The Daily Briefing Friday, February 16, 2018

AROUND THE NFL 

The NFL has announced the five cities from which the next two communities to host the draft will be selected. 

 

 

The NFL Draft might be coming to your city.

 

The finalists to host the 2019 or 2020 draft, as announced on Thursday, are Cleveland/Canton, Kansas City, Tennessee, Denver and Las Vegas, per NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport. The winners will be announced at the Spring League Meeting in May. A winning city cannot host the draft in both years.

 

Four of the above cities are home to NFL franchises. Canton is the home of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Las Vegas doesn’t currently have a team, but the Oakland Raiders are set to move there for the start of the 2020 season.

 

This year’s draft, which takes place April 26-28, will be held at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

 

The draft was held in New York City from 1965 through 2014. However since 2015, the league has moved the draft’s location around from year to year, holding the annual event in Chicago in two seasons and Philadelphia for one.

 

NFC SOUTH

 

TAMPA BAY

Bonnie Mott of USA TODAY thinks that CB AQIB TALIB could return to the team that drafted him lo these many years ago:

 

A few rumors have circulated across the league claiming that the Denver Broncos may be cutting cornerback Aqib Talib this offseason. Not because of his game, but mostly because Denver would save a ton of cap space if they part ways with him. One team Talib has been linked to for weeks now is the Bucs.

 

Since Brent Grimes is set to be a free agent in March and it’s unclear whether or not he’ll want to sign with Tampa Bay, that leaves pretty limited depth on the Bucs secondary, especially considering Vernon Hargreaves’ struggles.

 

Fortunately for Tampa Bay, the Bucs have the cap space to pursue him and he would likely be able to provide an immediate impact for the Bucs’ serious dilemma on defense. It also helps to know that he already has a history with Tampa Bay.

 

Prior to becoming a Bronco, Talib was drafted by the Bucs with the No. 20 overall pick in the 2008 draft where he played a huge role in the defense’s success. Talib then signed with the Broncos  in 2014, and since his signing, the team has ranked among the top defenses in the league and he’s one of the primary reasons why. It’s uncertain whether the Bucs will target a corner through free agency or the draft, but one way or another Talib should be an candidate they at least consider.

 

NFC WEST

 

ARIZONA

WR LARRY FITZGERALD has told his new coach that he plans on returning in 2018.  The Twitterer at the Doug and Wolf Show struggles with ecstatic:

 

Larry [Fitzgerald] mentioned to me last night that he’s coming back for the 2018 season….he’s totally committed, those are his words. We’re extatic to have him part of the Arizona Cardinals.” -Coach Steve Wilks

 

AFC NORTH

 

CINCINNATI

An arbitrator has ruled in favor of QB A.J. McCARRON and he is an unrestricted free agent.  Katherine Terrell of ESPN.com:

 

Cincinnati Bengals quarterback AJ McCarron got his wish.

 

He will be an unrestricted free agent on March 14 after an arbiter ruled Thursday in favor of the backup quarterback in his grievance against the Bengals.

 

“It’s just a blessing,” he told the Cincinnati Enquirer. “I was going to be blessed either way because you’re still in the league, you’re still being able to play the game for a living, but it’s just awesome just to be free now and to hopefully get that opportunity and be able to compete somewhere. That’s all I’ve ever wanted. I’m just super excited. Just really excited that I get that opportunity now and I just can’t wait to just showcase what I can do and show a team that I can lead a team and win ballgames.”

 

McCarron will also be eligible for back pay for the time he spent on the non-football injury (NFI) list, the arbiter ruled, a source told ESPN’s Dan Graziano. The amount of money McCarron will receive isn’t immediately known.

 

McCarron told the newspaper that he will “be open to everything” in free agency.

 

“I’m not the one — the people that know me and truly know me, and my family knows — it’s not about the money for me. I just love playing football. Making the money is great but I just want to play. … Whoever gives me an opportunity. I’m not going to chase the huge contract and be put in a situation that I might not be one hundred percent comfortable with just because it’s a lot more money or whatever. I want to go somewhere where I can win and help the team win and we have a bright future together. I’m just super excited for this next chapter,” he told the Enquirer.

 

McCarron, 27, filed the grievance in November, arguing that the Bengals should have activated him from the NFI list during training camp in 2014, his rookie season. Instead, the Bengals kept him on the NFI list with a shoulder injury and didn’t activate him until Dec. 9, and he wasn’t credited for service time needed for an accrued season (six regular-season games are needed).

 

A player needs four years of service time to be an unrestricted free agent. For another team to sign a restricted free agent it must first sign the player to an offer sheet, which the player’s existing team has five days to match.

 

Teams can restrict the movement of restricted free agents by using tenders associated with draft picks. It is expected that the Bengals would have assigned a first-round tender to McCarron if he had been a restricted free agent, so any team that signed him to an offer sheet that the Bengals chose not to match would have had to surrender a first-round draft pick to Cincinnati.

 

McCarron was taken by the Bengals in the fifth round (164th overall) of the 2014 draft out of Alabama, and emerged with shoulder tightness in May, which caused him to sit out of organized team activities. He did return to participate in minicamp before being placed on the NFI list before training camp. The NFI is for players who have injuries that occur away from the team, including college football injuries.

 

In McCarron’s case, the Bengals exercised their full window available before putting him on the active roster, which affected not only his pay (players on NFI do not necessarily get paid their full salary), but also his accrued season. McCarron said during training camp in 2014 that his shoulder felt great, but he was not participating because it was the team’s wish.

 

McCarron told the Enquirer that “it was never a personal issue at all” with the Bengals and he “absolutely loved” his time with the team. He told the newspaper it was “an honor to play for them.”

 

Dan Graziano, also of ESPN.com, takes a look at where McCarron might fall in the QB market:

 

At first glance, this AJ McCarron news might not strike you as much. A fifth-round pick who’s started four games in four NFL seasons can now be an unrestricted free agent. Big whoop, right? Are teams really going to line up to throw money at him just because they can?

 

Thing is, though, McCarron plays quarterback. And that position makes NFL teams do funny things. Just a year ago, Mike Glennon was a 27-year-old free agent with 18 career starts — none since 2014 — and the Bears signed him for $18.5 million guaranteed.

 

McCarron is 27. His four starts in Cincinnati were in 2015. One was a playoff game. He completed 62 percent of his passes in them, with five touchdowns and one interception. He played well enough to win the playoff game, but the Bengals lost to the Steelers in painful fashion because Jeremy Hill fumbled and the defense lost its mind.

 

Oh, and don’t forget that, just a little more than three months ago, a team tried to trade a second-round pick and a third-round pick for McCarron but couldn’t get it done because of a deadline paperwork snafu.

 

The point here is this: Don’t rule out McCarron as a factor in the increasingly interesting 2018 offseason quarterback market.

 

Start with the Browns, the team that tried to trade for McCarron at the deadline in October. That got all botched up, and the team has since changed general manager and overhauled its front office, but if the Browns still want McCarron, they can now get him for nothing but money. Coach Hue Jackson was the offensive coordinator in Cincinnati for McCarron’s first two seasons and is known to be a fan. It’s not crazy to imagine the Browns signing McCarron as a guy they think can start in 2018 while whomever they draft — they have picks 1 and 4 in Round 1 — gets ready. And who knows? Maybe they like him enough that, if they sign him, they decide they don’t have to take a quarterback at the top of the draft. Unlikely, but you never know.

 

The top free-agent quarterback prize this year is Washington’s Kirk Cousins. But you can make a list of a half-dozen or so teams that will want Cousins, and only one can get him. If the Browns, Jets, Vikings, Cardinals, Broncos and Bills all try for Cousins, that means at least five teams will need a fallback option. Currently, those include the likes of Case Keenum, Tyrod Taylor, Sam Bradford and Teddy Bridgewater (who also hasn’t really played in two years). Josh McCown is out there as a one-year “bridge” option. Maybe a team can trade for Blake Bortles, but if so, that leaves Jacksonville as a team looking for a starting quarterback.

 

The question is not whether McCarron is a starting quarterback any more than that was the question about Glennon a year ago. The question is whether there is a team — or more than one team — out there that views McCarron as a 27-year-old with potential to be more than he’s been to this point in his NFL career. And if they’re willing to pay him a starter’s salary — even on a deal similar to the one-year commitment Chicago made last year to Glennon.

 

Quarterback is the NFL’s most stubborn and common problem, and it very rarely presents its teams with perfect solutions. If your team ends up signing McCarron and making him the starter in 2018, some of you will wonder if the decision-makers have lost their minds. Some will be cautiously optimistic. Very few will be satisfied, unless and until he performs at a level that justifies the decision. This is the nature of the quarterback market, and because of that, McCarron fits into it just fine. As of Thursday, we now know that he’s going to have a chance to maximize his value in a world where demand for what he does always outpaces supply. Which means he’s likely to end up coming out of this a very rich man.

 

Mike Florio looks at the implications of the ruling:

 

The ruling from arbitrator Shyam Das that Bengals quarterback A.J. McCarron represents the end of the road when it comes to McCarron’s effort to become an unrestricted free agent. As to the Bengals, it could be the beginning of a separate set of problems.

 

PFT has obtained a copy of the seven-page ruling in the case, which grants McCarron his freedom based on a finding that the Bengals improperly placed McCarron on the non-football injury list at the outset of the 2014 season.

 

The decision to keep McCarron on the NFI list to start the 2014 season came from Dr. Marc Galloway, who ultimately admitted that he kept McCarron on the NFI list not because Dr. Galloway believed McCarron couldn’t play football as of September 2014, but because Dr. Galloway “did not think it was in [McCarron’s] best long-term interest to play football in September.” Dr. Galloway admitted that, if McCarron had said he wants to play in September 2014, Galloway would have allowed him to play.

 

The arbitrator ultimately concluded that McCarron did not receive a medical examination before being placed on the NFI list, and that the evidence does not firmly establish that McCarron would have failed the exam. Indeed, by Dr. Galloway’s admission, McCarron would have passed it.

 

To put it simply and candidly, the Bengals stashed McCarron, a fifth-round rookie, behind starter Andy Dalton and veteran backup Jason Campbell. The next question becomes whether the Bengals will face any scrutiny for improperly utilizing the NFI list.

 

The broader question is whether and to what extent other teams are doing the same thing. The simple answers likely are “yes” and “plenty.”

 

 

PITTSBURGH

There seems to be some optimism that the Steelers will get a long term deal done with RB Le’VEON BELL.  Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell has said that he and the team had agreed to a deadline of February 20 to finalize a long-term deal. Four days from that artificial deadline, how real are the talks?

 

There’s talk in league circles that nothing much has been happening between the two sides in recent weeks. Of course, deadlines (real or fake) often lead to action, and if the foundation for a deal was laid in the days after the team’s season ended, it shouldn’t take much to get the deal done.

 

For Bell, it still makes sense to wait until the window for application of the franchise tag closes. If tagged a second straight time, Bell would be entitled to more than $14.5 million for 2018, making that the starting point for a long-term deal. If not tagged, the open market will determine his value.

 

The problem for Bell is that the running back market currently resides well south of $14.5 million per year, with LeSean McCoy and Devonta Freeman currently pushing the envelope in the range of $8 million per year. But Bell is a unique talent, a receiving and rushing threat, and if he’s free to leave it’s safe to say that another team hungry to sell tickets, jerseys, and/or hope would happily offer much more than the Steelers currently have on the table.

 

The Steelers may be telling Bell that the offer will get worse as time goes by. If so, Bell shouldn’t hesitate to call them on it. Barring unforeseen events (like an injury suffered by the player on his own time), contractual offers rarely decrease as time passes. Yes, there’s a chance that the Steelers at some point would say “screw it” and find another running back. But if they truly want Bell and if they’ve made a significant offer to keep him weeks before the true deadline to get something done, that offer likely will get better the closer they get to that last moment.

 

This year, that last moment comes on Monday, July 16 — if the Steelers use the tag. If they don’t, it comes on March 14, when Bell becomes a truly unrestricted free agent, able to sign anywhere he wants.

– – –

Meanwhile, WR JuJU SMITH-SCHUSTER was back in class – all decked out for work.  Curtis Crabtree of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster left USC a year early to declare for the NFL Draft.

 

With his rookie season now in the books, Smith-Schuster looked to fulfill a promise to his mother that he would return to school despite turning pro early.

 

He was back in class at USC on Thursday. However, he wasn’t dressed like the rest of his classmates. Instead, Smith-Schuster was decked out in his Steelers uniform.

@TeamJuJu

Told my mom last year that I’d go back to school since I left USC early. I went back to college today.

 

Smith-Schuster was in full uniform. Pads, helmet, receivers gloves, cleats, and even a Terrible Towel.

 

It’s a pretty easy way to answer all the questions from classmates wondering if he is who they think he is. And the best part is he’s keeping his promise to his mother as well.

 

AFC EAST

 

BUFFALO

Chris Wesseling of NFL.com on the visit of CB VONTAE DAVIS to Buffalo:

 

Three months after his release from the Colts, veteran cornerback Vontae Davis is drumming up interest as a free agent.

 

Davis is meeting with the Bills on Thursday, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported, via a source informed of the situation.

 

It’s no coincidence that Davis’ first visit has arrived just days after he gained medical clearance stemming from November’s season-ending surgery to repair a groin issue.

 

While standard free agents must await the onset of the 2018 league year in March, Davis is eligible to sign with a new team because he was released prior to the end of the 2017 season.

 

 

NEW ENGLAND

Hunter Felt of the UK Guardian wonders if TE ROB GRONKOWSKI is contemplating a career in Hollywood – and looks at those who have preceded him:

 

Following his team’s Super Bowl loss this month, New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski hinted he is contemplating retirement. It’s not entirely certain how seriously the 28-year-old is taking his decision – many believe this is merely a contract negotiation stunt – but if he does retire, the NFL’s loss could become Hollywood’s gain.

 

Sylvester Stallone and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who himself made the leap from wrestling to Hollywood, have been trying to convince Gronkowski to try his hand at acting, while David Arquette, who apparently is still in the industry, has even offered to produce a feature with him.

 

It might seem strange that Gronkowski would retire now when he is still in his prime and earning a base salary of $9m a year, but there are good reasons for him to walk away. After all, he’s been plagued by injuries throughout his career – most recently a concussion in this year’s AFC Championship Game. And that concussion may weigh more heavily on Gronkowski than any injuries to his body, as extensive as they have been. It’s impossible not to play in the NFL right now without being aware of the high risk of suffering significant, permanent brain damage.

 

And what’s left for Gronkowski to prove in the NFL? He has two Super Bowl rings. He already holds a ridiculous number of records: most touchdowns in a season by a tight end (18 in 2011), most receiving yards in a season by a tight end (1,327), most postseason touchdowns by a tight end (9) and pretty much all of the Patriots’ team records for his position. If he never plays another snap, Gronkowski will leave the game as one of the greatest tight ends in NFL history, and a no-doubt Hall of Famer.

 

Now, the other question here is whether Gronkowski should actually try to chase his dream of being the American Jason Statham. He does have a certain charisma that few of his peers share. He’s developed a particular persona – and the suspicion is that it’s very much a persona – of a fun-loving, good natured doofus, think Michelangelo from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in a (vaguely) human form, and has parlayed that into a side career as a commercial spokesperson. He’s already briefly appeared in the film You Can’t Have It and, like 90% of all human beings with even a remote claim to fame, appeared on Entourage.

 

That doesn’t mean he can act, of course. There’s a good reason that when NFL players appear in movies or on television shows, they typically play versions of themselves (for instance, Brett Favre in There’s Something About Mary and Dan Marino in Ace Ventura, Pet Detective). This is mainly because those casting movies are worried that a) NFL athletes lack the range to play anything else or that b) audiences will only accept them as anyone other than themselves.

 

There are success stories, of course. Jim Brown, one of the game’s all-time greats, parlayed impressive turns in Rio Conchos and The Dirty Dozen into a successful career in Blaxploitation movies. Defensive back Fred Williamson followed a similar route, making his debut in Robert Altman’s classic M*A*S*H before going on to appear in everything from Black Caesar to From Dusk Til Dawn. Detroit Lions defensive tackle Alex Karras famously played reformed bandit (and horse-puncher) Mongo in Blazing Saddles and went on to star as the dad in the Emmanuel Lewis vehicle Webster, ensuring that an entire generation went completely unaware that he was ever a professional athlete. Then there’s Naked Gun star OJ Simpson who … you know what, let’s not talk about that.

 

Gronkowski should be careful about what he’s wishing for. While the upside to starting a movie career is having a second career while still maintaining the fame – and paychecks – that you’re accustomed to, the downside is the potential for permanent embarrassment. There’s always the chance of appearing as, say, one half of The Thing With Two Heads like Rosey Grier or accidentally starting a meme as Howie Long did during his death scene in Broken Arrow.

 

Maybe the most notorious example of what can happen when an athlete tries to flex acting muscles that simply don’t exist would be the story of college football star/NFL bust Brian Bosworth. After Bo Jackson ended the colorful linebacker’s career, Bosworth attempted to follow up with an action career which started in earnest with the gloriously moronic Stone Cold and ended shortly thereafter.

 

Still, acting would ultimately be a less punishing and dangerous activity for Gronkowski than his current occupation. Even if it doesn’t work out for him, all Gronk has to lose his dignity – and it’s not like he had much of that to begin with.

 

Felt gives short shrift to Howie Long, who the DB actually liked in “Firestorm” where he was the lead.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

FREE AGENT FITS

At NFL.com, Gil Brandt theorizes on what teams would fit well for the top members of the upcoming class of free agents (some editing, whole thing here):

 

NOTE: These are not necessarily meant to predict where these players will sign; rather, I tried to find potential new homes where each player would fit well.

 

Kirk Cousins, quarterback

Potential fits: Cleveland Browns, New York Jets, Denver Broncos.

Cousins is a Pro Bowl-caliber player without a significant injury history who is in the prime of his career and has years of high-end production ahead of him. Thus, he is about to become the best quarterback to ever hit free agency, presenting a highly enticing opportunity for a number of teams in need at the position.

 

If I were the Browns, I’d strongly consider signing Cousins and taking a quarterback with either the first or fourth overall pick. Cousins can step in and make Cleveland — which is not as bad as people seem to think — instantly better, while providing a promising youngster like Josh Rosen (who I think has the chance to be special) time to develop….Don’t forget that general manager John Dorsey cut his teeth with the Packers, who famously drafted Aaron Rodgers to develop behind Brett Favre.

 

The Jets are similarly thirsty for a young, reliable winner like Cousins, while the Broncos are in the best position to seriously contend right away upon adding the soon-to-be-former Redskin.

 

Le’Veon Bell, running back

Potential fits: Pittsburgh Steelers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, New York Giants.

Leaving aside Bell’s suspension history and a relationship with his team that can seem bumpy at times, Bell is, from a pure talent standpoint, an all-around back who can make any squad better, regardless of scheme. If I were the Steelers, I’d try very hard to keep him in the fold — but I wouldn’t go overboard, given that Pittsburgh does have other offensive stars to lean on, like Antonio Brown, Ben Roethlisberger and JuJu Smith-Schuster. Plus, this draft isn’t a bad one in which to find running back talent. If Bell’s price is too high for the Steelers, the Buccaneers and Giants could both use his services. Tampa Bay hasn’t had a 1,000-yard rusher since 2015, and the Giants haven’t had one since 2012. Imagine what Bell could do to help unlock that Bucs offense. New York, meanwhile, is starved for complementary talent to help ease Eli Manning’s burden.

 

Allen Robinson, wide receiver

Potential fits: Jacksonville Jaguars, Dallas Cowboys, Chicago Bears.

The Cowboys and Bears both desperately need receiving help to juice up their offenses. Dallas could replace Dez Bryant, who has not posted a 1,000-yard season since 2014 and might make a logical cut candidate, while Chicago, frankly, could stand to add anyone who has proven capable of being a legitimate receiving threat. Robinson, who missed most of 2017 with a torn ACL, is a big-bodied receiver who can create separation. The receiver class in the draft, meanwhile, is relatively weak. Robinson is going to be expensive, but he’ll also produce. I’d expect the Jaguars to use the franchise tag on him, but if he somehow hits the open market, the Cowboys and Bears should leap at the chance to add him.

 

Demarcus Lawrence, pass rusher

Potential fits: Dallas Cowboys, Detroit Lions, Indianapolis Colts.

Everybody’s looking for a pass rusher like Lawrence, who is only 25 and coming off a breakout season in Dallas (14.5 sacks). I would think the Cowboys will franchise-tag him if necessary, but Lawrence would also make sense for the Colts, who finished with 25 sacks in 2017 (31st in the NFL).

 

Andrew Norwell, offensive guard

Potential fits: Carolina Panthers, San Francisco 49ers, Miami Dolphins.

If he reaches the market, Norwell is likely to become the richest guard in the league. The All-Pro is a solid player and probably better than Kevin Zeitler, who landed a lucrative deal from the Browns last offseason. The Niners should have tons of money to spend and would surely love to add additional protection for Jimmy Garoppolo.

 

Nate Solder, offensive tackle

Potential fits: New England Patriots, Houston Texans, Cincinnati Bengals.

Solder is the only top-flight left tackle on the path to free agency, and I think he’d make sense for the Bengals, who I see making a concentrated effort to spend some money in an attempt to beef up their line (40 sacks allowed in 2017, tied for 13th-most in the NFL). The Texans, meanwhile, must do everything in their power to protect Deshaun Watson… I think the Patriots should bring him back, but this team’s historical reluctance to invest in its own veterans is well known.

 

Sheldon Richardson, defensive tackle

Potential fits: Seattle Seahawks, Buffalo Bills, Kansas City Chiefs.

Somewhere along the line, Richardson is going to wake up — and it might be next to Chris Jones or Justin Houston in Kansas City.

 

Malcolm Butler, cornerback

Potential fits: Los Angeles Rams, Green Bay Packers.

Butler is going to have to explain his surprise benching by the Patriots for Super Bowl LII to prospective employers. But his overall track record is still strong enough to attract suitors. The Rams could use him to replace Trumaine Johnson, while the Packers, who need a second corner, could add him as new coordinator Mike Pettine shapes his defense.

 

Case Keenum, quarterback

Potential fits: Arizona Cardinals, Minnesota Vikings.

…He’ll be a top option for teams looking for veteran quarterback help, and the Cardinals — who, like the Vikings, play at least half their games indoors — would make sense. Keenum is a quiet leader who gets the job done, and I could see him being a steadying influence on Arizona as the team transitions to new coach Steve Wilks. I think the Vikings should try to retain Keenum, even if they also keep fellow QB Teddy Bridgewater, though the market for Keenum will be competitive.

 

Sammy Watkins, wide receiver

Potential fits: Tennessee Titans, Oakland Raiders, Los Angeles Rams.

The Rams should try to keep him, but if he leaves Los Angeles, he could really help Oakland. Watkins’ career yards-per-catch figure (15.9) is 1.6 yards better than that of top Raiders receiver Amari Cooper (14.3); furthermore, no Oakland pass-catcher reached the 700-yard mark in 2017. Tennessee, meanwhile, has not had any wideout post a 1,000-yard season in Marcus Mariota’s three years there, and adding Watkins would be worth a shot.

 

Jarvis Landry, wide receiver

Potential fits: Baltimore Ravens, Cleveland Browns.

Landry is the NFL record-holder for catches in a player’s first four pro seasons, with 400. A quick possession-type receiver with fabulous hands, Landry would make a big difference in both Cleveland and Baltimore. After all, he piled up those numbers in Miami despite spotty quarterback play.

 

Bashaud Breeland, cornerback

Potential fits: Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots.

Breeland is not as good as A.J. Bouye, but he does remind me of last year’s marquee free-agent cornerback. Breeland, who has shown in his four years with the Redskins that he can cover the opposition’s best receiver, would pair nicely with Stephon Gilmore in New England or Xavien Howard in Miami.

 

Ezekiel Ansah, pass rusher

Potential fits: Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Baltimore Ravens, Detroit Lions.

Ansah managed just two sacks in an injury-hampered 2016 season — and then he racked up 12 in ’17. But it was a quiet 12; Ansah just didn’t seem to flash like he did in college. New Lions coach Matt Patricia must decide how he sees Ansah (and the talent pool he’d be drawing from to replace him), but I could envision Detroit using the franchise tag here. Alternatively, Ansah could potentially help quite a bit in Baltimore (where Terrell Suggs is only getting older) or Tampa (which posted a league-low 22 sacks in 2017).

 

Justin Pugh, offensive lineman

Potential fits: Houston Texans, Denver Broncos.

Pugh can play guard or right tackle, and the Broncos desperately need help on the offensive line, as do the Texans. The Giants will do what they can to keep him, but I’m not sure they can afford to tag him. Pugh is a better run-blocker than pass-protector, but he’s not bad at pass protection, either — he’s really a versatile guy, and that’s what everyone is looking for.

 

 

NEW COACHES

Two sets of “rankings” of the new coaching hires.  First, Adam Schein at NFL.com who likes all the hires and had to place somone (Matt Vrabel) last:

 

1) Jon Gruden, Oakland Raiders

Previous job: “Monday Night Football” analyst.

Gruden is worth the 100 million bucks to the Raiders, on and off the field. The guy’s an offensive guru and a rock star — two characteristics that are absolutely crucial for this franchise at this moment.

 

Derek Carr got my AP vote for NFL MVP in 2016. But this past season, his production regressed across the board. I think injuries played a part there, but Carr just didn’t look like himself. Consequently, the Raiders’ entire operation sagged and underachieved, following up the breakthrough 12-4 campaign of 2016 with a 6-10 dud. Oakland ranked sixth in total offense and seventh in scoring in 2016. In 2017? Those marks plummeted to 17th and 23rd. Gruden brings an energy, a major jolt. It’s one the entire team needs, but Carr and the rest of the offense will especially benefit, given Gruden’s offensive savvy. He will instantly get the 26-year-old quarterback back on track and lift the offense back into the ranks of the elite.

 

On the star-power front … Gruden pacifies the jilted fan base in Oakland, where he’s a legend from his previous stint with the franchise. And he will be the face desperately needed when the team moves to Vegas in 2020. It’s perfect.

 

The Raiders are back!

 

2) Matt Patricia, Detroit Lions

Previous job: New England Patriots defensive coordinator.

Matt Patricia is not Bill Belichick. He made that abundantly clear during his highly impressive introductory news conference in Detroit. Patricia learned from Bill. He’s brilliant like Belichick. He obviously will look to enact the winning culture at his new spot, but he’s not going to fall into the trap of faux-Belichicks like Eric Mangini and Josh McDaniels, who both flamed out horribly as head coaches. Patricia knows that he has to be his own man, do things his own way.

 

I’ve long admired and respected Patricia. He gets it. Don’t read too much into the Super Bowl follies; Patricia is a brilliant defensive mind who got the Pats’ talent-poor unit to overachieve for the bulk of the season. And I love that he retained Jim Bob Cooter to run the offense. That’s big, as the coordinator clearly has a great rapport with Matthew Stafford.

 

I’m a huge Matt Patricia fan and believer.

 

3) Frank Reich, Indianapolis Colts

Previous job: Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator.

Chris Ballard bounced back from Josh McDaniels’ weaselly move quite admirably. No surprise to anyone who watched the Colts general manager’s news conference directly following McDaniels’ stunning about-face, something Ballard handled with grace and aplomb. And frankly, when it comes to character and organizational collaboration, the Colts did better on the final hire.

 

Reich is a gem. He worked wonders with Carson Wentz, Nick Foles and the Super Bowl-champion Eagles. Philip Rivers loves him. So does Bill Polian. Andrew Luck oozes the same talent as Wentz, and if/when the QB returns to the field, Reich will have Luck doing the same kind of magical things. Not to mention, this is a homecoming of sorts for Reich, who worked as a Colts assistant under Tony Dungy and Jim Caldwell. The great Peyton Manning vouches for him.

 

I love the Colts’ rebound here, but honestly, I love the hire in isolation.

 

4) Steve Wilks, Arizona Cardinals

Previous job: Carolina Panthers defensive coordinator.

Wilks dazzled myself and the audience during a late-January appearance on my SiriusXM Radio show, “Schein on Sports.” Easy to see how he wowed the Cardinals brass during the hiring process. This 48-year-old defense-centric coach is all about winning and attention to detail. His passion for the game is infectious. Perfect for the Cardinals right now. Arizona has a lot of talent, particularly on defense. But the Cardinals weren’t so buttoned-up over the last two seasons. Wilks’ no-nonsense style will get the train back on the tracks.

 

Wilks’ first order of business: finding a quarterback. No easy task as a first-time head coach. Fortunately, he has a sharp GM in Steve Keim to spearhead that process.

 

5) Matt Nagy, Chicago Bears

Previous job: Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator.

I love the thinking behind this hire. Yes, the former Chiefs OC is fresh off one of his worst performances — a home playoff loss to the Titans where Kansas City blew an 18-point halftime lead, thanks in part to Nagy inexplicably abandoning Kareem Hunt after the break. But like I said with Patricia, you can’t judge a guy off one game. Nagy is well-respected in league circles. And most importantly, Ryan Pace needed to hire someone with experience maximizing the quarterback. Nagy fits the bill brilliantly. Alex Smith just enjoyed a career year under Nagy’s watchful eye. With Nagy in Chicago, expect Mitchell Trubisky to make a sizeable leap in Year 2.

 

Nagy put together an all-star coaching staff. Retaining Vic Fangio as the defensive coordinator was a must, and Nagy sealed the deal. Furthermore, he brilliantly pilfered Harry Hiestand from Notre Dame to run the Bears’ offensive line. Think about what this staff can do with Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen. (See: Nagy’s work with Kareem Hunt and Tyreek Hill in K.C.)

 

Now it’s on Pace to get Nagy players on a paper-thin roster with arguably the worst receiving corps in the league.

 

6) Pat Shurmur, New York Giants

Previous job: Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator.

Don’t let the ranking fool you — I really like the Giants’ hiring of Shurmur. He needs to do a better job dealing with his players and the media than he did during his prior head-coaching stint in Cleveland. The safe guess, after talking to people who worked with him in Minnesota, is that he will. And Shurmur’s work with Case Keenum this past season speaks volumes. I thought the Vikings would completely fall apart after dynamic rookie Dalvin Cook tore his ACL in Week 4. Not so much. Shurmur got the most out of Cook’s replacements, Jerick McKinnon and Latavius Murray.

 

Now, Shurmur needs an offensive line and run game in New York. I’ll be honest: I do NOT like the hiring of Mike Shula as offensive coordinator. His Carolina tenure was marked by underachievement. Don’t really see how he helps Shurmur’s offense in New York. But I guess that’s a crucial point there: It’s really Shurmur’s offense, as the head coach is expected to call the plays.

 

In the bigger picture, Shurmur needs to clean up Ben McAdoo’s mess, which means accountability and attitude, especially on defense.

 

7) Mike Vrabel, Tennessee Titans

Previous job: Houston Texans defensive coordinator.

I like Vrabel. Really. I like him much more than Mike Mularkey as a head coach. And I loved his choice of Matt LaFleur to be the offensive coordinator. When I talked to Marcus Mariota on CBS Sports Network, he was energized by it all. And he should be. The Titans were wildly inconsistent last season … but still good enough to make the postseason and win a road playoff game. With a steadier hand at the wheel, this team has plenty of promise.

 

So, again, I like the Vrabel appointment here. I just like the other hires more.

 

Next, a collection of authors at SBNation.com offers this assessment, but not exactly a ranking, of how the coaching carousel ground to a stop for 2018:

 

The NFL’s coaching carousel spun and spit out seven new head coaches for the 2018 season.

 

There were splashes, like the Raiders’ 10-year, $100 million hire of Jon Gruden. And there was drama, like the Colts hiring former Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich less than a week after getting spurned by Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, who had already been announced as the new head coach.

 

A year ago, there were six new head coaches in the NFL. Two of them — Sean McVay of the Rams, and Doug Marrone of the Jaguars — led drastic turnarounds that ended with division titles. Another first-year head coach, Sean McDermott, got the Bills to the postseason for the first time in 18 years.

 

Which team will do a 180 next year and which rookie head coaches are doomed to be on the chopping block sooner rather than later?

 

Most likely to lead a quick turnaround: Jon Gruden, Raiders

The Oakland Raiders went from 12-4 in 2016 to a 6-10 mark in 2017. The drop off perhaps wasn’t too surprising, considering the Raiders were 8-1 in games decided by seven points or fewer in 2016. But there’s one match here that matters more than others — and that’s between Gruden and quarterback Derek Carr.

 

Gruden has earned a reputation as a quarterback guru, between winning a Super Bowl in 2002 with Brad Johnson and his work with ESPN and his quarterback camp segments. Carr received a $125 million extension last offseason, and he was in the MVP conversation for a good chunk of the 2016 season before an injury ended his year. Carr struggled to regain his form in 2017, however.

 

Now Carr has the chance to be the best quarterback that Gruden’s ever had, which seems like a perfect storm for getting the Raiders back into the postseason. There’s work to be done on defense, but if DC Paul Guenther is able to do as well has he did in Cincinnati, the Raiders could immediately look better in 2018.

 

Best long-term future: Mike Vrabel, Titans

Vrabel is the fastest riser in this year’s crop of new head coaches. He only had one year of experience as the defensive coordinator of the Texans before the Titans tapped him to take over for Mike Mularkey. But ultimately, the 42-year-old players’ coach is in a good position for long-term success.

 

He inherits Marcus Mariota, who’s just 24, and a team that managed to make the playoffs this past season. After beating the Chiefs (who Vrabel once played for), the Titans then fell to another team Vrabel once played for, the Patriots.

 

Now the Titans want to build what the Patriots have, and who better to do that than a new head coach who spent eight seasons playing for Bill Belichick? They’ll have a full set of draft picks and just over $49 million in cap space to play with in free agency. As long as general manager Jon Robinson uses all of that capital wisely, Vrabel can succeed.

 

The safest hire: Matt Patricia, Lions

The Titans aren’t the only team trying to replicate the Patriot Way. Lions GM Bob Quinn, New England’s former director of player personnel, got his first chance to a hire a head coach and went after a Belichick disciple. Patricia had been the Patriots’ defensive coordinator since 2012, winning two Super Bowls and appearing in three.

 

Patricia can go into the Lions job focusing on what he does best: defense. He’s got a franchise quarterback that’s been paid his money (Matthew Stafford), leading an offense that finished 13th in the NFL. Sure, there’s room for improvement — big red arrow point to the running game — but with the NFL’s 27th-ranked defense in 2017, Patricia’s services could help balance an imbalanced team.

 

The Lions also retained Jim Bob Cooter as their offensive coordinator, which is good news because 1) he’s good and 2) he’s got the best name in the NFL. Patricia can take his lessons learned from the almighty Belichick, and perhaps help the Lions end their 26-year playoff win drought.

 

Most precarious position: Frank Reich, Colts

Reich’s success in Indianapolis will depend on one factor: whether Andrew Luck is healthy or not. Jacoby Brissett’s replacement-level quarterbacking helped doom an understaffed Colts team to a 4-12 record in 2017. With Luck’s shoulder still in question, there’s a chance Reich never gets to work with his team’s franchise player.

 

That leaves him staring upward at a difficult rebuild. Talented pieces like T.Y. Hilton and Malik Hooker are oases among a barren roster, and while the team has an estimated $72 million in cap space to spend this spring, luring big-name free agents to Indianapolis won’t be easy. There are several reasons why McDaniels turned down the Colts’ head coaching job, and while his ties to New England played a role, the team’s unpredictable future was also a major negative.

 

Most likely to toil in obscurity: Steve Wilks, Cardinals

The Bidwills aren’t quick with the hook, and it’s a good thing too, because this team needs a complete overhaul offensively. The Cardinals have to find a quarterback, a replacement for Larry Fitzgerald if he retires, and five new starting offensive linemen.

 

Arizona does have a good core in place defensively with players like Chandler Jones, Patrick Peterson, and Tyrann Mathieu. However, that side of the ball needs plenty of help too, especially if Wilks switches over to a 4-3. But defensive-minded head coaches have a knack for coaxing a good performance out of those players, keeping their teams competitive while they undergo a rebuild.

 

Everyone else in the NFC West is miles ahead of where the Cardinals are, so being a tough out and a spoiler in the division race is their ceiling for a few seasons. But with Wilks’ patient owners, he will get a good three or four years to make the team a contender.

 

Until then, they’re just going to be one of those teams that shows up from time to time on Thursday nights and you think, “oh yeah, I forgot about the Cardinals.”

 

Most Sean McVayish: Matt Nagy, Bears

Staring down 40, Nagy is an old fart compared to McVay. But the Bears’ new head coach is inheriting a situation eerily similar to the one McVay found himself in a year ago.

 

 

Nagy, like McVay before he became a first-time head coach, was the OC for a top-five offense (Nagy for the Chiefs, McVay for Washington). And then they each took over a team whose offense was, well, the opposite of that. The comparisons don’t stop there. A high draft pick at quarterback coming off a rocky rookie year? Check. A low-scoring offense that has a strong foundation at running back but needs more targets for that young quarterback? Check check check. A defense that can get after it led by a well-respected coordinator? Cheeeeeeeck.

 

At least one of Nagy’s former players has sky-high expectations for him. “I think he could be Doug Pederson 2.0, to be honest, especially with the quarterback,” Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce told ChicagoBears.com.

 

It’s too soon to expect Nagy to live up to a Super Bowl-winning coach, and maybe he won’t win NFL Coach of the Year like McVay did, either. But with a little more development from Mitchell Trubisky and a few weapons to surround him with, the Bears might not be too far off from competing.

 

Most likely to be played by Reese Witherspoon in a rom com: Pat Shurmur, Giants

You gave this a go once before. You were young and tried to make it work with the biggest loser in the NFL. But it’s five years later. You’ve matured. You’ve gained valuable life and career experience. You’re a success — and you’re ready to try this again. In the big city, too!

 

It won’t be easy. Not with an aging quarterback and a roster that’s always primed to bring the D-R-A-M-A. And OK, maybe everyone is already questioning the moves you’re making.

 

You KNOW you can do it, though. You’ve earned this second chance. Sure, there will be bumps along the way, but you’ll get past them. You’ve learned your lessons. You’re confident. You’ve got more spunk than Mary Tyler Moore. You’re up for the challenge this time and you’re going to take on the world. Now enjoy this montage set to a peppy Betty Who song.

 

 

 

2018 DRAFT

It’s not a Mock Draft, but Mike Mayock offers these position rankings at NFL.com:

 

With the NFL Scouting Combine beginning in two weeks, Mike Mayock unveils the first of his position-by-position rankings for the 2018 NFL Draft.

 

Quarterback

1. Sam Darnold, USC

2. Josh Allen, Wyoming

3. Josh Rosen, UCLA

4. Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma

T-5. Lamar Jackson, Louisville

T-5. Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State

 

Running Back

1. Saquon Barkley, Penn State

2. Derrius Guice, LSU

3. Ronald Jones II, USC

4. Sony Michel, Georgia

5. Nick Chubb, Georgia

 

Wide receiver

1. Calvin Ridley, Alabama

2. Christian Kirk, Texas A&M

3. Courtland Sutton, SMU

4. James Washington, Oklahoma State

T-5. Dante Pettis, Washington

T-5. DJ Moore, Maryland

T-5. Anthony Miller, Memphis

 

Tight end

1. Hayden Hurst, South Carolina

2. Dallas Goedert, South Dakota State

3. Mike Gesicki, Penn State

4. Mark Andrews, Oklahoma

5. Will Dissly, Washington

 

Tackle

1. Mike McGlinchey, Notre Dame

2. Orlando Brown, Oklahoma

3. Connor Williams, Texas

4. Tyrell Crosby, Oregon

T-5. Martinas Rankin, Mississippi State

T-5. Kolton Miller, UCLA

 

Interior OL

1. Quenton Nelson, Notre Dame

2. Isaiah Wynn, Georgia

3. James Daniels, Iowa

4. Will Hernandez, UTEP

5. Billy Price, Ohio State

 

Interior DL

1. Vita Vea, Washington

2. Da’Ron Payne, Alabama

3. Maurice Hurst, Michigan

4. Taven Bryan, Florida

5. Harrison Phillips, Stanford

 

Edge rusher

1. Bradley Chubb, N.C. State

2. Marcus Davenport, UTSA

3. Arden Key, LSU

4. Harold Landry, Boston College

5. Sam Hubbard, Ohio State

 

Linebacker

1. Tremaine Edmunds, Virginia Tech

2. Roquan Smith, Georgia

3. Leighton Vander Esch, Boise State

4. Rashaan Evans, Alabama

5. Uchenna Nwosu, USC

 

Cornerback

1. Denzel Ward, Ohio State

2. Josh Jackson, Iowa

3. Mike Hughes, UCF

4. Isaiah Oliver, Colorado

5. Jaire Alexander, Louisville

 

Safety

1. Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama

2. Derwin James, Florida State

3. Ronnie Harrison, Alabama

4. Jessie Bates III, Wake Forest

5. Justin Reid, Stanford