AROUND THE NFL

Three down and five to go as the Buccaneers go with the vast, perhaps too vast, experience of 66-year-old Bruce Arians and the Cardinals opt for Kliff Kingsbury who was 35-40 at Texas Tech

 

That leaves:

 

Denver – a more mature pairing of finalists than elsewhere (except for Tampa Bay) with Mike Munchak and Vic Fangio.

 

Cincinnati – Vance Joseph, Hue Jackson (still) and maybe Todd Monken are among those in play.

 

Cleveland – Supposedly down to Vikings interim OC Kevin Stefanski and holdover OC Freddie Kitchens.

 

Miami – Four known interviews: New England defense coach Brian Flores, Kansas City offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, Dallas defensive play-caller Kris Richard and New Orleans defensive coordinator Dennis Allen.

 

New York Jets – Mike McCarthy deigns to let the Jets know he would take their millions, but the pick could be Baylor whiz kid and New York native Matt Rhule.

 

NFC SOUTH

 

ATLANTA

Their putting Mike Smith’s gang back together for Coach Dan Quinn.  Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com:

 

The Atlanta Falcons have hired former Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter to again be their offensive coordinator, the team announced Tuesday.

 

“We are fired up to have Dirk join our staff as our offensive coordinator,” Falcons head coach Dan Quinn said in a statement. “His experience and familiarity with our division will also pay dividends as we move forward.”

 

Koetter, who turns 60 next month, previously was the Falcons’ offensive coordinator from 2012 to 2014. He helped the Falcons to the NFC Championship Game in 2012 as the offense averaged 26.2 points per game and 369.1 yards per game. During his first three-year stint in Atlanta, the Falcons averaged 363.5 yards per game, 277.2 passing yards per game and 24.0 points per game.

 

Quarterback Matt Ryan praised Koetter in the past for enhancing his game.

 

“Dirk taught me a lot about being confident in what we do,” Ryan said before the 2016 season opener. “I think he believed in — and rightfully so because, at the time, we had a lot of really good players — he believed if I was comfortable with it, go. It made me take ownership of what I liked, what I didn’t like. He pushed me to be better in that department.”

 

Quinn interviewed Koetter, Mike Mularkey and Darrell Bevell for the job after firing Steve Sarkisian, who spent the past two seasons as the offensive coordinator. Bringing back Koetter means the comfort of a familiar face for Ryan rather than having to adjust to a new playcaller.

 

Mularkey, who parted ways with the Tennessee Titans after going 20-21 in parts of three seasons as their head coach, was named the Falcons’ tight ends coach on Tuesday. Mularkey also previously served as offensive coordinator in Atlanta.

 

“Mike brings over 20 years of experience in our league as a former playcaller, head coach and as a player, and we are pleased to have him join our staff,” Quinn said. “He has a good feel for our offense, both in the run game and the pass game, and we feel he will be able to add to the strengths of our tight ends group as we head into 2019.”

 

Having Koetter and Mularkey, two former NFL head coaches, should help Quinn in terms of game-day responsibilities such as clock management. Quinn said during his postseason news conference that he would find someone on staff to help with those responsibilities.

 

An adjustment will have to be made by Koetter, with Quinn wanting to keep the same outside/inside zone scheme in place. The relationship between Koetter and offensive line coach Chris Morgan will be important in terms of the offensive philosophies coming together in unison.

 

Koetter is known more for engineering a strong passing attack and is certain to utilize Ryan’s strength of running the no-huddle, as in the past. Before he was fired by Tampa Bay after a 5-11 season, Koetter’s Buccaneers led the league at 320.3 passing yards per game and were third in total yards at 415.5 yards per game.

 

 

NEW ORLEANS

Mike Triplett of ESPN.com with a nice look at how Sean Payton weathered a rocky patch with the Saints – and now seems fresh as a daisy:

 

Now that Sean Payton and the New Orleans Saints are back on top as the NFC’s No. 1 seed, it seems almost crazy they considered splitting up three years ago after three straight 7-9 seasons.

 

But then again, this renaissance over the past two years is rare in NFL history.

 

During the Super Bowl era, only six coaches have lasted more than 10 years with the same team and had at least two 11-win seasons after that first decade was over: Bill Belichick (nine), Tom Landry (eight), Don Shula (six), Payton (two), Bill Cowher (two) and Marvin Lewis (two).

 

Coaches simply don’t last in the NFL, where they have to keep their message fresh, keep hitting on the right players in the draft and in free agency, keep adapting their schemes and keep both their bosses and fans happy.

 

Over the past five weeks, we’ve seen Lewis fired after 16 years as head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals and Mike McCarthy dismissed during his 13th season as head coach of the Green Bay Packers.

 

Hall of Fame coaches Bill Walsh and John Madden both left after 10 years with the 49ers and Raiders, respectively. Vince Lombardi coached only nine years in Green Bay. Chuck Noll won four Super Bowls in his first 11 years with the Pittsburgh Steelers — then only won 10 games once over his final 12 seasons.

 

There’s a reason why Payton’s mentor, Hall of Famer Bill Parcells, always believed it was better to leave a job too soon than stay too long. Parcells never stayed more than eight years in any of his five stops as a coach or general manager.

 

“That’s a very difficult task. And there aren’t many organizations that do that successfully,” said Parcells, who is impressed by Payton leading the Saints to two straight NFC South titles and 24 wins over the past two seasons heading into their divisional-round matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday (4:40 p.m. ET, Fox).

 

“Oh yeah, I am,” Parcells said. “With one head coach going through a couple different cycles of players, it’s always difficult. And the Saints have done a great job this year of getting that second cycle well established.”

 

Payton and the Saints never reached the point in January 2016 where any official trade talks occurred. But Payton at least kicked the tires on the idea. The San Francisco 49ers emerged as a possible landing spot, and the Indianapolis Colts were reportedly a consideration before one or both parties nixed the idea.

 

Ultimately, Payton didn’t see any available situation he liked better than what he had in New Orleans with owners Tom and Gayle Benson, general manager Mickey Loomis, quarterback Drew Brees and others. And the Saints didn’t see any other coach they preferred to oversee their latest rebuilding effort.

 

After a couple of tense days, Payton recommitted to the Saints with an emotional news conference. And later that year, they renewed their vows with a five-year contract extension worth more than $9 million per year.

 

“Listen, I enjoy coaching, and I envision myself doing it for quite a while,” Payton said the other day. “I think there’s a competitive side that we enjoy relative to coaching,” which probably added to his desire to take on the challenge of rebuilding a winner in New Orleans.

 

“And yet, it’s just making sure you’re in that right environment where you have a chance to win,” Payton said. “And I feel like we do here.”

 

It helps to nail the draft

Payton seems as invigorated as ever in this, his 13th year as coach of the Saints (he lost one season to the bounty suspension in 2012).

 

And he has been as innovative as ever as a playcaller, including all the new wrinkles he has added with read-option QB/TE/WR/RB Taysom Hill and his use of running backs Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram on the field together. He ran one play with three quarterbacks on the field at the same time and Brees and Teddy Bridgewater lined up as receivers. He ran another play with nobody lined up behind center at first, with Brees and Hill both lined up as receivers before Hill shifted into position.

 

But Payton said the biggest key to the Saints’ rebirth was the two outstanding draft classes they had in 2016 (WR Michael Thomas, DTs Sheldon Rankins and David Onyemata, S Vonn Bell) and 2017 (Kamara, CB Marshon Lattimore, OT Ryan Ramczyk, S Marcus Williams, LB Alex Anzalone).

 

Parcells recognized that, too — immediately pointing to the additions of guys such as Thomas and Kamara and the improvement of a defense that used to be the Saints’ Achilles’ heel as the biggest reasons for Payton’s recent success.

 

Not only were those classes loaded with talent, they were also vital because the Saints desperately needed to restock the shelves.

 

Losing so many of their core players and leaders from their 2009 Super Bowl roster hurt the locker room culture and chemistry as much as it did anything on the field. They also had some big misses in free agency and the draft and lost two second-round draft picks as part of the bounty scandal.

 

The Saints have only six players on their roster who have been with the team continuously for more than four years: Brees, Ingram, punter Thomas Morstead, DE Cameron Jordan, OT Terron Armstead and TE Josh Hill.

 

“Look, it’s been a process. And I think the key for us has been a couple good drafts. You know, there were a slew of mistakes, and bounty, that set us back,” said Payton, who specifically mentioned his biggest regret — letting safety Malcolm Jenkins “out of the building” as a free agent in 2014, when they instead signed safety Jairus Byrd to a six-year, $54 million mega-deal that never panned out.

 

Jenkins, who is returning to the Superdome with the Eagles this week, has won a Super Bowl and has been selected to two Pro Bowls since he left.

 

“And yet we’ve got the right group in the locker room. And right now, these guys are great to be around,” Payton said. “It’s still a personnel business. It’s acquiring the right talent, knowing what you’re looking for. And we’ve had real good, consistent play — outstanding play — at the quarterback position.”

 

The 2014 season was the low point of Payton’s tenure, when the Saints were hurt even more than expected by parting ways with longtime leaders such as Jonathan Vilma, Will Smith, Jenkins, Roman Harper, Jabari Greer, Lance Moore and Darren Sproles all at once.

 

The Saints were hoping to make a smooth transition with the young defensive players who had helped lead them to a 11-5 record and the divisional round of the playoffs in 2013. Instead, they started 1-3, and the locker room culture quickly eroded, leading to a dramatic roster overhaul in 2015.

 

Some, such as defensive end Junior Galette, were released because of character concerns. Others, such as tight end Jimmy Graham and receiver Kenny Stills, were traded because of their high market value. The Saints acquired a total of nine draft picks that year.

 

“Keep in mind, ’14, ’15 was really tough,” Brees said. “The locker room changed significantly, when we lost a lot of really strong leaders. All of a sudden, there was a bunch of young guys that I don’t feel like truly understood what it was to be a leader, understand the way that we had built this program and the foundation that had been laid and what the expectation level was.

 

“So all of a sudden, it was a little bit out of control. I felt like a lot of guys were playing selfishly for themselves, they weren’t playing for the team. So we just got a little off track. And we had to get back steered in the right direction.

 

“We really had to reestablish the culture. … And then last year’s draft class obviously helps out a lot.”

 

Still ‘the same Sean’

Brees and other players said Payton hasn’t made any major changes to his approach in recent years. But they have always admired his ability to adapt.

 

Longtime offensive lineman Zach Strief, who now serves as the team’s play-by-play announcer for WWL Radio, said one of the things he has admired most about Payton is the way the coach will listen and consider changes to the routine or schedule if players have a valid suggestion.

 

And Payton still has a knack for getting his message across — whether he uses old favorite ploys, such as mousetraps to warn players against “eating the cheese” or new ones, such as the New Orleans Advocate’s recent story on Payton’s bringing in college mascots to troll players such as Brees after a loss by their alma maters.

 

“It’s fun for me because I try to anticipate the story that’s coming, based upon the circumstances,” Brees said. “Like, ‘I bet you when we walk into the facility, there’s gonna be mousetraps around everywhere.’ And I’ve been right a few times. Or, ‘This is a bring-the-wood week, a wood-bat week’ (handing out bats to players to illustrate the team’s mindset). I knew the Steelers [in Week 16] were gonna be a ‘bring the wood’ team.”

 

 

TAMPA BAY

Bruce Arians is hired by the Buccaneers, a four-year deal.  Nick Shook of NFL.com:

 

Bruce Arians’ retirement didn’t last long.

 

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have hired the former Arizona Cardinals coach to be their next head coach, the team announced on Tuesday.

 

Arians will have a four-year deal with a fifth-year option, a source told NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport.

 

The former Cards coach is hiring Bryon Leftwich as offensive coordinator and is expected to hire Harold Goodwin as run game coordinator/offensive line and Clyde Christensen as QB coach, Rapoport added. Arians is also targeting his former defensive coordinator Todd Bowles for the same position in Tampa Bay.

 

Earlier Tuesday, Rapoport reported that the Bucs were set offer the gig to Arians. Things developed quickly from there.

 

“Bruce Arians is one of the NFL’s most well-respected coaches over the past two decades and we are excited to have him leading our team,” Buccaneers owner/co-chairman Bryan Glazer. “Throughout this process, we focused on finding the right coach with a proven ability to elevate our players and lead our team forward. Bruce has played a large role in the development and career success of some of our league’s best players and we look forward to seeing him continue that work here with our franchise.”

 

Should Glazer watchers make anything out of the statement being issued in the name of Bryan instead of Joel?

 

Rick Stroud of the St. Pete Times on the role of a prominent, but until now secret, intermediary:

 

Bruce Arians needed some convincing.

 

At 66, the retired former Cardinals head coach was interested in interviewing for the Bucs job. His trip to Tampa on Friday night, however, became a recruiting.

 

That’s when the Bucs got an assist from Cubs manager Joe Maddon.

 

Arians and Maddon grew up about 100 miles apart in eastern Pennsylvania. Arians is from York and Maddon from Hazelton.

 

They hit it off when introduced about four years ago by Bucs general manager Jason Licht during the Cubs spring training in Mesa, Ariz., just outside Phoenix, when Arians was coach of the Cardinals.

 

Both are charismatic and stylish men, successful well into their 60s. Both took a long time to reach their respective goal of becoming a manager and head coach. And both Arians and Maddon like to think a little out of the box.

 

So Licht enlisted to the help of Maddon, the former Rays manager who lives in Tampa in the offseason and is co-owner of Ava, a  trendy south Tampa Italian restaurant.

 

With Maddon’s assistance, the Bucs sneaked Arians in through the kitchen of the restaurant and into a private, hideaway dining room.

 

Maddon helped sell Arians on living in Tampa Bay and apparently he liked the area.

 

On Saturday, Arians underwent a physical and crushed the interview with the Glazers.

 

On Tuesday, the Bucs reached an agreement on a four-year contract  with a fifth-year option to coach the Bucs.

 

And, despite assurances from the NFL office, the Buccaneers made a “trade” to be able to sign Arians.  Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The Buccaneers aren’t getting Bruce Arians for nothing. Just close to nothing.

 

The league has reversed course on its nonsensical argument supporting the notion that the Cardinals are entitled to no compensation for Arians landing in Tampa as the head coach, and a deal has been brokered in order to avoid a fight.

 

Adam Schefter of ESPN reports that the Bucs will send a sixth-round pick in 2019 to the Cardinals, and that the Cardinals will give a seventh-round pick to the Buccaneers.

 

The Cardinals should have gotten more. Arians retired after the 2017 season with one year left on his contract, along with a team-held option for 2019. The league had concluded that Arizona was entitled to no compensation, because it hadn’t exercised its option for 2019. But unless the deadline for exercising the 2019 option came before Arians retired at the end of the 2017 season (it surely didn’t), it made no sense to strip Arizona of all rights under the goofy notion that it should have formally exercised an option to keep someone who had retired.

 

Arizona has every right to be dissatisfied by the outcome, and any other teams in this situation should apparently exercise any options applicable to coaches who have resigned or retired.

 

NFC WEST

 

ARIZONA

It’s the year of the young, unproven coach.  Kliff Kingsbury gets the gig in Arizona on the heels of Matt LaFleur in Green Bay.  Another team trying to strike Sean McVay gold.  Josh Weinfuss of ESPN.com:

 

The Arizona Cardinals have hired former Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury to be their next head coach, the team announced Tuesday.

 

Kingsbury will receive a four-year deal, with a team option for a fifth year. A news conference to introduce Kingsbury is set for Wednesday.

 

The 39-year-old Kingsbury will replace Steve Wilks, who was fired on Dec. 31 after one season (3-13) in Arizona.

 

Kingsbury was fired by Texas Tech on Nov. 25 after seven seasons, including six as head coach, and was hired by USC to be its offensive coordinator on Dec. 5.

 

Kingsbury also interviewed with the New York Jets for their head-coaching vacancy.

 

In Kingsbury, the Cardinals get a coach with a reputation for having success with quarterbacks.

 

Kingsbury, who won the Sammy Baugh Trophy as the country’s best collegiate QB while at Texas Tech in 2002, has coached Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes, Denver’s Case Keenum, the Giants’ Davis Webb, the Chargers’ Nic Shimonek and Johnny Manziel.

 

At Texas Tech, Kingsbury’s team ranked fourth in offensive efficiency in the two full seasons when Mahomes, the breakout Chiefs star, was the starting quarterback. Only Oklahoma (first), Clemson (second) and Western Kentucky (third) were ranked higher in that span.

 

Arizona will hope that offensive success will carry over to the NFL.

 

Wth the Cardinals, Kingsbury will be paired with quarterback Josh Rosen, whom the team drafted 10th overall in 2018 but who struggled during his rookie season, throwing for 2,278 yards, 11 touchdowns and 14 interceptions while completing 55.2 percent of his passes in 14 games. Rosen had four of the top 10 worst Total QBR games in 2018.

 

Kingsbury spent three years in the NFL, from 2003 to ’05, with the Dallas Cowboys, New Orleans Saints and Jets. He completed just two passes for 17 yards in his career, both coming in Week 11 in 2005.

 

Kingsbury then went on to play in the CFL in 2006 and ’07 before starting his coaching career at the University of Houston in 2008.

 

In a year or so, we’ll know if Kingsbury made Patrick Mahomes or did Mahomes make Kingsbury?

 

Josh Weinfuss of ESPN.com believes it was Kingsbury who made Mahomes:

 

Kingsbury was the quarterback at Texas Tech for four seasons, setting seven NCAA records during his career and winning the Sammy Baugh Trophy, given to the top collegiate quarterback in the country, his senior season. He also was coached by quarterback guru Mike Leach. He was drafted in the sixth round of the 2003 draft by the New England Patriots, but never caught on in the league, bouncing around the fringe of several teams and playing in just one regular-season game.

 

There’s no denying that hiring the 39-year-old Kingsbury is a risk for the Cardinals — one general manager Steve Keim is essentially betting his job and reputation on. Kingsbury comes to Arizona after spending his entire coaching career in the college ranks, the past five years as head coach at Texas Tech, where he amassed a 35-40 record.

 

But there’s also no denying the Cardinals need to develop quarterback Josh Rosen, whom they took with the No. 10 pick in the draft last season. Rosen struggled during his rookie season, finishing dead last Total QBR with a rating of 26.0. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Rosen threw in tight windows on 21.6 percent of passes (most in NFL).

 

And working with Rosen is where Kingsbury can make everyone forget about his lack of NFL experience.

 

Kingsbury’s résumé is full of quarterback success stories. Baker Mayfield. Johnny Manziel. Case Keenum. Davis Webb. Nic Shimonek. And some guy named Patrick Mahomes.

 

Sure, all of them had success running Kingsbury’s “Air Raid” scheme in college. It’s a spread offense that lets quarterbacks throw at will. Kingsbury, who ran it under Leach, once threw 70 times in a game.

 

That kind of offense has drawn skepticism around the NFL, including from former Cardinals coach Bruce Arians, who is finalizing a deal to become the next coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Arians’ chief complaint about young quarterbacks is they can’t command a huddle because, in the spread, they’d run no-huddle and look to the sideline for the plays.

 

Whether the Cardinals will run the “Air Raid” or some version of it is yet to be seen, but this much is certain: Kingsbury knows how to coach quarterbacks. That won’t change regardless of the scheme Arizona runs. And the spread is starting to infiltrate the NFL as pro coaches are stealing from their young quarterbacks’ college playbooks to help them adapt quicker.

 

Kingsbury used tough-love tactics on Manziel back in 2012 at Texas A&M, leading to an 11-win season and a Heisman Trophy for Manziel. Kingsbury also groomed Mahomes into a top-10 pick while cultivating his dazzling arm for three years at Texas Tech.

 

“I think he could be a great NFL coach,” said Mahomes early Tuesday. “He has the work ethic. He has the passion for the game. I know he loves this sport and he’d be able to relate to quarterbacks. He would put in the work. Now it’s about him finding out where he needs to be at.”

 

The key to Kingsbury’s success as a head coach, which will ultimately be determined by wins and losses, will be who he surrounds himself with. One of his first decisions will be whether or not he’ll call the plays. If he does, then his offensive coordinator will be in title only. If he doesn’t, then Kingsbury will have to find someone who’s in lock-step with his creative genius. That would also give him more time to work one-on-one with Rosen, who’ll be on his third coordinator and second coach in two seasons. It’s hard to believe Kingsbury will give the reins of the offense to anyone. His offensive ingenuity is why the Cardinals are risking 2019 on a mostly-unproven coach.

 

If Kingsbury can hire a defensive coordinator who can operate without much guidance, then Kingsbury will be ahead of the game. That kind of arrangement worked for Arians, who ran the offense while Todd Bowles and then James Bettcher ran the defense. Arians checked in occasionally, gave his opinion on things, but trusted his defensive assistants.

 

And if Kingsbury is going to learn from his most recent predecessor in Arizona, he’ll stock his staff with coaches who have NFL experience.

 

But the more he can focus on Rosen, the better off he’ll be — and the better off the Cardinals will be.

 

On the other hand, longtime Arizona Republic beat man Kent Somers offers a surprisingly clear opinion:

 

The interest of the NFL in Kingsbury was so surprising that even Kingsbury apparently was caught off guard. If he knew NFL teams would come calling, then why would he have accepted a job as Southern California offensive coordinator last month?

 

It’s a bold move by the Cardinals. And a bad one. Kingsbury has never coached in the NFL, and the list of coaches with no pro experience who successfully transitioned from college to the NFL is short.

 

Former San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh and Houston Texans coach Bill O’Brien were assistants in the NFL before leaving for college jobs and then back to the pros.

 

Steve Spurrier was a colossal failure with Washington, and Chip Kelly had two good years with the Philadelphia Eagles before getting fired after the 2015 season. He was snapped up by the 49ers, who fired him after one season.

 

NFL owners generally aren’t free thinkers, so they try to copy the success of others. And young, offensive-minded coaches have had success in the last two years, most notably McVay and Matt Nagy of the Chicago Bears.

 

But Kingsbury doesn’t have the background of those two. McVay, 32, is the grandson of John McVay, the former general manager of the 49ers, and was an assistant in the NFL for nine years before the Rams hired him.

 

Nagy, 40, had been an assistant in the NFL since 2008.

 

Kingsbury’s only NFL experience is the short time he spent as a backup quarterback with the New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints and New York Jets.

 

As a coach, he has reputation as an offensive innovator and the list of quarterbacks he has tutored includes Case Keenum, Johnny Manziel, Patrick Mahomes, Baker Mayfield and Davis Webb.

 

But as a head coach, Kingsbury’s record was less than stellar: 35-40 overall, including losing records the last three years, and a 19-35 overall record in the Big 12. No, Lubbock isn’t the easiest place to recruit to. But Kingsbury’s predecessor, Mike Leach, went 84-43 there.

 

To be a success in the NFL, Kingsbury is going to need considerable help, especially in assembling a staff.

 

His downfall at Texas Tech was defense, so the Cardinals need to make an equally bold hire at defensive coordinator.

 

And if you’re a defensive coach with options, such as Todd Bowles or Chuck Pagano, what’s attractive about the Cardinals?

 

Working with a head coach with no NFL experience?

 

Working for a team with a general manager, Steve Keim, who was partly responsible for this season’s 3-13 record?

 

For a team president, Michael Bidwill, who is involved in nearly every football decision?

 

There’s a chance it could work. Kingsbury could inject life into a Cardinals offense that has been bypassed by the ongoing renaissance in the NFL. He could lure a proven defensive coordinator, as McVay was able to do with Wade Phillips. Keim could revert to the general manager he was from 2013 through 2015, when the phrase “Keim time” was meant as a compliment.

 

But that’s a lot of wishes that have to come true.

 

There’s no question Kingsbury is an out-of-the-box hire. But that doesn’t mean it’s a wise choice.

 

 

SAN FRANCISCO

Jerry Rice with some advice for the 49ers.  Kevin Patra of NFL.com:

 

The greatest wide receiver of all time believes his former team should take a shot at bringing in Antonio Brown.

 

Hall of Fame wideout Jerry Rice told 95.7 The Game this week that the San Francisco 49ers should chase a trade for Brown, who is in murky waters in Pittsburgh.

 

“If you got a player like that, that you can get,” Rice said, via NBC Bay Area. “That can really add to the offense of the San Francisco 49ers where you let those guys go play, I think you have to go for it.”

 

Linking the 49ers and Brown isn’t a new phenomenon. Brown himself has teased Niners fans on social media, and San Francisco’s Pro Bowl tight end George Kittle openly addressed the WR on Twitter.

 

NFL.com Analyst Bucky Brooks noted the Niners as one of the teams that should try to trade for Brown. Adding arguably the best receiver in the NFL to an offense with Jimmy Garoppolo and George Kittle could finally get the 49ers out of top 10 draft position.

 

We’re not even 10 days into January, and it’s already been a tumultuous offseason for the Steelers. Brown is at the center of the tumult after he skipped practices, didn’t communicate with coach Mike Tomlin, and sat out the final week of the season.

 

With a cap hit of $21 million that would come by jettisoning the WR, and the general stability of the Steelers organization, odds are that Pittsburgh and Brown smooth out their differences during the offseason. But the Steelers seem at least will to consider moving on from the superstar receiver if a team like the 49ers is willing to pay a sizable package.

 

AFC NORTH

 

CLEVELAND

As they head down the stretch, holdover interim OC Freddie Kitchens has the edge over Vikings interim OC Kevin Stefanski, in the Cleveland Coaching Derby.  Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

 

Freddie Kitchens has a good chance of being named head coach of the Browns, sources tell cleveland.com, and many signs are pointing that way.

 

One source close to the situation told cleveland.com that the Browns seem to be closing in on their man, and that it could be Kitchens. Another source told cleveland.com that several assistant coaches have already been asked to stay on.

 

Kitchens, 44, interviewed with the Browns on Monday, and he was the last of seven candidates interviewed in the first wave. Also on Monday, the Browns talked to Mike McCarthy or his representatives and put their interest in him on hold, according to Rob Demovsky, who covers the Packers for ESPN.com.

 

In addition, Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels revealed on a conference call on Tuesday that he’s had “no contact” with the Browns and that the “book is closed’ on any more head coach interviews this year after he was passed over for the Packers job in favor of former Titans coordinator Matt LaFleur.

 

So for those wondering if McDaniels, the Canton-area native, was going to swoop in and take the job, it’s not going to happen.

 

Vikings interim offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski is on his way to Cleveland for a second interview with the Browns, according to NFL Network. Ian Rapoport of NFL Network says he’s a finalist for the job along with Freddie Kitchens.

 

The Browns blocked other NFL teams from interviewing Kitchens for their offensive coordinator positions so they could keep him here, either as head coach or offensive coordinator. After taking over midway through the season when Hue Jackson and Todd Haley were fired, Kitchens established himself as an effective, innovative and aggressive play caller who could get the most out of Baker Mayfield and keep him upright.

 

In the first eight games of the season with Haley calling the plays, Mayfield went 1-4 with eight touchdowns and six interceptions. He completed 58.3 percent of his attempts for 1,471 yards and was sacked 20 times. The Browns averaged 21 points in those games and scored 18 points or less on four occasions despite a boatload of takeaways

 

In the last eight games under Kitchens, he went 5-3, with 19 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He completed 68.4 percent of his passes for 2,254 yards and was sacked only five times.

 

In addition, Kitchens received rave reviews from national football experts and analysts, NBC Sports’ Peter King.

 

“Kitchens sounds exactly like the kind of coach teams in a coaching search should investigate,’’ King in his Football Morning in America column. “Everyone’s looking for the next (Sean) Payton, the next Sean McVay. Could it be the barrel-chested Alabamian who, despite never having been a coordinator before, has turned the Cleveland offense into must-see TV in his seven weeks on the job?’’

 

Kitchens, who bonded with Mayfield and developed a mutual trust, stressed last month that he “definitely, no doubt’’ wants to be a head coach and would love it to be here.

 

“I like it here and I like it here a lot, and everybody around here knows that I like it here,’’ said Kitchens, who started out as the running backs coach under Jackson and Haley. “I love the town of Cleveland. Cleveland and I get along well.”

 

Dorsey was been impressed with Kitchens’ eight-game on-the-job interview.

 

“He’s moved the ball,’’ Dorsey said. “He’s gotten the ball out of the quarterback’s hands quicker. He’s put some flair and different route combinations together that help out the quarterback. Overall, he’s kind of moved the bar on the offensive side of the ball.”

 

He also praised his play calling ability.

 

“I’ve always said play calling is an art, not a true science,’’ said Dorsey. “You have to feel the moment. I think Freddie has a good feel for that type of thing.”

 

Kitchens’ resume is also impressive. He played quarterback for three seasons at Alabama under Gene Stallings. He’s also worked for some of the brightest minds in football, serving as a grad assistant under Nick Saban at LSU in 2000, and coaching tight ends for the Cowboys under Bill Parcells in 2006.

 

He spent 11 years in Arizona working under Ken Whisenhunt and Bruce Arians, spending four seasons coaching quarterback Carson Palmer, who set multiple single-season team records, including passing yards (4,671), touchdown passes (35), and passer rating (104.6).

 

Arians thinks so much of Kitchens that he recently told NFL Network that he’d keep him on as offensive coordinator if he got the Browns’ job. Instead, Arians is a frontrunner for the Bucs job.

 

Left unsaid is whether Gregg Williams would stick around to run the defense for Kitchens.

 

 

PITTSBURGH

Two assistants have left the Steelers, but Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Press-Gazette says that Mike Tomlin wants to add three to replace them.

 

The Steelers are in the market for two assistant coaches — and possibly a third — but they are also considering expanding their staff and adding an additional full-time assistant.

 

It is unclear what position or area the Steelers will address with an additional assistant, but it is among the items coach Mike Tomlin is exploring as he wraps up postseason evaluations with his staff.

 

Tomlin has already elected not to renew the contracts of two assistants — outside linebackers coach Joey Porter and running backs coach James Saxon. And it will be interesting to see in which direction he will go to find their replacements.

 

Two of Tomlin’s past three position hires — defensive line coach Karl Dunbar and secondary coach Tom Bradley — came from the college ranks, where they had extensive experience and were viewed as teachers. The Steelers could go in a similar direction again when replacing Porter and Saxon.

 

One of the reasons the Steelers parted with Porter is because they felt he needed to develop more as a coach rather than simply being a former player who can pass on tricks of the trade. Porter spent one season as a graduate assistant coach at Colorado State, his alma mater, before being hired by the Steelers in 2014.

 

The Steelers could lose another assistant — an important one — if offensive line coach/run game coordinator Mike Munchak is offered and accepts a head-coaching position with another NFL team. Munchak has interviewed with the Denver Broncos and is considered a strong candidate to replace Vance Joseph, who was fired after two seasons.

 

AFC SOUTH

 

HOUSTON

What position does JADEVEON CLOWNEY play?  The Texans and their player have agreed to disagree.  Field Yates of ESPN.com:

 

Houston Texans defensive standout Jadeveon Clowney was paid a bonus of $1.005 million on the penultimate day of the 2018 regular season as part of a resolution over a dispute of which position he should have been listed as playing under his fifth-year option, a source told ESPN.

 

The option, which is built into the contracts of all players selected in the first round of the NFL draft, pays players based on their position and draft slot. (Players selected first through 10th occupy one group, while those selected 11th through 32nd are lumped into another.)

 

Although it is unclear specifically how the resolution was reached, Clowney likely contended he should have been designated as a defensive end and not a linebacker, as a defensive end on the fifth-year option was entitled to larger total pay in 2018. The net result of the resolution was that Clowney’s 2018 compensation escalated from $12.306 million to $13.311 million.

 

The first overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft finished the season with nine sacks and is now scheduled to hit free agency. The position designation could loom once again, with Houston expected to consider the franchise tag for Clowney this offseason. Like the fifth-year option, the franchise tag designation involves positional value.

 

Clowney is used in a variety of ways in Houston’s defense, which makes it harder to pin him at one single position, a concern players and agents of players who are used in a versatile role have previously been mindful of.

 

The settlement allowed Houston and Clowney to meet in the middle for now.

 

 

INDIANAPOLIS

The AP points out that comeback king QB ANDREW LUCK has been playing with leads lately:

 

During their current five-game winning streak, the Colts (11-6) have trailed in only two games and have not faced a deficit larger than 10. Indy led wire-to-wire in three of its last four victories and hasn’t trailed since scoring the go-ahead touchdown in the final minute of the Giants’ game in Week 16.

 

The formula could prove particularly useful at Kansas City in Saturday’s divisional round game.

 

“When you get the lead, you can dictate how the game goes,” said kicker Adam Vinatieri, who owns four Super Bowl rings and is expected to appear in his 32nd postseason game. “By taking the lead, you get to manage the game and that’s one of the things I’m really impressed with is how well the defense has played the last couple of weeks.”

 

This will be a different kind of test.

 

The AFC West champion Chiefs (12-4) return from a bye week as the conference’s top seed, with the league’s highest scoring offense (35.3 points) and a lot to prove in a lopsided postseason series.

 

Kansas City is 0-4 all-time against Indy in the playoffs, having lost at home following the 1995 season after securing he No. 1 seed and again in 2003, in a game that featured no punts. The Chiefs also lost in Indy following the 2006 season when Larry Johnson, the league’s No. 2 rusher, gained just 32 yards, and again in January 2014 when Luck rallied the Colts from a 38-10 deficit in the third quarter for a 45-44 victory falling just short of the record 32-point comeback orchestrated by Colts coach Frank Reich in January 1993.

 

AFC EAST

 

NEW YORK JETS

Is Mike McCarthy in play for the Jets job?  Because if he’s not, he might not be in play for anything else.  This from the unedited remnants of the New York Daily News:

 

Mike McCarthy is putting all his eggs in one basket.

 

The former Packers coach is only interested in the Jets’ coaching job, according to Adam Schefter, and doesn’t even want to be considered for any other openings. What’s more likely, though, is that he simply isn’t under consideration by any of the other teams with vacancies and the Jets are his last shot.

 

It’s an interesting spin move from McCarthy, who is the most experienced head coach on the market but may not even be the Jets’ top choice. He helped groom Aaron Rodgers into a future Hall of Fame quarterback, but he also was fired in part because of discord with the QB.

 

Gang Green is first and foremost trying to find a head coach who would be a perfect fit for Sam Darnold. And that could come from the college ranks or from elsewhere around the NFL, with candidates who may be bolder and riskier choices. After losing out on Kliff Kingsbury, who will be the next coach of the Arizona Cardinals, the Jets still have Adam Gase, Todd Monken and Matt Rhule as serious contenders for the job.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

BROADCAST NEWS

Just what the NFL wants – a second suitor for the Sunday night package.  Charean Williams of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

FOX and CBS hold the rights to the Sunday afternoon TV packages until 2022, but a new player might want in on negotiations with the NFL for a new deal. Andrew Marchand of the New York Post reports that ABC is “kicking around the idea of going hard” after either CBS’ or FOX’s package.

 

ESPN and ABC both are owned by Disney, and ESPN’s Monday Night Football deal ends after the 2021 season.

 

FOX’s Thursday night and NBC’s Sunday night packages are up in 2022.

 

Amazon, Facebook, Yahoo and/or Twitter also could become factors in how the NFL divides its schedule of games in the next go round.

 

With more players bidding for rights to its games, the NFL can expect even more money in the next round of negotiations.