AROUND THE NFL
We either will have the oldest winning coach in Super Bowl history, or the youngest. Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com totes up the numbers:
Happy birthday to Rams head coach Sean McVay, who turns 33 today.
McVay is 33 while the coach across the field from him in Super Bowl LIII, Bill Belichick, is 66. Their 33-year age difference is the biggest age gap between Super Bowl head coaches ever.
Already the youngest coach to lead his team to a Super Bowl, McVay can also become the youngest to win the Super Bowl, breaking a record set by Mike Tomlin, who was 36 when his Steelers won the Super Bowl 10 years ago.
Belichick can become the oldest coach to win the Super Bowl, breaking a record set by Tom Coughlin, who was 65 when his Giants beat Belichick’s Patriots in the Super Bowl seven years ago. Belichick still has a ways to go to be the oldest coach to reach the Super Bowl; Marv Levy was 68 when he coached the Bills in the Super Bowl for the final time.
– – –
Rich McKay of the Competition Committee cautions those who are calling for a vast expansion of replay. The devil is in the details.
One of the solutions bandied about in the last few days has been expanding the use of replay review to cover penalties, although that idea has received pushback from some in the league. That group included another Competition Committee member in Cowboys exec Stephen Jones and the chairman of the committee has shared some thoughts as well.
Falcons president Rich McKay said on SiriusXM NFL Radio that the “unintended consequences” of making penalties reviewable is that the whole play comes up for review. In his example that would mean a challenge for pass interference would open the door for an offensive holding penalty or other flag to be thrown.
“All of those things need to be talked about,” McKay said. “It doesn’t mean it’s not possible, but it does mean that you need to figure out exactly how you’d implement and not impact the game negatively.”
McKay said the key questions to answer are what’s the standard and what’s going to be reviewed. The coming months will provide more information about how much those questions are being debated and how determined the league is to make any changes to the status quo.
WR LARRY FITZGERALD is going to be back. Josh Weinfuss of ESPN.com:
The speculation is over: Larry Fitzgerald will be back with the Arizona Cardinals in 2019.
The Cardinals announced Wednesday that the star wide receiver will return for a 16th season in the NFL after signing a one-year contract.
Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed. Fitzgerald, who wears No. 11, has made $11 million in each of the past three seasons.
“No player has meant more to this franchise or this community than Larry Fitzgerald,” team president Michael Bidwill said in a statement. “In my discussions with him, it was clear that he is as driven and as passionate as ever. We are thrilled he’ll be back for 2019.”
Fitzgerald told ESPN’s Adam Schefter via text message earlier this month that he was taking some time to collect his thoughts after a grueling season in which Arizona (3-13) finished with the worst record in the NFL and landed the No. 1 overall pick in the April draft.
Fitzgerald has taken some time in recent offseasons to decide whether he would return for the following year. In 2018, Fitzgerald announced he was returning on Feb. 15 and in 2017, he announced on Feb. 2.
“I never lose sight of how fortunate that I am to be playing a game that I love, doing something I love,” Fitzgerald said this past season. “Most people get up and work jobs they don’t like with hours they don’t like. … This is a great job, one that I’m fortunate and blessed to have so I never lose sight of that.”
For the second straight year, Fitzgerald will be playing for a new head coach and in a new offensive system.
The Cardinals hired Kliff Kingsbury to replace Steve Wilks as head coach on Jan. 8. During his introductory news conference, Kingsbury said he would love to have Fitzgerald on the team next season but would let the front office figure out whether the wide receiver was coming back.
Fitzgerald, who had 69 catches for 734 yards and six touchdowns this season, will be 36 years old during the 2019 season. He is solidly No. 2 in career receiving yards, trailing Jerry Rice by more than 6,000 yards, but he could pass Tony Gonzalez for second on the career receptions list. Fitzgerald needs 23 catches to pass Gonzalez.
Last season broke a streak of three straight years with 100 catches and 1,000 yards for Fitzgerald. In 2017, he became the oldest player with 100 catches in a season in NFL history.
LOS ANGELES RAMS
A Super Bowl in Atlanta is a homecoming for Sean McVay. Alden Gonzalez of ESPN.com reminds us of his days at Marist High School:
The genesis of Sean McVay’s renowned clairvoyance dates to December 2003, near the goal line of a state quarterfinal game, on third down, his high school team trailing by five with only a couple of minutes remaining.
McVay, now the Los Angeles Rams coach, was a short, stocky triple-option quarterback for Marist School in Atlanta, which on this night continued to get stuffed by a powerful Shaw team while trying to punch it in on a power formation they called “Wham.”
Timeout was called.
McVay, who had spent most of that week poring over film of his upcoming opponent, huddled the coaches together. He wanted to call a play the team had never run before — a naked bootleg off “Wham,” which involved McVay faking the handoff, hiding the ball, then rolling out and running with it all by himself, with no blockers in front of him.
“He just had this crazy ability to feel out plays,” McVay’s high school teammate and good friend, Chris Ashkouti, said. “He knew. I mean I’ve never seen anything like it. He walked in the end zone.”
Fifteen years later, those who knew McVay then still marvel at that play. At the outside defender selling out for a running back without the football. At other defensive players celebrating what they thought was a game-clinching tackle. At a packed stadium rising to its feet as the quarterback turned the corner. At the foresight and courage McVay displayed as a teenager.
McVay never played in the NFL and didn’t really stand out in college, but he was a Georgia high school football legend. He became the first player in program history to both rush and throw for 1,000 yards in back-to-back years. He led his team to a state championship during his senior year in 2003, playing second half of the title game with a broken foot.
After it was over, McVay beat out former Detroit Lions receiver Calvin Johnson, a Hall of Famer in waiting, for Georgia 4A Offensive Player of the Year, an obscure piece of trivia many will chuckle at today. McVay calls it “more of a team award than anything else, because there’s no doubt about it when you were just looking at the recruit. [Johnson] was a five-star receiver, he was special, and I was not of his caliber.”
Others will tell you McVay is being humble.
Todd Holcomb, an editor at Georgia High School Football Daily who has covered high school sports for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution since 2001, said McVay “might’ve been the most valuable all-around football player in a very strong football state” in 2003.
“There were much better college prospects,” Holcomb wrote in an email, “but nobody had a greater impact on a high school football game than he did.”
McVay didn’t have the strongest arm, but he was quick and explosive, and he was tougher and smarter than everybody on the field. Longtime Marist coach Alan Chadwick remembers a particular designed run where McVay’s responsibility was to read the 3-technique and decide where to go with the football. He pulled it, got into the B-gap and exploded through the hole “like he had been shot out of a cannon,” then ran nearly untouched for 60 yards.
Ashkouti’s favorite plays came immediately after interceptions, on nights when McVay also played defense.
“We would all stand back and watch,” Ashkouti said, “because he was on a mission to crush the guy who picked him off.”
McVay arrived at Marist as a standout soccer player with great football bloodlines. His grandfather, John, was the former 49ers general manager who teamed with Bill Walsh for five Super Bowls. His father, Tim, was an all-state quarterback in Ohio who played defensive back at Illinois. After starting as a cornerback his sophomore year, McVay was the starting quarterback for Marist as a junior and senior, finishing his final season with 1,128 rushing yards, 1,107 passing yards and 375 punting yards.
McVay received scholarship offers to play option quarterback at Rice, Air Force and the Naval Academy, Tim said, but instead chose to be a slot receiver for Miami of Ohio. He broke his ankle early in his redshirt freshman year and was never the same.
“It’s one of those things where you look at the doctors and they’re like, ‘You can mess this up for the long term,'” McVay said. “You kind of had a realistic approach that you wanted to be involved in football, and that opportunity opened up.”
McVay was hired by Jon Gruden, something of a family friend, to be a coaching assistant on his Buccaneers staff in 2008. He went on to coach tight ends in the United Football League in 2009, then spent his next seven years with the Redskins, working with tight ends and eventually becoming the offensive coordinator. Now, on the day he turns 33, he is the youngest head coach to reach a Super Bowl, the culmination of a stunning two-year stretch that saw McVay take over a downtrodden franchise and place it on the doorstep of a championship.
Many still know him best from his high school days.
Tim McVay laughs at how his son used to stay up late in the coaches’ office studying opponents during the week.
Chadwick saw Sean McVay as a “vivacious, energetic, outgoing, mature-beyond-his-years type of personality” who was exceedingly comfortable in his own skin. Ashkouti called McVay “a beast” and “a stone-cold killer” on the field, but beamed at the way he inspired others.
It happened at the start of the drive that ended in the naked bootleg, which ultimately sparked a state championship.
Marist had just given up the go-ahead score and needed to put together an 82-yard drive to win the game, so McVay — 17, his voice squeaky and his hair shaggy — addressed his teammates on the field.
“He looks everybody in the eye and he’s got this, ‘We’re going to do this, get on my freaking back, let’s go’ look in his eye,” Ashkouti remembered. “He was just so calm. When you had him on the team, you just knew, a hundred percent, that you were going to win with this guy. Of course, him calling the play was huge. But it was his ability to make you believe. And it was all the time.”
– – –
RB TODD GURLEY II is strangely acquiescent to his new sidekick role. Lindsay Thiry of ESPN.com:
The Los Angeles Rams came from behind at the Superdome on Sunday to defeat the Saints to clinch the NFC championship.
But where was Todd Gurley?
The Rams’ star running back stood on the sideline with his helmet on throughout most of the game and hardly appeared in action as backup C.J. Anderson rushed for 44 yards on 16 carries.
“I was sorry as hell today,” Gurley said after the game. “I was sorry. So, C.J. did his thing and the whole team did its thing.”
Gurley rushed for 10 yards and a touchdown in four carries and caught one pass for 3 yards in the Rams’ 26-23 overtime victory.
His five touches from scrimmage were a career-low, as were his 13 total yards. And the 32 snaps Gurley played were his fewest in a game since his rookie season, as well as the fewest of any Rams offensive player that took the field Sunday.
“That was just kind of the feel for the flow of the game that we had,” Rams coach Sean McVay said when asked about Gurley’s situation. “Not anything against Todd. C.J. did a nice job, but I thought that they did a nice job as a whole, slowing down our run game, and we kind of just had to grind some things out.”
Gurley was sidelined for the final two games of the regular season because of inflammation in his left knee. He returned for a divisional-round game against the Dallas Cowboys and rushed for 115 yards and a touchdown on six carries.
When asked Sunday if he was healthy, Gurley said, “Yeah. I was sorry.”
Gurley made an uncharacteristic mistake in the Rams’ opening series, when he let a short pass bounce off his arms and it was intercepted by the Saints’ Demario Davis. The Saints converted the turnover into a field goal to take a 6-0 lead.
In the second series, Gurley was tackled for a 2-yard loss and on the ensuring series he dropped an open pass on third down that forced the Rams to settle for a field goal as they trailed 13-3.
With 1:29 to play in the first half, Gurley rushed 6 yards for a touchdown as the Rams trailed 13-10.
Before the season, the Rams awarded Gurley — the reigning NFL Offensive Player of the Year — with a four-year contract extension worth $60 million, with $45 million guaranteed.
A fourth-year pro, Gurley said he became emotional after the game at the realization that he would get a chance to redeem himself in the Super Bowl.
“Just to be able to get another opportunity, I’m so grateful, so grateful,” Gurley said.
With veteran DC Bob Sutton out the door, another grizzled veteran of the NFL wars might be coming into Kansas City. And it’s not Rex Ryan. And it’s not John Fox. This from ESPN:
Former St. Louis Rams and New York Giants head coach Steve Spagnuolo has emerged as the favorite to replace Bob Sutton as the Chiefs’ defensive coordinator, sources told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
Spagnuolo, 59, and Andy Reid worked together in Philadelphia, share the same agent and have a mutual respect for each other’s work.
Spagnuolo was with the Eagles from 1999 to 2006 as a defensive assistant, defensive backs coach and linebackers coach before becoming the Giants’ defensive coordinator in 2007 and 2008.
He became the Rams’ head coach in 2009 but was fired after the 2011 season, finishing with a 10-38 record.
He then became the Saints’ defensive coordinator in 2012 and was on Baltimore Ravens staffs in 2013 and ’14 before returning to the Giants as defensive coordinator from 2015 through ’17. He was the Giants’ interim coach in 2017 after Ben McAdoo was fired and went 1-3 in the role.
With Spagnuolo as the defensive coordinator, the Giants finished in the top 10 defensively three times (2007, ’08 and ’16).
The Chiefs fired Sutton on Tuesday after his defense was unable to come up with pivotal stops against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game. He had been the Chiefs’ defensive coordinator since Reid became the team’s head coach in 2013.
The Chiefs finished 31st in total defense this season, in contrast to the offense, which finished No. 1 overall in the NFL.
The Chiefs scored at least 28 points in each of their five losses this season, including games in which they scored 51 and 40 points.
Brentson Buckner, who could not find a spot on Bruce Arians staff, is heading to Jon Gruden. Levi Damien of Silverandblackpride.com:
The same day Jon Gruden announced Brian Callahan was leaving the Raiders to take the Offensive Coordinator position with the Bengals, he revealed the team will make a change at Defensive Line coach, hiring former Buccaneers Dline coach Brentson Buckner to the position as The Athletic first reported and Jon Gruden confirmed to media on hand at the Senior Bowl.
Buckner will replace the 24-year NFL veteran position coach Mike Trgovac who will remain with the team in a Senior Defensive advisor position.
This will be Buckner’s third stop and 7th season as an NFL Defensive Line coach. Prior to spending the 2018 season in Tampa, he was the Dline coach for the Cardinals for five seasons. He played in the NFL for 12 seasons from 1994-2005 with the Steelers, Bengals, 49ers, and Panthers.
Assistant Defensive Line coach Marco Coleman had already left to take the Defensive Coordinator position at his Alma Mater of Georgia Tech University, so that position will also need a replacement.
Head Strength and Conditioning coach Tom Shaw was let go late last season. Gruden will make that the priority.
– – –
The good news for ESPN is that QB DEREK CARR is still a faithful viewer. John Breech of CBSSports.com:
Raiders quarterback Derek Carr isn’t the kind of guy who normally sends out angry tweets, but that’s exactly what he did this week after being called out by ESPN’s Max Kellerman.
During Wednesday’s episode of ESPN’s First Take, Carr’s name came up during a discussion about who should be the Raiders quarterback of the future. Although Carr is signed through the 2022 season, the Raiders would only take a $7.5 million hit in dead cap space if they were to cut him this offseason. Now, the Raiders might not necessarily be looking for a new quarterback, but coach Jon Gruden was at the Senior Bowl this week gushing over Kyler Murray, which led Kellerman to say some pretty harsh things about Carr.
“Pretty obvious, Carr is not the the long term answer there,” Kellerman said, via ESPN.com. “You could see that, especially the first half of the season. I mean, I stopped watching Carr a lot the second of the season, who cares about the Raiders second half? But the first half of the season, he looked shell-shocked. He looked like a quarterback who had quit.”
Apparently, Carr wasn’t too happy about being called a quitter, because he sent out a very interesting tweet to UFC president Dana White.
@ufc @danawhite hey how do I challenge a couple of these clowns on tv to a fight? I think we should start a business together. Where pro athletes can challenge some of these people to an octagon fight until they give us an answer…. You don’t know me… stop lying.
As for Kellerman, he actually ripped into Carr even more during the show.
“By the way, I’ve said this about Eli Manning, and even players who are great, you can see — just like different players get called out for taking plays off — you can see where a quarterback don’t want it and Carr didn’t want it,” Kellerman said. “I think Gruden knows they got to move on and the question is can they get anything for [Carr]? Is he a placeholder until they can find the next guy? How long will it take to develop the next guy? And Kyler Murray, if you could grab him in the draft, hell yea.
Although Carr doesn’t normally seem to send out angry tweets, he did it in this case because he was upset about the fact that his character got called into question.
He’s talking bout @maxkellerman …..
Yes..say what you want but don’t question somebodies character as a man if you don’t know them. Our job as NFL athletes is to try and leave the game better for the next generations. So let’s start an octagon business to give some accountability to these kinds of people. 😉😂👊🏼
If the UFC idea doesn’t work out, it sounds like Carr would also be willing to take a less violent route, which would involve watching film with Kellerman.
Damn @FirstTake why you hating on @derekcarrqb? Check the stats, and I don’t want to hear he’s shell shocked when you didn’t even watch them in the second half of the season. SMH .. Stay off the weeeeeeedddd man @maxkellerman @stephenasmith @MollyQerim @RAIDERCODY_ @KrisWysong
😂it’s because I blocked them both for talking trash about our team. Those 2 clowns don’t know anything about this game. Would love to actually sit and break down film with these two on tv just to show their viewers how incompetent (lacking qualification) they are about our game.
The offseason hasn’t even officially started and we’re already getting quarterbacks challenging TV hosts to fights. If this is any indication of what the rest of the offseason is going to be like, we’re going to be in for a long eight months.
– – –
Scott Bair of Yahoo Sports with a look at Mike Mayock – NFL GM:
Mike Mayock was widely considered the preeminent NFL draft analyst during his years working at NFL Network, earning great respect from football folks in the professional and college ranks.
That opened doors closed to most, allowing Mayock to glean information most couldn’t get regarding college prospects and an individual team’s intentions.
Wells of NFL insight, however, has dried up now that he’s working for the competition. The new Raiders general manager isn’t getting those trade secrets but remains immensely popular in all circles here at the Senior Bowl.
He championed this event, which includes a practice week and Saturday’s annual college all-star game when he was at NFL Network. He got the league-owned network to increase its coverage on an important part of the pre-draft process.
“Mike is going to run for office in Mobile,” Raiders head coach Jon Gruden said early this month, right after Mayock got hired.
He could probably win, even though he’s now solely focused on improving the Raiders while armed with four NFL draft selections in the top 35.
That respect, especially within college football programs, should help his evaluation. He isn’t getting info from pro teams, but has spent significant time with decision makers and knows how they tick.
Jon Gruden believes it could give the Raiders an advantage leading up to the NFL draft.
“He has been able to sit in meetings with coaches and players,” Gruden said. “He has been welcomed by people. He’s respected. He has had access that very few people have had, and he has developed some relationships that very few people have been able to develop. I think it will serve him well in the long run.”
Gruden believes the Raiders are already served well with Mayock on their side. He has hit the ground running since being hired just before the new year, spending most hours evaluating college tape and meeting with coaches about which players fit Raiders’ schemes.
Gruden expected that. There have been some surprises along the way.
“What I’m most impressed with is how Mike has rallied the coaches and rallied the scouts behind the scenes,” Gruden said. “He’s a terrific leader. His energy is contagious. That’s a big part of the job, I think.”
S ERIC WEDDLE sounds like he would hang around for another year, even if it wasn’t in Baltimore. Jamison Hensley of ESPN.com:
For Eric Weddle, it’s no longer play for the Baltimore Ravens or retire in 2019.
About two weeks after saying he would walk away from the game if the Ravens released him, Weddle, a six-time Pro Bowl safety, said he is now open to playing elsewhere if Baltimore doesn’t want him.
Weddle, 34, is scheduled to make $6.5 million in 2019, which is the final year of his four-year, $26 million deal.
“I’m not sure if things are going to get worked out with Baltimore. Obviously, I want to be back,” Weddle told the team website at the Pro Bowl on Wednesday. “[We’ll] see if there’s something to be worked out. If not, then I’ve had an unbelievable experience here and loved every second. So, if it does happen, we both move on, and we’ll see if I’ll play somewhere else or hang ’em up.”
Weddle said he has had “great conversations” with Eric DeCosta, but he didn’t elaborate on whether the Ravens’ new general manager wants him back. Ravens officials have yet to speak to reporters since Baltimore’s wild-card loss to the Los Angeles Chargers on Jan. 6.
Weddle’s $8.25 million cap hit is the seventh highest on the team. Baltimore can create $6.5 million by cutting him. It’s possible the Ravens could ask Weddle to take a pay cut to remain with the team.
Weddle finished as the 10th-best safety in football, according to Pro Football Focus. Considered the quarterback of the NFL’s top-ranked defense, Weddle finished third in tackles with 68, but he didn’t record an interception for the first time since 2015.
Coaches have talked about how Weddle’s value goes beyond statistics. Baltimore defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale referred to Weddle as a “football savant” for how he confuses quarterbacks by disguising coverages.
A day after the season ended, Weddle told reporters he would “just ride off in the sunset” if the Ravens didn’t want him back. He did, however, say he still had a desire to play and “can still affect the game and dominate games.”
Weddle, a second-round pick by the Chargers in 2007, spent his first nine seasons in San Diego before having a falling-out with the organization. Since joining the Ravens in 2016, Weddle has reached the Pro Bowl in all three seasons with the Ravens.
Over the past three seasons, Weddle has made 10 interceptions, which ranks as the fifth most among safeties. This past season, he earned a $1 million incentive after he was named to the Pro Bowl and Baltimore reached the postseason.
If Weddle doesn’t return to Baltimore, the Ravens could turn to one of their two young backups, Chuck Clark or DeShon Elliott.
“I signed for four years, and I want to play it out,” Weddle said. “But obviously, decisions have to be made for the future of the team. The organization has to do what’s best for them. I respect that.”
Seth Wickersham has a juicy look at the Browns – and owner Jimmy Haslett does not fare very well.
IN LATE OCTOBER, owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam summoned all Cleveland Browns employees to the auditorium at team headquarters for a familiar meeting. It was to announce another major shake-up, this time the firing of head coach Hue Jackson. Some longtime staffers suspected it would follow a script of sorts that has emerged over the years. Sure enough, Dee, with straight shoulder-length blond hair and an easy smile, explained that she and her husband were “still learning,” and she turned over the floor to Jimmy. Then, with white hair combed neatly and posture so perfect he looked like he was puffing out his chest, Jimmy once again pledged to “hire the right people.”
Despite the appearance of confidence, the Haslams, overseeing their fifth regime change in six years as owners, were embarrassed to be starting over again, according to confidants. This was not what they envisioned when they bought the team in 2012, after being minority owners of the Steelers. Haslam had personally made the decision to hire Jackson in 2016, against the recommendation of the Browns’ executive team. But the Browns had just lost to the Steelers, dropping Jackson’s three-year record to 3-36-1, and after constant fighting behind closed doors, Jackson was publicly warring with his offensive coordinator, Todd Haley. So according to people briefed on the meeting, on Oct. 29, Haslam and general manager John Dorsey entered Jackson’s office and told him the team was going to move in a different direction.
Jackson asked why he was being fired.
The team quit on you, Dorsey replied.
At the time, four of the eight Browns games had gone to overtime.
“Get the f— out of my office,” Jackson said.
A few hours later in the auditorium, the Haslams tried to bring order to chaos and restore lost faith, projecting optimism. It wasn’t a long meeting. Nobody asked any questions. And some employees returned to their desks curious as to why Jimmy and Dee felt the need to hold yet another all-staff gathering after an all-too-predictable change and frustrated that the Haslams seemed unaware they were using the same words — down to the phrase — to explain why they made mistakes that have typified their ownership. Again.
It goes on from there here.
As we learn, Jackson wasn’t being very kind to the man who made him millions of dollars.
A few days after promoting Brown, the team set out to find a new coach. They had spent hours trying to identify the ideal traits of successful coaches, whiteboarding, crunching statistics and debating candidate strengths and weaknesses. Many executives later described the meetings to associates as among the most inspiring and memorable of their Browns careers. Haslam would eat hard-boiled eggs and leave shell shards on the floor while firing off incisive questions and offering thoughtful opinions. He was known to occasionally doze off in long group meetings, but in these gatherings he was energized and engaged, stewarding the plan, leading discussions and then telling everyone to sleep on it before diving back in the next day. The ambition was contagious. The Browns felt they were building something special.
Until it was time to commit to a coach.
After a few rounds of interviews, the brass voted. It was 4-1 in favor of Sean McDermott, the Panthers’ defensive coordinator, a coach who had crushed his interview and was known to be open to new ideas.
Haslam voted for Hue Jackson, the former Raiders head coach and then-Bengals offensive coordinator. Jackson was a respected playcaller and teacher, especially with quarterbacks. Haslam told the group he felt Jackson could relate better to players. Jackson knew how hard it was to get a second chance as a head coach, and he was nervous about the rebuilding plan. He would later tell friends the team undersold him on the extremeness of the rebuilding plan, a charge that Browns executives found absurd, given the level of detail shared during the interview process.
DePodesta wrote Haslam an email arguing that the Jackson hire went against many of the characteristics of successful coaches they had discussed. Brown met with Haslam — there’s always a race to be the last one to talk to Haslam before a big decision — and told him he thought hiring Jackson would be a bad call. “I hear you,” Haslam said.
Then Haslam flew to Cincinnati and hired Jackson, who would report directly to ownership.
In a span of 10 days, Haslam had fully committed to two opposing football philosophies, and whether he intended to or not, he had set himself up as the arbiter of future conflicts.
This on the drafting of Johnny Manziel:
HASLAM LOVES THE war room on draft day, its power and potential. Like many owners, he invites friends and family and team sponsors to see the room, but unlike most, he has often allowed them to stay and watch as the draft unfolds. It frustrates some of the football people, but they learn to roll with it. In 2014, the war room was packed with Haslam’s guests. It was a consequential draft. The Browns were looking to pick a quarterback, either Blake Bortles or Johnny Manziel in the first round, or Teddy Bridgewater or Derek Carr in the second. Farmer was running his first draft. He had a lot to work with: 10 total picks, including an extra first-rounder because of the Richardson trade.
He started the draft by trading down, from No. 4 to No. 9, then traded up to No. 8 to pick Pettine’s preferred player, Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert. With the second first-round pick, Farmer was targeting Oregon State receiver Brandin Cooks. But then Manziel started to slide and Haslam wanted Manziel. Some of the football guys in the room wanted to wait and pick Bridgewater in the second round. But the team had soured on Bridgewater after his interview dinner and workout with team brass; something about Bridgewater’s handshake rubbed Haslam the wrong way, he told team executives. Manziel texted Browns quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains during the draft, begging the team to pick him, and Loggains forwarded the texts to Haslam. Farmer knew whom the owner wanted, so he made a decision that felt like a concession and traded up to draft him, despite significant concerns about Manziel’s skill set and hard partying at Texas A&M. Haslam celebrated, but those in the room could tell Farmer was frustrated. After months of planning, he’d given away his two first-rounders to his coach and owner.
Read the whole thing.
It looks like QB BEN ROETHLISBERGER will be back with the Steelers in 2019 with a new deal. ESPN.com:
Pittsburgh Steelers president Art Rooney II said Wednesday that the team has started contract talks with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and his agent, Ryan Tollner.
“We’ve already started talking to him and his representative about extending that contract,” Rooney said on a conference call with Steelers Nation Unite members. “I think Ben has some good years left. I’d still say he’s close to being in the prime of his career.
“Now that we’re seeing quarterbacks around the league that are playing into their 40s, I’m not sure there’s any reason that Ben can’t play for several more years. We’re looking forward to that.”
ESPN’s Adam Schefter, citing league sources, reported earlier this month that the team was expected to restructure and extend Roethlisberger’s deal before the new league year begins March 13.
Rooney hadn’t specified last week whether those contract talks had started but hinted that would happen soon.
Roethlisberger, 36, has one year remaining on his current deal.
– – –
C MAURKICE POUNCEY and WR JuJU SMITH-SCHUSTER is hopeful for a reconciliation with WR ANTONIO BROWN. Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com:
The Pittsburgh Steelers are supporting Antonio Brown from the Pro Bowl.
Center and captain Maurkice Pouncey said he believes the team can work out its issues with Brown, while receiving mate JuJu Smith-Schuster stressed he doesn’t want Brown traded.
The Steelers are shopping Brown after the All-Pro receiver did not show up for the season’s final Saturday walk-through and cut off contact with the organization.
“We’re a band of brothers. We’ve been together a long time,” Pouncey said. “You can’t tell me a great phone conversation or a sit-down can’t get things right.”
Pouncey compared Brown’s relationship with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to brothers who occasionally have a dispute but find ways to make up. Pouncey also disputed a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette report that Brown threw a football at somebody during the Wednesday walk-through in Week 17. “It didn’t happen,” he said.
Brown became upset and left the walk-through after Roethlisberger wanted to run a hot read again and the team put somebody else in the lineup, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter, who also reported that Roethlisberger and Brown talked afterward and that Brown felt underappreciated by some in the organization.
Pouncey believes that time can heal issues and every star player he has been around has had an edge to him, an “it” factor.
“The simple fact it’s two Hall of Fame players, there’s a reason it’s being brought up so much,” Pouncey said about Brown and Roethlisberger. “Rightfully so. I agree everyone has opinions and everybody can talk about things.
“But I honestly think, and I’ve been playing football a long time, things will get worked out. They are the best duo in Steeler history. If you don’t want to talk to two Hall of Famers who have played with each other and did so much together, I just don’t understand what ‘team’ is anymore.”
Smith-Schuster, who replaced Brown in the Pro Bowl due to injury, said he has reached out to Brown and hasn’t heard back but stressed that players are vacationing this time of year and contact is minimal. He “no doubt” expects to chat with Brown soon, he said.
DE CALAIS CAMPBELL is willing to work on his contract to stay with the Jaguars. John Reid at Jacksonville.com:
Jaguars defensive end Calais Campbell wants to get back to the playoffs so badly that he’s willing to restructure his contract.
Campbell has already had discussions with the Jaguars and acknowledged that it could happen.
″I think it’s more with restructuring with an extension,″ Campbell said after Wednesday’s Pro Bowl practice at Disney’s Wide World of Sports. ″That’s the only way to do it and that’s something that was talked about that could possibly happen.″
Campbell, who signed a four-year, $60 million free agent contract with the Jaguars in 2017, has a $14.5 million salary cap number in 2019.
Though the NFL salary cap for 2019 will increase by roughly 6 percent to $191.1 million per team, the Jaguars are currently $3,573,653 over, according to Over The Cap.com
Campbell has made a tremendous impact on and off the field since his arrival in Jacksonville, though.
After setting a franchise record with 14 1/2 sacks in 2017, Campbell led the team with 10 1/2 season last season.
Earlier this month, Campbell became the first Jaguars player to win the Bart Starr Award, which recognizes one NFL player who best represents outstanding character and leadership in the home, on the field and in the community. Campbell will be presented the award on Feb. 2 as part of the Super Bowl events leading to the Feb. 3 in Atlanta.
Now, he’s back playing in the Pro Bowl for the fourth time since 2014, joining teammate Jalen Ramsey on the AFC team that will play the NFC on Sunday at 3 p.m. at Camping World Stadium in Orlando.
As a second alternate, Campbell was selected on Monday to replace Houston’s J.J. Watt, who is unable to participate due to injury.
″At the end of the day, this is a beautiful game,″ Campbell said. ″I love it and I get paid a whole lot of money to do it, which is even better. As far as restructuring and moving money around, yes sure, that’s part of the game.″
With Campbell agreeing to a possible contract restructure, it could help the Jaguars acquire additional cap space to make a stronger push if they decide to pursue Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles in free agency.
Foles, who is expected to be one of the top quarterback free agent options on the market, is likely to to command a salary that will exceed $20 million per season.
The Jaguars are likely to release Blake Bortles, though his contract would still count $16.5 million in dead money before June 1 or $11.5 million if he released after that date.
The Jaguars, who were 5-11 last season after going 10-6 and advancing to the AFC title game in 2017, are in desperate need for a playmaking receiver, improved depth on the offensive line and more consistent play at quarterback.
Campbell said he is willing to help recruit free agents to play for the Jaguars.
″We’re going to try and recruit the best players for our offense to be successful,″ Campbell said. ″You have to sell the free agents on coming here to be a part of this. So hopefully, we can get that done because it’s not just pursuing the guy, guys have to want to come here, too. Free agency is a great way to pick up guys, but you have to get the right kind of guys, sometimes it can be ups and downs.″
Let’s pile on the GOATness of TOM BRADY.
It should come as no surprise that the guy with 13 more postseason wins than anyone else would have the most game-winning drives in the postseason. Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com:
In the AFC Championship Game, Tom Brady drove the Patriots down the field for the game-winning touchdown in overtime. It felt inevitable because he’s done it so many times before.
Sunday in Kansas City was the 12th time Brady has led the Patriots on a game-winning drive in the postseason: Brady has led a game-winning drive in all five of the Patriots’ Super Bowl wins, four times in the AFC Championship Game, and three times in the divisional round of the playoffs. That’s not just the most in NFL history, it’s double any other quarterback in NFL history.
John Elway led the Broncos on 6 postseason game-winning drives, which is the second-most in NFL history. Tied for third are Joe Montana and Eli Manning, who led 5 postseason game-winning drives each. Russell Wilson, Ben Roethlisberger, Dan Marino and Terry Bradshaw have 4 apiece. Kurt Warner, Ken Stabler, Dan Fouts and Drew Brees have3 apiece. No one else has more than two.
If the Rams take a lead late in the fourth quarter on Super Bowl Sunday, it will be hard not to think Brady has them right where he wants them.
Brady is looking for his 30th postseason win (he is 29-10). Joe Montana still stands 2nd with 16.
Brady is now 14-6 in one-score postseason games.
Brady now has 10,917 career postseason passing yards, nearly 3,600 more (that’s a good full regular season) than runner-up Peyton Manning.
Brady now has 73 career postseason TD passes, 28 more (again almost a full regular season) than runner-up Joe Montana’s 45.
One bit of negative news. If the Rams can somehow defeat Brady and Belichick, Brady will be tied for most Super Bowl losses for a starting quarterback, joining Jim Kelly at four.
NEW YORK JETS
Adam Gase is bringing OC DOWELL LOGGAINS with him to New York. Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News:
The Jets hired Dowell Loggains to be the new offensive coordinator coordinator/quarterbacks coach in an expected move Wednesday, the team announced.
Loggains, who was the Dolphins offensive coordinator last season, will be reunited with Adam Gase.
Gase will be the offensive play caller and primary teacher for Sam Darnold. The young signal-caller will get additional tutelage from Loggains.
Loggains, 38, was Jay Cutler’s quarterbacks coach in Chicago when Gase was the offensive coordinator in 2015. He’s also spent time as either a coordinator or quarterbacks coach with the Browns and Titans.
The move had been anticipated since Gase was hired a couple weeks ago.
THIS AND THAT
NO CALL IN NOLA
A Democrat Congressman from New Orleans wants to haul Roger Goodell before the House to explain the unexplainable. Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:
Commissioner Roger Goodell probably shouldn’t worry about a lawsuit filed in New Orleans over the blown call at the end of the NFC Championship. Goodell probably should worry (at least a little bit) about another potential scenario for sworn testimony, sparked by a U.S. Representative from New Orleans.
“What the entire nation witnessed during this past weekend’s NFC Championship game was an upset as a result of an unfair penalty, and I join Saints players, coaches, and fans far and wide over this disappointment,” Congressman Cedric Richmond (D-La.) said in a statement. “The Saints should be on their way to Atlanta to play in the Super Bowl. Instead, they are left with the memory of officials who failed to create an equal playing field and deprived them of that opportunity. Officials should not have the ability to determine the fate of a team who rightfully earned their place in NFL championship history.”
It’s one thing to express a concern, it’s another to specify action that can be taken in response to the concern. Richmond did.
“I have since spoken with colleagues on the Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee about inviting NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to answer some important questions about the unfair call against the Saints,” Richmond said, “a call that he has the jurisdiction to overturn. I stand with Saints owner Gayle Benson on the urgency and significance of having this issue addressed so that it does not happen again. The Saints got the short end of the stick, and I am proud to witness the strength of the franchise and the unswerving support of Who Dat Nation. I look forward to conveying these views to Mr. Goodell soon.”
While it would be easy to dismiss the statement as pandering to those who elected Richmond into office, it would be unwise to assume that every effort to compel Goodell to answer tough questions about how the NFL officiates games will automatically fail. As legalized gambling begins to proliferate, the NFL should be concerned that any given controversy could be the controversy that prompts Congress to conclude that the NFL isn’t capable of taking care of its own business — and that Congress should do it for the NFL.
More specifically, the league should fear the possible creation of a federal agency that would oversee the NFL, and possibly other pro sports. That’s the last thing the league would want, since it would remove from the league the exclusive authority to determine the league’s business, subject to the authority of no one.
More from Florio on how the NFL has quietly, subtly, discretely spun this way and that for three-plus days:
In the immediate aftermath of the NFC Championship game, the NFL privately apologized to the Saints — and intended to publicly acknowledge the blown no-call of pass interference that robbed the Saints of a first and goal with roughly 1:49 to play. Three days later, it hasn’t happened.
And, by all appearances, it’s not going to happen. At least not this week.
Private contrition has yet to become a public confession, with the league content to implicitly concede error by discussing whether changes to the replay system can or will be made in order to avoid future similar outcomes. Per a league source, the evolution of the league’s position has gone from a willingness to admit error to a more nuanced effort (presumably to avoid suggesting that the Rams are an illegitimate Super Bowl participants) to disclose that the officials missed not only the pass interference penalty but also the facemask foul committed against Rams quarterback Jared Goff, in an effort to create the not-so-subtle impression that two wrongs made a right.
That strategy disappeared as quickly as it emerged, with the league opting instead to focus not on the mistakes but on the potential solutions, even if the league would then pivot to explaining why the potential solutions won’t work.
The league’s effort to avoid admitting effort may not work indefinitely. Although Falcons CEO Rich McKay, chairman of the Competition Committee, apparently didn’t face during a recent mini-media tour a direct, yes-or-no question as to whether the call was blown, the Commissioner will meet the media next week, and hopefully someone in attendance will ask in a narrow, specific, closed-ended way whether he will admit that a flag should have been thrown for pass interference. Then, hopefully, someone in attendance will ask in a broad, general, open-ended way what the league will do to keep this from happening to another team in the future.
For now, the same kind of siege mentality that emerged in the aftermath of the Ray Rice case has taken root in the league office, with efforts to deflect and evade and hope that the fire will burn out before it does any real damage. Maybe it will work. Maybe it won’t. By the end of next week, an answer will be obvious.
Charles Robinson of YahooSports.com on how QB KYLER MURRAY fits in on the NFL small QB scale.
Kyler Murray may not be at the Senior Bowl this week, but the idea of Kyler Murray as lightning rod draft prospect has most definitely made roll call.
Jon Gruden made sure of it.
The Oakland Raiders coach rarely disappoints when he talks about quarterbacks. He once again made good on that reputation when he made an off-the-cuff remark Tuesday about having to reassess his “prototype” size for NFL quarterbacks – at least partially because of what Murray did at Oklahoma in 2018.
In what is shaping up to be the dominant quarterback discussion in this draft cycle, Gruden echoed a reality check that now faces a few quarterback-needy NFL teams in this draft. With a 6-foot Drew Brees putting passing records into another galaxy, and a 6-foot Baker Mayfield taking the league by storm, and a 5-10 Russell Wilson representing a bad draft miss by so many franchises, is it time to redraw the silhouette of the league’s quarterback archetype?
More specifically with Murray – who will measure under 5-10 at next month’s NFL scouting combine – are teams too obsessed with “prototype” height at the position?
“I used to think that a lot until I saw Drew Brees twice a year in Tampa, then I met Russell Wilson coming out of N.C. State, and now I’m watching this kid Murray at Oklahoma,” Gruden said. “I’m putting away all the prototypes that I once had. I used to have a prototype for hand size, height, arm length, all that stuff. We’re looking for guys that can play and do a lot of different things. They come in all shapes and sizes nowadays.”
That was no throwaway comment. Not with Gruden and the Raiders coaching the Senior Bowl’s North team, which features Duke’s Daniel Jones, who has (thus far) drawn the most praise from personnel men in the early going this week.
If you created a quarterback in a laboratory and were insisting on checking off the measurables, Jones would be what came out of the process. He measured in at 6-5 and 220 pounds, with long arms and big hands. The kind of numbers that draw eyeballs on a practice field and become the fodder for the first-round pick conversation that will follow Jones for the next few months.
But having the quarterback conversation with a handful of talent evaluators at the Senior Bowl this week, two basic realities haven’t changed. First, it’s going to be considered a middling quarterback draft, with draft position largely driven by need rather than talent. Second, Murray is an absolute wild card who is fast becoming the most intriguing evaluation of the entire NFL draft.
As one AFC personnel man said of Murray this week, “It’s going to come down to a consensus on a staff and whether you’re willing to create a special category for him. We didn’t do that for [Russell Wilson] and we probably should have. We had A’s across the board on [Wilson] except for his size. But that height really pushed us off him even though we had a great report on him. One of the best that year of any kid. … Pretty much everyone was in that same boat on him. [5-foot-10] at quarterback just wasn’t happening when we went around the room.”
Right now, the “special category” conversation is the undercurrent on seemingly every personnel evaluation shared on Murray. Is he special enough to smash the accepted norms at the position?
If he’s in the category that Gruden mentioned – somewhere on the Brees/Wilson continuum – then the answer is likely going to be yes for some franchise. But as a second AFC personnel man noted this week, Murray’s evaluation is likely an even more aggressive reach than other “small stature” quarterbacks.
“Drew played a lot of games [at Purdue],” he said. “Russell Wilson played a lot of games in college. Baker [Mayfield] played a lot of games. The tape for Murray is just so much smaller – maybe good and bad. What does he look like year over year? How much growth is there? He might be at his ceiling right now or he might be an even better player than he is right now. Do we even know what a ceiling looks like for a player like him? There’s no way to even begin to know that, other than guessing and projecting from the beginning of his season to the end.”
Despite the questions, both AFC personnel men said they believe it’s a virtual certainty that Murray goes in the first round, thanks to a combination of talent, offensive changes in the NFL, lack of elite quarterback talent in the draft class and even simply a fear of missing out on a player who could end up being similar to Wilson or Mayfield. Both noted that there are also a wealth of young offensive coaches across the league who may be more willing to roll the dice on new ideas, new players and more aggressive spread offensive schemes, factors that all favor the draft stock of a player like Murray.
As for how the quarterback class is shaking out in the early going, there may be only three first-rounders in the class. There appears to be a hammer-lock expectation that Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins will be the first quarterback selected, possibly with the first pick, if he can generate enough heat to entice the New York Giants, Jacksonville Jaguars or Denver Broncos to consider an “all-in” push to the top of the draft for his services. Barring something catastrophic, Jones has a consensus among personnel men as a likely first-round pick. And the third is Murray, who is looming over the evaluation process of basically every quarterback needy team.
But as one league evaluator also pointed out, with the influx of so many young quarterbacks into the NFL the past few seasons – and with so many of them showing promise since arriving – the likelihood of someone taking an aggressive gamble on a player of Murray’s stature in the top half of the first round seems like a dubious prediction at this point.
The bottom line: Everyone is trying to figure out what Murray is. And that’s why he’ll never be far from any draft conversation. Including the ones unfolding at a place like the Senior Bowl. Murray may not be a physical part of this draft process this week, but as Gruden showed, he’s also never off anyone’s mind, either.