AROUND THE NFL

The AAF, which debuts this week, is going to use a “real time” replay official.  Michael David Smith at ProFootballTalk.com:

 

As talk continues that the NFL should add another official who is watching the game on a monitor in the stadium and can communicate with the on-field officials in real time, a new football league will do just that.

 

The Alliance of American Football, which will play its first games on Saturday, will have an official referred to as the “SkyJudge” who can instantly correct “obvious and egregious” officiating errors. Mike Pereira, the former NFL head of officiating who has consulted with the AAF, indicated that the SkyJudge’s primary responsibilities will be player safety penalties and pass interference.

 

“If you get a helmet-to-helmet spear and it’s not called on the field, it can be picked up by the ninth official,” Pereira told the Associated Press. “He has the ability to do it in real time. It doesn’t go to replay. . . . He can call down to the field and say, ‘Hey, spearing on No. 33 of Birmingham, 15-yard penalty, let’s go.’ It’s correcting errors on the field by another member of the officiating crew without having to go to replay to do it and having a three-minute stoppage to do it.”

 

The AAF has positioned itself as a developmental league for the NFL, rather than a rival to the NFL. Perhaps just as players are developed in the AAF, replay officials can be developed in the AAF and then move on to the NFL as well.

 

The SkyJudge!

 

NFC EAST

 

PHILADELPHIA

Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com gives QB NICK FOLES some free legal advice:

 

With the contract dance between the Eagles and quarterback Nick Foles already progressing to the point at which the final decision rests in the hands of the team, the player needs to take full advantage of his leverage. And he has plenty.

 

With the Eagles apparently hoping to tag and trade Foles, Foles and his representatives should be prepared to counter any attempt to block his path to the open market, either by persuading the Eagles not to do it or by challenging the effort, or both.

 

First, Foles should take the position that, if the Eagles apply the franchise tag, he’ll immediately accept it, putting him under contract for 2019 at roughly $25 million, fully guaranteed. That’s cash and cap dollars that will apply to Foles on the Eagles’ books, unless and until Foles is traded. Foles also should make it clear that he won’t be signing a long-term deal, with the Eagles or anyone else. That would make it much harder to trade him, since his new team would be stepping into a Kirk Cousins-style conundrum, which would entail Foles costing $25 million for 2019 and, if tagged again, $30 million for 2020.

 

That could be enough to scare away any team that believes it will parlay a trade for Foles into a long-term deal, especially if the team wants to pay less than $55 million over the first two years. In turn, that could persuade the Eagles not to tag Foles in the first place.

 

Second, Foles and his agents should challenge the franchise tag, if it’s applied. Article 4, Section 8, subsection (b) of the Collective Bargaining Agreement states as follows: “A Club extending a Required Tender must, for so long as that Tender is extended, have a good faith intention to employ the player receiving the Tender at the Tender compensation level during the upcoming season.” If the Eagles would simply be tagging Foles to trade him, Foles should invoke this provision and fight the tag, via an expedited grievance that would be resolved before the start of free agency.

 

What could the Eagles say in response? Whatever it is, Foles should force them to try to come up with something other than what their strategy for the tag would apparently be: A placeholder aimed at getting the Eagles a draft pick now instead of a compensatory pick later. If the Eagles attempt with the straight face to argue that this isn’t the plan, Foles should use this ESPN report as the starting point for a scorched-earth effort to review text messages and emails to determine whether and to what extent the Eagles have spoken to other teams about a tag and trade.

 

Yes, the Eagles have the right under the rules to tag Foles. But unless they truly intend to employ Foles at the amount of the tag for 2019, they’re abusing the rules. Is that how the Eagles should be showing gratitude to the quarterback who delivered the team’s only Super Bowl championship?

 

That’s a question Foles and his agents should be asking now, as the Eagles finalize their strategy. With so many people seemingly accepting the idea that the Eagles have every right to tag and trade Foles, the sooner Foles and his agents make sure everyone realizes that: (1) the strategy isn’t appropriate; and (2) Foles will fight it, the more likely the Eagles will possibly decide to do the right thing and let Foles hit the open market.

 

NFC SOUTH

 

ATLANTA

Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com on the cutting of PK MATT BRYANT despite his missing only one FG try in 2018.

 

The Atlanta Falcons are not exercising kicker Matt Bryant’s team option for the 2019 season, meaning he will become a free agent when the NFL’s new league year begins on March 13.

 

Bryant, who turns 44 in May, had two years and $7 million left on his contract. He was due to make $3.5 million next season. Parting ways with him saves $2,833,332 against the 2019 salary cap.

 

“I am extremely grateful for everything that Matt Bryant has done for this organization over the last 10 years,” general manager Thomas Dimitroff said in a statement announcing the move.

 

“There is no doubt he is one of the all-time great Falcons as he’s been an integral part of our success. This was a difficult decision but one that was necessary for us to move forward into 2019. We have the utmost respect for the person and the player that Matt is, and we wish he and his family the best going forward.”

 

Bryant, the Falcons’ all-time leading scorer with 1,122 points, tweeted news of his departure on Wednesday morning.

 

Bryant, who has dealt with some nagging leg and back injuries, went on to say he was looking forward to bringing success and consistency to his next team, with no plans to retire.

 

During his stint with the Falcons, Bryant made 250 of 282 field goals (88.7 percent), including 36 of 46 from 50-plus yards. He also made 372 of 375 extra points during his 10 seasons with the Falcons. He was named to the Pro Bowl in 2016.

 

The Falcons likely will turn to Giorgio Tavecchio as their kicker. Tavecchio, who is signed through 2019 and will make $645,000 next season, made all five of his field goals and all eight extra points in place of Bryant last season.

 

The Falcons also parted ways with DE BROOKS REED.  D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

 

Falcons defensive end Brooks Reed announced Wednesday that he’s being released by the team on Instagram.

 

Reed, 31, signed with the Falcons in 2015. He played in 60 games and made 34 starts.  He didn’t produce much as a pass rusher, as he had only seven sacks, but did a good job of setting edge in the run game.

 

The Falcons created $4.5 million in salary-cap space by releasing Reed.

 

Reed, who was drafted by the Texans, was signed to a five-year $22.5 million deal on March 10, 2015.  He received a $9 million guaranteed.

 

 

CAROLINA

A Final Four in Charlotte?  New owner David Tepper is all in if someone helps him out.  Darin Gantt of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

When you’ve got the kind of money Panthers owner David Tepper does, no whim is necessarily out of reach.

 

Tepper was chatting the other day after a charity appearance at Bank of America Stadium, when the topic of his facilities came up. And he casually made a remark that would make a big change in his adopted city’s skyline.

 

“What I would love, if we could ever do it and get people to support it,” he said, via Jourdan Rodrigue of the Charlotte Observer, “is to put some sort of roof on here and have a Final Four in North Carolina. . . . I love that idea. It drives me nuts.”

 

He was mostly joking. We think. When he starts talking, sometimes he can’t help himself. (And “get people to support it” also sounds like code for “get other people to help pay for it.”)

 

He also has more pressing capital projects regarding his football team. They plan to create some kind of indoor bubble over their three practice fields next to the stadium, as a temporary fix until they build an off-site practice facility. He also plans to update/renovate the stadium, but a roof would be the kind of big-ticket, long-range fix that seems mostly just a daydream.

 

He was serious about getting more use out of his stadium. He has openly pined for an MLS team, and mentioned concerts and other events as well.

 

“There are a lot of things we can be and will be doing for the community, to use this stadium more,” he said. “It shouldn’t just be an eight, 10-game event. . . . We probably will be expanding that in one way or another.

 

“Some of these things take a little bit of time. . . . Listen, I would love to have the [Rolling] Stones here. I would love to have the Stones here. But we couldn’t do it at this point. We’ll look to have some concerts in here. Some of these things are planned out in advance — we are looking now into how to. I don’t know if there is anything additional planned, but there is a lot of stuff on the table.”

 

And when you’re worth more than $11 billion, you can have bigger plans.

 

 

NEW ORLEANS

Nick Underhill of The Advocate on the surgery of DE MARCUS DAVENPORT:

 

Marcus Davenport never got back up to full strength after a strong start to the season.

 

The New Orleans Saints rookie defensive end revealed Tuesday that he had an apparent procedure and was playing through pain down the stretch of the season.

 

Stay tuned pic.twitter.com/j8x4s2xhZd

 

— Marcus Davenport (@MarcusJD84) February 6, 2019

“Most people don’t know but I had been dealing with what was considered a season ending injury,” Davenport wrote on Twitter. “Lucky I was able to play through the pain and although not a 100 % I finish the season. I promise to come back better. Thank you to all that supported.”

 

In the photo Davenport posted to Twitter, he is laying in a hospital bed, with his right foot heavily wrapped, which suggests he is still dealing with the same injury that sidelined him during the season.

 

The first-round pick suffered a toe injury on his right foot during an October game against the Minnesota Vikings while sacking Kirk Cousins. He missed the next three games before returning against the Atlanta Falcons.

 

Davenport was never quite the same after suffering the injury. He had four sacks at the time of his injury, but only added shared credit for another one the rest of the way.

 

The Saints made a big move to acquire Davenport by trading their first-round picks in 2018 and 2019 to the Green Bay Packers to move up and select him. Though he was considered a “raw” prospect coming out of the draft, he was showing rapid improvement before his injury.

 

The team remains optimistic about his development and expect him to make significant improvement this offseason now that he knows what areas to focus on to get better.

 

It could be needed since New Orleans might have some holes to plug within its pass rush next season.

 

With Alex Okafor expected to opt out of his contract, Davenport could be leaned upon to play a more significant role next season if Okafor signs elsewhere. The veteran often played ahead of Davenport this season and finished with four sacks.

 

Sheldon Rankins could also miss some time after suffering an Achilles injury during the playoffs. The defensive tackle emerged as a significant piece of the pass rush this season and will need to have his production accounted for if the defensive line wants to maintain the same level of play.

 

Meanwhile, Mike Triplett of ESPN.com has this look at two types of additions that could push New Orleans above the zone of officiating error:

 

The New Orleans Saints could really use their own version of Super Bowl LIII MVP Julian Edelman.

 

The only thing that would help them even more would be their own version of New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski.

 

The good news for the Saints coming off their crushing loss in the NFC Championship Game is that they don’t have too many roster holes to fill this offseason. However, their biggest need is a glaring one — another reliable pass-catcher (or two) to help take the load off receiver Michael Thomas and running back Alvin Kamara.

 

Tight end and slot receiver rank No. 1 and 2 on the list, especially for an offense led by 40-year-old quarterback Drew Brees, who feasts on midrange throws and an astronomical completion percentage.

 

Unfortunately, the free-agent tight end market is slim pickings this year, led by veteran Jared Cook and a lot of question marks. But there should be several intriguing slot receivers available on the open market, including Golden Tate, Randall Cobb, Adam Humphries, Jamison Crowder and Cole Beasley.

 

Thomas caught a Saints franchise-record 125 passes in 2018, which was outstanding. But it also accounted for 33 percent of New Orleans’ completions. Kamara ranked second on the team with 81 catches. Tight end Benjamin Watson (who has announced plans to retire) was a distant third with 35.

 

Veteran deep threat Ted Ginn Jr. should play a bigger role in 2019 after a knee injury limited him to just five regular-season games. And the team is hopeful that Cameron Meredith will have a breakthrough, now two years removed from a major knee injury with the Chicago Bears. Young receivers Tre’Quan Smith and Keith Kirkwood should continue to develop.

 

Maybe the Saints will even consider bringing back veteran Dez Bryant as he tries to recover from a torn Achilles tendon.

 

But they could still really use a “go-to” guy at tight end or in the slot (or both) to make all of these players more complementary options.

 

Brees made history in 2018 by throwing touchdown passes to 15 different players — including nine undrafted players. But as impressive as that feat was, it also illustrated the Saints’ need for a more reliable option. The lack of proven pass-catchers hurt New Orleans’ offense as it sputtered a bit down the stretch in December and January.

 

Over the first 12 weeks of the season, the Saints led the NFL with 37.2 points per game and ranked fifth in the league with 416.6 yards per game.

 

Over their final six games (not counting when they benched their starters in Week 17), they averaged just 20.7 points and 316.7 yards per game.

 

Brees went from 29 TD passes, two interceptions, 285 yards per game and a 127.3 passer rating over his first 11 games to seven TD passes, five interceptions, 234.5 yards per game and an 88.7 passer rating over his final six.

 

So what can the Saints do to help this offseason?

 

New Orleans doesn’t have a first-round draft pick (or a third-rounder or a fourth-rounder). So, it’s hard to count on any rookie coming in and making an immediate splash.

 

That leaves free agency, where the Saints are projected to start the offseason with somewhere around $8 million to $11 million in salary-cap space, with a manageable list of their own free agents to re-sign. They might need to save some of that money if they want to retain running back Mark Ingram, defensive end Alex Okafor or possibly backup QB Teddy Bridgewater, among others. But they could also find ways to carve out some space if they get ambitious.

 

Tight end is the Saints’ biggest need, especially with Watson retiring. But Cook, who turns 32 in April, is the only free-agent option who looks like a candidate to play a big role in the passing game. And though he had his career-best season with the Oakland Raiders in 2018 (68 catches, 896 yards, six touchdowns), Cook has battled inconsistency while bouncing around the NFL over the past 10 years.

 

Beyond Cook, the Saints will have to put their scouting department to the test to try and identify the best fits. Cincinnati Bengals veteran Tyler Eifert has a high ceiling, but his career has been plagued by injuries. Other options could include the Bengals’ C.J. Uzomah and Tyler Kroft, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Jesse James, the Denver Broncos’ Jeff Heuerman and the Kansas City Chiefs’ Demetrius Harris. Others could still be released by their teams (though the Green Bay Packers reportedly intend to keep former Saints star Jimmy Graham).

 

At receiver, the dream scenario would be for Meredith to be healthy enough in 2019 to live up to his lofty potential after the Saints signed him to a two-year, $9.5 million contract this past offseason.

 

But New Orleans should still strongly consider an upgrade at slot receiver — especially with so many enticing options to choose from.

 

Tate, Cobb, Humphries, Crowder and Beasley all rank among the top-11 wide receivers in catches from out of the slot over the past four years, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

 

Tate, 30, had at least 90 catches in four straight years with the Detroit Lions from 2014-17 before a midseason trade to the Philadelphia Eagles last year was met with mixed results.

 

Cobb, 28, was a Pro Bowler with the Packers in 2014 before battling a series of injuries over the past four years. Humphries, 25, has become a bigger part of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ offense in recent years (and as an added bonus, the Saints could steal him away from a division rival). Crowder, 25, has been a coaches’ favorite with the Washington Redskins, but he hasn’t fully reached his potential while battling injuries. Beasley, who turns 30 in April, has been a steady contributor for the Dallas Cowboys.

 

The Saints could also look at receiver options outside of the slot, especially with Ginn getting older. If they go that route, top free agents include John Brown, Tyrell Williams and Devin Funchess.

 

 

TAMPA BAY

The first thing the DB thought when we heard that the Falcons had parted ways with PK MATT BRYANT was that Tampa Bay should be interested in him.  Charean Williams of ProFootballTalk.com says that indeed the case>

 

Since the Buccaneers cut Matt Bryant in 2009, they have tried Mike Nugent, Shane Andrus, Connor Barth, Rian Lindell, Pat Murray, Kyle Brindza, Roberto Aguayo, Nick Folk, Chandler Catanzaro and Cairo Santos. The team’s collection of kickers have combined to make only 77.3 percent of their field goal attempts. They also have missed 11 extra points the past four seasons.

 

So, with the Bucs having hired former Falcons special teams coach Keith Armstrong, it comes as no surprise that Tampa Bay is expected to have interest in signing Bryant, Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times reports.

 

Bryant, 43, made 20 of 21 field goals last season. He beat the Bucs with late field goals of 57 and 37 yards in the Falcons’ sweep of Tampa Bay.

 

The Falcons announced Wednesday they are moving on from Bryant after 10 years.

 

It’s a salary cap move.

 

AFC WEST

 

KANSAS CITY

NFL MVP PATRICK MAHOMES has a personalized logo. Pete Grathoff in the Kansas City Star:

 

Tiger Woods has a personal logo. So does Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. Ditto for Michael Jordan.

 

Chances are sports fans are aware of those logos, but many others have them as well, including Texans defensive lineman JJ Watt, Giants receiver Odell Beckham, Jr. and Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson.

 

The latest player to unveil a logo? It’s Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who unveiled his personal logo on Tuesday.

 

You can clearly see a “P” and “M” and “II” because Mahomes shares his father’s name.

 

Check it out here.

 

AFC NORTH

 

PITTSBURGH

At a time when he needs to be convincing NFL teams that he is not a deranged, unreliable loose cannon, WR ANTONIO BROWN gets into a domestic incident with the mother of his daughter.  Liz Roscher at YahooSports.com:

 

Details have emerged in the alleged domestic violence incident between Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown and an unknown woman, who we now know is the mother of his daughter.

 

On Tuesday, TMZ reported (and ESPN confirmed) that Brown had been involved in a domestic dispute at his home in Hollywood, Florida, but no additional details of the incident were available. On Wednesday, Andy Slater of South Florida radio station 640 The Hurricane tweeted the incident report from the dispute.

 

Brown allegedly pushed female with two hands, causing her to fall to the ground.

 

According to the report, the mother of Brown’s daughter drove to Brown’s home to drop off their daughter and collect money for her hair appointment. Brown wouldn’t give her the money or let her into the house, so she made it impossible for Brown to close the door by standing in the doorway. When she wouldn’t move, he “used both hands to push her out of the doorway, causing her to fall backwards to the ground.” (She sustained a sore wrist and scrapes.) She then took her daughter and drove to her mother’s house.

 

The report says that the victim “refused to complete a victim affidavit,” and was given a brochure on domestic violence and information on how to file a restraining order. TMZ reported on Wednesday that the victim later went to police and tried to “cancel” her report because she no longer wished to press charges, and admitted that she had stood in the doorway and refused to leave after Brown had asked her to go. Brown was not arrested in connection to the alleged dispute.

 

Brown’s lawyer, Darren Heitner, responded on Tuesday when the initial report broke, calling the accusations “baseless and false.” Heitner responded on Brown’s behalf again on Wednesday after the incident report was leaked.

 

The closed police report proves that Antonio Brown did absolutely nothing wrong, as insinuated by the recent headlines. Unfortunately, the media alluded wrongdoing on the part of my client in a “domestic dispute” when in fact no wrongdoing ever occurred on his part. The complainant, who is the mother of Mr. Brown’s child, acknowledged that she refused to leave Mr. Brown’s property after being asked and further refused to leave the doorway of his personal residence. The complainant did not want to provide a statement or press charges, and asked to retract her report after it was made. the media must be held to a higher standard and should issue an apology to my client for harming his reputation without cause and without full report in their possession. Additionally, the complainant unnecessarily involved my client’s minor child in her false reporting, causing irreparable harm to a minor child. Therefore, Antonio Brown’s family law attorney, Jaclyn Soroka, Esq. will be filing an action with the court today seeing full legal custody of his child accordingly.

 

They are not “baseless and false”, something did happen.  You can argue he was provoked, you can argue they are overblown – but “baseless and false” is not a good look of a statement.

 

AFC EAST

 

MIAMI

With Brian Flores bringing defensive expertise to the Dolphins, the big question was who was going to be the offensive guru.  The answer is another coach from the Patriots, combining with Jim Caldwell.  Cameron Wolfe of ESPN.com:

 

After what he described as a “whirlwind” 24 hours between winning Super Bowl LIII and being named Dolphins head coach, Brian Flores is already at work finalizing his coaching staff.

 

The Dolphins are hiring Patriots receivers coach Chad O’Shea as offensive coordinator and former NFL receiver Tiquan Underwood as offensive quality control coach, sources told ESPN’s Field Yates.

 

O’Shea had been with the Patriots since 2009 and spent 10 years as Flores’ colleague in New England. O’Shea was a candidate to fill the Patriots’ offensive coordinator position when it looked like Josh McDaniels would leave to become the Indianapolis Colts head coach last offseason. Instead, McDaniels and O’Shea returned to New England in their previous roles for a Super Bowl LIII run.

 

In recent years, O’Shea earned a role running the Patriots’ red-zone offense. He was given the opportunity to call plays during preseason games. O’Shea also has extensive experience coaching special teams. He was a college quarterback at Marshall and the University of Houston.

 

This will be the first offensive coordinator job for O’Shea, who will have help from veteran coaches on the staff. Jim Caldwell, who has had two stints as an NFL head coach and a history of getting a lot out of his quarterbacks, is expected to join the Dolphins staff and help him.

 

One of O’Shea’s biggest supporters is Super Bowl MVP Julian Edelman, whom O’Shea helped mold from a college quarterback and a seventh-round pick into one of the NFL’s best slot receivers.

 

Underwood spent five seasons as an NFL receiver, including in 2011 with the Patriots. He was memorably released one night before Super Bowl XLVI. Underwood was the receivers coach at the University of Lafayette in 2018.

 

The Dolphins have a big question mark at quarterback, with the team expected to move on from longtime starter Ryan Tannehill this offseason. Dolphins general manager Chris Grier said Monday that they are open to falling in love with a quarterback in the 2019 NFL draft. They have the No. 13 pick in April’s draft.

 

 

NEW ENGLAND

Greg Schiano is landing on his feet as Bill Belichick’s defensive coordinator.  Mike Reiss of ESPN.com:

 

In a move that has been anticipated for several weeks, the New England Patriots are moving toward hiring Greg Schiano for their coaching staff, league sources tell ESPN.

 

Schiano will be given the title of defensive coordinator, according to The Boston Globe.

 

Four months after the city celebrated its fourth Red Sox title in 15 years, an estimated 1.5 million fans lined the parade route in Boston to fete Tom Brady and the Patriots for their sixth Super Bowl crown.

 

The Patriots didn’t have an official defensive coordinator in 2018, but Brian Flores was their defensive playcaller on game day and spearheaded the game-planning process. Flores was officially hired as Miami Dolphins head coach Monday.

 

That was also the same day that Schiano was flying into Boston, according to sources, which reflected how his addition to the staff in some capacity was weeks in the making.

 

Once the former Ohio State defensive coordinator announced he wasn’t returning to the Buckeyes in 2019 to pursue opportunities in the NFL, it was widely assumed he would land with Bill Belichick and the Patriots.

 

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.

 

Schiano was on the cusp of being named University of Tennessee head coach in 2017. But the university reversed course after public outcry among Tennessee fans, with people citing his connection to the Jerry Sandusky era at Penn State. Belichick had offered his public support for Schiano.

 

“I think Greg’s a tremendous coach, I’ve learned an awful lot from him,” Belichick said at the time. “Had the opportunity to spend a lot of time with him when he was at Rutgers. … He’s one of the very best coaches in our profession. I have a tremendous amount of respect for Greg and the way he runs the program and the job he does.”

– – –

We wondered if with six in the bank whether either of the Killer Bs might ride off into the sunset, but this report indicates owner Robert Kraft isn’t expecting it to be TOM BRADY successor time at the quarterback position.  Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has made no secret of his desire to play until he’s 45 years old and his play continues to support the notion that he’ll be able to keep going until that point.

 

He’ll need a contract in order to continue playing in the NFL and his current pact is up after the 2019 season. That led to a question for Patriots owner Robert Kraft about extending Brady’s contract when Kraft held a short session with reporters after NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s press conference in Atlanta on Wednesday.

 

Kraft suggested that such an extension is likely to come Brady’s way.

 

“Well, think about it, the last three years we’ve been privileged to go to the Super Bowl with a quarterback in place,” Kraft said, via the Providence Journal. “I would be quite surprised if he didn’t continue for quite a while as our quarterback.”

 

The only surprise would have been if Kraft gave a different answer, so now we’ll wait to see if that’s something the two sides work on this offseason or if it’s left until after the 2019 season.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

GRADING THE COACHING HIRES

Sean Wagner-McGough of CBSSports.com rates the Buccaneers as having made the best of the coaching hires. Edited version below, full thing here:

 

The 2018-19 NFL season has officially ended, and in the words of six-time Super Bowl winning head coach Bill Belichick, we’re onto the 2019-20 season. One day after the Patriots defeated the Rams in Super Bowl LIII, the Bengals and Dolphins officially hired Zac Taylor and Brian Flores, respectively, as their new coaches after waiting nearly a month for the Rams and Patriots’ seasons to end, which means hiring season is over and grading season is here.

 

Now that the eight coaching opening have all been filled, we decided now would be a good time to grade the eight hirings. It’s a dangerous game to play in large part because so many of these coaches are first-timers, which makes it extremely difficult to predict how they’ll fare in their first head coaching ventures. For instance, a year ago, we gave the Cardinals a B+ for their hiring of Steve Wilks and we all know how that turned out. And if you don’t how it turned out, well, just know the Cardinals will make an appearance on this list once again.

 

Before we get to the grades, it’s worth noting that just because a team received a high grade doesn’t mean we’re predicting that team will go on to win a ton of games in 2019. There’s more to winning than just coaching. It also comes down to personnel. For instance, we gave the Broncos a very high grade for their decision to hire Vic Fangio, but unless the Broncos find a better quarterback than Case Keenum for the upcoming season (unlikely) or get themselves out of the AFC West (extremely unlikely), they’re probably not going to make the playoffs. And if that happens, it doesn’t mean the Broncos erred in hiring Fangio. It means they’ve got a bigger problem than their coach, who can’t fix everything on his own.

 

Below, you’ll find a grade for all eight head coach hirings made over the past month or so. It’s a dangerous game to play, but we’re going to do it anyway.

 

Zac Taylor to the Bengals: B-

It’s easy to understand what the Bengals were going for when they zeroed in on Taylor as their preferred candidate before the Rams’ postseason run even began and hired him the day after the Super Bowl. Sean McVay ended up being one of the best hirings ever, but at the time, it seemed like a reach to be hiring the youngest coach in NFL history. Maybe Taylor, 35, follows in McVay’s footsteps and leads the Bengals to glory, but it’s more likely that Taylor ends up being a reach and that McVay ends up being a one-of-a-kind hiring.

.

Taylor isn’t just young. He’s also incredibly inexperienced. He served as the Rams’ quarterbacks coach this past season and the assistant wide receivers coach the season prior. He’s only been an NFL offensive coordinator once, and that came back in 2015 when he took over for the fired Bill Lazor in Miami on an interim basis.

 

The Bengals’ job won’t be an easy one. He’s inheriting an average 31-year-old quarterback in Andy Dalton and a defense coming off a horrific season.

 

For what it’s worth, don’t knock the hiring just because Jared Goff struggled in the Super Bowl. A year ago, the Chiefs collapsed in a playoff game, but the Bears hired Matt Nagy anyway. He just won Coach of the Year. One game shouldn’t be the reason why the Taylor hiring is met with skepticism. His entire resume should be the reason.

 

That said, give the Bengals credit for getting one thing 100 percent right: They didn’t hire Hue Jackson, a decision that elevates their grade from a C to a B-.

 

Brian Flores to the Dolphins: B

Similarly, we shouldn’t crown the Dolphins for hiring Brian Flores just because the Patriots’ defense is coming off an absolute masterpiece against the Rams in the Super Bowl. As the defensive play-caller, Flores deserves loads of credit for the Patriots’ defensive effort against the Rams, but one game alone shouldn’t be the reason why we praise or criticize a hiring.

 

There’s plenty to like and dislike about the hiring, which is why the Dolphins get a B.

 

Let’s start with the positives. Flores has been with the Patriots as an assistant coach for the past 11 seasons, which means he’s worked closely with Belichick for a while now. He’s won three Super Bowls as an assistant coach. In his first season as the Patriots’ defensive play-caller, he coached a group that allowed the seventh-fewest points in the regular season before embarking upon an impressive playoff run against a gauntlet of devastating offenses: the Chargers, Chiefs, and Rams.

 

The only problem is, it’s difficult to know how much credit Flores deserves when he’s coaching a Belichick defense. The Belichick coaching tree hasn’t really led to successful head coaches.

 

The Dolphins get a slightly higher grade than the Bengals because their coach has had more success calling plays, but that doesn’t make the hiring a home run

 

Kliff Kingsbury to the Cardinals: B

Similar to the Taylor hiring, the Cardinals hiring Kliff Kingsbury, 39, reeks of desperation — desperation to find the next Sean McVay when odds are, there’s only one Sean McVay.

 

I’ll say this, though: I completely understand why the Cardinals hired Kingsbury. Their thinking makes sense.

 

They just traded up to draft Josh Rosen and then watched Rosen fail to overcome a bad offense in his rookie season, during which he completed 55.2 percent of his passes, averaged 5.8 yards per attempt, threw 11 touchdowns and 14 picks, and posted a 66.7 passer rating. Kingsbury has his shortcomings, which we’ll get to in a moment, but he has had success coaching quarterbacks at the college level, most notably with Patrick Mahomes. And his offenses at Texas Tech scored at least 35 points per game in four of his six seasons in charge. Getting Rosen an offensive-minded coach was a no-brainer.

 

But Kingsbury’s background isn’t all good. He went 35-40 at Texas Tech. Put another way, he couldn’t win consistently with Patrick freakin’ Mahomes.

 

Adam Gase to the Jets: B

Like Kingsbury, Adam Gase’s primary job is to develop a second-year quarterback. The Jets picked Gase to replace Todd Bowles because they think he’s the right guy to lead Sam Darnold’s development after Darnold spent his rookie season enduring growing pains, but also flashing plenty of potential. Peyton Manning thinks Gase is the right man for the job, but it’s OK to be skeptical of Gase, who is coming off a three-year run in Miami best described as meh.

 

With the Dolphins, Gase posted a 23-25 record. In fairness to Gase, he was forced to coach half of those games without Ryan Tannehill as his starting quarterback. With Tannehill as the starter, the Dolphins made the playoffs once and went 13-11. Without him as the starter, they went 10-14, which is probably better than most teams would’ve fared with backups.

– – –

The good news is that we’re about to find out if Gase was lucky he won so many close games or unlucky that the best quarterback he worked with was Tannehill, who missed half of his games. The Jets’ job is a good one with a potential franchise quarterback already in place. Gase is supposedly a quarterback guru. Barring bad injury luck, he won’t have many excuses. 

 

If Gase succeeds in New York, we can classify his three-year run in Miami as an important learning experience with a bad franchise. If he fails, the Dolphins’ underlying numbers with Gase will have been a warning sign that the Jets chose to ignore.

 

Matt LaFleur to the Packers: B+

The same criticisms for the Bengals’ decision to hire Taylor exist for the Packers’ decision to hire Matt LaFleur. He’s inexperienced, but he got a head coaching job because of his ties to McVay.

 

LaFleur served as the offensive coordinator during the Rams’ breakout season in 2017, but it was McVay calling the plays. He left Los Angeles last offseason to become the Titans’ offensive coordinator and play-caller. In his lone season in Nashville, the Titans’ offense ranked 25th in yards, 27th in points, and 22nd in DVOA. That might not be entirely LaFleur’s fault given all of the injuries the Titans’ offense dealt with, but nothing LaFleur did in Tennessee — away from McVa, and with Marcus Mariota — makes him especially qualified to be a coach already.

 

But we can’t really knock the Packers for hiring him. After all, this is what we’ve all been asking them to do after watching Mike McCarthy saddle Aaron Rodgers with an antiquated offense for years, isn’t it? And it’s not like the Packers passed up on some genius offensive mind available for hire. They’re taking a risk by hiring LaFleur, but it’s an understandable risk given their circumstances. At least, unlike Taylor, LaFleur has experience calling plays for a full NFL season.

 

Vic Fangio to the Broncos: A-

The Broncos might have difficulty winning games in 2019 because they still haven’t sorted out the quarterback position (no, Case Keenum still isn’t the answer), but their decision to hire Vic Fangio should be praised even though most of the league has decided that hiring offensive coaches is the way to go. Fangio isn’t an offensive coach, but in a market lacking obvious offensive masterminds, he’s the next best thing.

 

Freddie Kitchens to the Browns: A

This one is simple. For the Browns, it’s all about pairing Baker Mayfield with a coach who knows how to develop him. After watching what Freddie Kitchens did with Mayfield during the second half of the season, why would the Browns have hired anyone else?

– – –

I don’t care that much if Kitchens doesn’t have much experience. The Browns’ future depends entirely on Mayfield’s development. And Kitchens already proved he’s a perfect fit for that aspect of the job.

 

Bruce Arians to the Buccaneers: A

This one is also simple. Bruce Arians has been one of the league’s best head coaches ever since he finally got the opportunity to lead a team after a long career as an offensive coordinator. In relief of Chuck Pagano with the Colts in 2012, he went 9-3. With the Cardinals from 2013-17, he went 49-30-1. The first year without him, the Cardinals went 3-13.

 

The Buccaneers are incredibly lucky he’s coming out of retirement to coach them. So is Jameis Winston, who is entering the most important season of his career. In Arizona, Arians revived Carson Palmer’s career and turned him into an MVP candidate. Winston has always been talented, but has failed to cut down on his turnovers and bouts of erratic play. It’s easy to understand why Arians, who loves a deep passing game, wanted to coach him, even if he has several concerning flaws — including his troubling history off the field.

 

Arians was the best coach available this offseason. He also managed to bring Todd Bowles with him, who for all of his flaws as a head coach, has been a tremendous defensive coordinator. Bowles will be needed to fix a Buccaneers defense coming off a disastrous season that saw them finish last in DVOA.

 

The Buccaneers might not win a ton of games during the 2019 season — roster questions persist — but they won hiring season by landing Arians.

 

 

 

BROADCAST NEWS

The best thing about the Super Bowl was the #NFL100 commercial, and it’s not even close.  Nick Shook of NFL.com has tales from the filming from director Peter Berg:

 

The NFL won the Super Bowl, even if the game wasn’t the most thrilling in its history.

 

Why? Well, the league kicked off its 100th anniversary celebration with a home run — or maybe a touchdown — of a commercial, chosen by USA TODAY’s Ad Meter as the best of all Super Bowl LIII spots.

 

Acclaimed director and producer Peter Berg, who has brought us pretty much everything one might enjoy from a grassroots football perspective (Friday Night Lights in both film and television, and the docu-series QB1: Beyond the Lights, for example), directed the NFL’s hit commercial, filled with NFL legends crashing into each other (and banquet tables, and dishes, and champagne flutes and a cake), battling for possession of a gold football. Berg joined NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport’s podcast, RapSheet and Friends, to go behind the scenes of the commercial.

 

Among the most enlightening tidbits that we probably should have expected: A lot of the legends highlighted in the commercial wanted to do their own stunts.

 

“What was funny is a lot of the players were like, ‘I’ll do my own hit, I’ll do my own hit,'” Berg told Rapoport. “LaDainian Tomlinson actually did his own hit but he ran into stuntmen. … A lot of the football players wanted to do their own hits and then they saw the stuntmen doing them and they were like ‘Damn.'”

 

As we all know, the best of Hollywood’s best also include the stunt doubles who make unrealistic feats — including bone-jarring, table-smashing tackles in tuxedos — look real. Sometimes, even the pro football heroes should sit on the sideline.

 

“They’re obviously very physical, tough guys, but we have stuntmen that are paid and are trained to do things like that. So we had so many stuntmen,” Berg told Rapoport. “They were amazing doubles. To see Ndamukong Suh standing next to his stunt double, who was the exact same size as him dressed exactly the same.

 

“Von Miller or Barry Sanders, who actually didn’t use a stunt double. We were ready to go with Barry just because we weren’t sure whether he wanted to make those spin moves and the cuts. He’s like ‘I got this.’ And he did. But we couldn’t quite flatten Deion Sanders the way it looked in the show. So we used a lot of stunt doubles for the actual hits.”

 

The hits were fantastic, as was the rest of the spot. There’s no better way to begin pro football’s official centennial.

 

And this from the AP:

 

Director Peter Berg said he had an “emotional and satisfying” feeling while watching an all-star cast of retired and active NFL players film a new Super Bowl commercial.

 

Berg directed the commercial called “The 100-Year Game” that paid homage to past and present players including Tom Brady, Jim Brown, Joe Montana, Dick Butkus, Deion Sanders and Patrick Mahomes. The two-minute ad will air during Super Bowl 53 on Sunday.

 

The commercial will kick off a yearlong campaign to celebrate the NFL’s 100th season, which starts in September. The tribute will feature more than 40 current and former NFL players including 19 Hall of Famers.

 

“I believe this will be good for the game,” said Berg, an actor who directed “Friday Night Lights” and “Patriots Day.” ”It was an emotional thing to see the totality of the sport of 100 years. You had the timeline of the NFL in one room.”

 

The commercial kicks off with Marshawn Lynch knocking over a cake while NFL commissioner Roger Goodell gives a speech. It also shows Von Miller flipping Tony Gonzalez over into the cake; Mike Singletary yelling “fumble”; and Todd Gurley tossing a football to Barry Sanders.

 

Gamer Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, NFL official Sarah Thomas and announcer Beth Mowins are also featured in the commercial.

 

“It’s a fun spot,” Berg said. “It’s meant to be wild and fun. There’s a lot of funny stuff. Emmitt Smith was funny, and so was (Terry) Bradshaw.”

 

Berg said the commercial took three days to film in Los Angeles. He initially didn’t think he could pull it off.

 

The director said he believes the commercial will be good for the game of football.

 

“What I found special as a football fan was to see Saquon Barkley and Odell (Beckham) and Todd Gurley talking to LaDainian Tomlinson and Jim Brown,” he said. “The young guys, middle age guys and older. To see Paul Warfield near Larry Csonka, talking to Barry Sanders.”

 

 

 

TOP FREE AGENTS

Here is a list of the 10 free agents expected to get the biggest paydays per ProFootballFocus.com:

 

1. JADEVEON CLOWNEY

 Coming off a career year in 2018, former No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney is bound for a massive payday whether he’s tagged or penned to a long-term deal this offseason. Largely propped up by his 91.2 run-defense grade, Clowney earned an 88.0 overall grade this past season, ranking tied for ninth among all edge defenders.

 

From Jason:

 

“Clowney has basically every soft factor going for him when it comes to earning a big salary as a free agent. His status as a former number 1 draft pick generally puts him in a class by himself. While we can argue statistics and production versus the rest of the edge rushers, his draft grade likely means that there is strong support on 32 teams that he is the best player available and by a wide margin…

 

The only downside for Clowney is that it is likely he will be franchise tagged, which always limits the market for a player. The Texans have ample cap room to carry a one-year deal with a big cap number and won’t be in any rush to negotiate that contract. Still, at the end of the cycle, he should be one of the highest-paid rushers in the NFL unless he decides to quickly sign a contract before the other players have an opportunity to set the market.”

 

Projection: Six years, $135 million, $85 million GTD

 

2. DEMARCUS LAWRENCE

 Forced to prove his worth again on the tag in 2018, Dallas Cowboys’ Demarcus Lawrence did just that, matching Clowney’s overall grade (88.0) and earning an impressive 82.7 pass-rush grade. He’s now earned high pass-rush and overall grades in each of the past two seasons.

 

From Jason:

 

“If there is one downside to Lawrence, it is the fact that he is a 70% playtime player. That does not mean another team won’t project him to be capable of an even larger workload but generally the largest contracts in the market see players with at least 80% playtime. Though the difference may seem small, that extra 10-15% can be a pretty big financial difference. The 30% situational player generally costs a good deal more than a player only expected to play 10-15% of the snaps. Lawrence should also benefit from his franchise tag costing Dallas $20.571 million this season. Dallas could certainly carry that figure, but it gives Lawrence much more leverage in demanding a high salary from Dallas as well as a real chance to actually hit free agency. Dallas has a large number of extensions to work on and may or may not have Lawrence marked as a priority.”

 

Projection: Six years, $126 million, $60 million GTD

 

3. DEE FORD

 After earning overall grades under 64.0 in each of the first four seasons of his NFL career, Kansas City Chiefs’ Dee Ford turned in a career-high 87.7 overall grade in 2018. He also improved his career-high pass-rush grade from 65.9 (2016) to 91.1 (2018).

 

From Jason:

 

“Given Ford’s career arc, he will be a prime candidate for the franchise tag. That number could be difficult to carry for the Chiefs, who will have around $32 million in cap room if Kansas City wants to be active in free agency. That could help get a deal done earlier in the process. A difficulty for Kansas City is that prior franchise tag players (Justin Houston and Eric Berry) scored big contracts when tagged. Though they had different front office personnel at the time, their valuations last seasons for Sammy Watkins and Anthony Hitchens should have Ford asking for a lot.”

 

Projection: Five years, $95 million, $55 million GTD

 

4. FRANK CLARK

 Though he ranked just 24th at his position in overall grade at season’s end, Seattle Seahawks edge defender Frank Clark still flashed enough high-end potential to warrant a top contract this offseason. He earned a 74.7 pass-rush grade in 2018, marking the third consecutive season he’s earned a pass-rush grade above 70.0.

 

From Jason:

 

“The player Clark will be most compared with is going into negotiations with the Seahawks is Danielle Hunter of the Vikings. That contract should be a non-starter, as Hunter signed one of the most team-friendly contracts in the NFL, but that is clearly what Seattle will first look for. Seattle has generally been proactive with their extensions, so this is unchartered territory but the most likely outcome here is a one-year franchise contract. Assuming he gets to market, he will likely sign for something in the $17 million range.”

 

Projection: Five years, $87.5 million, $53 million GTD

 

5. GRADY JARRETT

 The first player on this list that isn’t an edge defender, Grady Jarrett has more than outplayed his fifth-round draft status in his four years in the NFL and is now very deserving of a significant pay bump. The former Clemson product earned 90.0 and 86.7 run-defense and pass-rush grades, respectively, en route to a career-high 91.0 overall grade in 2018.

 

From Jason:

 

“Jarrett may have an outside chance to hit the $17 million+ category this season. The current high water mark for players not named Aaron Donald is Fletcher Cox at $17.1 million per year with nearly $64 million guaranteed. You can’t compare Jarrett with Cox. Cox was a better pass rusher and a more impactful player. The Eagles were also heavily invested in him from day one. That said it is an outdated contract and with veteran’s like Geno Atkins and Jurrell Casey landing lucrative 3rd contracts there may be a case to be made that the market is growing.

 

The best comparable player for Jarrett is Malik Jackson of the Jaguars. They came from similar draft spots, were the same ages, and performed at similar levels. Jackson’s contract is also outdated and worth about $17.5 million if we adjust it for salary cap inflation. The blocks to hit that will likely be the Atkins deal and Kawann Short contracts which were signed in 2018 and 2017. Jarrett is younger but the impact production is harder to match against those players. They will likely be numbers to beat but probably block him from too significant a jump.”

 

Projection: Five years, $82.5 million, $46 million GTD

 

6. TREY FLOWERS

 Like Jarrett, Trey Flowers is a former Day 3 pick that has panned out and then some for the 2018 Super Bowl champs. He’s improved his overall grade every season of his four-year NFL career and finished the 2018 season ranked sixth in overall grade at 89.7.

 

From Jason:

 

“The Patriots are not cap rich next season, as they’ll likely have around $20 million in room before they start to make cuts, which makes tagging a player harder. They have a left tackle that they could use the tag on instead and in general the franchise tag has not been something that the Patriots really focus on. There is always going to be a feeling that the Patriots will get the option to match an offer which should benefit Flowers…

 

Like with Clark, the best comparable here is Hunter. If he does re-sign with New England before free agency begins that is probably going to be considered valid though whereas with other teams it might not. If he gets to free agency, he has a chance to have a very similar run as Vernon if he is indeed the only available pass rusher.”

 

Projection: Five years, $80 million, $50 million GTD

 

7. LE’VEON BELL

 After sitting out all of 2018, veteran running back Le’Veon Bell will return to the NFL after resetting the market with his contract. He earned 71.0-plus overall grades in all five seasons he’s played in the NFL, including a career-high 89.7 mark in 2015.

 

From Jason:

 

“Bell comes with all kinds of red flags. He has had past injuries. He has had off the field suspensions. Nobody knows what kind of shape he is in. He has a lot of miles on his tires from his use in Pittsburgh. But he is dynamic and the best offensive talent that will be available this year. Given the amount of cap space a few teams have this year and how desperate those teams may be expecting someone to match his price but with a backloaded contract to give the team some added protection.”

 

Projection: Four years, $60 million, $33 million GTD

 

8. DONOVAN SMITH

Though he isn’t the class of the position, Tampa Bay Buccaneers left tackle Donovan Smith plays a premium position and will get paid a premium price as a result. Durability stands out as a strength for Smith, as he’s played over 1,000 snaps in all four years he’s been in the league.

 

From Jason:

 

“The Buccaneers recently signed guard Ali Marpet to a contract worth about $10.8 million a year, and it is very rare for a left tackle to earn less than a guard on a team especially when the tackle signs after the guard. So that should set a floor for his value to remain in Tampa. There could be an outside chance that the Buccaneers tag Smith since they don’t have any other options but it’s pretty rare for a left tackle to be tagged. Usually, they either get a long-term deal or get the chance to hit free agency.”

 

Projection: Five years, $60 million, $27 million GTD

 

9. TYRELL WILLIAMS

Mike Williams and Keenan Allen forced Los Angeles Chargers’ Tyrell Williams into a reserve role after his breakout 2016 season where he earned a career-high 75.6 overall grade. Teams should be highly interested in betting on the fact he returns to form in a bigger role.

 

From Jason:

 

“Every year there are surprises in free agency at this position. Last year were three big ones signing multi-year deals with Sammy Watkins signing for $16 million, Allen Robinson for $14 million, and Albert Wilson for $8 million. Good receivers rarely break free so when they do teams often treat them as superstars when they hit free agency. Williams has the size at 6’4” that teams covet and the ability to get into the end zone…

 

 The Jets recently signed Quincy Enunwa to a $9 million a year contract and Enunwa at his peak was not as productive as Williams. Last year Enunwa finished with just 449 yards in 11 games. Williams is certainly going to get a contract better than that. Can he push into Allen Robinson territory?  Probably not but he should fit somewhere in between the two.”

 

Projection: Four years, $48 million, $25 million GTD

 

10. LANDON COLLINS

After earning 81.0-plus overall grades in Years 2 and 3 of his career, New York Giants safety Landon Collins fell to a 70.4 overall grade in 2018. He’s still more than proved he can be a game-changer at a position few teams have on their roster, so he should draw a pretty penny if he makes it to the open market.

 

From Jason: 

 

“The franchise tag is certainly a possibility for Collins. The Giants will have the cap room to use it.  Collins could dig in on a contract given that the last time the Giants GM used the tag he eventually rescinded it and allowed the player to become a free agent when he realized they would not get a long-term deal done.  My guess is the sides will work off of the Harrison Smith contract that was signed in 2017 and more in line with the rest of the market at $10.25 million a year.”

 

Projection: Five years, $57.5 million, $34.5 million GTD