AROUND THE NFL

NFC NORTH

 

CHICAGO

The Bears are hiring Bill Lazor as their OC.  Jeremy Bergman of NFL.com:

 

After missing the postseason in 2019, the Chicago Bears are laser-focused on returning to the dance under new leadership on offense.

 

Chicago is hiring former Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator Bill Lazor as their next OC, sources told NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport on Monday.

 

Lazor will replace ex-Bears offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich, who was fired along with a slew of offensive assistants two days after the end of Chicago’s 8-8 2019 campaign.

 

Lazor, 47, spent the 2019 season out of professional football after he was fired from his post as Bengals OC after nearly two seasons; Rapoport reported he was a volunteer consultant at Penn State. Lazor took over for fired Bengals OC Ken Zampese near the start of the 2017 campaign and oversaw injury-riddled seasons in which Cincinnati failed to finished higher than 26th in yards per game and 17th in points per game.

 

This will be Lazor’s third offensive coordinator gig in the NFL; he was the Miami Dolphins OC under Joe Philbin and Dan Campbell in 2014 and 2015.

 

In Chicago, Lazor will be tasked, alongside Bears coach Matt Nagy, with fixing an offense that regressed with Mitchell Trubisky under center in 2019; the Bears ranked 29th in both points and yards per game. It’s unclear whether Nagy will relinquish play-calling duties, which he did not do with Helfrich by his side in 2018 and 2019.

 

Trubisky’s improvement will go a long toward determing whether the Bears can stay competitive in the NFC North and the conference. The responsibility of sparking that great change will fall on the shoulders of Lazor, who can count Jason Campbell, Matt Hasselbeck, Nick Foles, Ryan Tannehill and Andy Dalton as his previous partners in quarterbacking.

 

 

DETROIT

Cory Undlin, who will not qualify for Rooney Rule interviews if and when he repairs the Lions defense, has been wooed from the Eagles.  Benjamin Ravin of MLive.com:

 

The Detroit Lions have filled the biggest remaining opening on their staff with Cory Undlin set to take over as defensive coordinator.

 

Undlin has been the defensive backs coach for the Philadelphia Eagles since 2015. It’s an interesting position to step into with defensive-minded coach Matt Patricia leading the way for the Lions. But, Undlin and Patricia have familiarity after starting their careers together as assistants for the New England Patriots in 2004. The team confirmed the hiring a couple of hours after ESPN cited league sources in reporting the news early on Monday morning.

 

After working with Patricia and the Patriots, Undlin went on to fill several roles over the next eight years with the Cleveland Browns, Jacksonville Jaguars, Broncos and Eagles. When Doug Pederson was named Eagles coach back in 2015, he decided to keep Undlin off of former coach Chip Kelly’s staff. Since then, the Lions new defensive coordinator has dealt with a seemingly never-ending list of injuries in the secondary.

 

“Cory Undlin, who actually coaches the secondary, is a good friend of mine and I know he’s got those guys working really hard,” Patricia said of Undlin heading into Detroit’s Week 3 win in Philadelphia this past season. “I thought it was good last week for them, the kind of marriage of rush and coverage and the pressure and everything that they were getting out of that. It all kind of seemed towards the end of the games like it was working pretty well.”

 

Undlin worked under former Lions head coach Jim Schwartz in Philadelphia this past year and now looks to replace Paul Pasqualoni, who announced he was stepping away from football.

 

This from Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Daily News:

 

@Jeff_McLane

Whenever I would ask players who internally could replace Jim Schwartz, Undlin was always the answer.

 

Some seemed to want to blame the #Eagles CB issues on him. Not here. Personnel was the primary issue.

 

This is a good opportunity for him, although he won’t initially call plays

 

 

MINNESOTA

The Vikings will have two new coordinators next year – and it sounds like Kevin Stefanik’s replacement will be an in-house promotion.  Courtney Cronin of ESPN.com:

 

The Minnesota Vikings are prioritizing continuity around quarterback Kirk Cousins and the rest of the offense when they hire their fifth offensive coordinator in five seasons.

 

At his year-end news conference on Monday, two days removed from a 27-10 loss to the San Francisco 49ers in the divisional round of the NFL playoffs, coach Mike Zimmer said the Vikings will run the “same system” that the team executed under soon-to-be former offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski, who is being hired as the next head coach of the Cleveland Browns.

 

“I like the scheme, I like the continuity that we have offensively with the coaches, and I feel like if we add a couple more pieces and continue to work on the execution of staying with the same playcalls, the same system, the same motions and formations and things like that, it’ll definitely help the offensive players,” Zimmer said.

 

For the first time, entering his seventh offseason in Minnesota, Zimmer is giving his assistant coaches a week off before reconvening to dissect the season and evaluate players. The Vikings’ coach did not set a time frame for deciding on the team’s next offensive coordinator.

 

“It may be by the end of the week, but it may be a couple weeks,” Zimmer said. “I want to make sure the fit is right. Those guys over there, they do an outstanding job. I love the way that they work together and communicate, and so if we do bring somebody in from the outside, I want to make sure that it’s the correct fit.”

 

Minnesota’s offense is built around a zone scheme that featured the fifth-highest percentage of play-action passes run in the NFL in 2019. It’s an offense that ranked eighth in scoring and was sixth in yards per attempt while seeing significant improvements in the running and passing games.

 

Should the Vikings hire from within, assistant head coach Gary Kubiak could replace Stefanski. The franchise brought Kubiak in last offseason to guide the offense with Stefanski while installing core principles from the system he ran over 21 seasons as a head coach or offensive coordinator. His son Klint, the Vikings’ quarterbacks coach, and Rick Dennison, the team’s offensive line coach and run game coordinator, are also expected to be in-house candidates.

 

Maintaining stability around Cousins by keeping the same system is the team’s top priority no matter who is at the helm of the offense.

 

“I think Kirk played a lot better this year than he did the year before,” Zimmer said. “I think obviously the scheme helped him quite a bit, and so I think yeah, I think this may have been his best year that he’s played in the NFL.

 

“It’ll be his fifth coordinator in five years, I think he told me yesterday, or at least voice in his ear on game day. I mean, there’s nothing I can do about that, but I think it’s important, not just for Kirk but for the entire offense, to have the same system, the same calls and things like that so that when they come in here on Day 1, it’s not completely foreign to them.”

 

The Vikings also need to find a defensive coordinator this offseason. George Edwards, who worked with Zimmer in Dallas from 1998 to 2001 and has been the Vikings’ DC since 2014, is not returning next season.

 

“He was at the end of his contract, so it was kind of a situation where it was probably best,” Zimmer said.

– – –

Can the Vikings afford to keep the Old Gang together?  Darin Gantt of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Vikings coach Mike Zimmer didn’t want to delve too deeply into discussions of particular players, in the immediate aftermath of their season crashing to a halt.

 

But Zimmer has been in the league long enough to know that change is inevitable.

 

“At the end of the day,” Zimmer said, via Ben Goessling of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, “it ends up being a young man’s game.”

 

The problem is, the Vikings are no longer a young man’s team, with a number of older and expensive stars.

 

They have three defensive regulars who will be at least 30 and carrying cap figures of $12.9 million or more — defensive end Everson Griffen, nose tackle Linval Joseph, and cornerback Xavier Rhodes. On the other side of the ball, four starters will have hit 30 with cap figures of $9.45 million or more — quarterback Kirk Cousins, left tackle Riley Reiff, wide receiver Adam Thielen and tight end Kyle Rudolph.

 

So Zimmer needs some time before he evaluates some of these guys, to do the difficult job of removing emotion from things.

 

“These players — the ones that have been with me for six years now — they’ve busted their rear ends, and they’ve done everything I’ve asked them to do. And that’s always going to come into play; how you feel about them as a person,” he said. “But I think you have to really look at: ‘He’s a great kid. He’s worked his rear end off. We love him here. Can he still play? Or, if he can still play, at what level is it?’ And then you’ve got to match that with the salary and every other thing, and match it with the salary cap. So there’s so many different variables.

 

“But I’ve been extremely fortunate here that, the players that have been here, 99 percent of them are outstanding people. They work really, really hard, and if you guys saw the way that this team approaches each day, each week, going into meetings, going into practice and saw all those things, you’d be very impressed with the way they handle themselves.”

 

Of course, the Vikings are dealing with a significant amount of change beyond the roster, as they’ll need two new coordinators, with Kevin Stefanski going to the Browns, and George Edwards’ contract expiring and not being renewed. That might actually help them take a fresh look at some hard decisions.

 

NFC EAST

 

DALLAS

Albert Breer of TheMMQB.com has some thoughts on the Cowboys coaching search:

 

I won’t say specific names, but Jerry and I spent a lot of time talking about college head football coaches,” Cowboys COO Stephen Jones told me Friday. “We talked about specific ones. We went down that road hard, internally, between the two of us in particular, but my brother [Jerry Jr.] weighed in and we talked to [VP of Player Personnel] Will [McClay]. We did our diligence. We just didn’t have anybody in for a formal interview.

 

“And in a lot of ways, that was by design, because these guys have jobs, they’re recruiting and you don’t want to rock boats.”

 

Stephen Jones knew the landscape well, too, because his son John Stephen, now playing at Arkansas, was recruited by guys like Matt Rhule and Lincoln Riley.

 

“I really got to understand what they were all about as head coaches philosophically, those type of things, so yeah, it was fortunate that I did have some real insight into some of these guys,” Jones said.

 

I expect this trend will continue, with the lines between college and pro becoming increasingly blurry. For now, let’s go through some quick hits on the now-complete 2019 hiring cycle.

 

Dallas plays it safe with Mike McCarthy. The Cowboys just paid Zeke Elliott, they’re about to pay Dak Prescott, they have to decide on paying Amari Cooper, and they have an offensive line that’s been paid and isn’t getting younger. On defense, there’s growing talent in need for leadership. Add all that up, and as Jerry and Stephen Jones saw it, this just wasn’t the time to roll the dice on a college coach or young coordinator. So, yes, the decision to hire the former Packers coach was about the current roster.

 

“No question,” Jones said. “With the roster and the shape that it was in—a lot of good players in their prime—it was the right thing to do. We came down pretty quickly, we wanted to find a coach with NFL head coaching experience.

 

“It just so happens that there was a head coach who’d been wildly successful in Green Bay, not only having winning teams, but getting to the playoffs and then having success there, the three championship games, lost a tough two and then won one, and won the Super Bowl. So the more we got in and we talked with him and you knew the skins he had on the wall, the success that he’s had, it just made all the sense for us that he was our guy.”

 

That said, Jones reiterated that he and his father did “look hard” at the college level, and the Cowboys were prepared to go there if a second phase to the search proved necessary. But the first phase, which included Stephen Jones’s old friends on the competition committee Jeff Fisher (over the phone) and Marvin Lewis (in person).

 

The other thing Jones wanted to clear up: I’d heard the now ex-Cowboys coach was over at Jerry Jones’s house on the Friday after the season ended, a day before McCarthy came in. Stephen Jones wouldn’t confirm that, but he did say that the decision to let Garrett go was tough for his whole family, and the communication with Garrett was constant through it.

 

“Really, Jerry wanted to do what Jason wanted to do every step of the way,” Stephen said. “And the big thing he needed Jason to understand was that he was going to move forward with the coaching search and that he was going to be contacting coaches and doing our diligence, and we didn’t want that to be disrespectful to him. Jason chose the timing on this, every step of the way. It was important to us that we try to accommodate him, regardless of what the press said on a lot of stuff.

 

“Unfortunately, they had this one wrong every step of the way, and we didn’t feel compelled to say anything about it. If Jason wanted to elaborate on it, he could. But, for the most part, everything that came out about Jason and our interaction with was wrong.”

 

NFC SOUTH

 

TAMPA BAY

Carson Palmer knows Bruce Arians and he has this to say.  Albert Breer:

 

Ex-Bengals/Raiders/Cardinals QB Carson Palmer was making the rounds last week, and I thought what he said to my buddies at the Rich Eisen Showwas interesting. Palmer, of course, flourished under Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians in Arizona. He was asked about Jameis Winston’s fit in Arians’ offense. His response: “You don’t have that experience in Year 1. You need Year 1 to go back and watch the film and see yourself doing it wrong and the receivers seeing themselves doing it wrong, and then Year 2, really things start to click. That chemistry starts to develop and that trust and that confidence in the offense starts to develop. If Jameis is back in Tampa, I would expect Year 2 to be a massive year for him.” We’ll see.

 

NFC WEST

 

SAN FRANCISCO

Kyle Shanahan reacts to the news that Robert Saleh didn’t get any of the currently available head coaching positions.  Matt Maiocco of NBCSports.com/Bay Area:

 

San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh received some bad news on Sunday, as the Cleveland Browns decided to go in another direction for their next head coach. 

 

Meanwhile, 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan did not even pretend to act disappointed for his top assistant.

 

“I was pumped,” Shanahan said Monday.

 

And he certainly was not kidding, either.

 

“I heard it on the way into work, so I was extremely excited,” Shanahan said of the news the Browns hired former Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski. “I definitely have some empathy for Saleh. Anyone who goes through that process and stuff, we’re all competitive and want to win and you want to get that opportunity.”

 

Shanahan said every year he is able to retain Saleh on his coaching staff will be a bonus.

 

“Saleh will be a head coach in this league, could’ve been one this year,” Shanahan said. “Most likely, he’ll be one next year. But he’s going to have the right opportunity come around for him. It’s just a matter of time. Just very happy we’re going to have him, going into next year.”

 

Shanahan stuck behind Saleh through two bad seasons. He never wavered from his belief that Saleh was the right man for the job. His confidence in the team’s defensive system and structure paid off this season, as the 49ers’ defense led the club to the NFC Championship Game on Sunday against the Green Bay Packers at Levi’s Stadium.

 

The Browns’ final decision reportedly came down to Saleh and Stefanski. Saleh’s defense got the better of Stefanski’s Vikings offense in a 27-10 victory in the divisional round of the NFC playoffs on Saturday. One day later, Stefanski got the job.

 

As for his excitement that Saleh was passed over in favor of Stefanski, Shanahan said he has nothing to hide from Saleh.

 

“He knows me well enough to know how I am, but I’m definitely excited he didn’t get it – not just for selfish reasons, because I care a lot about this organization, too,” Shanahan said, wryly. “So it definitely helps me, but it helps this whole organization. And I think it’ll help Saleh in the long run.

 

“He’s going to be a head coach. He just needs the right opportunity and he’s going to keep getting better and better, too.”

 

Serious question, does Saleh, with a heritage from Lebanon and the first Arab-American coordinator, count on the same scorecard that credits Ron Rivera for being a “minority” hire?

 

 

LOS ANGELES RAMS

Rising star (but not Rooney Rule compliant) Kevin O’Connell is back with Sean McVay.  Lindsey Thiry of ESPN.com on the two new Rams coordinators:

 

The Los Angeles Rams are finalizing deals to hire Brandon Staley as defensive coordinator and Kevin O’Connell as offensive coordinator, sources tell ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

 

Staley, who served last season as the Denver Broncos’ outside linebackers coach, replaces Wade Phillips, who earlier this week was informed that his contract would not be renewed.

 

O’Connell spent the past three seasons as an offensive assistant with the Washington Redskins and last season was promoted to offensive coordinator. O’Connell, 34, fills a role that was vacated by Matt LaFleur after the 2017 season. McVay has not employed a full-time offensive coordinator the past two seasons.

 

The Rams’ coaching staff has undergone significant changes since the end of an underwhelming season in which they finished 9-7 and missed the playoffs, less than a year after appearing in Super Bowl LIII.

 

Along with not renewing Phillips, McVay fired running backs coach Skip Peete. Special teams coordinator John Fassel, whose contract also was expiring, departed for the same post with the Dallas Cowboys.

 

The Rams have not yet named a new running backs coach or special teams coordinator.

 

Staley has spent the past three seasons coaching under Vic Fangio, who — like Phillips, runs a 3-4 scheme. Before his yearlong stint with the Broncos, Staley, 37, spent two seasons as outside linebackers coach of the Chicago Bears. He previously held several assistant roles in the college ranks.

 

Staley inherits a defense that last season ranked ninth in defensive efficiency and returns star tackle Aaron Donald and cornerback Jalen Ramsey.

 

On offense, it is expected that McVay will maintain his role as playcaller, but O’Connell will play a significant part in helping the unit rebound from a lackluster season that saw a significant decline in production.

 

Quarterback Jared Goff’s total QBR dropped from 63.7 in 2018 to 48.5, which ranked 23rd in the NFL. And the Rams’ run game behind Todd Gurley ranked 26th in yards per game, averaging only 93.7.

 

O’Connell, who was hired in Washington following McVay’s departure for L.A., spent three years with the Redskins and hoped to return as their offensive coordinator. He interviewed twice with new coach Ron Rivera but O’Connell wanted more say in his staff, a source said. Rivera hired Scott Turner as the offensive coordinator.

 

More from Albert Breer:

 

The Rams’ decision to add offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell this week, I’m told, is all about Jared Goff. Sean McVay hasn’t had anyone hold that title since LaFleur left two years ago, but it made sense to use it to land O’Connell and improve the teaching infrastructure around the team’s 24-year-old quarterback. Over the last two years, Goff has lost three trusted confidants—LaFleur, and ex-Rams QB coaches Greg Olson and Zac Taylor—and he’s been vocal about wanting more people pushing him. O’Connell, who was the Redskins offensive coordinator and play-caller in 2019, should be the perfect guy to help out. He’s a former NFL quarterback who used to train quarterbacks for the draft before getting into the coaching ranks.

 

 

SEATTLE

Pete Carroll is taking some heat for punting the ball away with three minutes left – and never getting it back.  Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com (boldface) provides the crux of the argument against the Carroll decision.

 

If the third-down conversion that had allowed the Packers to ice the clock and win the divisional round game against the Seahawks hadn’t been so close and controversial, the focal point of the final minutes of the game would have been the decision of the Seahawks to punt the ball to the Packers with 2:32 left, down five points from their own 36.

 

Seattle faced fourth and 11, after a sack that lost six yards. And so, with the clock running at 3:22, the Seahawks opted not to go for it, sending out the punt team, using most of the play clock before getting the snap off, and hoping to get the ball back, needing a touchdown to win.

 

“We were thinking about going for it in that sequence but not at fourth and 11,” coach Pete Carroll told reporters after the game. “We thought our odds were so low. We had all the clock, we had the time, we had all of the opportunities to stop them, to get the ball back. And so we didn’t want to put it all on one play.”

 

So instead of trusting Russell Wilson, who as Carroll said “was phenomenal” and “did everything he could have done,” to add to his legend by converting on fourth and 11, Carroll trusted a non-Legion of Boom defense to stop Aaron Rodgers in his home building from converting a couple of first downs and icing the game.

 

Saying “our odds were so low” grossly oversimplifies the situation. If they’d gone for it and failed, the Seahawks still would have had three time outs plus the two-minute warning. And while they would have given the Packers the ball on the fringes of field-goal range, another three points for Green Bay would have kept it to a one-score game, 31-23. So the flow-chart formula in that moment has plenty of branches, and ultimately it comes down to whether you trust Wilson to get it done against the Packers defense or whether you trust your defense to get it done against Aaron Rodgers.

 

No abacus should be needed to resolve that one.

 

But the Seahawks opted to punt, and in so doing they allowed the too many precious seconds to evaporate from the game clock. The third-down sack happened with 3:22 left; the ball was snapped for the punt with 2:41 remaining in the game.

 

Carroll was asked about the lack of urgency to get the play started. In response, he didn’t have much to say.

 

“There was a little, you know  . . . I don’t know . . . . Go ahead,” Carroll said. “That’s a good one to pick on.”

 

It is a good one to pick on, especially since throughout the second half the Seahawks displayed on offense the kind of nonchalance that suggested they didn’t realize they were trailing by multiple scores.

 

Still, the Seahawks often don’t sweat such details because they have ultimate faith in Russell Wilson. As they should. But they didn’t have faith in Wilson with the season on the line. Maybe they should have.

 

AFC WEST

 

DENVER

Pat Shurmur has landed a promising OC job.  Jeff Legwold of ESPN.com:

 

Just 14 days after saying he expected all three of his coordinators back for the 2020 season, Denver Broncos coach Vic Fangio fired offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello after one season and is finalizing a deal to make former New York Giants coach Pat Shurmur his new play-caller.

 

The team officially announced the Scangarello move Sunday afternoon. Just a few hours later, sources confirmed to ESPN an NFL Network report that Shurmur would replace him.

 

The sides are expected to finalize a deal in the coming days, sources said. Shurmur had interest from several teams, including the Chicago Bears, since he was fired by the Giants after a 4-12 finish in his second year.

 

“After a lot of consideration and discussion after the season, I determined that a change at offensive coordinator ultimately would be best for our team,” Fangio said in a statement announcing the Scangarello move. “We need to do everything we can to get better — in all areas — as we start working toward next year. Rich is a bright coach with a great future ahead of him. I appreciate all of his hard work and thank him for his contributions to the Broncos.”

 

Shurmur will be the Broncos’ fifth offensive coordinator in the past five years. Denver was the only team in the league that finished this season in the bottom five in points scored, total offense, third-down percentage and red zone success.

 

However, the day after they ended a 7-9 campaign, Fangio was asked if he expected the team’s offensive coordinator, defensive coordinator (Ed Donatell) and special teams coordinator (Tom McMahon) back for next season.

 

“I do,” he said Dec. 30. “All these guys will — we have a good staff. I’m sure some opportunities will come up for some guys. We’ll deal with those as they come.”

 

Fangio also said Scangarello and rookie quarterback Drew Lock had developed a “good trust” with each other. However, after meetings and evaluations of the team’s performance, Fangio pivoted as he informed Scangarello of the decision to fire him while reeling in Shurmur.

 

The Broncos finished 28th in total offense (298.6 yards per game) and scoring (17.6) this season, as well as 30th on third down and 28th in red zone efficiency. The team scored 16 or fewer points in eight games, including seven of their nine losses.

 

Shurmur is known to have scouted Lock extensively before last April’s NFL draft, and some of his close associates in the league said Sunday they believed he preferred Lock over Daniel Jones, whom the Giants selected in the first round.

 

Shurmur was the Philadelphia Eagles’ offensive coordinator in 2013 and ’14, when they finished fourth and third, respectively, in the league in points scored. He was the Vikings’ offensive coordinator in 2017, when Minnesota finished 10th in the league in scoring with backup Case Keenum making 14 starts at quarterback.

 

Fangio, as the Bears’ defensive coordinator, faced the Vikings twice a season when Shurmur was calling plays in Minnesota in 2016 and ’17.

 

Scangarello, 47, had been in his first season as an NFL play-caller after a long career in college football. Because of his time with Kyle Shanahan on the Atlanta Falcons and San Francisco 49ers’ staffs, he had the offensive scheme Fangio and Broncos president of football operations/general manager John Elway had said they wanted, resulting in them signing him to a two-year deal.

 

But the Broncos got off to an 0-4 start and after their Week 8 loss to the Colts in Indianapolis, quarterback Joe Flacco criticized the team’s play-calling as too conservative.

 

Fangio wanted a more experienced play-caller who can bring an increased downfield element in the passing game as well as implementing some of the jet motion and open formations the best offenses in the league employ.

 

This from Albert Breer:

 

The Broncos’ logic on switching out coordinators was pretty simple and has been in the works for a while: Vic Fangio wanted a more aggressive offense to mirror his defense. Former OC Rich Scangarello wasn’t sold on QB Drew Lock in the beginning and was conservative with him when he did play. (To be fair, Denver was top five in fewest giveaways.) And when Fangio instructed Scangarello to be more aggressive a couple times during the year, it didn’t manifest in any more explosive plays. That, plus some staff friction, put Scangarello’s job status on my radar around Thanksgiving, and so the only surprise now is that it didn’t happen faster after the season ended. The hope is that incoming coordinator Shurmur can generate more big plays (his offenses have been good in that area in recent years), to go with the experience and quarterback knowhow that Lock should benefit from.

 

AFC NORTH

 

CLEVELAND

Browns insight from Albert Breer:

 

It was always going to be starting over (Josh McDaniels) versus going forward with a revised version of what they’ve been building the last five years (Kevin Stefanski).

 

McDaniels, I’m told, was very impressive, and had a thorough, detailed plan for what he wanted to do with the organization. My sense is that it would’ve meant change on a lot of different levels, change in the reporting structure—a lot of turnover throughout the building. I don’t think this was about personnel control. I think it was more about how the entire football operation was aligned, with guys like Pats exec Dave Ziegler coming aboard.

 

Stefanski really did blow the Browns away last year, and in his first go-round as a head coach won’t require as much change. Paul DePodesta, whose contract was close to expiration going into the search, can probably continue in his role as chief strategy officer, largely from his home in San Diego. Andrew Berry, a favorite of DePodesta and owner Jimmy Haslam, will likely return after a year away as the Eagles’ VP of football operations. And Berry and Stefanski have the beginnings of a relationship, having kept in touch after last January’s interview in Berea.

 

Now, here’s the question: Why would the Browns run back DePodesta and Berry, a couple guys who were in positions of power in 2016 and ’17, years when the team went 1–31? The answer, I think, is that Haslam wants to go deeper into analytics, all-in this time with a coach who lines up with the front office, and he listened to the brass’ pitch that it be involved at every level, even game-planning.

 

(In doing so, he’s implicitly blaming coaching for everything that went wrong in 2016 and ’17.)

 

So Stefanski it is. And the reason why is easy: Because, really, that’s what the owner wants.

 

Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer hears an interesting rumor on the defensive coordinator postion:

 

Former Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, 72, is on the Browns’ radar to run Kevin Stefanski’s defense, sources tell cleveland.com.

 

Phillips’ contract with the Rams expired after three seasons, and he announced on Twitter last week that they’re not renewing it.

 

But the former head coach of six NFL teams — a league-high — also said in the same Tweet that he wants to continue coaching.

 

Stefanski, who will be introduced as the Browns’ 18th full-time head coach in a press conference on Tuesday, is expected to interview a number of candidates for the job, including current Browns defensive coordinator Steve Wilks. Wilks was set to become Stefanski’s defensive coordinator if he got the Browns job last year, and will likely be under consideration again this time around. Vikings defensive coordinator George Edward, whose contract is not being renewed, is also on the radar.

– – –

One drawback to Phillips is that he runs a 3-4 defense, and the Browns would have to overhaul their defensive front again. The scheme might not fit the Browns’ best defensive player in Myles Garrett, who would likely have to convert from defensive end to outside linebacker.

 

– – –

George Paton’s name is now in the GM mix, along with Eagles exec Andrew Berry.

 

The Browns have their new head coach in place, and it appears he might be bringing someone from Minnesota along with him.

 

Vikings assistant general manager George Paton is expected to interview for Cleveland’s vacant general manager job, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported, per a source informed of the situation. This development is significant, Rapoport added, because Paton hasn’t always accepted interview requests, but is close with Kevin Stefanski, whom the Browns announced Monday as its new head coach.

 

“We are thrilled to welcome Kevin as the next head coach of the Cleveland Browns,” Browns owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam said in a statement released by the team Monday evening. “We were looking for a strong leader of this football team, a very bright coach with a high football IQ, who could establish a strong understanding of what he expected of his players, hold them accountable and confidently navigate the challenges and opportunities that present themselves throughout a season. Kevin exemplifies these qualities and more.

 

“He has a tremendous ability to relate well and communicate well with his players, has experienced many coaching facets of a team, and understands how to put them in the best position to succeed while also establishing a winning culture. Kevin, Michelle and their family will be tremendous additions to the Cleveland community and we look forward to having him lead our football team.”

 

Rapoport reported it’s a five-year deal for Stefanski.

 

He is making the move to Cleveland after a season and a half spent as Minnesota’s offensive coordinator, where he worked with veteran coach Gary Kubiak in building an offense around the Vikings’ playmakers en route to a wild-card berth and run to the Divisional Round of the NFC playoffs.

 

“It’s very exciting obviously for me and my family,” Stefanski said in the same statement. “We’re really looking forward to moving out here and getting situated in Cleveland and the adventure of it all. From my professional level, I just could not be more eager to get to work with this group. I think we have some really good players here. I think we have some outstanding people in this building.

 

“I know we have to add a GM and add some more pieces to this puzzle. I think the eager part for me is to get to work, buckle down and start to put together a program. Before you know it, the players are back in the building and we’re going to be putting a system together offensively, defensively, etc. I think that’s the fun part, when these guys get back in this building.”

 

Berry could still get in the mix, he used to work for the Browns, then ske-daddled after the disastrous hire of Freddie Kitchens.  Jeff Kerr of CBSSports.com:

 

Berry left for Philadelphia last February following the Browns’ hire of Freddie Kitchens as head coach a month prior. CBS Sports NFL Insider Jason La Canfora reported how the Browns hire of Kitchens was finalized, with Berry being one of the two votes against Kitchens.

 

“There were six people most directly involved with the hiring process a year ago, with the Browns myriad coaching searches often playing out in different shapes, but always with owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam choosing the candidate they felt most strongly about.

 

“Last year that couple, and their son-in-law, JW Johnson, led the search along with Dorsey, chief strategy officer Paul DePodesta – a mainstay in the coaching searches – and then-executive Andrew Berry.

 

“That six-person party was involved in all of the interviews and when the interviews were complete, each had a voice in “voting” essentially for the candidate of their choosing, sources said. In the end, only DePodesta and Berry tallied a dissenting vote when it came down to the finalists, with Kitchens prevailing by a 4-2 margin.”

 

Prior to his time with the Browns, Berry worked for the Indianapolis Colts for seven years (2009 to 2015). He was originally hired by Indianapolis as a scouting assistant and was promoted to pro scout in 2011. One year later, he was elevated to pro scouting coordinator and served in that role for his final four seasons with the club. During Berry’s tenure in Indianapolis, the Colts won four AFC South titles, made five postseason appearances and advanced to Super Bowl 44.

 

“Andrew Berry is one of the brightest young men we ever had the pleasure of working with. He came to us very early in his career and very soon we realized he was on a fast track,” former Colts president/general manager Bill Polian said about Berry when he was hired by the Browns in 2016. “I am not surprised the Browns hired him for this very important position. I assure you he has both the capacity and the will to do an outstanding job. The Browns have made, in my humble opinion, a great hire.”

 

Berry graduated from Harvard University with a bachelor’s degree in economics and a master’s degree in computer science. He also played football for the Crimson, starting all four years at cornerback and earning All-Ivy League honors three times.

 

This from Mary Kay Cabot – maybe it was the Panthers who were blocked:

 

The Panthers want Browns GM candidate Andrew Berry too, a league source told cleveland.com, but will have to give him final say over the roster to get the interview.

 

As first reported Monday night by cleveland.com, the Panthers have requested permission to interview Berry, the Eagles VP of Football Operations, as their Executive Vice President of Football Operations.

 

But even though it’s a promotion, the Eagles denied permission, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network. It’s standard operating procedure in the NFL to deny permission to personnel executives unless they’re granted final authority of the new team’s roster.

 

In Cleveland, the new GM will have that all-important final say.

 

In the case of the Panthers, Marty Hurney has it, and owner David Tepper apparently wants to keep it that way.

 

But if he really wants to pair Berry, 32, with new head coach Matt Rhule, he’ll have to up the ante and give Berry that important distinction, which would include authority over the draft, free agency, trades and all other roster moves.

 

If Tepper doesn’t change the parameters, Eagles GM Howie Roseman won’t let Berry take the interview. He has, however, granted permission for the Browns interview because Berry would be the primary decision-maker. Berry’s interview will take place this week in Cleveland, as first reported by cleveland.com on Monday morning.

 

If Berry is blocked from interviewing with the Panthers, it increases the likelihood that he’ll be hired as GM of the Browns, where he’d be reunited with Chief Strategy Officer Paul DePodesta and new head coach Kevin Stefanski, whom he got to know during the Browns’ search last year.

 

AFC SOUTH

 

HOUSTON

Bill O’Brien will continue to be the main man in all aspects of Houston’s football operation.  Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle:

 

The leadership structure of the Texans isn’t changing, according to coach Bill O’Brien.

 

O’Brien will continue to operate as the de facto general manager with the Texans not planning to hire a general manager. O’Brien will keep working in tandem with multiple key executives, including Jack Easterby, Matt Bazirgan, Chris Olsen and James Liipfert.

 

“The way I see it right now, it stays the way it is,” O’Brien said Monday during a season-ending press conference at NRG Stadium. “We have a great group of people.”

 

The Texans made a run at New England Patriots executive Nick Caserio after firing general manager Brian Gaine, but briefly drew a tampering charge before it was dropped when they agreed to no longer pursue him.

 

O’Brien worked in an aggressive capacity, executing several trades and waiver claims to try to upgrade the roster.

 

In other topics, O’Brien said that the Texans will work to try to secure Pro Bowl quarterback Deshaun Watson with a long-term contract extension.

 

“We want him to be a Houston Texan for the rest of his career,” O’Brien said. “We obviously want Deshaun Watson here for a long time.”

 

O’Brien had a similar take on Pro Bowl left tackle Laremy Tunsil.

 

“I can unequivocally state to you that we want Laremy here for a long time,” O’Brien said.

 

O’Brien added that the team intends to sit down with Pro Bowl alternate nose tackle D.J. Reader. Reader is a pending unrestricted free agent.

 

 

JACKSONVILLE

John DeFilippo lasted one year with the Jaguars.  Michael DiRocco of ESPN.com:

 

The Jaguars and offensive coordinator John DeFilippo have mutually agreed to part ways after just one season, the team announced Monday.

 

The Jaguars finished middle of the pack in yardage categories last season but managed only 18.8 points per game. DeFilippo also dealt with an injury to quarterback Nick Foles and wasn’t able to get him rolling again when he returned to the lineup in November. The Jaguars eventually finished the season with sixth-round rookie Gardner Minshew at quarterback.

 

Head coach Doug Marrone hired DeFilippo last January to fix a Jaguars offense that had scored just two touchdowns in the last five games and ranked 27th in total offense and 31st in scoring. Improvement seemed inevitable after the Jaguars signed Foles in free agency two months later. DeFilippo worked with Foles in 2017 during his two seasons as the Eagles’ quarterback coach.

 

Foles suffered a broken collarbone just 11 snaps into the season opener, and the Jaguars had to turn to Minshew, who led the team to a 4-4 record as a starter (and 4-5 overall) heading into the team’s bye week. Foles returned to the lineup but struggled in three starts before eventually being benched at halftime of the Tampa Bay game on Dec. 1. Minshew finished the season as the starter and led all rookie quarterbacks in victories (six) and passer rating (91.2) in addition to throwing for franchise rookie records in yards (3,271) and touchdowns (26) and throwing only six interceptions.

 

DeFilippo moved on to Minnesota to be the offensive coordinator in 2018, but coach Mike Zimmer fired him after 13 games. Quarterback Kirk Cousins set career highs in completion percentage (70.1) and touchdown passes (30) and threw only 10 interceptions in 2018, but the Vikings ranked 17th in total offense, 30th in rushing and 20th in scoring at the time DeFilippo was fired.

 

DeFilippo didn’t have a problem running the ball in 2019. Leonard Fournette set career highs in carries (265), rushing yards (1,125), receptions (75) and yards from scrimmage (1,674). DeFilippo’s first season as an offensive coordinator in the NFL came in 2015 with Cleveland. The Browns ranked 25th in total offense and 30th in scoring, and quarterbacks Josh McCown and Johnny Manziel combined to throw for 3,609 yards and 19 touchdowns with nine interceptions. He joined the Eagles as quarterbacks coach under Doug Pederson the next season.

 

 

TENNESSEE

We barely knew that Arthur Smith was the first-year OC at Tennessee, instantly promoted from tight ends coach after wunderkind Matt LaFleur got the head coaching job in Green Bay.

 

There is a lot more to know about Smith, as detailed by Roman Stubbs of the Washington Post:

 

Arthur Smith is often one of the last coaches to emerge from the Tennessee Titans’ facility late at night, and a few times a week he will call his father for 15 minutes or so. Fred Smith usually will be getting ready for bed when his phone rings, ready to sleep off another day as the founder and CEO of FedEx, but he always takes his son’s call.

 

One night this season, as Arthur was managing his first year as the Titans’ offensive coordinator, he asked his dad whether he knew General Jim Mattis, the former U.S. secretary of defense. Of course he did, his father replied. Fred Smith was a decorated Marine before he became a business tycoon and one of the richest men in the world — he’s also a shareholder of the Washington Redskins — so he put Arthur in touch.

 

“He asked him how he assessed opponents, about how he adjusted to different situations,” Fred Smith said of his son’s conversation with Mattis. “He’s just a sponge for people who are good at their jobs and who have to both manage and lead people. I tried to steer Arthur to the study of the great captains, to understand what leadership is all about.”

 

Fred Smith said that his son has kept in touch with Mattis throughout the Titans’ playoff run — which began with an upset win over the New England Patriots in the first round last week and will continue with Saturday’s divisional-round road game against the top-seeded Baltimore Ravens — and that unlikely relationship helps illustrate the reputation that Arthur Smith has developed in his first season calling plays.

 

Those close to Smith, who was not made available for comment by the Titans, describe him as a coach who relentlessly puts in long hours during the season. He’s a voracious reader, known often to devour the Wall Street Journal, and he’s constantly looking to learn from figures outside of football to help fine-tune his leadership of the Titans’ offense, the franchise’s highest-scoring unit in 16 years.

 

The success of the offense has hinged on a midseason change at quarterback — Ryan Tannehill took over for Marcus Mariota and rebooted his career — and leaned heavily on running back Derrick Henry, the NFL’s rushing leader. But Smith also has earned his share of credit, including from CBS announcer Tony Romo during Saturday’s broadcast of Tennessee’s upset win over the Patriots. Smith has found success blending a run-heavy playbook that features crafty play-action, bootlegs and screens — all of which have cast the 37-year-old as a young, innovative offensive mind in a league that increasingly values that ability.

 

It’s exactly what Tennessee Coach Mike Vrabel expected after former offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur left to become the Green Bay Packers’ head coach last offseason, leading Vrabel to promote Smith from his job as tight ends coach.

 

“I thought he was ready,” Vrabel said. “I thought he has continued to grow and develop. He’s put a lot of work in. He does a nice job during the game of making adjustments, and he has a great relationship with the quarterbacks and the entire offense.”

 

It has been Smith’s ability to forge tight relationships with his players that has made him enough of a fixture to remain on staff of four different head coaches in Tennessee. When he arrived in 2011, he landed on the other side of the ball as a defensive quality control coach, working closely with the team’s linebackers coach, Dave McGinnis.

 

One of McGinnis’s duties, with Smith assisting, was to scout opponents, analyze their protections and to formulate the Titans’ pressure packages.

 

“Arthur took it to a completely different level,” said McGinnis, who also was entrusted on game-plan day to get in front of his fellow coaches and present his strategy. He recommended that Smith do it instead.

 

“He was marvelous,” said McGinnis, who is now the color commentator for the Titans Radio Network. “There’s something to say that there is no job too small for you to do, and there’s also something to say that there’s no job too big for you to handle. That’s Arthur.”

 

Smith was determined to coach from an early age. His father often would observe him during backyard football games directing other kids on plays. Fred Smith wanted his son to become a better reader and student, so he sent him to board at Georgetown Prep, a private school in North Bethesda. By the end of his sophomore year, he had become a devoted student and had taken command of offseason workouts with the football team, becoming a college prospect at offensive tackle. He would make recommendations to his coaches on the team’s veer offense, and he often would bury himself in the team’s offices to watch hours of game film.

 

 “He was a constant studier,” Georgetown Prep Coach Dan Paro said. “He was born to live somewhere in the game of football.”

 

Smith’s football career at the University of North Carolina was interrupted by a serious foot injury, but that season he sat out also allowed him to study the game analytically from the sideline. He stayed on as a graduate assistant in 2006, followed by a stint as a defensive quality coach with the Washington Redskins under Joe Gibbs.

 

“I think the most important thing for Arthur with the Redskins, when he was there, was watching Joe Gibbs,” Fred Smith said. “I think he was so impressed by Joe Gibbs’s philosophy, the way he managed and led the Redskins, I think Arthur has modeled a lot of what he has done in his career after Joe Gibbs.”

 

After leaving the Redskins in 2008, he nearly joined the Marines, his father said, but the pins in his foot kept him from enlisting. It may have been easy for Smith to work for his father, who according to Forbes is worth $3.7 billion, but he was drawn back to coaching and eventually landed in Tennessee, where he has worked on the staffs of head coaches Mike Munchak, Ken Whisenhunt, Mike Mularkey and Vrabel.

 

 “He has an insight into players, and he generates trust from players,” McGinnis said.

 

That trust could be felt by Washington Redskins physician John Tabacco this offseason when a former Titans player joined the Redskins for training camp. Tabacco introduced himself as a childhood friend of Smith’s — they played on the offensive line together at Georgetown Prep — and asked the player about his time with Smith in Tennessee.

 

“I was just trying to make chitchat,” Tabacco said of the interaction. “He choked up and said, ‘I’ve never met a guy so trustworthy, so direct and who really lets you know where you stand.’ ”

 

Those were some of the qualities that Fred Smith wanted to instill in his son from an early age, when Arthur would constantly be asking questions about how things worked. He’s still asking his father questions every few nights in their brief phone conversations after long days at the Titans’ facility, and Fred Smith always tries to help, whether it’s just to offer advice or to pass along the contact info of a military commander.

 

“He’s his own man, I can assure you that,” Fred Smith said of his son. “Nobody in his family is surprised at what Arthur is doing.”

 

When Fred Smith talks about “no one in his family”, there are a lot of people in that family.

 

This from Wikipedia:

 

Smith’s father is FedEx founder Frederick W. Smith. He and his wife, Allison, reside in Nashville with their three children, Tanner, Sophie, and William “Liam”. He has eight siblings.

 

AFC EAST

 

NEW ENGLAND

Did Bill Belichick do OC Josh McDaniels wrong?  Or did he do the Giants wrong by foisting Joe Judge upon them?  Jason LaCanfora of CBSSports.com:

 

New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick refused to allow longtime offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels to move up his scheduled interviews with teams interested in him as a head coaching candidate to the start of this week, league sources said, at the same time he pushed special teams coordinator Joe Judge for the New York Giants’ coaching vacancy and greenlit a Monday interview for him.

 

Belichick and owner Robert Kraft have long been worried about losing McDaniels, who has a very strong bond with Hall of Fame free agent quarterback Tom Brady and is one of the best play designers and play callers in football. Kraft and Belichick went to great lengths to persuade McDaniels not pull out of his agreement to become head coach of the Colts in 2017, as is well documented, and Belichick has a reputation for being difficult to work with when it comes to other teams looking to hire an assistant he does not want to lose.

 

Despite New England being eliminated from the playoffs in the Wild Card round Saturday night, multiple sources from teams that had requested interviews with McDaniels said Belichick would not relent to move up their window to speak with McDaniels in the immediate days following that defeat. Brady’s future is very much in limbo, with the 42-year old quarterback contemplating playing elsewhere in 2020, sources said, which would make retaining McDaniels even more paramount as there is no set replacement on staff and Brady has been in one offense his entire career.

 

At the same time, Belichick was advocating for Judge for the Giants job, knowing that they couldn’t hire both him and McDaniels. The Browns, Giants, and Panthers all requested interviews with McDaniels at the conclusion of the regular season. Belichick would not allow McDaniels to meet the Panthers on Monday, the same day Judge was interviewing with the Giants; Baylor coach Matt Rhule met with the Panthers on Tuesday and was hired by Wednesday.

 

McDaniels did eventually interview with the Browns on Friday; he was set to meet with the Panthers in New England on Tuesday and with the Giants in New York on Wednesday, prior to both teams filling their vacancies, sources said

 

The Panthers were extremely high on McDaniels, sources said, and had his interview been before Rhule’s it is quite possible owner David Tepper would have acted to quickly hire him as well. That was not the case – McDaniels and Rhule are both represented by Athlete’s First – and Rhule was hired by Tuesday with the Giants not wanting to risk losing Judge to Mississippi State or McDaniels to go elsewhere, they hired Judge within hours of the Panthers landing Rhule, whom New York sought to interview on Tuesday.

– – –

S PATRICK CHUNG has made peace with authorities in New Hampshire.  The AP:

 

A cocaine possession charge against New England Patriots safety Patrick Chung will be dropped with the understanding that he will undergo periodic drug testing and perform 40 hours of community service, a prosecutor said Monday.

 

A grand jury in New Hampshire indicted Chung in August. Belknap County Attorney Andrew Livernois had said members of the Meredith, New Hampshire, police department were called to Chung’s home in June and obtained evidence leading to the felony drug charge. Chung pleaded not guilty.

 

A hearing on Chung’s case was scheduled for Tuesday, but was canceled with the release of the agreement.

 

Livernois said there are several factors that led the state to agree to drop the charge, including that Chung has no criminal record; that he cooperated with police at his home; that the amount of drugs in question was small; and that Chung underwent a substance abuse evaluation that indicated he did not need treatment.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

BROADCAST NEWS

ESPN is going hard after Tony Romo, but CBS can match the huge offer.  So says Michael McCarthy of Front Office Sports:

 

ESPN is preparing an offer that would make Tony Romo the highest-paid sportscaster in TV history, with a multi-year deal that would pay him between $10 million to $14 million annually, said sources.

 

ESPN declined to comment. A representative for Romo could not be reached for comment.

 

If signed by ESPN, Romo could succeed Booger McFarland as the analyst on “Monday Night Football,” said sources. Romo could also potentially quarterback ESPN’s NFL game coverage if parent Disney acquires a Sunday afternoon game package from rival Fox Sports, CBS Sports, and NBC Sports during the next round of NFL TV negotiations in 2020-2021.

 

No deal has been signed yet, and one source said any negotiation for a new contract for Romo might not wrap up until a month or two after Super Bowl 54.

 

CBS also has a right to match any offers for Romo, according to sources.

 

A deal of this size would possibly reset the pay scale for top TV sports personalities.

 

The 39-year-old former Dallas Cowboy quarterback is currently making about $4 million annually on the final year of his three-year rookie broadcasting deal at CBS.

 

Troy Aikman, Fox’s top NFL game analyst, makes around $7.5 million per year.

 

Before returning to the Oakland Raiders, Jon Gruden earned over $6 million a year from ESPN to call Monday Night Football. During the early 1990s, John Madden made $8 million a year.

 

CBS sports chiefs Sean McManus and David Berson gambled on Romo in 2017, installing the TV rookie as its number one game analyst over veteran Phil Simms. He has since established himself as one of the best NFL analysts alongside play-by-play announcer Jim Nantz.

 

Romo’s commercial profile has also risen during his time as a broadcaster, and he currently has deals with Corona, Skechers, and Chaps by Ralph Lauren.