ROBERT KLEMKO: Is there a trend you’ve identified as the next evolution of football?
BRIAN BILLICK: I think everybody’s waiting to see what the Chip Kelly effect is in Philadelphia—if there is one—compared to guys like Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, who have increased the tempo of the game, to a degree. I don’t think it’s going to be as dramatic as some people think. The average team runs about 65 plays a game. That’s been the same for 20 years. Tom Brady ups that, but that’s Tom Brady. The question is whether you can do that systematically. The league has said they’re not going to cater to Chip’s pace. The size of the roster is another obstacle. The way the Eagles are trying to practice is fine when you’ve got 80 guys in college or 90 guys in training camp, but when you get down to 53, that changes the equation. If he does succeed in making the game faster, there will be a lot of moving parts. You could see smaller, more athletic linemen.
KLEMKO: Pick one offensive player and one defensive player to start your franchise with, right now.
BILLICK: You’d naturally gravitate towards Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, but when you throw in the long-term, it’s Colin Kaepernick. He’s just so intriguing to me. I think he is such a unique talent. As good as RG3 and Russell Wilson and Andrew Luck are—and I love those guys—I also love the pure throwing action, the accuracy, the velocity, the fluidity of Kaepernick’s throwing. And I’m not even talking about the running. That’s also a factor. Defensively, I would go with J.J. Watt. And you might think, well, I’m going to go with a shutdown corner or a rush end, but I don’t know that there is such a thing as a shutdown corner anymore with the rules, and you can manufacture that edge rush. Getting that inside pass rush that you get from Watt is a unique thing. I’d go with that.
KLEMKO: Do the Ravens still have a championship-caliber defense?
BILLICK: Yes. Absolutely. It would be silly to dismiss the loss of Ed Reed and Ray Lewis. But they’ve made some interesting acquisitions. I think they’re going to have a better pass rush. I don’t think they’re going to fall off because I don’t see anyone else getting that much better. Outside of Denver, who everyone looks at as the bell cow right now, who in the AFC is going to be better? Certainly no one in the AFC North, even though Cincinnati is a good team. The thing that intrigues me most about this year is how wide open it is. I could give you 10 NFC teams and seven AFC teams and argue why that’s a Super Bowl team. I don’t ever remember another year like this.