AROUND THE NFL
A note from Scott Kacsmar:
Wow, just looked and this is the first time in the 16-game era where no NFL team finished 8-8.
The Vikings were 8-7-1, the Browns 7-8-1.
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At the moment, there are eight coaching vacancies. John Harbaugh’s situation puts Baltimore in play for number nine.
Members of the media are concerned with who got fired to create the openings. These from Mike Freeman and Jim Trotter:
Coaching firings are bad overall but five black coaches fired: Marvin Lewis, Steve Wilks, Vance Joseph, Todd Bowles, Hue Jackson.
Eight total vacancies.
Not a good look for diversity today in the NFL. In 2006, when Commissioner Goodell was hired, there were seven minority coaches and four minority general managers. Today there are three minority HCs and 1 minority GM after Ozzie retires.
Hard to say Lewis didn’t get long enough on the job. Same with Bowles and Jackson.
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None of the openings will be filled by flavor of the year, Lincoln Riley who re-upped at Oklahoma even after being blitzed by Alabama. Peter King has this quote:
“I don’t see that [an NFL head-coaching job] as a step up, not in this profession. It’s not a burning desire of mine by any stretch right now. Not even close. It doesn’t compare to my burning desire to win a national championship here.”
—Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley, after losing the college semifinal to Alabama, on his thoughts about being interested in an NFL job.
Again, we wonder, has Lincoln Riley ever attended an NFL game in person?
Meanwhile, a guy that Riley (and Todd Herrman and others) ran out of the Big 12 is getting NFL love. Jeremy Bergman of NFL.com:
Less than one month after signing on to be USC’s next offensive coordinator, Kliff Kinsgbury is back on the interview circuit.
The former Texas Tech head coach is interviewing with the Arizona Cardinals and New York Jets regarding their vacant head coach positions, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Tuesday.
Kingsbury was named the Trojans OC in early December after being let go by the Red Raiders.
Like his former Big 12 colleague Lincoln Riley, who signed a contract extension to remain Oklahoma’s head coach on Tuesday, Kingsbury is a highly regarded offensive mind garnering professional attention, one who is also responsible for shaping two of the league’s hottest quarterbacks. Kingsbury coached both Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield and Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes while at Tech.
The Cardinals and Jets boast young, promising quarterbacks in Josh Rosen and Sam Darnold, respectively, on whom Kingsbury could presumably work his magic.
Kingsbury has history with the Jets. He attempted his only career passes in the NFL as a member of the Jets in 2005. One fell incomplete; the other was a 17-yard completion to Dante Ridgeway.
Kingsbury’s coaching career began at the University of Houston in 2008. He was hired as Texas Tech head coach in 2013 and held that position for six seasons. During his time there, Tech saw two seasons above .500 and went 1-2 in bowl games.
The 39-year-old Kingsbury has never coached in any capacity at the professional level.
That said, Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com notes that folks who actually have done the job aren’t getting any phone calls:
As the eight NFL teams — 25 percent of the league — begin searching aggressively for a new coach, there are plenty of former NFL coaches who are available to be interviewed and/or considered. Not many are drawing much interest, yet.
Former Lions and Colts coach Jim Caldwell will get multiple interviews, as will former Colts coach Chuck Pagano. Former Bills head coach (and Browns interim coach) Gregg Williams, former Broncos coach Vance Joseph, former Dolphins coach Adam Gase, and former Packers coach Mike McCarthy will have interviews, too. Former Raiders and Browns coach Hue Jackson could end up getting hired as the new head coach in Cincinnati. Former Raiders, Broncos, and Washington coach Mike Shanahan could return to Denver, and former Cardinals coach Bruce Arians could become a candidate for the Buccaneers’ job.
For now, though, a long list of former NFL coaches are waiting for the phone to ring. If they’d answer. And plenty would. Here’s a list of guys who are out there. In no particular order.
Jeff Fisher (60): The former Oilers/Titans and Rams coach has a career record of 178-171-1, including a Super Bowl appearance and six postseason berths.
Jim Mora (57): The former Falcons and Seahawks coach has a 32-34 record in the NFL, and a 46-30 record at UCLA. He took the Falcons to the NFC title game in 2004.
Mike Mularkey (57): The former Bills, Jaguars, and Titans coach has a career record of 37-54. He took the Titans to the final eight last year.
Jim Schwartz (52): The former Lions head coach generated a 29-52 record in Detroit, taking over after the 0-16 disaster of 2008. He lead the Lions to a playoff berth, and he has coordinated the Philadelphia defense for the last three seasons.
Rex Ryan (56): The former Jets and Bills coach has a 65-68 career record; he’s 4-2 in the postseason with a pair of AFC title game appearances.
Mike Pettine (52): The Packers defensive coordinator was 10-22 in two seasons as Browns coach.
Rob Chudzinski (50): The one-and-done Browns coach won four of 16 games in his only season.
Joe Philbin (57): The Packers interim head coach was 26-30 in three-plus seasons with the Dolphins.
Gus Bradley (52): The former Jaguars coach, now the Chargers defensive coordinator, went 14-48 in nearly four seasons in Jacksonville.
Ken Whisenhunt (56): The former Cardinals and Titans coach has a career record of 52-73, including two playoff berths and a Super Bowl appearance. He’s now the Chargers offensive coordinator.
Ben McAdoo (41): The former Giants coach took the team to the playoffs in his first year, but he was fired late in his second season. He went 13-16.
Jack Del Rio (55): The former Jaguars and Raiders coach went 94-97 with three playoff appearances.
Brad Childress (62): The former Vikings coach, 40-37 during his time in Minnesota, was fired during the 2010 season and never seriously considered for another head-coaching job in the NFL. He had two playoff appearances and a berth in the 2009 NFC title game. He’s currently the coach of the AAF’s Atlanta Legends.
Lovie Smith (60): The former Bears and Buccaneers coach went 89-87 in the NFL, taking the Bears to Super Bowl XLI. He has had three disastrous seasons at Illinois, winning nine and losing 27.
Leslie Frazier (59): The former Vikings coach went 21-33-1, with one playoff berth. He currently serves as the Bills defensive coordinator.
Dirk Koetter (59): The former Bucs coach was fired after completing his third season, winning 19 of 48 games.
Todd Haley (51): The former Chiefs coach went 19-27 in nearly three seasons, with one playoff berth. He served as the Steelers offensive coordinator for six seasons before joining the Browns in that same capacity, getting fired early in his first season.
Rod Marinelli (69): The former Lions coach had a record of 10-38, including 0-16 in 2008. He currently serves as the Cowboys defensive coordinator, and he never has been linked to another head-coaching job.
Marc Trestman (62): He went 13-19 in two years with the Bears; he was fired by the Toronto Argonauts a year after winning the Grey Cup.
Greg Schiano (52): The former Buccaneers coach went 11-21 in two seasons. He currently serves as the defensive coordinator at Ohio State.
Eric Mangini (47): The former Jets and Browns coach went 33-48 in the NFL. He has been out of coaching since 2015, after a three-year stint with the 49ers as an assistant.
Jim Tomsula (50): The former 49ers coach had one full year on the job, going 5-11. He’s the defensive line coach in Washington.
Chip Kelly (55): The former Eagles and 49ers coach won 28 and lost 35, with one playoff appearance.
John Fox (63): Fox, now an ESPN analyst, racked up a record of 141-130 with the Panthers, Broncos, and Bears, making it to seven postseasons, with two Super Bowls.
Mike McCoy (46): The former Chargers coach went 28-38 with a playoff berth.
Norv Turner (66): The former Washington, Raiders, and Chargers coach went 118-126-1, with four playoff berths.
Steve Spagnuolo (59): The former Rams coach lasted 52 games, winning 11. He’s currently out of football.
Tom Cable (54): The former Raiders coach went 17-27. After seven years as the offensive line coach in Seattle, he was fired. In 2018, Cable returned to Oakland in that same role.
Mike Smith (59): The former Falcons coach went 67-50 with four playoff appearances and an NFC title game loss. He was fired during the 2018 season as defensive coordinator in Tampa.
Wade Phillips (71): The former Broncos, Bills, and Cowboys coach went 83-69 with five playoff appearances. He coordinated the Broncos’ championship defense in 2015, and he has spent the last two years running the Rams’ defense.
Dennis Allen (46): The former Raiders coach went 8-28. He has served as the Saints defensive coordinator since 2015.
Herm Edwards (64): The former Jets and Chiefs coach went 56-78 with four playoff appearances. He left broadcasting to become the head coach at Arizona State in 2018.
So who is the best name on the no-call list? Whisenhunt? Del Rio? Mularkey? Can Eric Mangini really be only 47 years old?
A rookie head coach is Peter King’s Coach of the Year:
Coach: Matt Nagy, Chicago
Some strong contenders here, but I like the impact of Nagy. The Bears in the four years pre-Nagy: 5-11, 6-10, 3-13, 5-11. GM Ryan Pace hired Nagy in January from Kansas City, and he won more games than any first-year coach ever in franchise history (including George Halas with the pre-Bear 10-1-2 Decatur Staleys in 1920). Nagy did a smart thing in hiring a smart coach he didn’t know and empowering him—offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich—to help Mitchell Trubisky grow. We don’t know if Trubisky’s going to be really good, but Nagy did an excellent job of managing Trubisky and hiding his weaknesses.
Two things put me over the top with Nagy. After the devastating opening-night loss in Green Bay, he kept the team together, and the Bears won the next three (by an 88-41 count) to establish that he knew what he was doing. And I loved what he did in a stunning OT loss to the Giants in New Jersey in Week 13: Down seven in the last 10 seconds, he called a double reverse/halfback pass, and Tarik Cohen threw the tying pass to send the game to overtime. Chicago lost, but I love a coach who’s willing to put the game in such a risky scenario because he’s so confident in his players. Doug Pederson did it with Trey Burton and Nick Foles in the Super Bowl; Matt Nagy did it with Tarik Cohen and Anthony Miller with home-field in the playoffs on the line. That’s good coaching.
Next: 2. Anthony Lynn, T-3. Pete Carroll and Frank Reich.
The DB would have Sean Payton somewhere on that ballot, perhaps at the top.
Jim Bob Cooter is out as Detroit’s OC. Dave Birkett in the Detroit Free Press:
The Detroit Lions’ disappointing season has claimed another victim.
The Lions announced Tuesday they will not renew the contract of offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter, two days after finishing Matt Patricia’s inaugural season as head coach with a 6-10 record.
Cooter’s dismissal comes as no surprise given the Lions’ weekly struggle to score points this year and the apparent regression of Matthew Stafford as quarterback.
Cooter, who reportedly coached this season on an expiring contract, said Friday that he takes “ownership” of the Lions’ offensive problems this year, even as Patricia complimented the job he did dealing with injuries and adverse situations.
The Lions lost running back Kerryon Johnson and receiver Marvin Jones to injuries in the second half of the season, and traded Golden Tate to the Philadelphia Eagles at the October deadline.
“It’s my job as offensive coordinator to do everything in my power for our offense to go out there and help our team win,” Cooter said. “Ideally, that’s scoring more points every week, getting better as we go, improving and all that. So, yeah, ownership and accountability is something I believe’s really important for our offense, in this game, in this life, so I’ll take that. It’s on me at the end of the day to put our guys in position to make plays and do a little bit better, play a little bit better.”
Cooter initially took over as play caller during trying circumstances, when Joe Lombardi was fired seven games into the 2015 season, hours before the Lions left for a trip to London to face the Kansas City Chiefs.
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Stafford made a public plea for the Lions to retain Cooter as coordinator immediately after last season, and Patricia, with few other available options, heeded his quarterback’s wish.
The pairing showed promise, as the Lions had a functional running game for the first time in decades, but ultimately flamed out amid injuries and inconsistent play from Stafford.
The Lions finished 24th in total offense and 25th in scoring offense this year, and scored their fewest points (324)since 2014, when the team had the league’s No. 2 defense. Along with injuries to Johnson and Jones, the Lions played most of the season without right guard T.J. Lang, and Stafford battled a back injury for much of December.
The Lions failed to score more than 22 points in all but one of their nine games after the Tate trade, and averaged just 22.8 points in 57 games with Cooter as coordinator.
Given the chance, Stafford did not stump for Cooter’s return when asked last week.
“I’ve always enjoyed working with Jim Bob,” Stafford said plainly. “I think he’s a smart coach. I’ve had a lot of success under him. We’ve scored a bunch of points and done a lot of really good things under him.”
Cooter, for his part, seemed to acknowledge this move was coming during his weekly teleconference with reporters on Friday.
He started his call by joking, “I’m sure you guys are excited like I am for this particular media session. Let’s get into it.” And ended it by saying, “Guys, last chance, come on.”
“I do believe personally I’ve improved as a coach this year,” Cooter said. “I understand the outside perception and all that, but I’m working to get better at all sorts of different things.”
Asked what perception he was referring to, Cooter said, “Oh, I don’t know, I’m sure you guys can compile all that and write it up.”
While Cooter went from fan favorite in Detroit because of his unique name to pariah, he still has a strong reputation across the league – at 34, he was the youngest coordinator in the NFL this season – and could land a play-calling gig elsewhere this hiring cycle.
QB coach George Godsey, with more of a pedigree with Patriots family coaches than Cooter, may be getting the job.
Titans OC Matt LaFleur continues to be fast-tracked – mainly due to past associations with Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay. Darin Gantt of ProFootballTalk.com:
The Packers have a busy weekend (since they’re not busy with their normal playoff appearances), and have lined up another interview.
According to Paul Kuharsky of PaulKuharsky.com, Titans offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur will meet with the Packers Sunday.
The 39-year-old LaFleur is low on the experience scale relative to their other candidates, but their search for someone to maximize Aaron Rodgers has them looking at a bright, young offensive mind (with the requisite Rams background as everyone wants to talk to and/or find another Sean McVay).
The Packers have already talked to Jim Caldwell and Chuck Pagano, and will interview Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels on Friday, and Saints assistant Dan Campbell on Saturday.
Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald has been mentioned for the Packers job, but he seemed to put the kibosh on such rumors in the wake of the Wildcats’ win in the Holiday Bowl. Joseph Zucker of BleacherReport.com:
The Green Bay Packers are “still hopeful” of receiving an interview with Northwestern Wildcats head coach Pat Fitzgerald, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Tom Silverstein and Jim Owczarski reported Tuesday.
Following Northwestern’s 31-20 win over the Utah Utes in the Holiday Bowl, Fitzgerald affirmed his commitment to the school.
“Hashtag Go Cats, man,” Fitzgerald said in a postgame interview with Fox Sports’ Joel Klatt (via Adam Rittenberg of ESPN.com). “I’m not going anywhere. This is home forever. … I’m a Wildcat for life.”
Even before Fitzgerald’s comments Monday, getting him out of Evanston, Illinois, was never going to be easy.
The 44-year-old was a star linebacker at Northwestern, winning the Bronko Nagurski Trophy and Chuck Bednarik Award in 1995 and 1996. He has spent the last 13 years as the Wildcats’ head coach after replacing Randy Walker in 2006, shortly after Walker died.
Fitzgerald has also built Northwestern into an above-average Big Ten program. The Wildcats went 8-1 in the conference this year to capture the Big Ten West division, losing 45-24 to Ohio State in the Big Ten title game.
Perhaps most importantly, the school unveiled the Walter Athletics Center in August, a $270 million facility built on the shores of Lake Michigan.
The Wildcats won’t be a Big Ten contender unless Fitzgerald consistently attracts blue-chip recruits to the program. That athletic center is the kind of investment that will help aid Northwestern on the recruiting trail.
Wilder things have happened in the college coaching carousel than Fitzgerald leaving. Manny Diaz was officially announced as the head coach of Temple and Miami within 18 days of each other.
But it wouldn’t appear Fitzgerald is having second thoughts about his long-term future at Northwestern.
Mike Freeman rips the KIRK COUSINS marriage with the Vikings:
There is no other way to say this, and you may want to make sure the kids can’t read it. It’s not pretty. But it is true. It’s a fact.
This was a massive, stinking, terrible choke job by the Minnesota Vikings.
The Vikings went to the NFC championship last year. After losing to the Bears 24-10 on Sunday, they’re not even going to the playoffs this year.
Not only that, but in a game where their playoff lives were on the line, the Vikings played timid. The Bears had little to play for, but they were vicious and hungry. It should have been the other way around.
In a way, it’s what we should have expected. Because the choke job wasn’t just in the loss that closed the season. It was in the offseason signing that came to define it.
There are plenty of things that changed for the Vikings between that title game appearance and this no-show, but maybe none is bigger than the guy who played quarterback in purple Sunday.
There’s a reason people like me have been critical all year of Vikings QB Kirk Cousins—and of the Vikings’ decision to sign him for $84 million in guaranteed money during the offseason. It’s because the Cousins we saw Sunday is the one we saw for six long seasons in Washington.
He is a mechanically sound quarterback. He has some good moments and has put up some good stats. But when it’s time for Cousins to produce in big spots, he comes up small. It happens in almost every game. It happens all the time.
The Vikings brought in Cousins to push them over the top. Not only didn’t that happen, but they instead regressed. They became just another Cousins disappointment.
It’s unfair, maybe. Just like watching this clip of Cousins wincing as the Bears pass rush approaches and judging him on it might be unfair.
Hell, I’d curl up into downward dog if Khalil Mack were coming after me. But moments like this are all part of the Kirk Cousins Experience.
No, the loss isn’t all on Cousins, but much of it is, because this is what he does. This season, Cousins and the Vikings were 1-6 against teams with winning records. For his career, Cousins is 5-25 against teams with winning records. Cousins’ losing in a big spot isn’t a bug; it’s a feature.
Cousins threw for 132 yards and one touchdown Sunday. He missed at least half a dozen easy throws. He panicked under pressure, and while that’s also not all on him (Minnesota’s offensive line isn’t good), he has enough talent around him that he should be able to do better.
Instead, it was typical Cousins. The Bears started the day with an outside chance to overtake the Rams for the No. 2 seed, but it was easy to see that Chicago wasn’t playing for that. The Bears came out incredibly aggressive because it’s what the Bears do and why they’re so good. They lack mercy. They don’t care about playoff seedings or scenarios or even whom they are playing. They simply want to kick your ass. And no one better to kick around than Cousins.
This was one of the criticisms teams had of Cousins when they were looking to sign him as a free agent. They didn’t think he carried his teams the way a high-priced franchise quarterback is supposed to. One team executive called him “soft” to me.
Is that true? I don’t know, but this is a big-boy sport where $84 million is supposed to buy you more than a seat on the couch at the crib in front of the telly for the playoffs.
Just before halftime, Cousins and his wide receiver, Adam Thielen, got into a heated discussion on the sideline.
It looks like (based on amateur lip reading) Cousins says, “I don’t have 10 seconds”—presumably because Cousins felt he didn’t have enough time for Thielen to run deeper and more complex routes.
Then, Thielen seems to say, “Just throw the ball.”
A lot went wrong for the Vikings this season, and the self-examination will be extensive. But the deep look has to start with how they gave $84 million to a quarterback who can’t seem to do something that basic to his job—just throw the ball—when it matters most.
As the Buccaneers look for yet another coach, Thomas Bassinger of the Tampa Bay Times crunches the team’s historically bad numbers:
The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.
The Buccaneers lost to the Falcons on Sunday. Not that it mattered. Tampa Bay had been eliminated from playoff contention weeks ago.
In fact, you might have pondered the benefits of a 5-11 record over a 6-10 record. A better draft pick can help dull the frustration.
Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.
The 34-32 loss wasn’t anything that you hadn’t already seen a few hundred times — 423 times, to be exact. Sometimes they lose by a point; sometimes they lose by 40. Sometimes they squander a lead; sometimes they never have a chance.
The Bucs have been doing this for almost all of their existence, and at an incredible rate. Their .385 win percentage is the worst of any team in North American professional sports.
The biggest losers in baseball? The Padres (.461 win percentage). In basketball? The Timberwolves (.398 win percentage). In hockey? The Coyotes (.477 points percentage).
No one loses so beautifully. Consider:
• The Bucs have finished in last place eight times in the past decade, second to only the Browns (nine times). MLB’s Orioles have finished last five times. The NBA’s Pelicans and Timberwolves have finished last six times. The NHL’s Avalanche has finished last five times.
• The Bucs have missed the playoffs 11 straight seasons. Again, in the NFL only the Browns have fared worse (16 seasons). MLB’s Mariners haven’t qualified in 17 seasons, the longest active drought in North American professional sports. The NBA’s Kings haven’t qualified in 12 seasons. The NHL’s Hurricanes haven’t qualified in nine seasons.
• If you assume that the Bucs have a 63 percent chance of missing the playoffs in any given season (six of 16 teams in a conference qualify), the chances of them missing for 11 straight seasons are 0.57 percent.
• The Patriots have won at least 10 games in 16 straight seasons. In that span, the Bucs have won 10 games twice. In team history, they’ve won 10 games seven times.
• To get to a .500 win percentage, the Bucs would have to go unbeaten the next 10 seasons. To catch up to the Cowboys, who at .574 have the NFL’s best win percentage, they would have to go unbeaten another nine seasons.
The Bucs have lost more than games, of course. They’ve lost great players, players who have gone on to enjoy success elsewhere.
Doug Williams. Bo Jackson. Steve Young. Matt Bryant. Michael Bennett.
They’ve groomed coaches, too, only to watch them lead other teams to the Super Bowl.
Tony Dungy. Lovie Smith. Mike Tomlin. Jim Caldwell. And possibly Sean McVay.
They even brought one of those coaches back — Lovie Smith — just to fire him.
The stadium is emptier these days. Attendance has fallen for three straight seasons — from an average of 61,600 in 2015 to 60,600 in 2016 to 60,000 in 2017 to 54,400 this season. And that’s just the announced attendance. The actual attendance is several thousands lower.
The home-field advantage that used to exist in the late 1990s and early 2000s? Gone. A sun-bleached “2002 world champions” sail on the stadium pirate ship is one of the few reminders left of the time when the Bucs owned Tampa Bay.
You miss those moments, don’t you? John Lynch walloping receivers. Warren Sapp devouring quarterbacks. Mike Alstott barreling through defenses. Derrick Brooks and Ronde Barber picking off passes.
Lynch and Sapp were the first to go. Then Alstott. Then Brooks. And, finally, Barber.
That’s what happens. Players come. Players go. Once those players left, though, so, too, did Tampa Bay’s devotion.
At least the Lightning has been there to fill the void.
Is it fair to conflate the years of Culverhouse ownership with the Glazers whose new uniforms and pirate ship produced a champion?
The Buccaneers have won 166 games since the Glazers took over in 1996. That ranks 22nd among NFL franchises.
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The Buccaneers may be heading back into the mindset that got them Greg Schiano. Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:
Six years after dipping into the college ranks to hire a head coach, the Buccaneers could be giving it another go.
David Haugh of 670 The Score in Chicago reports that the Buccaneers have interest in Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly.
Kelly, 57, has coached the Irish since 2010. He has been linked in the past to NFL openings, interviewing with the Eagles in 2013, when they hired Oregon coach Chip Kelly. It’s unclear whether he’s interested in coaching the Bucs.
Per Haugh, the Bucs may be willing to offer upwards of $10 million per year to Kelly. Tampa also has been linked to Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh.
The decision in 2012 to hire Rutgers coach Greg Schiano became an experiment that ended poorly, with the toes-on-the-line taskmaster fired after his second season.
The pendulum in recent years has swung away from college coaches, but with NFL teams looking for offensive minds, the choice may become inexperienced NFL assistants or experienced college coaches.
Whoever the Bucs hire, he needs to be on board with Jameis Winston as the quarterback, because the team has made it clear that he’s coming back for a fifth season.
This from Peter King:
No Mike McCarthy? Hmmmm. I said last week McCarthy could be interested in Arizona (for football and family reasons); CBS’ Jason LaCanfora said Sunday that McCarthy would not be a candidate there. This is an interesting job—assuming, today, that Steve Wilks is let go after one season—because Cards have had a talent drain and have not had impact drafts the last couple of years. Even though they have the first pick in the draft, GM Steve Keim could be on thin ice with one more bad season. So a head-coach candidate in Arizona could wonder: Who will my boss be in a year?
King carried a message from McCarthy to the Cardinals last week, now King carries a message back to McCarthy from the Cardinals.
Peter King on why Vance Joseph is gone and what might be next in Denver:
Broncos had an eight-game losing streak last year, and Joseph vowed to be better at turning around the bad runs. This year, Denver had a four-game losing streak early, and finished the year losing four in a row. You just never got the feeling he could turn it around. That plus game-management issues (such as kicking the field goal, down four with 4:39 left at the Cleveland 6-yard line, and losing by one to the Browns Dec. 15) doomed Joseph, who will leave with an 11-21 record. The Broncos thought briefly of dumping the offensive coaching staff—John Elway wants to emulate some of the more imaginative offensive schemes in football—and pairing Joseph with a bright young offensive coordinator; I’m told Elway would not have brought Gary Kubiak back to run the offense. But Denver is more likely to blow it up today and start a wide search. Elway is most likely to try to find the best available offensive mind and build a staff around him.
For good or bad, Peter King is a conventional wisdom influencer – and he declares that youth must be served for the MVP vote, rather than a career achievement award for DREW BREES:
Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City
The late Paul Zimmerman left me with one indelible lesson: “USE YOUR EYES! What did you see!” What I saw watching the game this season was Mahomes, a 23-year-old kid, an electric kid, taking over a division champion when incumbent Alex Smith was traded, playing like he belonged from the first series of the season, outplaying Philip Rivers on the road in Week 1, outplaying Ben Roethlisberger on the road in Week 2, throwing a left-handed desperation pass completion on third-and-five at Denver on the winning late drive in Week 4, going toe-to-toe with Tom Brady and surviving a bad first half in a 43-40 loss in Week 6, hiccupping at the Rams in the bizarre 54-51 November loss, and then willing his team to beat the formidable Ravens in Week 14.
But nothing is easy in this MVP season. In the last four weeks, I had the following leaders: Brees (Week 13), Mahomes (Week 14), Brees/Mahomes tied (Week 15), Mahomes (Week 16). The difference? Paper thin. Brees threw only three touchdown passes in the Saints’ last five games (he sat out the fifth), and New Orleans looked mortal offensively in every Brees game after Thanksgiving, against Dallas, Tampa Bay, Carolina and Pittsburgh. (Teddy Bridgewater played Sunday against Carolina.)
Finally, there’s the matter of touchdown passes. Mahomes 50, Brees 32. That matters. It’s unfortunate that Brees, who turns 40 in two weeks, has never won the MVP, because he’s one of the best quarterbacks of all time. I struggled with this decision Saturday, going over data and simply thinking about it for a while. The leadership of Brees has to be factored, too; there are few more respected players than Brees. Anyone who votes for Brees gets no guff from me, because he’s just had the most accurate passing season ever, and he is the keystone to the team with the best record of the regular season. That matters too. But my eyes saw the explosive and exciting Mahomes as the better player this year, slightly, and he gets my vote.
Next: 2. Drew Brees, 3. Philip Rivers.
Is Hue Jackson and Vance Josephy really the Bengals dream team? Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:
Vance Joseph could be having the time of his life all over again.
The former Broncos coach, fired after presiding over the first back-to-back losing seasons in Denver since 1971-72, will interview with the Bengals this week, per multiple reports.
The reports indicate that Joseph will interview for the head-coaching position, and there’s no reason to think he won’t. The job he ultimately gets could be a different one.
Yes, the notion that Hue Jackson could get the head-coaching job continues to have legs, with Joseph potentially becoming the defensive coordinator.
It would be a stunning decision by the Bengals to entrust the job to Jackson, who went 1-31 over his first two years with the Browns. It also would lead to compelling Browns-Bengals games twice per year, especially with Baker Mayfield inclined to direct snubs and stares at the guy who didn’t instantly recognize how well Mayfield could perform as a rookie.
Peter King with a factoid:
Get this: The number one defense in football, Baltimore, gave up 300 yards passing only three times all season. The list: Patrick Mahomes, 377; Baker Mayfield, 376; Baker Mayfield, 342.
The Steelers have a problem. WR ANTONIO BROWN wants out, but there are 20 million reasons for the Steelers to keep him no matter how much of a bum he becomes. A tweet from Andrew Brandt:
Antonio Brown Cap Charge to @steelers in 2019:
On Roster: $22.1 million
Off Roster: $21.1 million
Translation: he’s not going anywhere.
Veteran scribes Gerry Dulac and Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette with details of Brown’s acting out.
Steelers receiver Antonio Brown did not play in the season-ending game against the Cincinnati Bengals because he elected to sit out practice last week after a dispute with Ben Roethlisberger, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has learned.
Several sources said the Steelers’ decision to not play Brown against the Bengals had nothing to do with any type of knee injury.
The disagreement occurred Wednesday morning during a routine walk-through practice that precedes their regular afternoon practice on the South Side. Brown was disgusted and threw a football in Roethlisberger’s direction, several sources said.
After that, Brown did not practice the rest of the week. According to a source, it was Brown’s decision not to practice with his teammates.
He did not attend Saturday’s walk-through practice and skipped the Saturday night meeting at the team hotel — the latest in missed meetings by the All-Pro receiver. Brown was never on the field for the start of the game against the Bengals and left Heinz Field at halftime, according to multiple sources.
According to several sources, Brown showed up at Heinz Field expecting to play against the Bengals. That surprised several players, including one who called the situation “embarrassing” and “the worst I’ve seen.” That player said the entire situation and the way it was handled affected his desire to play in the game.
Brown did not practice all week and was listed as questionable on the injury report before the game. When he did not practice on Wednesday, the reason listed on the official report was “coaches decision.” On Thursday, the reason was listed as “coaches decision/knee.”
When offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner was asked about Brown after Thursday’s practice, his short reply was, “I’m not going to answer any questions about Antonio. Next.”
Head coach Mike Tomlin said after Friday’s practice that Brown was having his knee tested because his All-Pro receiver “didn’t feel comfortable enough to [practice].” But several sources indicated Brown’s knee wasn’t an issue at all and was never tested.
Brown never even tried to test his knee in pregame warm-ups, despite Tomlin indicating his status for the Bengals would be a game-time decision.
At least one teammate phoned Brown in the days leading up to the game, but he did not return the call.
A week earlier, while his teammates were attending a daily mandatory morning meeting, Brown was in the building but skipped the meeting. He still played in the 28-24 loss in New Orleans.
At least one player indicated after the game Brown’s absence could have cost the Steelers a victory against the Bengals.
Brown finished with 104 receptions for 1,297 yards. He led the NFL with 15 touchdown receptions, which is a team record. He topped 10,000 yards receiving in the first game of the past season. But it was fellow wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster who was voted team MVP.
Peter King makes his choice for his Executive of the Year:
Executive: Chris Ballard, Indianapolis
A tougher call for me than MVP. Ryan Pace picked the right coach (Matt Nagy), re-signed the right corner (a dubiously received deal with the underachieving Kyle Fuller), and made the trade of the year (for Khalil Mack). But think of Ballard’s year. He fires Chuck Pagano. He makes a deal with Josh McDaniels to be his coach, trusting McDaniels so much that he agree to hire three McDaniels-approved assistants—and then McDaniels decides to stay in New England after the Super Bowl. The musical chairs are full. No top-prospect coaches left. Ballard settles on a guy who had zero interest from any other teams when the coach carousel was spinning, Frank Reich of the Eagles. Then the draft. Knowing he wanted to build a fortress around Andrew Luck, Ballard picked a long-term guard (Quenton Nelson) in round one and long-term tackle (Braden Smith) in round two. He got two other starters in round two for the D: the leading tackler in the league, linebacker Darius Leonard and defensive lineman Tyquan Lewis. Sixth-round wideout Deon Cain went on IR in the summer or he could have been another star. All in all, this was a great year for Ballard.
Next: 2. Ryan Pace, 3. John Dorsey.
Even with ANDREW LUCK and DESHAUN WATSON ascendant in the AFC South while the Jaguars are bereft at the QB position and with a 4th overall RB headed to Bustville, DE CALAIS CAMPBELL isn’t giving up on the Jags. Kevin Patra of NFL.com:
The Jacksonville Jaguars were a trendy pick to author another deep playoff run after returning most of a stacked defense in 2018. Instead, they wrote a dud.
The 5-11 seasons underscored a disastrous decision by the Jags to ride with Blake Bortles uncontested once again, leading to one of the worst offensive outputs of the year. The defense, still full of playmakers, couldn’t carry the team on its shoulders as it had previously done.
Despite the disappointment, the Jags will stick with coach Doug Marrone and hope the continuity will help right the ship.
“We have the potential still,” Calais Campbell said this week, via the team’s official website. “The only thing guaranteed in this game is change. It’s 100 percent, but I think we have a great nucleus of guys. Hopefully, there won’t be a lot of change and we’ll be able to go out and do some good things.”
Campbell, who continued to be a game-wrecking force in his 11th season, led a defense that was very good for stretches but wasn’t the smothering force it’d been in 2017. In a league of highflying offenses, it’s become the norm for defenses to be mostly unpredictable from week to week.
When the Jags’ D gave up points this season, Jacksonville had virtually no shot to win. Living on that razor’s edge rarely leads to long-term success.
“We didn’t play up to the level I wanted us to play on defense,” Campbell said. “We showed flashes and played great ball at times, but it wasn’t consistent enough. Whoever’s going to be back, we have to lock in and realize our potential. I still think we can be a very special defense with the guys who should be coming back, but at the end of the day you don’t know who’s coming back.”
Given his Pro Bowl-level play it would be a surprise if the Jags jettisoned Campbell this season. The same can’t be said for others on the squad. Blake Bortles seems destined to move on, and even on defense there will be questions about the futures of defensive tackles Marcell Dareus and Malik Jackson, safety Tashaun Gipson, and others.
Regardless of the eventual changes, the Jags should boast enough talent on defense for a quick turnaround if Marrone & Co. can generate even a modicum of consistency on offense.
“There’s a lot to learn from this year as a whole — all the different things we went through,” Campbell said. “There’s so much talent on this team. But obviously you saw this year, talent doesn’t really mean much. It’s execution that’s going to take the floor. When we hit the reset button, we have a chance to go out and do something special next year.”
Between 2008 and 2017, the Jaguars picked in the top 10 in 10 consecutive drafts. Here’s what they drafted:
2008 8 Derrick Harvey Defensive end Florida 
2009 8 Eugene Monroe Offensive tackle Virginia
2010 10 Tyson Alualu Defensive tackle California
2011 10 Blaine Gabbert Quarterback Missouri
2012 5 Justin Blackmon Wide receiver Oklahoma State
2013 2 Luke Joeckel Offensive tackle Texas A&M 
2014 3 Blake Bortles Quarterback UCF
2015 3 Dante Fowler Jr. Defensive end Florida
2016 5 Jalen Ramsey † Cornerback Florida State
2017 4 Leonard Fournette Running Back LSU
Ramsey is the only one who made the Pro Bowl, and so far would seem to be a success. But his personality may not be conducive to long-term peaceful achievement.
Alualu and Monroe from the previous drafting regimes were okay players, but not top 10 types. Anyone else worth a farthing?
NEW YORK JETS
Three straight seasons of 5-11, 5-11 and 4-12 are the obvious reasons Bowles will get fired. But this one play from Sunday’s desultory end of his reign crystallized how Bowles couldn’t get through to some undisciplined guys. Midway through the second quarter, defensive lineman Henry Anderson of the Jets had the harebrained penalty of the day, shoving Tom Brady after he threw the ball away on third down, giving the Patriots, already up 14-3, a fresh set of downs and, as it turned out, an easy third touchdown of the day. “There’s a reason why the Jets are 4-11,” Ian Eagle said on CBS. Yes there is. Bowles has railed against the lack of discipline, and now someone new will see if they can get through to players committing stupid fouls. I’m told it’s likely GM Mike Maccagnan will get one more coach to hire. If I were him, I’d try to convince Mike McCarthy to be interested. Not sure McCarthy would come—he is widely reported to be considering taking 2019 off—but control over the roster and the specter of coaching Sam Darnold should tempt him.
The DB feels that anyone who drafted CHRISTIAN HACKENBERG should not be allowed to make a major decision.
THIS AND THAT
Peter King looks ahead at the 2019 season’s best games:
Now that the 2019 NFL schedule is official, here are the 10 games in the NFL’s 100th season (time flies when you’re having fun) that catch my eye:
Cleveland at New England. Baker Mayfield, coached by someone, and the tenacious Browns at 42-year-old Tom Brady.
Chicago at Oakland (or London, or San Francisco, or San Antonio, or Sacramento, or Kankakee). Wherever the Raiders lay their heads in 2019, their last pre-Vegas season, this will be the Khalil Mack Bowl.
Washington at Minnesota. The Kirk Cousins Bowl.
Seattle at Pittsburgh. 2019 will be Russell Wilson’s eighth season in the NFL, and his first trip to Heinz Field. Could be his last. If the NFL keeps the same scheduling mechanics, Seattle won’t return to Pittsburgh till 2027. That’s the year Wilson turns 39.
Indianapolis at New Orleans. Like Wilson and Pittsburgh, this will be Luck’s eighth year in the NFL (though he missed one entirely) and this will be his first trip to the Superdome. Love the Luck-Brees matchup.
Kansas City at New England. For the third straight year, the Chiefs play in Foxboro. KC won in 2017, 42-27. New England won in 2018, 43-40. I sense a trend.
New York Giants at New England. Odds are Eli Manning and Brady will be the quarterbacks. They’ve met five times. Eli 3, Tom 2. Margins of victory: 3, 3, 4, 4, 1. Giants won two Super Bowls, narrowly, among those five games. I sense a trend.
Seattle at Cleveland. Two quarterbacks averaging 5-11 5/8 in height meet for the first time.
Green Bay at Kansas City. First Aaron Rodgers-Patrick Mahomes matchup.
Los Angeles Rams at Pittsburgh. Aaron Donald’s a proud Pittsburgher, and played his college games at Heinz Field, and will be supremely motivated to play for the first and perhaps only time on home turf. Ben Roethlisberger might want to have a very quick release in this game.
BONUS GAME: Green Bay at San Francisco. Aaron Rodgers returns to his native land (he grew up in Chico and went to college in Berkeley), to play the team that passed on him for Alex Smith in 2005. Not really a grudge match. But Rodgers vs. Garoppolo is prime-time TV chum if I ever saw it.
So the crossing divisions are
NFC East vs. AFC East
NFC North vs. AFC West
NFC South vs. AFC South
NFC West vs. AFC North
It sounds like the DB isn’t the only one impressed with Ohio State QB DWAYNE HASKINS, Jr. Michael David Smth of ProFootballTalk.com:
Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins just made a big statement that he deserves to be the first overall pick in the 2019 NFL draft.
Haskins put on a sensational effort today in the Rose Bowl, throwing three touchdown passes in a win over Washington, and after that performance he may be the favorite to go first on April 25 in Nashville.
Although the 6-foot-3, 220-pound Haskins still has two years of NCAA eligibility remaining, he’s expected to turn pro. Given everything he’s accomplished this season, he has nothing more to prove in college football.
The top of this year’s draft does not have many teams that need a quarterback. The Cardinals, owners of the first pick, drafted quarterback Josh Rosen in the first round last year and are presumably out of the quarterback market this year. The 49ers at No. 2 have Jimmy Garoppolo, and the Jets at No. 3 have Sam Darnold. Are the Raiders at No. 4 ready to move on from Derek Carr? The Buccaneers at No. 5 have said they’re committed to Jameis Winston.
It’s hard to imagine the Giants at No. 6 passing on the opportunity to draft Eli Manning‘s successor. But the most likely scenario is that some team in need of a quarterback trades up to take Haskins. Probably trades up with Arizona, to take him first overall.
The DB spent some time researching Haskins last night during the 4-hour Rose Bowl and here is what you need to know:
Big arm – yes
Accurate – yes
Performance – very productive
Mobility – very good, but not run-centric
Size – Big without being too big – 6-3, 220.
Academics – strong
Personality – pleasant but a confident leader
Character – strong religious values, mother college, father maybe, intact family, no issues
The mere ticking of all the boxes doesn’t mean he will be great in the NFL. But there is not obvious reason that he won’t be.
The closest thing we have to a flag is that like Mitchell Trubisky, he was only a starter for one full season.
Here’s something from Adam Rittenberg of ESPN.com on Haskins and the new Ryan Day regime at Ohio State.
Haskins earned several Big Ten awards, including offensive player of the year and the Chicago Tribune’s Silver Football (MVP), and was Ohio State’s first Heisman Trophy finalist since Troy Smith, who won the award in 2006.
“If you watched the last month, I don’t know if there’s a kid playing better,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “I just think he’s a complete player, because he can run, he’s very athletic, he showed the ability to lower his pads on the goal line and be physical, as big as he is. And then he can make every throw. There were some throws he made in our game, as the opposing coach, you just kind of look over and give the golf clap.
“I’ve got nothing to say to that besides, ‘Heck of a job, young man.'”
Meyer recruited Haskins to Ohio State before Day joined the staff in 2017, so he deserves credit for identifying the potential. Haskins switched his commitment from Maryland to Ohio State in January 2016 and signed weeks later as ESPN’s No. 4 pocket passer and No. 63 overall player in the 2016 class.
But Haskins never seemed like a typical Meyer quarterback, most of whom attacked defenses primarily with their legs while supplementing with passes. Although Meyer’s quarterbacks have thrived at the college level, only one — Alex Smith — has become a long-term starter in the NFL. Meyer’s primary quarterbacks at Ohio State, Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett, could gash defenses as runners and make key throws, although neither consistently displayed the NFL-level passing Haskins did this season.
“Guys he had like Braxton Miller — some of those guys he inherited,” Day pointed out. “So when you look back at Alex Smith and Chris Leak, in his past, he had quarterbacks that would throw first, as well.”
Former Florida star Tim Tebow, Meyer’s most decorated quarterback, put up strong passing numbers in his final three seasons with the Gators — eclipsing 2,700 yards and 64 percent completions each year, with 83 passing touchdowns — but he also logged 603 rushes over the span. Haskins has just 73 entering the Rose Bowl.
“It’s hard to find the true dual guy who is big enough to take the pounding like Tebow could,” a Big Ten coach said. “Even Barrett was tough. You usually compromise accuracy and passing skill to get that guy. He’s the guy Urban Meyer usually got.”
A Big Ten defensive coordinator added of Haskins: “He’s certainly your pure dropback style [of quarterback]. He’s a big presence in the pocket, plays with a lot of confidence, makes all the throws. That’s different from what we’ve seen out of J.T. and those guys the last couple years.”
Big Ten Network analyst and former college coach Gerry DiNardo said Meyer had modified his vision for quarterbacks in recent years, recognizing a greater need for efficient passing. The ideal Meyer backfield, according to DiNardo, featured quarterback Cardale Jones and running back Ezekiel Elliott, the tandem that spurred Ohio State to its most recent national title four years ago. Meyer brought in Day and offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson, a former Indiana coach, because of their ability to bolster the passing game.
“Between Ryan Day and Kevin Wilson, they like to throw the ball a lot and spread people out,” said Pat Cilento, Haskins’ coach at Bullis School in Potomac, Maryland. “They did a good job modifying the offense to his skill set. The vibe that you got, even when he wasn’t starting, Haskins was the best pure passer there. They took his skill and maximized it.
“It’s going to open up more avenues for Coach Day in recruiting.”
For Day, Haskins’ success creates an even stronger sales pitch to top high school quarterbacks aspiring to play in the NFL.
“The evolution in college football, as we sell kids on wanting to play in the NFL, now [NFL teams] are looking for pass-first, dual-threat quarterbacks, not run-first, dual-threat quarterbacks,” DiNardo said. “Did Urban really want to be that much run, or was that because J.T. was his best quarterback? If Urban was still coaching, we’d know in the next two to three years.”
With Day coaching, we’ll soon know whether Ohio State’s future at quarterback will look more like Haskins and less like Barrett and Miller. The 2018 offense looked dramatically different from what we typically see from Ohio State. Passing accounted for nearly 68 percent of the yards, more than twice as many touchdowns (48-22), nearly 57 percent of first downs generated and, perhaps most striking, 65 of the team’s 80 plays that went 20 yards or longer. Ohio State’s seven longest plays were all passes. Of the Buckeyes 28 plays that went for 35 yards or longer, 24 were passes.
“We’ve always tried to recruit the best possible player and adapt the offense to him,” Meyer said Sunday. “And I think Ryan, we’ve talked about this, he’s going to recruit the best player possible and adapt the offense and adjust the offense to him, which is kind of what we’ve always done. But I think we’re more equipped with a throwing quarterback now with what Ryan’s brought to our offense.”
Even before Haskins became the starter, he sensed the potential of what the offense could be under Day and Wilson.
“He liked it because they threw the ball a little bit more,” Cilento said. “He liked that Coach Day had been with the Eagles, so he thought they would get into more of a pro-style offense.”
Give Todd McShay credit for being in on Haskins early. This from back in September:
There have not been many better starts across college football that what Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins showed in blowouts of Oregon State and Rutgers. While other top quarterbacks have also been dominant, Haskins has everyone’s attention with his precision.
Haskins brings a different dynamic to the position at Ohio State, and ESPN NFL Draft analyst Todd McShay made quite the comparison Tuesday during College Football Live.
“I would argue Urban Meyer probably hasn’t had a more natural passer probably going back to Alex Smith,” McShay said. “He may not be the runner that some of the other quarterbacks have been, but this guy has got some special talent in terms of sitting in the pocket, reading defenses and throwing the ball accurately.”
The plays and throws Haskins made through two weeks impressed NFL scouts regardless of the opponent. On film, his start tells a clear story. Through two games, Haskins has 546 passing yards, nine passing touchdowns and one interceptions.
“He’s completing almost 80 percent of his throws,” McShay said. “I know Urban Meyer is not on the sideline right now. And I know it’s Rutgers. And I know it’s Oregon State. But you can see it just studying the tape — the anticipation, the touch, the accuracy.”
And this from December:
Here’s what McShay had to say about the Ohio State Heisman finalist:
The more I watch this kid, the more I think he’s a legitimate first-round talent. The Eli Manning era is nearing an end in New York, and Haskins addresses Big Blue’s most glaring need. You have to feel pretty good about an offense featuring Haskins, Odell Beckham Jr. and Saquon Barkley. Now the Giants just need him to declare for the draft.
Of course, this scenario would probably go over well with Haskins. He is a New Jersey native and has publicly said he would love to play for his local team.
This from Rob Rang:
Surrounded by exceptional talent and playing in a system that has helped the likes of Tim Tebow and J.T. Barrett post impressive numbers, I was admittedly skeptical of Haskins as a 2019 NFL prospect entering his first season as a starter. Named the Big Ten’s Player of the Year just a few months later, Haskins certainly proved that he is a much more polished passer than most previous Urban Meyer quarterbacks, shredding rival Michigan and Northwestern in the Big Ten title game with a combined 11 touchdowns against just one interception. Sure, scouts would prefer Haskins to have more experience and so he is far from a sure thing as a franchise quarterback. The physical traits are all there, however, and Haskins has shown poise beyond his years, as well. If he were to declare early for the 2019 NFL draft, it is hard to imagine him getting out of the top 10 picks.