With the lockout in full swing, a lot of stories are being written about leadership. Tyrone McKenzie is stepping up as a leader for the defense, Aqib Talib is leading the cornerbacks, Gerald McCoy is leading the defensive tackles, Kellen Winslow is teaching Luke Stocker - everyone's a leader now!
While all this may be true, let's keep in mind one thing: Michael Clayton was a leader too. Clayton was a hard-working player in his last seasons in Tampa Bay, took young receivers under his wing and has to this day continued to help out the team. But Michael Clayton's leadership is completely irrelevant: he was not a good enough player to make an impact.
In today's sportswriting there's a tendency to point to intangibles and leadership to build up players to such an extent that quality of play is almost glossed over. Yes, you need players who are leaders, but above all you need players who can play the game and make an impact. Julius Peppers was let go in Carolina because he couldn't be that leader - and with that they let one of the best defensive ends in the game walk, and it certainly hasn't helped their team.
Before anyone can be a leader, they need to be a good player, otherwise it's just fluff. The Arizona Cardinals had a motley crew of clowns as starters at quarterback this past season, all of whom were terrific leaders. Unfortunately not one of them could consistently hit his target, so they couldn't play. The point is this: without quality play, you cannot lead, and without quality play you will lose no matter the leadership on the team. The number one deciding factor in who gets on the field should be quality of play, then, and not leadership. All these stories about players stepping up and showing that they, too, can lead are good, but I need to see it backed up on the field first.