, but he was a disappointment after a promising start. I think even he would acknowledge that.

But the Broncos options in regards to both Henry and Walker are limited. The Broncos do not have a lot of depth at either RB or WR, so they would probably want to replace Henry and Walker with similar or superior talent, which inspires one to ask: why get rid of them in the first place?

If the Broncos want to trade, they have to look for teams that are willing to take two players who are considered risky at this point. Age is creeping up on Henry and he's had a lot of personal and health problems. Walker's recurring knee problems make him a severe liability. Chances are, Denver will not get full value in dealing either player because they have to find another team in a similar situation that is willing to deal talented, but unhealthy or unhappy players only to take on other unhealthy or unhappy players.

Nobody is in a good position here. But the solution is likely not far off as both have roster bonuses due in late February/early March. If they are to stay, both players will supposedly be asked to take a pay cut, which, understandably would be a hard pill to swallow.

That being said, there are other teams with players who would do well as replacements in theoretical trades for either Walker, Henry or both:

  • The Vikings have a superior talent in Chester Taylor. I can't imagine that the veteran Taylor is relishing a career sharing time with Adrian Peterson, one of the NFL's emerging talents, in lieu of taking on the role of featured back for another team, like the Broncos. The Vikings have already said they want to keep Taylor, but they have a serious lack of talent at WR and QB. Maybe a straight across deal of Walker for Taylor isn't out of the question. (It probably is, though.)
  • Julius Jones is under-utilized in Dallas and there are always rumors that they're ready to deal him. His original role was as starter with Marion Barber providing a change of pace. Now Jones is the change of pace, but he doesn't seem to fit the Cowboys scheme very well. Jones has never really had a decent chance in Dallas. Henry might flourish as a back-up or complement to Barber - they have both have a physical running style, as opposed to Jones' slasher running style. Dallas has a lot of depth at receiver, so they probably wouldn't want Walker. FYI - it was rumored that Denver was looking at Jones' brother Thomas last season before he went from the Bears to the Jets and the Broncos decided to sign Travis Henry. I don't know what relevance this bears on anything, but there you have it.
  • San Diego's Michael Turner is a talented back-up for LT, but it remains to be seen whether or not he could carry a full workload. This wouldn't be much of a problem for Denver, because they have a decent back-up in Selvin Young. Turner isn't the kind of back that Denver is accustomed to, but maybe that's an indication that Denver needs to change. San Diego is also set as far as top receivers go, so their interest in Walker might be minimal.
  • Ricky Williams is probably not going to make it far in the Bill Parcells era. The Dolphins have a wealth of talent in Ronnie Brown and so-so back-ups with Jesse Chatman, et. al. Williams has questionable character, but one would like to think that he's put a lot of that behind him. He should be healthy for next season and anybody that wouldn't at least take a look at him would be crazy. The Dolphins are thin at receiver and would benefit from having Walker on the team.
  • Chad Johnson is going crazy in Cincy, but it's unlikely he's going anywhere, despite his unrepentant narcissism and Marv Lewis' rumored silent treatment. I personally wouldn't want to see Johnson in a Broncos uniform, but there's no denying the impact he would have on any team that's willing to stomach his - ahem - idiosyncrasies.
  • The Broncos seem to have a good relationship with the Lions and the Redskins, both of whom have minimal needs at RB or WR. That being said, teams that don't have needs sometimes see that lack of need as a motivating factor in trying to improve personnel. It wouldn't be a surprise to see the Redskins or the Lions (or any other team for that matter) willing to part with certain key talents for the benefit of chemistry. But that's pure speculation on my part.

Whatever happens, I'm looking forward to it. It will be a relief to find out who will be helping Denver (hopefully) return to Super Bowl form next year.

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