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Jury still out on Kolb, Ochocinco trade, Bush impact, more Snaps

Musings, observations and the occasional insight as the NFL's free agency period, trading period, draft pick signings and salary cap cuts start to blend into one big frenzy of comings and goings ...

• With Kevin Kolb at long last a Cardinal, we finally get to find out if he's the next Matt Schaub or the next Rob Johnson. There's been no bigger tease in the NFL the last couple of years than Kolb, the 2007 second-round pick of the Eagles who has made a nice little career for himself playing the role of patient heir apparent.

But that part of his ride is over. Now he's the guy in Arizona. With no Donovan McNabb or Michael Vick in sight. And the pressure is squarely on him. It's time to show everyone why a guy with all of seven career starts, 11 touchdown passes and 14 interceptions was ever in position to command a sizable bounty in trade from the Cardinals, not to mention a reported five-year contract extension worth $63 million, including $22 million guaranteed.

While Kolb admittedly hasn't done all that much yet in the NFL, it's that untapped potential that has been his greatest source of value. The lure of what he might accomplish, based on his limited but intriguing track record, has led everyone to turn him into something of a quarterback Rorschach test. Kolb's darn near a blank slate. Some look at him and see future greatness. Some review his uneven performances and wonder, "What is all the fuss about?"

In those seven starts, he's just 3-4 in terms of wins and losses. But in those games, he has twice earned NFC Offensive Player of the Week honors, throwing for 325 yards or more three times, and becoming the first passer to ever surpass 300 yards in his first two starts. Overall, Kolb has completed just shy of 61 percent of his passes in his 19 career games. Pretty good, huh?

Yeah. But his 73.2 career passer rating doesn't blow you away, nor does his TD-to-INT ratio (11 to 14), his 2,082 yards passing or those 20 sacks and nine fumbles (five lost). None of that half of his statistical body of work quite projects to enshrinement in Canton just yet.

But his Eagles tenure was complicated, and to say otherwise would be inaccurate and unfair. There was the long, three-year apprenticeship behind McNabb to wait out, and then the ill-timed Week 1 concussion last season after he had been anointed the starter in Philadelphia, an injury that opened the door for Vick's remarkable career renaissance of 2010.

Kolb simply hasn't been in the right place at the right time so far in his four-year NFL, but he'll have no such claim he can make going forward. There's no one to compete with him, or overshadow him in Arizona, and this is now his team, and his time. He's got Larry Fitzgerald to throw to for at least one more year (his contract can be voided after 2011), a head coach who has taken a team to the Super Bowl recently in Ken Whisenhunt, and a climate-controlled, roofed stadium to play in, which is always a welcomed help to the passing game.

The Cardinals gave up a lot to get Kolb in sending a 2012 second-round pick and former Pro Bowl cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to Philadelphia. But they had to. After watching the likes of Derek Anderson, Max Hall and John Skelton struggle at quarterback in the first year of the post-Kurt Warner era, Whisenhunt learned anew the most important reality of today's NFL: If you don't have a quarterback, you don't have a chance.

If Kolb performs like the franchise quarterback the Cardinals obviously think he is, Arizona is right back in contention in the mild, mild NFC West, having filled its biggest need in bold and dramatic fashion. If he doesn't, and Kolb's play looks as uneven as he has been in his limited previous opportunities, the Cardinals will have made a long-term investment in a player who didn't deserve such a step of faith. Either way, this may be the personnel decision that winds up defining Whisenhunt's tenure in the desert. For better or worse.

But it's all in Kolb's hands now. Stretched out before him is the clear-cut opportunity he has long awaited. Let's see what he does with it. The time for teasing is over. It's time for the potential to give way to production.

• In some ways, you take almost everything I wrote this morning about the Patriots' willingness to take on so-called problem players with talent, and change every Albert Haynesworth reference I made to Chad Ochocinco, whom New England traded for late Thursday afternoon.

No, that's not exactly right. In reality, Ochocinco is a goof ball and his clown act wears very thin at times, but Haynesworth is in a whole 'nother league when it comes to malcontents. Ochocinco drove Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis to distraction, but he wasn't suspended from his team for insubordination like Haynesworth was last year, he never had any incident to live down like Haynesworth's Andre Gurode head-stomping in Tennessee, and he has never been as overtly selfish as Big Albert.

That said, it's clear that New England was willing to roll the dice twice in this case, going all-in in its quest for that much-more-elusive-than-expected fourth Super Bowl ring of the Bill Belichick era.

Ochocinco is at heart an entertainer and a self-promoter, but Belichick and he have had a strange friendship for years now, and the ex-Bengal has got to know that too much funny business won't fly within the just-football confines of the Patriots. He won't get away with anything close to the nonsense he generated in Cincinnati. And if he can't still play and contribute heavily in New England, he won't even get the chance to straighten up and keep his mouth shut for long.

But Haynesworth and Ochocinco in the same locker room is quite the picture to imagine. It might just test Belichick's iron grip on his team.

• Reggie Bush to the Dolphins just figures, doesn't it? (And did any line get more over-used on Thursday than "Bush is taking his talents to South Beach''? See, I just used it again.)

In so many ways, Dolphins owner Stephen Ross since taking over has sought and craved star power and sizzle for his stuck-in-neutral franchise. That's where all the J-Lo and Jimmy Buffett celebrity ownership deals, and the unsuccessful and ill-considered cross-country pursuit of Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh this winter came in.

I'm not sure Ross has learned much from the Harbaugh episode, because who better in the NFL has represented style over substance in the past five years than Bush? With the Saints, Bush's salary level and headline profile always out-distanced his actual production. Not to say that he didn't have an important role in New Orleans. But he never proved to be as big a cog in the offense as was expected when he was drafted No. 2 overall as the reigning Heisman Trophy winner out of Southern Cal. Bush never even gained 600 yards rushing, or made the Pro Bowl in his five-year Saints career.

That said, when used the right way, he had his moments, with some game-changing plays for New Orleans. He wasn't a bust, but he also wasn't deserving of the hype he came with. Somewhere in between is the most accurate way the Saints' Bush era should be recalled, given that he battled injuries and was always out-performed as a rusher by the likes of the unsung Pierre Thomas or Chris Ivory, or even an aging Deuce McAllister.

The Dolphins clearly can't expect Bush to be either a 25-carry back or a consistent game-breaker. He's like salt. He has to be used sparingly, and sometimes less is more. Second-round pick Daniel Thomas and Bush should make the guts of the Miami backfield this year, with both Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown still unsigned free agents. But expecting Bush to be a savior in Miami would be a mistake. That'd be just another dose of hype headed for South Beach.

• Speaking of the Dolphins, they have to end up with either Kyle Orton or Vince Young to either push or unseat incumbent starting quarterback Chad Henne. I know who I'd choose. Orton has thrown 41 touchdowns and just 21 interceptions in his past two seasons in Denver, and it's been since Dan Marino hit the road that Miami has seen that kind of production at the game's most pivotal position.

Young obviously needs to go somewhere and do some maturing, and jumpstart an NFL career that has suffered a couple high-profile interruptions. I'm pretty sure Miami wouldn't be the best possible environment for that process.

The Dolphins should just wait Denver out and pay the trade price they want to pay for Orton. The Broncos have already signaled that they want Tim Tebow to run the show this season without Orton looking over his shoulder, and it's not like Denver has too many other trade partners at this point. The quarterback carousel spun early and often this week.

• I like the Sidney Rice signing in Seattle well enough, but I'd like it a lot more if I were convinced the Seahawks had a quarterback to get him the ball. I rate Seattle's rush to agree to terms with Tarvaris Jackson as perhaps the most curious move so far in NFL free agency. I really hadn't heard any other team that was eager to get the ex-Viking to commit on the dotted line.

And it's not as if Jackson, Rice and former Vikings offensive coordinator-turned-Seattle OC Darrell Bevell were an explosive combination during their days together in Minnesota. Rice didn't break out until Brett Favre got to town in 2009, and that acquisition wouldn't have been necessary if Jackson had ever played well enough with the Vikings to remove all doubts about his starting quarterback potential.

• This is obviously not the optimum year to be an accomplished but aging free-agent receiver. The Giants and Steelers say they're interested enough in Plaxico Burress to talk to him, but nobody's making what you would call a full-court press for the ex-Giant and Steeler. And I can't say I'm surprised, although where did all that Burress-to-the-Eagles chatter go?

I thought the market for Burress would be limited, and for that matter, does anyone out there want Terrell Owens, Randy Moss or T.J. Houshmandzadeh? I see no hands so far. Maybe it was shrewd of Carolina's Steve Smith to decide he wants to remain a Panther after all, although I do think he would have generated some trade interest.

• Only in Minnesota this year could the Vikings have dealt for the soon-to-be 35-year-old Donovan McNabb, and called it a youth movement at quarterback. But last year's starter in Minnesota turned 41 before the season finished. By the end of the year, it was clear that both Brett Favre and the Vikings were done.

• Frank Gore, DeSean Jackson and Chris Johnson. So who cracks first in the holdout game? They're all relatively underpaid and all pretty vital to their clubs' chances this season. I know I wouldn't count on Johnson being the guy who gets itchy to play and caves before the other two. Johnson's got the best case to demand a new deal, and his beef goes back two years now.

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