4) So in the span of a month, we have a coaching change at Notre Dame, Urban Meyer retiring followed by unretiring, and now a legendary USC coach is headed to the NFL. Enjoying that coaching carousel, yet?? Wow.
This story seems like it needs to be approached from three different perspectives:
1) The USC perspective -- I can't believe how cavalier USC fans are about seeking closure to the Pete Carroll era almost as if they are relieved for it to be over. Look at the guy's record! They may never see anything like this again.
2001 USC 6–6 5–3 5th L Las Vegas
2002 USC 11–2 7–1 T–1st W Orange
2003 USC 12–1 7–1 1st W Rose
2004 USC 13–0 8–0 1st W Orange
2005 USC 12–1 8–0 1st L Rose
2006 USC 11–2 7–2 T–1st W Rose
2007 USC 11–2 7–2 T–1st W Rose
2008 USC 12–1 8–1 1st W Rose
2009 USC 9–4 5–4 T–5th W Emerald
Pete Carroll never had below 11 wins for seven consecutive years. Not only that, but Carroll is a freak on the recruiting trail. Their class this year AVERAGES four stars. AVERAGES!! Ridiculous. And they are content to run him off for one bad year?? My god, standards are high at USC. I still remember hearing Petros Papadakis complaining about how "poor" USC played at Notre Dame this year even though they won the game! Any win at Notre Dame Stadium is a big win (I know, I know, UConn and Syracuse and Navy beat us there in the last two years. We stink....blah blah blah). Heck, we gave a standing ovation to the team after the game for even being close to USC!! If we had actually won the game, there probably would be a statue of Charlie Weis on campus.
Anyway, back to Carroll. I know USC will still be an attractive job (perhaps less attractive in the short term with the loss of some scholarships), but it will be hard to replicate what they had in Pete Carroll. You couldn't ask for a better fit for that program than Carroll. Mr. Hollywood, high-energy, pro style offense and aggressive pro style 4-3 defense, NFL factory, big time assistants, culture of competition. This isn't some situation where Carroll came in, recruited a bunch of studs, and rolled the balls out. They played aggressive, attacking football that was a perfect fit for the type of talent that they brought in.
Who is out there that can match what Carroll was able to accomplish?? More importantly, who wants to follow Pete Carroll at USC?? And if sanctions are coming, is that job going to be poison for a few years until they dig themselves out from under a hole?? It's going to be hard to convince a coach to come in, deal with a loss of scholarships and other recruiting restrictions, and also follow in the footsteps of Pete Carroll. If you go 9-3, that's a bad year at USC these days.
A guy like Jack Del Rio might be interested in a change of scenery, but we have no idea what he would be like as a college coach. He could be another Carroll, but could also easily be another Al Groh. He might bring a more disciplined approach, but would he bring the glamour and recruiting cache to keep the depth chart loaded with five stars?? Then again, if he brought in Norm Chow and Ed Orgeron with him, USC might not miss a beat on the field or the recruiting trail.
How about this scenario?? Jack Del Rio comes to USC, and Urban Meyer takes the Jacksonville Jaguars job. And then the Jags draft Tebow in the first round (as rumored) to reunite him with Urban Meyer in this hybrid spread option/Wildcat offense? Sure, it sounds crazy, but isn't that at least plausible?? Urban might actually prefer the NFL where he can just be a football man and not have to deal with all the other stuff.
The other tricky thing for USC is that even though they are a football power without question, it's more of a fair-weather program that can easily lose support at the first sign of trouble. This isn't like a Notre Dame where we are going to put 80,000 in the stands no matter what (ok, not every game and games like Duke and UConn were not exactly full other than the diehards who will show up in November no matter who we are playing...you know who you are!). Case in point, I was blown away watching that USC-Arizona game a couple months ago in a half-empty LA Colosseum. One down year, and everyone immediately fled. USC is probably the biggest bandwagon program in the country. It's Los Angeles, where there are a million things to do besides watch mediocre college football. People are with them win or win. If they suddenly start cranking out 7-5/8-4 type seasons, recruits will not be impressed to see half the Colisseum tarped off to cover up the empty seats. Any type of transition period for the new coach that results in a few "down" years could really derail that program.
If I was USC, I would be looking for a guy who isn't afraid of sanctions, isn't afraid of a building project, and isn't afraid of following Pete Carroll. Yup, you guessed it. James Joseph Harbaugh. That's the guy I would talk to first. He's a dynamic recruiter, has the ego and guts to coach at a place like USC, he has the NFL pedigree that recruits will like, and he knows how to build a tough, physical team that plays a pro style offense. He's a loose cannon for sure, but USC sort of needs a loose cannon. Hiring some straight edge is not the right fit at a place like USC. They need a superego type who is a little reckless but also fearless.
Harbaugh would be a beast at USC. I know he's probably NFL bound (how could an NFL team with an open gig not be pursuing him right now considering what his brother has done with the Baltimore Ravens??), but I'd still be reaching out to him. Then again, USC might not be interested in another guy who is going to be rumored for every NFL job out there.
Biggest risk for USC is to hire a predictable, low ceiling guy who wouldn't be able to continue the Hollywood glamour of the program. A Mike Riley type. You could pencil them in for 9-3 every year with less dynamic recruiting.
The Chris Peterson/Whittingham/Patterson type names will probably pop up as well, but I think that's a huge risk to hire any of those guys. USC needs to make sure they hire a guy who has the personality to handle the huge media spotlight. I can't help but feel that a guy like Patterson would be overwhelmed by the USC job and all that comes with it.
Also seems to be some Norm Chow rumors floating around there. How about that?? Seems like there are two camps on him. Some think that he'd be an outstanding head coach at USC since he understands the USC culture. If he's not big on recruiting, he could hire some young gun recruiters to get out there and hit the trail. Personally, I think that would be a massive risk. If he is truly head coach material, why has Norm Chow not been hired as a head coach already?? It's not like he isn't a well-known name in the sport. You figure someone would have hired him already. Could USC really run the risk of hiring Chow as a first time head coach??
Certainly going to be an interesting coaching search. How great are coaching searches?? They are always entertaining. Very curious to see who they end up getting. And if it ends up being Herm Edwards, all I can say is that there is a god. That would be the highest of high comedy.
2) Seattle perspective -- I think this whole thing is fascinating from a Seattle perspective. Could you imagine being a Seattle Seahawks fan right now?? How depressing would that be??? You are spending $7 million a year on freaking Pete Carroll to come in with all his college assistants to the big show in the NFL?? Does anyone really think this is going to work out well for Seattle?? To me, it looks like they just locked themselves into mediocrity (if not worse) for the next 5 years.
What exactly is it that Paul Allen sees in Pete Carroll that would make him want to hand that guy $7 million a year?? Because he's just so darn cool and handsome that it would be impossible for him not to win in the NFL (never mind that he's already been unsuccessful TWICE as an NFL head coach)??? Does Paul Allen not realize that you can't just recruit your way to success in the NFL?? If Pete Carroll hasn't been involved in the NFL in almost a decade, what makes anyone think that he's going to really have a great feel for player personnel??
Plus, he's a college coach!! That rah-rah stuff isn't going to get anywhere in the League, and there's no "culture of competion." Jobs are guaranteed by money in the League. You don't show up to training camp with a bunch of starting jobs on the line. That's the job of your personnel department in the offseason.
Think about all the college coaches who have been busts in the last decade in the NFL: Bobby Petrino, Butch Davis, Steve Spurrier, Nick Saban, Mike Riley, Dennis Erickson. The only straight to the pros guy that I even remember working out was Jimmy Johnson, and that's one guy out of about 20 who have failed.
Of all the guys to spend $7 million a year on, I can't understand why Pete Carroll would be your man. I'd rather take that dough and hire a VP of Operations who can bring in a good GM and a good coach and go about building a quality organization. By bringing in Pete Carroll without a GM, Seattle is just setting themselves up for a dysfunctional organization with parties that are not on the same page. I will be shocked if Pete Carroll outlasts his five year deal.
3) Notre Dame perspective -- Wouldn't be a Notre Dame blog if we didn't at least address this from a Notre Dame perspective. In the short term, the timing of this whole thing could not possibly be working out any better for us. The uncertainty at USC suddenly leaves a gaping hole on the national recruiting scene, and it sounds like Kelly is working overtime to make a big push to land Prater and some of these USC commits.
As strange as this sounds, ND is suddenly one of the more stable options on the national recruiting scene. We can point to Kelly and say that we have something in place for at least the next 5 years or so. At least you would know who your coach is going to be. At USC or Florida, there's so much up in the air right now. Not that it seems to be slowing down Florida. Elam and Shariff Floyd in one week?? Good lord. Sounds like Shariff Floyd was the best player on the field all week at the Army All-American camp. Another DT shows up in Gainesville. Embarrassment of riches down there.
Another positive in the short term is that we might be able to finally get that monkey off our back and get a win over USC and start to edge up closer to them in terms of credibility. The biggest thing that ND needs in the next couple years is a big time win or two to get some national respect back. The national opinion of our program is that we are complete frauds playing watered-down schedules and that we can't beat any good teams. And to be honest, I can't really dispute that right now. We need to beat a USC or get a quality win in a bowl game to get some of the critics off our back.
I keep looking at 2011 as the year for Kelly to make his move if he wants to get us back to the elite. We've got USC at home, and the rest of the schedule is mediocre. With Crist in his second year in the program, we can make some noise. Beat USC at home in 2011, and suddenly the energy in the rivalry could start swinging our way.
While the short term benefit of a USC program in transition is huge, what does this mean long term for our schedule strength?? We are essentially counting on USC to be an anchor of all our future schedules since they are one of only two "heavyweights" on our schedules going forward. Even though people have ripped our schedules the last couple years, we could at least point to USC and say that a win over them would prove our legitimacy if we were actually in the hunt for a national title (not that we've been close or anything but hypothetically speaking). But what if USC starts churning out 8-4 type seasons?? Where are our quality wins going to come from, especially if Michigan remains dysfunctional?? Would we just go through season after season without playing one ranked opponent?? At what point would we be relegated to the mid-major pile if teams like USC and Michigan don't hold up as quality opponents?? We are never going to get a ton of credit for beating the MSUs, Purdues, Stanfords, and BCs of the world even if those teams are having good years. Since we don't play in a conference and don't have a conference championship game, we are going to need to be able to point to some quality wins if we want to be taken seriously for the national championship.
I realize all that is getting ahead of myself since (a) USC may very well remain excellent and (b) we have no idea if we will even be in position to be having this national championship picture discussion. But it's something to be considering. This is why I always think it's a good idea for ND to be playing 3 "heavyweights" and maybe even one other unique home and home (UNC, Georgia Tech, Washington, etc) every single year to ensure that we have enough quality opponents on the schedule. If USC and Michigan are slumping, a marquee game with a Tennessee/LSU and someone like Missouri or UNC in a home and home would keep our schedule strong and give us more opportunities for quality wins.
When was the last time we had a really good quality win?? Penn State in 2006?? Tennessee in 2004 would be another one. We just haven't done that enough in recent years, and the lack of opportunities for quality wins on the schedule has been part of the problem. Beating Purdue and Sparty and BC is not going to get us any credit.
3) Speaking of Brian Kelly, I thought the recent interview he did with Bruce Feldman was fascinating stuff. Very revealing quote here:
Q: Looking at your team now and having been around for a couple of weeks, you've had a chance to make some assessments. What did you notice that made you think some things needed to be changed in terms of accountability or discipline?
I sense a bit of entitlement that needs to be rectified. I think a genuine respect for what you have and how it's being presented to you is the opposite end of entitlement and I need to move this program towards that end.
Say what you want about Brian Kelly and whether he can succeed at ND, but EVERYTHING that he has said thus far seems to be right on point with what has ailed this program in the last fifteen years. Think about the biggest issues that we have complained about for years.
1) Overrated recruits -- Too much emphasis on just looking at recruiting stars instead of finding the right kind of guys. I know it's cliche, but that RKG stuff is not just a bunch of smoke. I think Kelly will transform the recruiting model at ND from just collecting stars to more of a targeted approach. His categorization of "skill", "big skill", and "power" was the second most interesting thing I've read about recruiting out of an ND person in the last ten years (the most interesting being Vinny Cerrato's interview with B&G Illustrated on recruiting during the Holtz era.
Both these guys are basically saying the same thing, especially with the "big skill" guys. These "big skill" athletes are the utility guys who can come in and project to all sorts of places on the field. Maybe they played linebacker in high school, but they could be anything from a defensive end to an offensive tackle by the time they get into the weight program and beef up those big frames. Kelly and Cerrato want big-framed athletes playing EVERY position, including line positions. They don't just recruit o-linemen just because they played o-line in high school. They'd rather take a 6'5, 215 guy with speed and great athleticism and turn that guy into a defensive end or even an offensive tackle.
Kelly understand this concept just like Cerrato and Holtz did. Is it a coincidence that both these guys have been successful college coaches?? No. Kelly understands college personnel and what to look for and how to project guys into certain positions. He can take a look at a safety in high school and think about him as an outside linebacker someday. Or a running back in high school who turns into a superstar safety.
I think we will see a SUBSTANTIALLY better approach to recruiting under Kelly. He will find true "power" guys to play the lines (might recruit more d-linemen and convert them to offense), and he is going to find "big skill" guys to play on the edges.
The one thing we have recruited well through the years has been true "skill" guys like WRs and QBs and TEs. Combine our traditionally strong "skill" recruiting with better "big skill" and "power" guys, and we could really have something.
2) Soft program/Entitlement mentality-- The "Brooks Brothers" label that some folks have put on this program has resulted in soft teams that are out of shape and get pushed around up front. Kelly has talked at length about changing that culture at ND and producing tougher teams that don't wilt in the fourth quarter. Seems like that is a top priority for him when you read this quote in the Feldman interview:
"As I spend more time with the University of Notre Dame, some of our issues are self-inflicted wounds. So we need to spend time on the internal operation. But with the external, we gotta still recruit now, we've gotta carry the class. Charlie [Weis] did a very good job of putting together what I consider a class of great players and great young men that we have to reel in. It's not as pressing as some of the internal needs of the program."
Kelly showed up at ND and saw that there were massive internal problems. What a shocker!! I'm stunned that this program has been a mess from the inside out for all these years. I expect "Camp Kelly" to be telling this offseason, and we'll probably hear stories about guys wanting out of this program. Fine by me.
This whole "entitlement mentality" thing goes beyond the players. It applies to the fans as well. I'll be the first to admit that I point to our schedule before every year and talk about 11 wins and 1 loss because we're ND and we're supposed to have more talent than everybody on our schedule other than USC. And when we lose to the BCs and MSUs of the world year after year, we make excuses and proclaim that the only reason they beat us is that they are lucky to face us in a "down stretch" of our program's history.
News flash: We've been "down" for 15 years! This isn't some fad. This is our reality. We're a mediocre football program. Maybe we have a few more top end players than the Pitts and MSUs and BCs of the world, but the difference between our talent and theirs is pretty marginal when you start talking about 22 starters on the field. If we don't show up to play as a tough, disciplined team, we'll lose. We dismiss these teams, but it's time we start taking every game seriously for four quarters.
Of course, that all starts in the offseason, and I think Kelly is going to drill that home all winter. I expect to see a much more determined and focused team next fall.
I know that all our new coaches have said things in their first years that seemed to be a breath of fresh air at the time, but Kelly really seems to have a firm grip on what has been wrong with this program. He has a recruiting philosophy that matches up with what other great coaches and recruiters believe in, and he seems to understand that ND's problems go well beyond wins and losses. Behind the scenes, he is trying to change the culture at ND from a soft program to a hard-nosed program. Much like what Jim Harbaugh did at Stanford. If he can change the culture at ND, the wins will follow and it won't take all that long.
2) Some NFL thoughts as we head into the Divisional Round. Does it really get much better than the Divisional Round of the NFL Playoffs?? Four high-quality games on back to back days. I'm excited. Can't wait to hear Dan Dierdorf lose his mind the first time Ray Lewis makes a big play.
--Brutal loss for the Bengals on Saturday. Just completely outclassed in every way by the Jets. I drove down for the game and while I did enjoy my first NFL playoff experience (seeing the bunting and the NFL Playoff logo on the field was enough to inspire goosebumps), you could really feel the desperation in the air for Bengal fans. It was almost as if Bengal fans knew deep down that this was as good as it is going to get for this organization. When the schedule breaks right and we get the right mix of hungry, motivated guys, we might squeak out a 10-11 win season and bow out in the first round of the playoffs.
But in terms of getting to that next level, it requires an organizational commitment that just doesn't exist in Cincinnati. We aren't going to make staff changes to try to push a 10 win team to a 12-13 win team. The Bengals badly need a change in offensive philosophy. Our offense is so predictable and boring that it's sad. Every pass play is a Carson seven step drop back and out route to a WR. We do very little screen game, no Wildcat, no misdirection, very few rollouts or bootlegs or things like that. Every first down through the air just feels like we had to pull out a tooth to get it. In comparison, Sanchez didn't throw one difficult pass the entire game because his coaches gave him a ton of safe reads and interesting plays to get guys open in space.
Most likely, the Bengals will keep our offensive staff in place even though the offense has gone stale. Meanwhile, the Steelers finished only one game behind us (9-7) and are cleaning house on the offensive side of the ball. The Steelers are committed to one thing and one thing only: The Super Bowl. If anyone isn't holding up their end of the bargain toward that goal, they're gone. The Bengals will most likely retain the entire staff as a reward for going 10-6.
Unfortunately, 10-6 can easily go to 7-9 if you don't keep pushing yourself to improve. A first place schedule and a rejuvenated Steelers team next year probably will take this team down a few notches if the Bengals don't make every effort to get better in the offseason.
The other issue is Carson Palmer. He is either hurt or shaky, and neither scenario is good. Palmer did not have a good season at all, and it hurt this team on multiple occasions. It all comes down to accuracy. If you can't hit guys in the numbers or in stride, you are not going to have much of a passing game. He didn't necessarily throw a ton of backbreaking picks and the receivers were partially to blame, but Carson needs to play much better next year if this team is going to have another good year.
Overall, I enjoyed the season though. Even though I'd love to see the Bengals make a Super Bowl run, just getting to the playoffs is fun. It's fun to be invested in January and looking forward to the matchups and talking NFL playoff football. I hope I get to be a part of the show again next year.
--Is it me or did New England become too Weis-ian in the last couple years?? I was astounded at how Baltimore just shoved the Pats around on Sunday. They looked like a soft, pass-happy team that didn't want to get physical in the trenches with the Ravens. Sound familiar??
I think Belichick (and Weis on the college level) bought into this idea that the league was morphing into Arena Football Lite and that the way to build a team in the modern era was with an exclusively pass-oriented finesse offense that flung the ball around against overmatched defenses. I do agree that the NFL has become more geared to the pass, but it's still football. You still need to be physical at the point of attack, you still should have some balance, and you still need to play attacking, aggressive, physical defense. It's not a video game. If you beat up the other team at the lines, they are going to wear out and make mistakes and bog down in the red zone. The Ravens just punched New England in the mouth, and they couldn't respond.
If that game wasn't an eye-opener for Belichick to rethink his formula and get back to playing a more physical brand of football, I don't know what will. Belichick is a smart guy, and I would expect to see some changes coming in New England.
--Of the four Wildcard Weekend teams that survived, here's how I would rank them going forward as Super Bowl contenders:
1) Dallas -- I'll admit that I was not a Dallas believer at all because I perceived their talent to be overrated, but how can you not be impressed with them?? And I guess I must have missed out on them acquiring some serious talent because they have the most talented defense in the league. Spencer and Ware are devastating players, their d-line is strong, and their secondary impressed me as well. Defense in the NFL comes down to pass rushers and cornerbacks. If you are really good at those two spots, you are in really good shape. It's all about getting off the field on 3rd down and making big plays.
If I had to make a pick on a Super Bowl team out of the NFC, I think I'd go with Dallas above everyone. They run the ball, Romo is playing well, they rush the passer, they shut down the run, and they are athletic. Extremely impressed with them right now.
2) Arizona -- I'm putting the Cards at #2 just because of one man: Kurt Warner. A year ago, I would have laughed at this statement, but at this point, I don't even think there's a debate on whether he's a Hall of Famer. For my money, he's AT LEAST the 3rd best quarterback of this decade, and I'd even go as far as to say that I would go to bat for him in a Warner-Brady debate. There isn't a guy that I've ever seen who does a better job of making a quick decision and hitting EVERY receiver in stride right on the numbers. Maybe I just only seem to watch him when he's red hot, but Warner does not miss throws!! Nothing is high or late or a poor decision. He knows where he's going with it, and he puts it right on the money.
I've been trying to think about Warner's legacy as an NFL quarterback, and I think he will go down as the Godfather of the spread offense. If you had to pick one guy to run a spread where he is going to have to make a quick read and get rid of the ball accurately in less than three seconds because you only have five blockers and the pressure is coming, I think I'd go with Kurt Warner. He's the best in the game at that. Warner just kills teams over the middle with quick reads and quick throws.
Warner has played on one of the best offensive teams of the modern era (the 99-02 Rams), he played an unbelievable game in one of the all time great Super Bowls (the 09 Super Bowl), and he just threw five touchdown passes in one of the great NFL playoff games of all time (Packers-Cards). His legend is officially secured.
With Kurt Warner on fire, the Cards can beat anyone. We've all doubted these guys game after game the last couple years, and they continue to come through.
3) Baltimore -- Only reason I don't have the Ravens higher is that their defense is not as dominant as it looked last week, and I'm not sure whether Joe Flacco is ready to win two more games on the road if they really need him to come through. I just can't shake the fact that the Bengals beat these guys twice this year and pretty much had their way with them through the air even though Carson Palmer was ordinary for most of the year.
Baltimore has some things going for them though: Ray Rice and John Harbaugh. With their running game, they can hang around. And Harbaugh seems to be a master at having his team ready to play. But they are going to have a serious challenge in Indy going up against the Colts' passing game. They have to find ways to get pressure on Manning.
4) Jets -- The Jets probably won't win in San Diego, but I sort of like their matchup. I watched the Bengals very nearly win in San Diego about a month ago, so I at least have a sense for what it would take to beat the Chargers. They LOVE throwing the deep ball. They throw a bomb like once every four downs. It's unreal. And once they spread things out, they hit you underneath with screens and over the middle stuff to Antonio Gates. It's a pretty devastating combination.
Defensively, they're good, but not scary good. The Bengals moved it on the Chargers. The Jets can run the ball on San Diego. Heck, the Jets can run the ball on anyone. Nick Mangold is a monster on the interior. If they can run the ball and continue to be creative with the Wildcat and screens, it would not shock me if they scored some points in this game.
The Chargers are really good offensively, but I almost feel like the Jets have some good matchups here. Darrelle Revis can shut down Vinnie Jackson in his sleep, which might take away that deep threat. That means that the Jets just need to bunch up and neutralize Antonio Gates and the running backs in the underneath game.
I would not be surprised at all to see one of these AFC Wildcard teams advance to the AFC Championship game. My initial thought was the Ravens, but now I'm starting to get intrigued by the Jets. I love Jets +9 this week. Love it!!
My picks this week:
Dallas over Minnesota -- That Dallas front seven in Favre's face all day?? Where do I buy stock in a 4INT day for Favre?? And Dallas is built for a dome with their speed and athleticism, so they won't be as freaked out about playing in Minnesota.
Arizona over New Orleans -- Screw it, give me Kurt "Big Game" Warner. America is salivating for a Zona-Dallas NFC Championship Game.
Indy over Baltimore -- I think the Colts have been circling the wagons and expect them to come out and play well. The Ravens don't really have a "dome team" feel either. They're built like the Bengals.
Jets over San Diego -- Why not?? This will probably be wrong, but I'm going with a gut feeling.
1) Finally, I am thrilled about this Aroldis Chapman signing by the Reds. Maybe it will end up being a bust, but I like the mentality. I would rather spend $30 million on a 22 year old young gun lefthander who throws 100 mph over 4 garden-variety retread free agents any day of the week. Case in point, the Reds have handed out about $35 million over the last three years to the following guys:
And that's not to mention the $10 million or so a year that we flush down the toilet on crappy relievers like David Weathers and Mike Lincoln. The Reds probably spend $20-30 million PER YEAR on bad free agents. Why not invest $5 million a year on Chapman instead??
I realize there are concerns about Chapman, and I don't want to gloss over the fact that the Yanks and Red Sox and others feel that he needs a year or two in the minors before being ready to come up to the bigs. Maybe Chapman never ends up being more than a reliever or a back end rotation guy like Oliver Perez. If he only gives you 3-3.5 years in the bigs, you're essentially paying him almost $10 million a year for those years. And we've seen so many flamethrowers come up to the bigs and not be able to command the strike zone. If you don't have great command, you're never going to be a great major league pitcher.
But if this guy turns into the next Johan Santana, $5 million a year turns into the biggest bargain in the league for the next 6 years. You get his best years of pitching (ages 22-28) at a bargain rate. Even if he just becomes a #2-#3 type starter, that's still a good deal. The going rate for a starting pitcher these days is $10+ million.
This is the kind of risk that I'm more than willing to see the Reds take. The only way the Reds are ever going to win as a small market team is with young guns and pitching. Get as many live, young arms as possible and hope that 3-4 of them come through and form the core of a winning rotation. With Cueto, Bailey (came on strong last year), Volquez, Chapman, and Mike Leake (first round pick), we have 5 promising young pitchers. I won't assume that all five of them will live up to the hype, but I'd happily settle for three. If a few of them mature and pan out, we can at least be competitive. That's more than I can say about the last 10 years. Move the fences at GABP as far back as they can go and win with pitching and defense and young guns.
Nice move. Now get rid of Dusty and bring in someone who can develop him.