AROUND THE NFL

In a year when Zach Taylor, Matt LaFleur and Kliff Kingsbury leaped into NFL head coaching jobs, Sean Payton doesn’t name any names – but his thoughts are clear.  Kevin Patra of NFL.com:

 

The once hot-shot offensive mind teams desired to mimic thinks franchises are foolhardy for the obsession with trying to unearth the latest hot-shot offensive mind teams are trying to mimic.

 

Sean Payton, still the gold standard of successful offensive gurus, thinks clubs who focused in on only finding the “Next Sean McVay” missed the boat on some potentially better head coaches during this year’s annual cycle.

 

In an interview with NFL Network’s Steve Wyche this week, Payton said the search for the next McVay left out worthy candidates, but he’s happy to face those teams that ended up erring with their choice.

 

“I think we’ve got a diversity problem, like this season, what took place, that’s hitting us square in the face. I think that not a lot was written or discussed about it,” Payton said. “There are a handful of coaches that I know that if I was a GM who I would be interested in hiring.

 

“So, I think more and more it’s season-by-season and ‘I want Alvin Kamara.’ Well, you can’t have him. You can go draft 10 more running backs and be 0 for 10 trying to find him or (Sean) McVay (as a coach). And so I see a lot of mistakes made in that process I feel like this long in and so we’re excited to play those teams.”

 

Eight teams hired new coaches for the 2019 season. Six of those men coach offense, Bruce Arians (Tampa Bay Buccaneers), Adam Gase (New York Jets), Kliff Kingsbury (Arizona Cardinals), Freddie Kitchens (Cleveland Browns), Matt LaFleur (Green Bay Packers) and Zac Taylor (Cincinnati Bengals). Only two of those six (Arians, Gase) have previous head coaching experience. The other four have a combined 29 games experience as NFL play callers.

 

Two coaches were hired from the defensive side of the ball, Vic Fangio (Denver Broncos) and Brian Flores (Miami Dolphins). Flores is the only non-white male.

 

Sean Payton’s Saints will face two of those newly hired coaches this year: division rival Tampa Bay and Arizona.

 

The New Orleans coach believes that teams who narrowed their hiring approach looking for a certain standard could be missing out on potentially great coaches, some from his own staff.

 

“I feel like I’ve got four or five coaches on my staff that are going to become head coaches at some point,” Payton said. “The thing that can be disappointing though is when you talk to someone and they give you the profile (of their desired new coach) and then I’ll say ‘well you’re not interested in a young Bill Belichick or a young Tony Dungy?’

 

“They get so pigeonholed into — cause this is cyclical, right, this goes — and ultimately you would say if we did a little history, successful head coaches probably come from the east and the west and north and south. They probably come of both color and they probably come on defense and on offense. And they’re good leaders. They’re great leaders. And, so, if you say ‘well I just want the one that coaches quarterbacks and they’re on offense,’ well, then, you’re going to end up with a smaller pool and you’ll probably have less of a chance to be right, because already of eight hired there’s going to be three that survive three years.”

 

Payton is certainly right that some of the new hires will fail, perhaps several of those on offense. There are also other examples of hot offensive play-callers like Matt Nagy in Chicago turning their team’s fortunes around quickly.

 

Payton’s point underscores the truth that when the NFL — or any business — diminishes the pool of applicants right off the bat, they’re not searching for the best candidate for the job but rather a predetermined notion of the hottest trend.

 

There is only one Sean McVay.

 

Perhaps many of the new hires will be smashing hits. Sean Payton would like to test them out for himself.

 

NFC EAST

 

NEW YORK GIANTS

RB SAQUON BARKLEY has QB ELI MANNING’s back.  Matt Lombardo at NJ.com:

 

The Giants organization has circled the wagons around 38-year-old quarterback Eli Manning in recent weeks and that includes superstar running back Saquon Barkley.

 

Barkley called criticism of Manning “unfair” as the two-time Super Bowl winner prepares for what could be his final season in a Giants’ uniform.

 

“Yeah, it bothers me. I’m not going to lie because it’s not his fault,” Barkley says “He’s not the reason why [we’ve struggled]. We love to put the blame on one person, but it takes 11 men, a team and an organization all together to win.”

 

Last season, Manning had his most efficient performance in recent memory, thanks in large part to Barkley’s dominance both on the ground and as a receiver.

 

Manning targeted Barkley 121 times, 91 of which were caught by the Offensive Rookie of The Year for 721 yards and four touchdowns. Barkley’s presence in the offense helped lift Manning to a career-best 66 percent completion percentage for 4,299 yards with 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.

 

In the absence of wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., Barkley is likely to take on an even larger role in the Giants’ offense beginning in 2019, after producing 2,028 yards from scrimmage and 15 total touchdowns.

 

Yet, despite Manning’s at times late-game stat padding, the Giants won only five games and have just eight victories over the past two seasons, which has done little to dissuade critics who question if he is capable of returning the Giants to the postseason for the first time since 2016.

 

Barkley’s defense of Manning echoes the sentiments this week of general manager Dave Gettleman during the NFL Annual Meeting in Phoenix.

 

“Eli is still a quality NFL quarterback,” Gettleman told NFL Network. ” It wears me out, it really does. Obviously he’s 38 years old. … Anyhow, the bottom line is yes have to address it. It’s reality. So when the time is right we will.”

 

 

PHILADELPHIA

The Eagles think they can get more out of RB JORDAN HOWARD than the Bears did.

 

The Chicago Bears finally moved Jordan Howard.

 

Chicago shipped the running back to the Philadelphia Eagles in exchange for a 2020 sixth-round pick on Thursday night, the Eagles announced. Conditions in the trade could flex that selection to a 2020 fifth-round pick.

 

Howard had been rumored as trade bait since before the 2018 season, as Tarik Cohen took on a larger role in first-year coach Matt Nagy’s offense. In his third season in the Windy City, Howard saw another dip in production as he totaled 935 rushing yards and 3.7 yards per carry. When Chicago signed former Seahawks running back Mike Davis in free agency, the writing looked to be on the wall.

 

Still on his cheap rookie deal, Howard is slated to make $2 million in the final season of his four-year contract.

 

In Philadelphia, Howard will add to a running book room desperate for a bell cow. Before acquiring the 24-year-old, the Eagles employed Corey Clement, Josh Adams, Wendell Smallwood, Donnel Pumphrey and Boston Scott in their backfield, having let go of veterans Jay Ajayi and Darren Sproles. With Ajayi and Sproles sidelined by injury in 2018, the Eagles averaged just 98.1 rushing YPG and 3.9 YPC, good for 28th and 30th in the pros, respectively.

 

This is the second big trade that Eagles general manager Howie Roseman has swung this offseason. Philly acquired former Buccaneers (and Eagles) receiver DeSean Jackson in a trade that included the swapping of late-round picks and then re-signed the veteran.

 

Chicago, meanwhile, will go ahead with Cohen and Davis as its two-headed running back attack.

 

Is it really a “big” trade if the highest draft picks involved are not above the fifth round?

 

Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com explains how the clever Eagles will actually get something better back when they let Howard walk at the end of 2019:

 

The Eagles’ decision to trade a 2020 third-day pick for Bears running back Jordan Howard is another example of the value Philadelphia places on compensatory picks.

 

That’s because Howard is heading into the final year of his rookie contract. At first blush, it might seem like trading for a player in the final year of his contract is unwise, as he could just leave in free agency next year. But if he does, that would help the Eagles acquire compensatory picks.

 

The NFL’s compensatory pick formula gives teams additional draft picks when they lose more free agents than they acquire. That has been a key part of the Eagles’ strategy, and in 2020 they’re poised to lead the way in compensatory picks, as they should get a third-round compensatory pick for losing Nick Foles, and two fourth-rounders for losing Golden Tate and Jordan Hicks.

 

The Eagles traded a third-round pick for Tate last year even though he was in the final season of his contract and has now left in free agency. Some questioned the wisdom of that, but Tate was a valuable player for the Eagles last season — he scored the winning touchdown in their playoff victory over the Bears — and he’ll produce a fourth-round pick for them next year.

 

Howard may end up doing the same: He could play a valuable role on the Eagles in 2019, and if that convinces some other team to out-bid the Eagles for him in free agency next year, the Eagles would get a compensatory pick for his departure. The Eagles aren’t just planning for what Howard can bring to the team this season, they’re planning for several seasons down the road. That’s what smart teams do.

 

NFC SOUTH

 

TAMPA BAY

It is less than a ringing endorsement of GM Jason Licht as THE GLAZERS SPEAK!  Kevin Patra of NFL.com:

 

General managers usually work on a short rope in an NFL world lacking in patience. Most GM’s get to make maybe two coaching hires — if that — when losing persists through their tenure. NFL owners usually wipe out the entire operation and start completely over before long.

 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers GM Jason Licht sits as an outlier in this world, making his third coaching change since taking over in 2014. The Bucs have earned a 27-53 record in five seasons under Licht’s guidance, with just one winning season (9-7, 2016) during that span and zero playoff appearances.

 

Tampa had been a trendy hot team the past two offseasons, only to flop on the field, finishing each campaign with a measly five wins.

 

Despite the disappointments, Licht survives.

 

Speaking with Pewter Report this week from the Annual League Meeting in Phoenix, Bucs co-chairman Joel Glazer pointed to keeping continuity as the key to building stable success.

 

“One thing we do know in the NFL, too much instability doesn’t lead to success,” Glazer said. “And we have had our share of instability over the last several years. And with Jason — obviously Jason is not happy with what our record has been the last few years — but when you look at our team and you look at our drafts, there have been positives. We have had a lot of players we drafted, re-sign, and we have a good nucleus of players. So at the end of the day we felt the consistency in that was important and will ultimately lead to success.”

 

Unsaid is that part of the Bucs’ instability came from Licht’s hiring decisions. Perhaps his relationship with new coach Bruce Arians helped save Licht’s job this time around.

 

Faith in patience is prudent when placed with the proper person. It can be folly to be lenient only for stability’s sake.

 

There are examples of both kinds littered throughout the NFL. Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff appeared to be on the walking plank a few years ago before Atlanta stuck through the troubled water and came out better on the other end. On the flipside, there is the infamous case of Matt Millen getting eight years in Detroit.

 

Glazer believes stability in the front office will have a trickledown effect on his club.

 

“He has put together a good personnel staff, he is good at articulating to everybody of what we are trying to accomplish,” Glazer said of Licht. “He has good perspective when it comes to the team. And I think the key has been working with the head coach. I think he has had excellent ability to work with our coaching staffs — it is partnership ultimately — and if those two people aren’t on the same page working well together than it is always flawed. So he is also a good people person.”

 

Being a good people person might be what saved Licht in the past. Now the GM needs wins.

 

NFC WEST

 

ARIZONA

Coach Kliff Kingsbury is trying to get something out of WR KEVIN WHITE who management in Chicago once made the seventh overall pick in the draft.  Josh Weinfuss of ESPN.com:

 

Kliff Kingsbury did his homework on wide receiver Kevin White.

 

Before the Arizona Cardinals signed White to a one-year, $1.5 million deal, Kingsbury called people with the Chicago Bears, with whom White spent his first four NFL seasons, and people who coached him at West Virginia. They all raved about White’s toughness, his personality and his competitive spirit.

 

But the one thing they could not tell Kingsbury was whether White would get hurt again. And that’s the one question everybody’s most curious about.

 

That’s also made him the poster child for the Cardinals’ approach to free agency this year.

 

White’s long injury history left him available in free agency long enough for the Cardinals to sign him to a prove-it deal on the third day of the league year. And White has plenty to prove. He has played in just 14 games since he was drafted seventh overall by the Bears in 2015 thanks to two fibula fractures and a shoulder fracture.

 

Signing players like White — those with a recent injury history — was one part of Arizona’s two-pronged free-agency formula. The other part was to again sign veterans to short-term deals. Both have become more of the rule for the Cardinals in free agency recently than the exception.

 

The buy-low, sell-high approach to free agency continues to be a constant in general manager Steve Keim’s seven-year tenure.

 

Of the 11 players the Cardinals have signed through the first eight days of free agency and 14 added overall including via trade, seven inked one-year contracts and seven have dealt with significant injury issues recently.

 

“I think it just fit,” Kingsbury said. “I think it fit with what we’re trying to do. [Defensive coordinator] Vance [Joseph] had a previous relationship with a bunch of the guys defensively — whether it be Vance or [linebackers coach] Billy [Davis] — and felt good about who they are as people and high-character guys that come in and be good leaders in our locker room in a first year when you’re really trying to establish a culture and do things the right way.”

 

The one upside for Kingsbury is that an injured player could still be a presence in the locker room.

 

Over the past couple seasons, injuries have limited Cardinals additions such as inside linebacker Jordan Hicks (four years, $34 million), who missed four games last season with a calf injury and nine in 2017 with an Achilles injury; tight end Charles Clay (one year, $2 million), who has dealt with knee, back and hamstring issues; offensive lineman Marcus Gilbert (trade), who had recurring ankle issues early in his career and ended last season on injured reserve with a knee injury; offensive lineman Max Garcia (one year, $2 million), who tore his ACL last season; and cornerback Robert Alford (three years, $22.5 million), who has dealt with an ankle injury.

 

“I mean, that’s part of the league,” Kingsbury said. “I think everybody has injury concerns. There’s a certain element of luck that goes into it with guys being able to stay healthy, and last year Arizona was struck with the injury bug some and we hope that doesn’t happen again this year.”

 

This isn’t the first time Arizona has signed free agents with recent injury histories.

 

The Cardinals signed injury-prone quarterback Sam Bradford last year to a two-year mega-deal. He started just three games and was released during the season. They also signed tackle Andre Smith to a two-year deal ahead of last season. He was coming off back-to-back season-ending injuries and started eight of 11 games before being released.

 

AFC NORTH

 

BALTIMORE

Coach John Harbaugh realizes that Baltimore, especially now that QB LAMAR JACKSON has the keys to the offense, won’t be a desired destination for stat-hungry wide receivers.  Jamison Hensley of ESPN.com:

 

If you’re a running back or a blocking tight end, the Baltimore Ravens represent the ultimate destination.

 

If you’re a wide receiver looking to catch 80 passes in a season, Baltimore probably is at the bottom of the list.

 

For the first time this offseason, the Ravens acknowledged the challenge of luring free-agent receivers to play with Lamar Jackson and their run-heavy offense.

 

“You’re not going to be a certain type of receiver and want to come play in Baltimore,” coach John Harbaugh said at the NFL owners meetings. “We have not received phone calls from some guys. That’s OK. I don’t want to hear from those guys. We want rough guys, we want tough guys.”

 

Harbaugh suggested the idea is to get as many receivers who play in the same vein as former Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith, who took pride in being more physical than your typical pass-catcher.

 

When lining up for the Ravens, wide receivers are going to be asked to block just as much as they run routes — and possibly more. Baltimore ran the ball 64 percent of the time after Jackson replaced Joe Flacco as the starting quarterback.

 

In Jackson’s seven starts, wide receivers were targeted an NFL-low 45 times. The league average over that span was 80.

 

“The counterargument I would make to the naysayers, because of the offense we’re going to run and the skills of the quarterback that we have, you’re going to get open. You’re going to be more wide open,” Harbaugh said. “And if you’re the kind of guy that wants to catch a ball and go run for a touchdown, if that’s something that appeals to you as a wide receiver, then maybe Baltimore is a place you want to think about. Because you’re going to have an opportunity to do that.”

 

The group of free-agent wide receivers was considered a weak one this season. Golden Tate and Tyrell Williams both received over $20 million in guaranteed money, and they’ve combined for one Pro Bowl.

 

General manager Eric DeCosta said earlier this week that he didn’t see free agency as a way to help the Ravens at wide receiver this year. He believes the best way is the draft, but Baltimore currently has just one of the first 84 picks this year.

 

Harbaugh agreed that the transition for wide receivers from college to the NFL is a difficult one because of the nuances of running routes and the difficulty to get open against more talented cornerbacks. But …

 

“There’s always a rookie or two every year that proves it wrong,” Harbaugh said. “I think hopefully we’ll get that rookie.”

 

The Ravens have expressed confidence in the handful of receivers currently on the roster. Harbaugh praised the professionalism of Willie Snead and spoke to backup Chris Moore about this season being his time. He also expressed high expectations for Jordan Lasley and Jaleel Scott, two mid-round picks from last year who didn’t play a single snap as rookies.

 

“We may not have household names right now,” Harbaugh said, “but they’ll be household names soon.”

 

AFC EAST

 

NEW ENGLAND

Something happened with Greg Schiano and the Patriots.  So far, all we know is that he has resigned for vague “family and faith” reasons.  Mike Reiss of ESPN.com:

 

Greg Schiano is stepping down from his position on the New England Patriots’ coaching staff, citing a “need to spend more time on my faith and family.”

 

Schiano, whose hire had never been officially announced by the club, announced his decision Thursday in a joint statement with coach Bill Belichick.

 

“This is not the result of any one event, but rather a realization that I need to spend more time on my faith and family,” Schiano said. “I don’t want to look back years from now and wish I had done things differently. Therefore, I am taking time away from the game to recalibrate my priorities.”

 

Schiano was hired by the Patriots less than two months ago, although the team never specified what his role would be. It was widely assumed he would play a lead role on defense as the club replaced playcaller Brian Flores, who was hired as Miami Dolphins coach after the season.

 

“I respect Coach Schiano greatly and appreciate his contributions to our staff and team,” Belichick said in his statement. “He is a friend who we support completely.”

 

It is a stunning turn of events, as Belichick had raved about Schiano in an interview with Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski that aired Thursday on the “Basketball and Beyond with Coach K” show on SiriusXM.

 

“He’s a very experienced and outstanding fundamental coach,” Belichick said in the interview, which was recorded at some point before Sunday. “He’s a good teacher and has a lot of experience in both the college and pro game. … I think he’ll be a great addition.”

 

Schiano is a longtime friend of Belichick’s and coached Belichick’s son Steve at Rutgers for one season. He also coached current Patriots defensive backs Devin McCourty, Jason McCourty and Duron Harmon.

 

The 52-year-old Schiano was on the cusp of being named University of Tennessee coach in 2017, but the school reversed course after public outcry among Tennessee fans, with some citing his connection to the Jerry Sandusky era at Penn State. Belichick had offered his public support for Schiano.

 

Schiano’s departure comes one day after former Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo (2008-15) announced that he was joining the team’s coaching staff.

 

The resignation, coupled with having an experienced offensive coordinator in Josh McDaniels, could lead Belichick to take on more defensive coordinator-type responsibilities in 2019.

 

The Patriots have seen five coaches depart their staff after Super Bowl LIII.

 

More from Oliver Thomas of the Wall Street Journal:

 

Schiano’s abrupt arrival and exit will force renovations to dig deeper, particularly on the defensive side of the ball.

 

As things stand, the longest-tenured coach there for New England is Steve Belichick, once a walk-on long snapper at Rutgers under Schiano who graduated from defensive assistant to safeties coach in 2016.

 

Options to fill the gaps are not growing with the NFL’s coaching carousel in the rearview. The most likely defensive play-caller is Steve’s father. Another name to monitor is Bret Bielema, who signed on as a defensive consultant last season after having previously held the title of head coach at both Arkansas and Wisconsin.

 

Jerod Mayo, the No. 10 overall pick in the 2008 draft, returned to the team that he totaled more than 800 tackles for as linebackers coach just this week.

 

All totaled? The expectation is that New England will now head into the upcoming season without a defensive coordinator.

 

At least, like with Schiano and Flores, not under an official capacity.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

CBA

Time flies and we are about 21 months away from the end of the CBA.  Dan Graziano of ESPN.com:

 

Talks between the NFL and its players union on a new collective bargaining agreement are expected to begin in early to mid-April, New York Giants owner John Mara said Tuesday at the NFL’s annual meeting.

 

Mara said there already have been talks “at the staff level” about setting up negotiating sessions for a new CBA. The current agreement, signed in 2011 following an offseason lockout, expires after the 2020 season.

 

Sources with the NFL and the NFL Players Association say both sides are motivated to reach a new agreement and avoid a work stoppage this time around. However, those sources cautioned that the collective bargaining process is complicated and unpredictable, and there’s no guarantee a new agreement would be reached this offseason just because discussions begin.

 

“Any conversation with NFL owners will be a renegotiation for a new deal, not an extension,” NFLPA president Eric Winston responded via Twitter. “At our board meetings, we told everyone to prepare for a work stoppage; nothing has changed.”

 

The conversations that have taken place so far have dealt mainly with logistics, one source said. That means staffers from the NFL and NFLPA have discussed scheduling, timing and potential agendas for meetings that could take place this spring and summer, but that negotiators have yet to engage in serious discussions on the issues that would drive any new agreement.

 

Sources on both sides say it is unclear which of those issues will prove to be the most pivotal or hotly contested, but those sources offered some idea of what each side might be seeking in a new deal.

 

Owners are expected to seek mainly financial gains, most prominently new stadium credits similar to the ones they secured in the 2011 deal. Stadium credits are allotments of money that come off the top of the revenue pile before the revenue is split with the players and are used to assist teams with stadium renovations or new stadium construction. The NFL used up all of the stadium credits from the 2011 deal a couple of years ago, meaning new projects in Los Angeles and Las Vegas as well as hoped-for projects or renovations in places such as Cleveland and Buffalo are not reaping the benefits of that system. In order to help with such projects and ones to come, owners are expected to seek stadium credits in the new deal.

 

That would, of course, require some concessions, as the players union likely won’t be eager to hand over chunks of revenue that aren’t part of the pool they split with the owners. The 2011 CBA reduced the players’ share of revenue from 51 percent to 47 percent, but in return, the players secured concessions such as reduced offseason workloads and post-career health and financial benefits.

 

The NFLPA held its annual player representative meeting in Miami earlier this month, and issues important to the players for the next round of CBA talks were a major point of discussion. Some of the more prominent that appear to be important to the players this time around include:

 

 – Trying to increase the revenue share from that 47 percent mark.

 

– Trying to create structures that create more avenues for players and agents to secure greater guarantees in contracts. For example, raising the spending “floor” that currently requires teams to spend 89 percent of their salary cap in cash over a four-year period or doing away with the antiquated “fully funded rule” that requires teams to hold fully guaranteed contract money in escrow.

 

– Adjusting rules that get to the issues of players’ freedom over their contract situations — for example, the franchise tag, the fifth-year option for first-round rookie contracts and the length of time it takes rookies to reach free agency.

 

– The personal conduct policy, which was unilaterally changed by the NFL in 2014 after the league tried to engage the union in discussions but refused to accede to the union’s request that the policy be collectively bargained.

 

– Potential updates or improvements to the drug policy and programs that could be put in place to address players’ mental health.

 

The league and its union have almost two years to come to an agreement, so the potential start of talks in the coming weeks is a good sign that they could settle on a new CBA before the current agreement expires. But it’s a long and complicated process subject to fits, starts and unforeseen impasses. Sources on both sides cautioned that this is only the beginning.

 

We don’t see the word “international” anywhere in Graziano’s list – or “extra games.”

 

 

PLAYOFF TEAMS THAT WON’T REPEAT

 

NFL.com asks a panel of experts to assess which 2018 playoff team is in the most trouble.

 

The 2018 NFL playoffs were thrilling from start to finish. The 12 teams that put on January’s postseason show were:

 

— Baltimore Ravens

— Chicago Bears

— Dallas Cowboys

— Houston Texans

— Indianapolis Colts

— Kansas City Chiefs

— Los Angeles Chargers

— Los Angeles Rams

— New England Patriots

— New Orleans Saints

— Philadelphia Eagles

— Seattle Seahawks

 

After two months and a TON of offseason movement via trades and free agency, there’s one question that comes to mind:

 

Which 2018 playoff team is in the most trouble heading into 2019?

 

Reggie Wayne

Expectations will get the best of Andy Reid’s Chiefs

Even though they had maybe the best offense in the league in 2018, the Chiefs will no doubt struggle next season. They just jettisoned two of the best pass rushers ( Dee Ford and Justin Houston) from an already subpar defense. Not only that, Kansas City comes into 2019 with crazy high expectations, and I know how much of a challenge that is to do from my years with the Colts. It’s hard to duplicate a season like the one the Chiefs had a year ago. There’s a lot more room to fall than there is to climb.

 

Brian Baldinger

Ravens’ offseason departures on defense too much to overcome

I have to take the Baltimore Ravens. The defense, which ranked second in scoring last season, lost four major players in Terrell Suggs, C.J. Mosley, Za’Darius Smith and Eric Weddle. Weddle was the quarterback of the unit; Suggs brought leadership and dominance even in his 16th season; Smith led Baltimore with 8.5 sacks; and Mosley will no doubt be the toughest defender to replace. Earl Thomas is a good addition at safety, but without a top-tier defense, the Ravens’ offense won’t be able to consistently outscore the opponent.

 

Maurice Jones-Drew

Texans have yet to address their biggest flaw this offseason

The main reason why the Houston Texans didn’t make it far in the postseason was because of their porous offensive line. They have yet to make any notable improvements to a unit that gave up a league-high 62 sacks. Even if they load up in April’s draft, they haven’t done nearly enough.

 

Charley Casserly

Two factors could lead to Baltimore’s 2019 struggles

We have to remember that rosters will change immensely in the draft, and the possible salary-cap cut could happen. But at this point, I would say Baltimore. The Ravens need to rebuild their receiver corps with the departures of John Brown and Michael Crabtree. On defense, they also lost Terrell Suggs, Eric Weddle and Za’Darius Smith in free agency. The hope is that between Matt Judon, Tim Williams, Tyus Bowser and the draft, they can rebuild the pass rush.

 

Two bigger factors to consider: 1) The improvements the Cleveland Browns made in the offseason to put them in position to make the playoffs in 2019, and 2) How will the offense evolve with Lamar Jackson? Defenses — specifically the Chargers, who beat Baltimore in the Wild Card Round — found a way to control the Ravens’ offense with Jackson at the helm. The offense will have to change, and Jackson must improve for the Ravens to make the playoffs next season.

 

David Carr

Chiefs facing so many questions right now

There are so many questions surrounding the Chiefs. After exits by Dee Ford and Justin Houston, how are they going to rebuild the pass rush? How will they replace Kareem Hunt’s backfield production? What will Tyreek Hill’s status be come Week 1? I’m just not sure what the Chiefs will be. Regardless of their flaws, you can bet that I’ll tune in every week to watch Patrick Mahomes.

 

Lots of reasons to pick the Patriots, but no one did.

 

 

REPLAY EXPANSION

Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com on the fallout in the aftermath of replay expansion:

 

Competition Committee chairman Rich McKay characterized the addition of pass interference to replay review as the making of sausage in one day. The multi-day process of cutting open the sausage and studying it has resulted in the discovery of plenty of interesting ingredients.

 

From the issue of catchable passes to pick plays to a potential uptick generally in OPI to the possibility of more (any) offsetting offensive and defensive pass interference fouls, it feels like some of the nuances either weren’t considered or weren’t fully fleshed out. Perhaps the most importance subplot as it relates to the change in the rules comes from the reality that the replay function will now absorb the continuous possibility of NFL senior V.P. of officiating Al Riveron or one of his lieutenants being required to look for the presence or absence of multiple forms of pass interference on a regular basis during games.

 

It adds to Riveron’s overall workload, and it increases his stress level significantly. For that reason, he should ask for a raise. Or, more accurately, the league should give Riveron a raise without Riveron having to ask for it.

 

As former NFL senior V.P. of officiating Dean Blandino has said in the not-too-distant past, the league doesn’t value that position like it should. That dynamic surely contributed to the decision of Blandino to exit the league office for FOX.

 

Some have suggested that the NFL should up the ante and try to lure Blandino back. If the NFL is ever going to do that, now would be the time to make it happen.

 

 

2019 DRAFT

Today’s Mock Draft comes from Eric Edholm of YahooSports.com.  He has the Bengals in the QB market, which initially surprised but on second thought might have some legs:

 

A few things have changed since our last mock, namely the bulk of free agency. So things are starting to crystallize. Not fully, because most teams will leave the owners meetings and go back to the facilities and put together in earnest their respective draft boards that will be about 95 percent of what they’ll look like close to draft day.

 

Picks will be traded, of course, but overachievers that we are, we went through and mocked out the first three rounds, to make sure that our projected picks for the teams without first-round choices – the Browns, Cowboys, Saints and Bears – were as authentic as possible.

 

1. Arizona Cardinals – Oklahoma QB Kyler Murray

It’s getting harder for Kliff Kingsbury to hide his Murray love. Kingsbury reminds you of a guy in college who could ignore women, literally turn and walk away from them, but they still follow him around. Now the tables are turning. Kyler is that guy now, and Kingsbury is on the hunt. At first, he played it semi-cool, but … come on, look at this:

 

@AdamSchefter

 Cardinals’ HC Kliff Kingsbury on what he likes about Kyler Murray: “I mean, I guess it’s more what don’t you like? When you watch him play, I mean he can run it, he can throw it, he’s a competitor….He’s one of the better dual threat players to ever play.”

 

OK, we’ve seen enough here. Let’s safely call this thing. Josh Rosen will be a Giant or a Charger (my sleeper destination) or a Patriot or a Redskin or a Dolphin within a month. I predict the trade goes down within a day or two of draft night.

 

2. San Francisco 49ers — Ohio State EDGE Nick Bosa

Hopefully the 49ers don’t get cute with this one. There are two players squarely at the top of this draft: Bosa and Quinnen Williams. It’s them and then a dropoff. If they play the whole “we just got Dee Ford!” or “the value of trading down was too good!” routine, I am potentially going to yell. Do the right thing: draft Bosa and prosper. The extra picks would be nice, but at some point Kyle Shanahan (10-22 record) has got to win games.

 

3. New York Jets – Kentucky EDGE Josh Allen

Let the record show that I would take (broken vinyl alert) Quinnen Williams here, but Allen is no slouch and hopefully would fill the Jets’ need for a young outside rusher that has been going for, oh, more than a decade now. The Jets might seek a trade with this pick to move down, but they reportedly have set the price high. I’m unsure anyone is moving up here unless Kyler Murray falls to this spot.

 

4. Oakland Raiders – Michigan EDGE Rashan Gary

It’s a mystery now. Gary at No. 4 feels like an awful risk, but it also feels like the hyper-toolsy player that Jon Gruden – and by proxy, general manager Mike Mayock – might seek. I could see Gary going fourth or 14th, and the safer pick might be 24th. His destination is hard to project. It would be a great landing spot for Gary, as he and Maurice Hurst had a close relationship at Michigan. “That’s my big brother,” Gary said of Hurst late in the 2017 season.

 

5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – LSU LB Devin White

White or Quinnen Williams? I settled on White because: 1) What are the Bucs’ plans for Gerald McCoy? 2) White is just that good. This is another trade-down team here, but the Bucs get a confident, three-down playmaker to help bolster a defense that ranked in the bottom 10 in a lot of categories.

 

6. New York Giants – Alabama DT Quinnen Williams

Giants general manager Dave Gettleman could refurbish his image with this pick if it goes down this way. He loves building through the trenches, and Gettleman could attack the lack of pass-rush juice by putting Williams next to his former Bama teammate, Dalvin Tomlinson, who is a mostly good run stopper. The Giants can come back with the next first-round pick and attack that QB issue that has people worried.

 

7. Jacksonville Jaguars – Florida OT Jawaan Taylor

The Jags’ offensive identity feels like a work in progress. They were built the past few years on a bullying ground game, but the acquisition of RPO-specialist Nick Foles and offensive coordinator John DeFilippo – who was fired from the Vikings for not running the ball enough – cloud the picture. Drafting Taylor here could help mesh the two sides, as he’s a massive road grader with lighter feet than you might imagine in pass protection.

 

8. Detroit Lions – Mississippi State EDGE Montez Sweat

Sometimes mock drafts just line up and you don’t have to overthink things. With Sweat falling into their laps (he’d be a consideration for the Giants at No. 6), the Lions can go straight need and not reach. GM Bob Quinn has followed a clear path his first few drafts of taking a ready-made prospect at a need position in Round 1, so Sweat would carry that trend forward another year. Pass rush remains an issue, even with Trey Flowers on board.

 

9. Buffalo Bills – Houston DL Ed Oliver

Head coach Sean McDermott and GM Brandon Beane were in Carolina when the Panthers drafted Kawann Short, who ended up being a huge key to their defensive success. Like Short, Oliver might be the missing ingredient up front on a solid defensive line, and he could line up in multiple techniques to wreak havoc in a penetrating system (as opposed to how he was deployed in college, which was almost strictly over the nose). An emerging defense gets better.

 

10. Denver Broncos – Michigan LB Devin Bush

I’ve been told not to assume that Devin White will assuredly go ahead of Bush and that some teams actually like the Wolverines’ Devin better. Broncos head coach Vic Fangio had everyone scrambling to change their mock drafts when he said neither player was as good as the rookie linebacker he coached last year in Chicago, Roquan Smith (the eighth overall pick a year ago). But we aren’t scared to pair up Bush with Fangio, who will have good intel from Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh. (Fangio was Harbaugh’s defensive coordinator in San Francisco.)

 

This is a big need for the Broncos, who can bypass a QB here – Drew Lock has been fixed in this spot previously, and Dwayne Haskins is still here, which is interesting – and hope someone such as Duke’s Daniel Jones can be had later.

 

11. Cincinnati Bengals – Ohio State QB Dwayne Haskins

I thought about an offensive lineman, but how often do chances to draft a developmental QB come up like this? Andy Dalton has an extremely team-friendly contract, and the Bengals can move on from him at basically any point with no collateral damage. Grooming Haskins in what should be a rebuild season would be a deft move. New head coach Zac Taylor was asked at the scouting combine what he sought in a potential quarterback addition, and it seems to fit Haskins’ traits to a tee.

 

“The important thing is are they going to elevate the level of play of the people around them,” Taylor said. “Are they ready to lead and be accurate, can they get the ball out on time, are they tough physically and mentally? So if a guy has all those traits and you are willing to invest the time in them to figure out what they do best, how they process information and how to get the most out of them, then [they] have a shot to succeed.”

 

12. Green Bay Packers – Iowa TE T.J. Hockenson

Instant fan favorite. The Packers still have Jimmy Graham (suspect blocking and all) and Marcedes Lewis in tow at tight end, but adding Hockenson could diversify the offense in a way the Packers haven’t done in recent years. He’s an animal as a blocker and has great upside as a receiver, and yet the 21-year-old wouldn’t have to be thrust into a massive role in the offense with unfair expectations in Year 1. This would be an ideal landing spot for Hockenson, whose jerseys might be a hot Christmas item by year’s end.

 

13. Miami Dolphins – Alabama OL Jonah Williams

Don’t expect the Dolphins to take a QB here, even if, say, Dwayne Haskins slipped. Maybe my radar is off, but I expect a very blue-collar draft from the Dolphins, even though new head coach Brian Flores had strong words for anyone suggesting the Dolphins might be Tanking for Tua. Still, if they’re not going to draft a quarterback high, the least they can do is start building an environment for a quarterback who, you know, might not be so bad in a year. Laremy Tunsil has left tackle locked down, but there are multiple other OL spots in need of improvement. Williams can play guard or tackle (or even center, really), so this would be a cozy, safe fit.

 

14. Atlanta Falcons – Clemson DT Christian Wilkins

The Falcons have placed a priority on drafting high-character players, and none might fit the bill more than Wilkins, who was nothing short of an ambassador for the Clemson program and the surrounding community. He could instantly assume that role with his NFL team. He’s also a talented interior defender with great versatility (something the Falcons also prioritize in their scouting department), and he’d just so happen to fill a big depth issue up front. An easy choice, even if it’s not a sexy one.

 

15. Washington Redskins – Ole Miss WR D.K. Metcalf

This offense badly needs a dose of explosiveness, and that is 100 percent Metcalf’s game. What he lacks in lateral quickness and route variety, he can make up for in imposing physicality and rare athleticism. The Redskins have enough capable receivers so that Metcalf won’t have to walk into the facility and be anointed a savior on Day 1, but Jay Gruden knows that his offense needs plenty of help with who the Redskins currently have at QB.

 

(For context, I could see the Redskins being interested in someone like West Virginia QB Will Grier later in the draft if they don’t take one in Round 1.)

 

16. Carolina Panthers – Florida State DE Brian Burns

The Julius Peppers era is over, so it’s time to find a new source for pass-rush help. Enter Burns, who should go higher than this. He’s maybe the most bendy edge rusher in this year’s class, combining excellent movement skills with great finishing ability. Burns might not be the best equipped to be a three-down run stopper right away, but the Panthers badly need someone to heat up the edges.

 

17. New York Giants (from Cleveland Browns) – Missouri QB Drew Lock

Let the record show I believe Lock will go higher than this, or better said: I think the team that ends up drafting him will trade up above this point to do so. The Giants have done a ton of work on Lock, and they might have to go all the way up to No. 9 or so to make sure they get him, with Denver at 10 starting the range of a few teams potentially seeking a QB. But if it unfolds this way, it would be good for Lock, who could learn from Eli Manning for a year and take over full time in 2020.

 

And if Pat Shurmur is here for the long haul, his play-action based offense would be a good fit for the strong-armed, fearless Lock as long as they build in enough RPOs and use more shotgun than dropping from center.

 

18. Minnesota Vikings – Oklahoma OL Cody Ford

Ford is a massive people bulldozer who might assist in Mike Zimmer’s desire to crank up the run game. Ford projects as an NFL tackle, but in this circumstance he’d fit nicely as a massive, forceful right guard who would be expected to compete for a starting job out of the chute. The Vikings are still hopeful that Brian O’Neill can be a quality right tackle with another year under his belt, and having Ford lined up inside of him might make the much-maligned unit better.

 

19. Tennessee Titans – North Carolina State OL Garrett Bradbury

A safe pick for sure, but a need. And GM Jon Robinson has played his first-round picks pretty straight in terms of attacking positions where there have been holes. Bradbury would be an upgrade over anyone the Titans have at right guard in Year 1, and he could be groomed as the eventual center; projected starting center Ben Jones is a free agent in 2020. One thing Robinson surely picked up in his days in the New England front office is that it’s never a bad idea to draft a year ahead of time to protect against free agency losses.

 

Bottom line: Marcus Mariota is getting one more year to prove himself, and surrounding him with more support is helpful.

 

20. Pittsburgh Steelers – Iowa TE Noah Fant

Well, this certainly is one way for the Steelers to solve their Antonio Brown problem. Fant is a multiple-use “move” tight end who is a steam train when he gets momentum. The Hawkeyes used him in-line, detached, in motion and even in the backfield; they also threw him bubble screens, seam routes and fades, making him a threat on three levels. Fant’s drop rate is concerning, but he could work through that and play a complementary role with Juju Smith-Schuster the offense’s centerpiece.

 

21. Seattle Seahawks – LSU CB Greedy Williams

It’s been a long time since the Seahawks took a DB this high – 2010, in fact. Yep, the Earl Thomas year. It has been mostly Round 3-and-lower investments since then, and it’s slowly starting to show. There’s talent in the secondary, just not enough of it. Williams can help. No, he’s not perfect. He’s immature. He looked like a player who didn’t want to tackle against Georgia. But the high-end talent is real, and it’s got to be tempting for a Seahawks team that coaches up its talented DBs well over the years. This would be a nice fit.

 

22. Baltimore Ravens — Iowa State WR Hakeem Butler

Our first mini-wow moment. It’s not that big a stretch to pair a freakishly long and athletic receiver – whose specialty is catching passes down the field – with a young, talented but unrefined passer in Lamar Jackson. If you have a quarterback whose precision might not be pinpoint, it stands to reason that putting him with a 6-foot-6 receiver with 35-inch arms and nearly 11-inch hands might be smart. Butler is also a beast as a blocker, which matches well with what’s sure to be a ground-heavy attack.

 

Butler needs polish, but he perhaps has the most upside of any wideout in this draft, and it might shock people how high he goes.

 

23. Houston Texans – Washington State OT Andre Dillard

This scenario feels fortune for the Texans. They have the worst pair of tackles in the league, and a top-20 (and maybe top-15) pure talent falls this far? The Texans should tattoo the pick in ahead of time, just to be sure.

 

Dillard is a graceful pass blocker with gorgeous feet. How he hasn’t gotten more attention feels weird, but that might be what toiling up in Pullman, Washington for four years renders. He’d be a starter before he ever showed up to rookie minicamp.

 

24. Oakland Raiders (from Chicago Bears) – Alabama RB Joshua Jacobs

Jacobs is a Jon Gruden type of back. I can just see him getting jacked up – Mike Mayock, too – watching Jacobs plow through and past SEC defenses on a weekly basis and sometimes be the best non-QB on the field on a day he had 13 carries. That’s the hallmark of a special back. Not Jacobs’ pedestrian 40 time (4.6) or his other middling numbers. Maybe that’s a position where high-athleticism is overrated when you flip on the game and watch him do something special almost every time out there. That’s what Gruden wants in a runner.

 

25. Philadelphia Eagles – Florida S Chauncey Gardner-Johnson

It’s a total hunch pick from me here. With RB Joshua Jacobs gone, we’re not taking another back here. The Eagles could use a defensive tackle, but would you go safe here with one? Take a gamble on Mississippi State’s Jeffery Simmons and wait until his ACL heals? Or go with a safety who has intriguing skills and versatility, and might be a sound long-term plan at safety? Take the latter.

 

26. Indianapolis Colts – Notre Dame DT Jerry Tillery

No homer pick for the state of Indiana (after they took Quenton Nelson Round 1 a year ago) but just a darned good selection. Spoiler: Tillery is in our top 25 of overall player rankings, and he’s a high-end talent worth the gamble here for GM Chris Ballard, who has been hot. Tillery is a no-guts, no-glory pick at a need position for the Colts. If he hits, he gives them an interior disruptor on defense and a kick blocker on special teams. This defense isn’t too far off with a few more key adds.

 

27. Oakland Raiders (from Dallas Cowboys) – Washington CB Byron Murphy

That’s three picks, three players with fascinating upside. Taking Rashan Gary at No. 4 would be a big risk. Running back Joshua Jacobs feels like it would be a safe choice. And getting Murphy here would be somewhere in the middle on the risk spectrum.

 

He’s still very young (he turned 21 in January) and is learning the finer points of the position. But Murphy could be special. I am not saying he’s Ronde Barber, but I am not saying he can’t be that either.

 

28. Los Angeles Chargers – Clemson DT Dexter Lawrence

That’s two straight mocks with this same selection. Every year there’s a lower-end first-rounder that feels too obvious that it almost has to happen. Someone could take Lawrence higher than this, and it wouldn’t be a stunner. How many 340-pounders on the darned planet can move the way this cat does?

 

He doesn’t blow your hair back as a playmaker; that’s just not his game. But as an immovable object, Lawrence fills his role well. Eat up blocks and let Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram make plays. And that run defense got dissected in the playoff loss in New England.

 

29. Kansas City Chiefs – Oklahoma WR Marquise Brown

You’re Andy Reid and you’re completely freaked out that your X-factor receiver, Tyreek Hill, might not be available to you pending the results of a police investigation into an “incident” involving an alleged injury to a 3-year-old boy. So – hard turn here – you realize you need to replace that aspect of your offense. There’s one man in this draft who fits that profile, and it’s Brown. He’s been compared by everyone and their brother to DeSean Jackson, whom Reid drafted of course.

 

Defense is a priority, for sure. But the Chiefs have a few Day 2 picks they can use to beef up. If they go D here, the reasonable alternative might be to look at UMass’ Andy Isabella with one of those later choices.

 

30. Green Bay Packers (from New Orleans Saints) – Washington S Taylor Rapp

Does Rapp fit exactly what they need in a safety? He’s really a box guy (an extra linebacker, if you will), and that also happens to be the strength of recently signed Adrian Amos.

 

Let’s, however, not limit Rapp’s potential impact. He has very good traits and can help neutralize the RB/TE mismatch pieces owned by the other contending teams in the division, such as the Bears and Vikings. Rapp, like their first selection in tight end T.J. Hockenson, would add a physical note and be a tone setter on defense. It’s been a little while since the Packers had a bell-ringing safety who also can cover and create turnovers.

 

31. Los Angeles Rams – Clemson DE Clelin Ferrell

The Rams have to be thinking trade down, one might assume, given that they don’t currently pick again until No. 94 overall. But this would be a wild turn of events, getting a top-20 talent – at a position of need, no less – at this stage. Frankly, we think this is a mistake and are looking to figure out why this might happen. It might not, but if it does, then Wade Phillips would be adding an edge rusher to a defense that is replacing a few parts.

 

32. New England Patriots – Arizona State WR N’Keal Harry

As I said in the last mock draft, pairing up the Patriots and a wide receiver this early in the draft feels entirely foolhardy. The last time Bill Belichick took a wideout this high, it was 1994 with the Browns (Derrick Alexander). And Belichick never has let fans’ or media’s believed biggest needs dictate his draft course. But in this case, Harry just seems to check a lot of the boxes the Patriots look for in players, even if he’s not their prototypical size. His impromptu 3-cone drill at his pro day not only showed his willingness to appease scouts’ wishes, but his time (right around seven seconds) fits the Patriots’ thresholds for short-area quickness, especially for such a big receiver.