The Road to Super Bowl XVI

Bobby Sansone, Senior Writer

December 17, 2008

Strong Drafts, Sinister Trades and Good Fortune Land Thugs, Dragons in Super Bowl

The best roster manager in the league may be none other than Jon Kinsman. Rarely does the veteran owner find himself with a short roster or any other sort of bad predicament. Call it good luck if you want but there is a method behind Jon's madness.

Chad Pennington Pennington hasn't started a game all season, but he's indicative of the Dragons' roster philosophy

Many owners would have given up on Chad Pennington after he was released by the Jets and picked up by the 1-15 Dolphins. Jon stuck with him though, recognizing the importance of a starting QB in the YFFL and has had extreme depth all year at QB. He also has a lot of depth at skill positions thanks to acquisitions of YFFL journeymen Antwan Randle El and Dom Rhodes. Rhodes will likely get the start against his old team the Thugs this weekend.

"Jon has really caught on to something here. Depth. It is a simple as that. He has insurance at every position," remarked Chris Collinsworth. "I've been around the YFFL long enough to see injuries devastate some great teams. Jon has put himself in position to buck that trend with players like Rhodes, Pennington and Randle El."

The same can't be said about the Thugs. After Earnest Graham, Ryan Torain and Greg Camarillo went down in back-to-back-to-back weeks with season ending injuries, the Thugs find themselves down to just 3 players available to play at the UT position. "It's been tough. It's hard to think about how good this team could be if I could plug Graham or Torain in at UT but I've asked guys like Shiancoe, [the other Steve] Smith and Bradshaw to step up. So far we have gotten by."

Depth alone won't get a team to the Super Bowl though. Strong drafts and gutsy trades will and Jon has had both of late to have the Dragons breathing fire again. 3 of Kinsman's last 4 1st Round draft picks have played significant roles in this year's NFC Championship team. Frank Gore from 2005 has been the face of the franchise but may not suit up this weekend because of an ankle injury. Matt Forte is the front-runner for Rookie of the Year, proving that mid-round picks are still very valuable.

Anthony Gonzalez? Rocky...Road?!?

Perhaps the best match-up that no one is talking about is Anthony Gonzalez vs. Dwayne Bowe. The two second-year WR stand outs were drafted back-to-back 6th and 7th overall in last year's draft. Both owners had tough decisions to make though. Both needed WRs and after Calvin Johnson there were plenty to choose from. Sansone looked long and hard at Bowe, Gonzalez, Robert Meachem, Dwayne Jarrett and Ted Ginn Jr before ultimately deciding on Bowe because of his size and immediate WR1 status with the Chiefs. With Bowe off the board, Jon quickly took Colts WR Anthony Gonzalez even though he was behind Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne on the depth chart. "I was hoping that Gonzalez would be a big part of the Colts offense once Harrison retired. He also sort of looks like Sloth from the Goonies," said Kinsman.

Sansone's own draft success is evident in the Thugs' Super Bowl lineup. His last 3 first round picks of Williams, Bowe and Grant will all be starting this weekend. QB Kurt Warner, who may or may not be starting, was a 3rd round draft pick. "Warner is the No. 1 reason the Thugs won 10 games this year. However, his play of late has been suspect so his status is undetermined," said Sansone. His opponent Aaron Rodgers was a 2nd round draft pick way back in 2005 and Kinsman stuck with him even though he backed up Favre until this year.

Lastly, both owners have landed largely successful trades that have culminated in each franchise. Who could forget one of the most controversial trades in league history when the Big Boys traded Brett Favre to the Dragons for Darrell Jackson? Favre would go on to lead the Dragons past the Boys in the playoffs and a berth in Super Bowl XIII. Darrell Jackson is all but out of football.

Tony Gonzalez The Thugs weren't afraid to make bold moves in search of a title

And who could forget arguably the biggest trade in league history when the Dragons dealt the cursed Peyton Manning to the Huskers for Tiki Barber, Hines Ward and Chad Pennington? The Dragons have made 2 Super Bowls since the trade while the Huskers have yet to win a playoff game with Manning at QB.

The Thugs have made bold moves of their own. The biggest draft day trade in league history occurred back in 2006 when Sansone traded an oft-injured Anquan Boldin and the 6th pick overall to the Merry Men for T.J. Houshmenzadeh and the 4th pick (used to draft MVP candidate D'Angelo Williams). The trade sent the two franchises in opposite directions. The Thugs have climbed to the top of the AFC while the Merry Men will be drafting #1 overall after a 2-win season.

Earlier this year, Sansone put the Thugs 2009 1st round draft pick on the line for Tony Gonzalez. The veteran TE has caught fire since the trade and is having his best season in years. In records just released by the league office this week, the email exchange shows that Sansone was offered the choice of either Gonzalez or Owen Daniels. It looks like Sansone choose wisely. Also of note, the Thugs got rights to the Mallards 2nd round draft pick and if they win this weekend the Gonzalez trade will only cost Sansone 7 draft positions.

Super Bowl XVI is certain to have many complex storylines as each owner treats roster moves like a chess game. Is Schaub just a decoy? Is Hines Ward really going to the bench in favor of Frank Gore? Is Steve really cheering on long-time Merry Men rival the Thugs? Was Kevin Sansone spotted calling the suicide hotline?

[the other Steve] Smith! [LJ] Smith! Shiancoe! Stover! It's Super Bowl XVI next on the NFL Network!